Distress is any great pain or sorrow which weighs us down and almost keeps us from moving as we should. It could be some element of physical suffering, or some mental anguish. Some call it "trouble", while others use a more sophisticated term like "affliction" or "tribulation". Either way, it is junk we don't want to have to deal with, but somehow it always manages to find us. In wartime movies, you might see a plane billowing black smoke, pilot frantically attempting to send out a distress call indicating his location as he plummets to the earth. The call is something of a plea for someone to notice he is "going down" in hopes he might be rescued at some point if he survives this horrific event. I think there are times we view distress almost in a similar way - as if we were "going down" - so we cry out, hoping someone, anyone will notice us and come to our rescue.
Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. (2 Corinthians 7:10 MSG)
There are different kinds of distress - probably as many as there are humans that walk this planet. It comes in the form of the kind which some might refer to as "self-inflicted" - like when we make a really bad decision and then feel ourselves plummeting out of control, heading toward a crash. There is also the type of affliction or distress some would say comes from some unseen force in their lives - like when you just feel pressure, but cannot put your finger on where it is coming from, when it started, or how to make it end. Yep, we even attribute distress to others - the "other" being the entire source of the pressure or affliction we might be enduring. Either way, it appears distress is common among men and women alike, so isn't it about time we learn how to deal with it?
The opposite of distress is peace, assurance, and freedom. To understand how to deal with distress, we have to learn what steals away our peace, brings us to the place of doubt, and captures us in its clutches so tightly. Often trying to identify the cause of distress, we just have to look at these three things - peace disturbers, assurance robbers, and captors of our freedom:
- Peace disturbers: Peace is more than just the absence of disturbance! Some of us need a little disturbance once in a while to actually get us moving in the right direction once again. Think of the last time you lazily drifted into the lane next to you on the freeway and heard just a little toot of a horn from a passing motorist in the opposite lane. What did that horn toot provide? Yep, it disturbed your peace just enough to put you back on course in your lane again. So, not all disturbance is a bad thing. Even the calmest, stillest running brook is moving! If it weren't, it would be kind of pond-like and scummy. The movement keeps it fresh. Peace really is a state of no longer being at a place of "strife" in your life. In other words, you deal with the antagonists to your peace! Doing this means we have to stop long enough to actually figure out what is impacting our peace - even if it is something we might be doing to ourselves! Remember - it doesn't mean we stop moving - we still need to move, but just in the right "lane"!
- Assurance robbers: Assurance is just a fancy word for confidence or certainty. When the stock markets began to go haywire several years back, housing prices plummeted, people made runs on banks and stashed hard earned monies into their secret hiding places in their homes just in case the banks were going to go "belly up", and the like. Why? Confidence in the system was broken. Those who responded in panic were actually showing where it was they placed their confidence! When confidence is misplaced, it is easy for it to be "robbed away" from us in what appears to be any kind of "distressing" or "conflicting" circumstance, isn't it? I used to have a good pre-wash spray which actually took most stains out of my clothes without much effort from me on laundry day. I switched to a brand everyone was talking about at less expensive, but still able to do the work as well. Guess what? I am back to the more costly brand because it simply works better - I have more confidence in its ability to perform as promised! When we understand the strength of our foundation in Christ, we stand assured. When we haven't allowed this foundation to be built in our lives as strongly as it should be, we sometimes find ourselves a little less certain when the storms come.
- Captors of our freedom: For a captor to actually do his job, he has to be able to over-power or out-think the one he seeks to take into captivity. It doesn't mean he has the most muscles, or the highest IQ. It means he knows how to use what it is he has at his disposal. I have seen some pretty burly men brought to their knees by some pretty wimpy looking dudes - just because they knew how to use their abilities to their advantage. This is how our captors work. They out-smart us by affecting our peace or mucking with our assurance. They over-power us by making us think OUR abilities are insufficient to stand up to THEIRS. Truth is - they are probably right! It isn't OUR abilities they should be faced with - it is CHRIST'S abilities IN US they should have to deal with! If they come face-to-face with those abilities, they don't stand a chance of affecting our freedom in Christ!
Not sure what is bringing you a little distress today, but remember what our passage declares: Distress which drives us TO God turns us around. It re-establishes our sense of peace, gives us the certainty we are on solid footing, and puts forward the power of Christ, not the mildness of our own abilities. Just sayin!