Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Anger, Stress, and a Cure for the Common Headache

It was the fourth day in a row, my eye was twitching and my head was pounding. Sinuses, I rationalized. By the time my headache and I celebrated our first week anniversary, I had realized my neck and shoulders were in knots, my left arm was throbbing, and I'd worn at least a year's worth of enamel off my back teeth. Stress, I admitted. But why?

Well, Scott and I contend with the same things as most Americans: bills, family, work. But that wasn't it. After several years of hard lessons -- and much crying and whining on my part -- God convinced me He's got it when it comes to money matters. Things were status quo on the kids. Marriage as good as ever. No health issues. Even work was a breeze. Everything was all good, good, good. So what on earth was I worried about?

I don't know about you, but in my case, worry and stress are two different animals, with two different siren songs. When I worry, my stomach churns; my silence and distraction compete for first place in the Anxiety Olympics. Worry stems from a specific problem or event, and I know it when I see it. But stress seems to sneak up on me. Little things that clutter my path or tug at me as I go about my day: the check that bounces, the order that arrives too late, the impolite sales rep, the phone that never stops ringing, the dog that pukes on the carpet -- on and on it goes. Irritated for just a moment, I go on. But before the day is over, twitch, pound, throb, grind -- stress and I are reunited.

As I thought about it some more, I began to realize what causes stress most often -- at least, for me -- is anger. I'm a pretty angry person. A couple years back, a pastor said to me, "You know, sarcasm is just a form of anger." I brushed it off, but it got me to thinking. I realized how bitter and arrogant I sound when I'm always sarcastic; I wondered just how frustrating that was for Scott. Why would he even want to ask me anything? So, I vowed to be less sarcastic. And it worked. I was less sarcastic, but just as angry. And now, apparently, my anger was looking for a new place to hang out.
Cue physical manifestations!

You know, maybe God has corrected my fretfulness over finances, and He has changed me in so many other ways, but I sometimes wish He had an anti-idiot fix for me. Despite everything He's done in my life and the lives of others I know, I still thought I could fix this myself.

"I'll stop ___."

"From now on I'll ___."

I know of some situations in which God's grace has covered folks who have just determined to quit smoking, or drinking, or whatever, but generally those self-sufficient attempts at lifestyle change whither and fail. And I know, in my case, it shouldn't have worked. And didn't. Otherwise I wouldn't have been sitting for days making excuses for the jackhammer resonating in my head. Stress.

I get angry when someone holds up the line because their kid is three aisles away finishing the shopping. Stress. I get angry when their kid returns with the wrong stuff and they wind up not buying it anyway. Stress. I get angry when I finally get to the register and my card has been erroneously shut off. Stress. I get angry when I call the bank and it takes them three hours to call me back with the solution. Stress. I get angry when it's now an hour after my bedtime and I can't fall asleep for another two hours because I'm so stressed out over this nonsense with the bank. But you get the idea.

It all boils down to "these people" who just won't do things the way I want them done. It boils down to "my plans" and "my timeline" being thwarted because of others. Do I really sound that self-absorbed? that arrogant? that obnoxious? Well, not if I keep it all inside and let the stress build up, but that's really what my anger is all about. My wanting things my way; my thinking that I am better, that my way is better. And I'm not getting my way.

So, here it is, my 2016 un-resolute resolution: to get rid of anger, thereby getting rid of stress, thereby getting rid of this brain tumor. "It's not a toomah." I cannot do it on my own. I know that. Anger and I have been constant companions for far too long for this to be possible, in my own strength. That's why it's an un-resolute resolution: I cannot eliminate anger by willing it away, but I can start seeking God in place of it. The next time I'm trapped behind the "Just one more thing" checkout shopper, I can understand it as God's time, not my own, and see what He wants me to do with it. The next time my shopping is sidelined by the bank, I can understand it as God's money, not my own, and wait for Him to reveal His plan for it. The next time I'm up past my bedtime, I can understand my health and my rest is in the Lord, and ask Him to take care of that for me -- like only He can.

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