Daily life barrages us with stress. Family, work, money, relationships and more all cause anxiety to build up within our hearts and minds. Oftentimes, though, we fail to recognize our stressors and seek to relieve the pressure through various kinds of excesses.
An Urgent Mission, An Unhealthy Excess
I used to teach in a high-performing public charter school. We labored under the urgent mission of preparing low-income minority students for college. Since many of our kids were coming to us several grade levels behind in skills we had to not only teach them the appropriate grade-level content but go back and fill in the gaps, too. The result was months-upon-months of 12-14 hour work days. I did’t know it then, but the stress got to me and I acted out in self-damaging ways.
My personal excess was entering into a string of bad relationships. With one particular partner we lived in separate towns far away from each other. I would drive an hour and a half on a school night just to see her. This may sound noble or romantic, but it wasn’t. I was simply filling a selfish need. I wanted to numb myself to the strain of my environment by seeking the emotional and physical affection of a woman. Even though we were a comically mismatched pair, I didn’t care. I just wanted relief from the pressure of work.
Analyzing Your Excesses
What are your excesses? What are you habitually over-doing? Are you staying at work for longer hours to avoid the conflict at home with parents, spouse, or children? Are you slacking off at the job in a subconscious (or maybe conscious) effort to get fired because you hate it and you just want to get out of it? Are you seeking comfort in the arms of a lover as a cover for the pain you feel about some other situation? Are you drinking too much so you can avoid confronting your feelings?
We devise all sorts of ways to escape stress. Some methods are easy to spot because they are morally or socially unacceptable, like drug abuse. But others are more difficult to see because they could be good when done in moderation. Eating, sleeping, and exercising all have their place but can easily drift into the realm of excess when we’re feeling stressed out.
The Idol Beneath Your Excesses
The biggest problem for most of us isn’t identifying our excesses but searching out the idol beneath them. Whatever you do in excess is only a symptom of the real problem.
For instance, my series of foolish relationships was just the visible manifestation of a much deeper issue I had. Working so many hours in such a stressful environment had me constantly drained. All I did was give and give and give to my job and our mission. I never got replenished in a healthy way. So in a vain attempt to fill my emotional and spiritual void, I ran to one girl after another. I doped myself up on dating hoping to escape the reality of work habits that were killing me.
So the real task for us is to identify why we’re doing certain things in excess.
Are you like me and you’re in a cycle of overwork? Do you have deep emotional wounds from your past that you have yet to adequately address? Are you harboring anger or bitterness towards someone else or even yourself? Is there someone whose approval you desperately want but can never seem to get?
These things are idols, false gods we seek to please but never satisfy in the end.
Jesus Smashes Our Idols
The Good News is that Jesus Christ fulfills all our needs. When we believe in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ He enters our hearts and begins smashing our idols.
We find that we no longer need to work to gain acceptance because we are already accepted in Christ. We can forgive the ones who hurt us because God forgave us in Jesus. We can get over the shame of our past because the old has passed and, behold, the new has come in Christ Jesus. We can act boldly without fearing what others will think because we know the Father is well-pleased with us through our faith in His Son.
The Escape from Your Excesses
All of us get stressed. And all of us risk pursuing unhealthy ways to relieve this stress. So unless we constantly interrogate our hearts for idols and then go running back to Jesus and His Gospel for help, we’ll continue binging on whatever vice appeals to us.
Go to Jesus. Because Jesus says to the one trapped in his or her excesses, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:29-30).