The first time I ever went to an Escape Rooms was downtown LA with my daughter and godson. The way I remember it we had to unlock all these clues from an abandoned Safari encampment where some aliens or ancient curse had killed everybody and if we didn’t solve the puzzle, we’d go blind or something.
Anyway, SUPER hard.
Now, my godson is way smarter than me and quite the competitive gamer (was actually in the top ten Pokemon gamers in the WORLD at one point). However, we didn't get as far as we hoped.
Life can often feel like an impossible puzzle.
You get thrown into circumstances that complicate life beyond your ability. You’re trying things you’ve tried before, getting advice from people who’ve helped before, but it isn’t opening anything up. Maybe you think you see a clue from time to time, but you don’t want to make the wrong move.
The word we often use for this is “STRESS” and a lot of us are experiencing it in this odd time of COVID-19 and social distancing.
Stress is what we feel when confusion or tasks get loaded with a layer of responsibility.
It wouldn’t be so hard if you didn’t have a paycheck hanging in the balance (or lost completely) or a child who needs you to come through or a teammate counting on you. You could relax if you hadn’t already said you were going to deliver, but now you’re over-committed and you don’t know who to let down.
It's not uncommon to "escape" from this stress-filled "room" by binging or blitzing. Since almost all of our time is currently behind closed doors, these escapes might seem like the only options we have.
We binge on food, exercise or copious diversions.
We blitz on alcohol, smoking or porn.
Binging and blitzing on social media doesn't help because we subject ourselves to a highlight reel of how unstressful other people’s lives must be.
You run to Twitter, but only find bad news, panic and mudslinging (and nothing helps relieve stress like knowing the WHOLE world is burning).
If this is what we do with stress, it’s should be no surprise that our culture continues to suffer a stress pandemic.
Anxiety disorders are being diagnosed at unprecedented rates—affecting some 18% of adults in our country. The average American teenager reports feeling the same level of depression, anxiety and stress as the typical psychiatric patient did in the 1950’s.
I don’t know if you feel like you’re on the brink today or even over the edge, but ALL of us have carried a level of overwhelm, pressure and worry.
Maybe it generally lights up most at work, on set, on campus.
If the nucleus of stress for your is your home life, then #StayHome is forcing you to spend all your time at Ground Zero.
What I want to empower you to know today is that whatever level of stress you have, it’s actually not embedded in a feeling, it’s a belief that you’re living out. You put your world through an algorithm in your head that spits out more and more stress into your soul.
Think about it: If I would’ve believed that my time in the escape room was real, it was really happening, and if we don’t solve this problem the zombies will attack, then my experience in that room is…STRESS.
But, if I remember it’s all just a game (which one guy in our room did NOT believe it was), then not only will my experience be more manageable, I’ll actually be able to make better decisions because I have less cortisol pinging my hippo campus.
There's an old letter that demonstrated this stress-reducing belief.
It was a letter was written by Jesus’ biological brother, James. He wrote a chain letter to Jesus followers everywhere with really practical, down-to-earth ways to live life. Right at the top, he shares this gem:
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
(James, chapter 1, verse 2, circa 45 AD)
Now, I have sources of joy in my life: Watching my girls perform. My wife’s chili. Our dog, Gruber.
James, if you think I can derive joy from my stress, you don’t know stress.
Quarantine doesn't bring me joy.
Losing my job doesn’t bring me joy.
Getting dumped doesn’t bring me joy.
Having to take the class over again. No joy.
Getting maligned by a coworker doesn’t bring me joy.
Finding out its malignant doesn’t bring me joy.
James is either ON something or onto something. Let’s keep reading.
For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. (verse 3)
Notice he doesn’t draw it to your feeling. You can know this.
What he’s saying is, the very thing that’s giving you stress can give you grit. It can give you satisfaction, it can give you wisdom, it can give you faith.
The real context of this letter? Because of their beliefs, Christ followers were being driven out of their homes, imprisoned, stoned and beheaded. That’s the level of stress that James wants to empower them to endure. Don’t give up! Don’t be undone. It’s worth it.
People are going to be challenging. New opportunities are going to come with greater demands. But you can show up with deeper resolve.
Your current stress is where you get the perseverance your future will need.
If you change your belief from, “these challenges are out to get me” into “these challenges are here to grow me.”, you will start to see a quality of character grow in you. And you’ll want more.
In that way, you can consider these present challenges, not “fun”, but a source of pure “joy” because it’s an invaluable gift.
Let me level with you.
I want to use God to change my circumstances, but God wants to use my circumstances to change me.
So, what’s stressing you out this moment? Where do you find it? Home? Work? Your inbox? That stack of bills? That class? The doctor’s office? Your own body? Maybe it’s church!
Take that stressor and do a little practice around it this week.
It might take some imagination and a little bit of faith, but list potential gifts you will be grateful for that might be buried in that anxiety. What could you learn from this? What strategies will emerge from it? What skills can you acquire? What example can you set for people seeing you go through it?
In short, who are you becoming because of this moment?