The Wonderful Book
Ah! The Caribbean. Tropical beaches, azure waters!
I thought surely doing research there would be nothing less than a paid vacation.
But it certainly wasn't ...
I had greatly underestimated the culture shock, homesickness, and social isolation I would feel. Worse, the island people did not want to be studied by an aspiring anthropologist. They even dubbed me "the spy" and proceeded to treat me like one. My research stalled because it took a long time just to understand their dialect. Even more, I was under constant scrutiny on the tiny island—and it wasn't respectable for a woman to smoke, drink, or party. All my usual "crutches" were denied me if I wanted to be accepted.
College stress was nothing compared to this. Here my back was completely against the wall. The only escape would be paying back the research grant and heading home, but that would greatly disappoint my parents who were thrilled with my academic achievement.
I was trapped. The stress of facing a situation that I could neither control nor cope with was a daily experience for months. My stress symptoms multiplied. Yet I had no choice but to persevere, and eventually my research made progress. Part of that research meant attending church. (God surely must have a sense of humor!) I had to understand the island people's religious beliefs, and much of the women's social life focused around their churches.
To fit in, I bought a Bible to carry to church like everyone else. For weeks, that was all I did with it. But one day, I lay down on my bed and opened the
Book. It opened to Isaiah 40, and I read until I came to this part:
"Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers ... that bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity."
It was a kind but chiding voice speaking to me. "Haven't you known all along that I was real?" The lights went on! Of course! The place I should have been looking for something spiritual was the Bible. I never did—why had I thought it was so boring?
From that moment, I started reading the Bible seriously. I didn't understand everything, but it fed my soul. I found verses that were like notes from a friend. A special favorite was Isaiah 41:10: "Fear thou not for I am with thee, be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." This helped when I felt in great need of strength but had nowhere else to turn for it.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). It was this peace amid all the stress that I really longed for. "These things I have spoken unto you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). With all the challenges I was having, this one was really encouraging!
Even though I didn't completely understand these verses, they were so comforting that I wrote them on cards and stuck them on my mirror. I read them often, and eventually memorized them. When I found myself in stressful situations, thinking about them brought peace to me in a way I considered magical. I had never read a book that kept on "speaking" to me like the Bible did.
Many people avoid the Bible, thinking it is just too hard to understand, if not simply old fashioned. It might well be difficult to grasp sometimes, but it is surprisingly up-to-date for the situations in your life. Why? Because it speaks to human needs.
And it's actually not hard to understand the parts that speak to your need! These passages are loud and clear—and wonderfully personal.
If you're not in the habit of reading the Bible, I encourage you to begin. Start in Psalms, or the Gospel of John, or wherever you feel led to look. You don't have to start in Genesis, and you don't need to worry about the things you don't understand. Just read until you find something that "jumps out" at you— and cherish it as God Himself speaking to you.
While on the island, it was more than just the Bible that helped me cope with stressors. Although I did not realize it then, my changed lifestyle, though forced, was excellent for stress management.
At college, I went to bed late, ate irregularly, and drank endless cups of coffee. I smoked and binged on candy, spent the days mostly indoors, and rarely exercised.
But on the island, I was out in the sun and fresh air. I walked everywhere. I went to bed early, ate regular meals and had little or no coffee, candy, or cigarettes. All this helped tremendously to strengthen my body and clear my mind.
Years later while working at a Lifestyle Center as a stress counselor, I found that exercise, rest, and a good diet often relieved the clients' stress before we even sat down to discuss their crisis. Sometimes a daily walk in the fresh air, more rest, and lots of fruit and vegetables—rather than the foods full of salt, sugar, oil, and caffeine we crave— are all it takes to help us see a way through the stress. However, as simple as it sounds, we still need God's power to make changes. But all we need to do is ask Him for it.
Something else happened to me during my research. I saw something in people's lives that I didn't have but very much wanted. They seemed so happy and stress free.
I found that when I spoke to them, they talked about Jesus as if He was their next-door neighbor. They also always spoke encouragingly. In fact, they reminded me of Martin, the Christian man I had met in college but never approached to find answers.
But this time I didn't make the same mistake. I began to search again, but now within Christianity. I wanted to find out what it was really about, not for anthropology fieldwork, but for my soul.
God was working vigorously in my life, stirring me up to feel in need of Him. He spoke to me through the Bible, cleared my mind through lifestyle, and positioned me so that I would finally be able to connect with Him and find that longed-for joy. "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 29:13, 14).
God works in each person's life differently. He doesn't necessarily place us in worse stress to help us realize we need Him, but as C. S. Lewis observed, "Pain is God's megaphone to arouse a deaf world." If He knows we'll cruise on indefinitely without Him when things are tolerable, He may turn up the heat! "When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path" (Psalm 142:3).
Of course, He does this with great care and concern. We are truly safe in His hands only, and He won't allow us to be destroyed by the experience. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee" (Jeremiah 31:3).
Our temptation might be to run. In fact, I nearly accepted an invitation to drop the fieldwork and sail to the Pacific Islands with a group of young people. But if we run from His lovingly crafted guidance, we will miss God's best for us.
Yet even then, He will not give up on us. But it's important not to take the easy way out unless we perceive His guidance and timing in that direction. He has something better in the end—His rest.
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
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