Over the years I’ve learned a couple of simple tricks to reduce my stress level. One of these is to practice deep-breathing techniques. You needn’t be a Buddhist to recognize that the right kind of breathing exercises can help you feel more peaceful. The reason for this calming effect is based on the way God designed our bodies.
Let me explain. Whenever you’re faced with an emergency, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. Your muscles tense up, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure increases, and adrenaline begins coursing through your body. The body’s 911 system is preparing you for an explosive burst of energy to enable you to make a fight-or-flight response. Though the system is superbly adapted for dealing with immediate dangers, such as fending off a mugger or escaping from a house on fire, the sympathetic nervous system will wreak havoc on your body and your mind if it becomes chronically activated, which is exactly what happens when you’re under constant stress.
By contrast, the parasympathetic system lowers your heart rate, decreases your blood pressure, and enables you to rest. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic system, increasing your sense of calm.
Here’s how to do one breathing exercise. Begin by sitting up straight. Then exhale fully through your mouth. Breathe in deeply through your nose and into your abdomen, letting it fill with air. Hold your breath for two to five counts and then exhale slowly through your nose. Try doing this for five to ten minutes on a regular basis. To enrich the time, begin by imagining yourself in God’s presence, thanking him for how fearfully and wonderfully he has made you.
(Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
I come from a dog-loving, cat-loving, snake-loving, monkey-loving, fish-loving, lizard-loving, turtle-loving, bird-loving family. At one time or another during my childhood, we had at least one such pet in our home.
Whenever we felt the need for a new one, my siblings and I had only to finda way of luring my mother into a pet store and then showing her the latest fascinating animal. Once she even let us have a South American tortoise that dined on bananas.
I’ve since come to regret keeping some of those animals in captivity. But my experience with so many different animals convinces me of at least one thing: most animals have more feelings and intelligence than we think. Why do we miss this? I fear that for some among us, it’s because admitting their capabilities would make it harder to exploit them.
But God calls us to be stewards of his creation. We are to take care of, not take advantage of, the creatures he has made. I’m not arguing that we should all become vegetarians, but I am saying that we have to treat other creatures with respect, sparing them unnecessary suffering whenever possible.
I love the story about Francis of Assisi and his encounter with a ravenous wolf that had been terrorizing a city in Italy. According to the story, Francis ordered the wolf to stop eating people and promised that, in return, the people of the town would feed him. According to the legend, the wolf complied, as did the people of the city, and there was never another incident. Sound preposterous? What if God had enabled Francis to perform such a miracle in order to offer us a glimpse of his original intention for how human beings should interact with other animals?
After all, Isaiah prophesied that wolves, lambs, lions, and venomous snakes would one day live together peaceably, without harm. As stewards of creation, let’s ask God to show us how to take proper responsibility for the beautiful world he has made.
Lord, creation itself has been subjected to sin’s destructive power. Help us as your redeemed people to care for nature as stewards that you have appointed. Awaken our understanding and our consciences that we may care for the earth in a way that reflects your glory.
If you agree that we need to take better care of the animals God has created, please join me in reading and signing the Every Living Things statement at http://www.everylivingthing.com/sign-the-statement/.
A few years ago, something amazing happened. A Bible storybook aimed at young children became an instant bestseller among pastors. Before even one child had a chance to read it, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan began extolling its virtues. Not only did he recommend the book to young children and their parents, but he urged ministry leaders, seminarians, and even theologians to purchase copies.
Why? Because its author, Sally Lloyd Jones, had managed to get something of vital importance right. She helped readers of The Jesus Storybook Bible* catch sight of Jesus in all the Scriptures.
I love Sally’s take on the Bible, not least because she realizes that Bible stories are not primarily moral lessons. When we reduce them to lessons, Sally says, “we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we’re supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done.”
“When we tie up the story in a nice neat little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery,” she says (See 2 Questions to ask — that might keep a whole lot of us from walking away from God & church). I want to add a hearty Amen to what Sally says. After writing about the Bible for more than twenty years, I love its stories best. The ancient stories have gripped my heart and changed my mind, helping me to experience God more deeply while coming to terms with some of my own struggles as a person of faith.
“A traditional Jewish saying highlights the connection between God and storytelling by saying, ‘God created human beings because He loves stories.’ Perhaps the opposite could also be said. ‘God created stories because He loves human beings.’ (See Why you need the best kind of story).
Maybe it’s time we grownups took Jesus’ advice to heart – you know, the bit about becoming like little children so that we can enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 18: 3). Let’s take time to read and ponder the ancient stories once again, asking God to bring them alive in us. For these are the stories of God’s people, which means they are our stories too.
*Disclosure: I served as the literary agent for this book.
One of the most painful memories from my pre-Christian days is the hollowed-out feeling that came from believing life had no meaning. Without meaning, nothing matters—not beauty nor bravery nor joy; not suffering nor sadness nor love. There is nothing to strive for, plan for, hope for. To live in a world without meaning is to live as a lonely atom in a vast universe of nothingness.
But that picture of the universe changed the moment I began to suspect the old story I had learned as a child—the one about God making the world and then sending his Son to save it—might actually be true. It was shocking, the idea that God felt impelled by love to come to earth and die for my sins. That he subverted death by his powerful sacrifice. Suddenly I had a big story to believe in, one that gave meaning to my life.
Sometimes we lose our peace because we lose our place in the big story God is writing. Perhaps we once saw ourselves right in the center of it, knowing he loved us, believing he had called us to serve him. But then disasters unfolded. Disappointments happened. Suffering ensued. What then?
Miroslav Volf points out that inner healing is advanced “by integrating remembered wrongdoing into our life-story. . . . We integrate events into our life-story by giving them positive meaning within that story.”(1) So the person who has been abused may discover insights that will later assuage the suffering of others. Or the abandoned spouse may find strength in his or her relationship with God that they hadn’t thought possible. Finding meaning in what we have suffered is not something that can be engineered or controlled. Rather it is something that God can do in us and for us as we wait for his healing grace.
(1) Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), 76.