When it comes to matters of integrity, the ultimate tests are time and stress. Many products claim to be "strong" or well built, but they fail miserably when confronted with pressure over an extended period of time. Pressure can either make something crack or make it better. Pressure on coal over ions of time makes diamonds. Pressure is not all bad, as long as it doesn't cause one to crack under it.
For many years we used to can vegetables from our garden. We used to can cases and cases of tomatoes to give away at Christmas. The final step in canning is to put the jar in the pressure cooker and bring the pressure to a certain point and then keep it there for a certain number of minutes. To keep the pressure cooker from exploding, there is a valve on top which releases excess pressure. Without that valve, even the strongest cooker would explode.
In a pressure cooker, the pressure is greater in direct proportion to the amount of heat being applied. The greater the heat, the greater the pressure. In life, when the "heat is on" and the pressure starts rising, we better pray the valve works to vent some steam or we explode. It is not pleasant when pressure causes a person to crack. Call it a nervous breakdown or anxiety attack or just plain stress; unvented pressure causes major problems mentally and physically in our lives.
Certain things will inevitably cause pressure. Deadlines are near the top of the list. Knowing something HAS to be done by a certain time is a non-issue when well in advance. But the nearer the duly appointed time comes, the greater the pressure to get the job done. Procrastination is one of the greatest stress builders of all time. Putting off what should have been done yesterday only increases the pressure today. If we took the attitude of just "get it done" instead of waiting until the last minute we would save ourselves all the anxiety and pressure of the approaching deadline.
Financial matters always seem to cause pressure. When $100 is needed and there is only $10 available, there is going to be some pressure. When there is $10 available and it needs to be split 100 ways, there is going to be stress. The best we can do with finances is budget, steward, give and pray. All the worrying in the world never added a penny to one's bank account. Worry never pays, but being a good steward always does.
Time and money are far and away the two biggest factors that cause stress and pressure. In both cases, that which produces the actual pressure many times is the unexpected. If you HAVE to be somewhere at 10:00 you know you must leave at say 9:00 to get there on time. All is going well until you hit a wall of red taillights on the freeway. Up ahead is an accident and the traffic is at a total stop and will be for an hour. You know what? You WILL BE LATE. There is no reason to get all stressed out and panic. A very wise person once said "never allow yourself to worry about things out of your control."
If something is out of your hands, then quit worrying about it. All your worry produces is stress and stress builds pressure and pressure causes people to crack. God does not want or need His people to crack up all the time. He needs us to trust Him and lead captive our thoughts to the obedience of Christ. The Bible says to "be anxious for nothing", so that is what we must lead our thoughts back to. Lasso them and drag them back to the Word of God. Do not allow your thoughts to run all over the place screaming and yelling in a panic. Grab them and lead them back to the truth of God's Word.
You have a meeting at 7:00 to get to. You stop at the store to get a few items, 6 to be exact. You go to the express lane and the person ahead of you has 60 items in their cart. You look at your watch and see you HAVE to be out of the store in 2 minutes or you will be late. What do you do? Yell at the inconsiderate person ahead of you in line? Push the person and their cart out of the way and DEMAND you checkout first? Those are options, but not very good ones.
Perhaps you could gently ask the person if they would mind allowing you to check out first. Perhaps you could find another line that was empty. Perhaps you could just set aside the things and not get them at this time. Or, you could just decide you will be late to the meeting and wait. Indecision increases pressure, so make a decision and let the valve release the steam.
The other main area of pressure is found in performance. The pressure to perform is very demanding and can cause people to do things they would never normally do. Just the other day a report was released detailing drug use among baseball players. To the surprise of no one, countless examples were cited of players willing to cheat in order to win. Perhaps the coaches who drill into young people's minds the "win at all costs" mentality should step back and look at the monster they have created.
In any competition, someone has to win and someone has to lose. Since no one wants to lose, all the emphasis is placed on winning and when financial stakes from winning are big enough, the will to win smashes ethical and legal restraints. The pressure placed on kids in athletics to win is cruel and breeds all sorts of horrible habits. Good grief, athletics are nothing more than games. Games were supposed to be fun, not the "life and death" events many portray them to be.
When pressured we tend to feel "squeezed". This is the actual Biblical definition of tribulation. It is mental pressure that squeezes the mind into a tight space. We cannot expect to never have pressure, but we can learn how to deal with it before it causes us to crack or snap. Tribulation works patience and patience works hope. The stronger the pressure, the more we learn how to endure and "hang in there". The more we learn how to endure, the more we appreciate the hope of Christ's return. In the end, it is the hope that acts as the pressure relief valve in our lives.
For many years I was my mother's caregiver. Most of the time she was very civil about matters and we got along quite well. But, then there were the times she was not herself and said and did things to deliberately get me mad or upset. Over the course of a few hours I can vividly recall the pressure rising just as in a pressure cooker. I can also recall many trips outside, even when cold and dark, to "vent" the steam that was building. I can, unfortunately recall times I didn't vent the steam and I blew up.
One of final times I failed to vent the pressure was a few days before she passed away in early April of 2006. She had gotten sick in early February and for two months we bounced between hospitals, home, nursing homes and re-hab centers. Finally her condition had worsened to the point the end was near. I was tired and troubled by the fact that I had promised her she could pass away at home and not in some nursing home. I was told that medically this was not available and I was very upset.
A few days before she was moved to hospice care, things had arisen at the hospital which were not right. After "fighting" with the administration and trying to keep my mom from having a panic attack, I was fit to be tied. I could feel the pressure rising within me to the point I knew I was ready to explode. I finally did, but thank God it was with one of the hospital chaplains, Sister Teresa.
She listened to me and allowed me to "vent" all my frustrations. I threw a tantrum any three year old would have been proud of. In due time I calmed down, and then I broke down. I ended up weeping in the arms of a 65 year old Sister of Mercy. Once calmed down, she grabbed me with strength I couldn't believe she could have and she looked me square in the eyes and told me in a firm, yet loving way; I had to "let go" of my mom.
Immediately all the stress was relieved, for this wonderful servant of God had opened the valve which vented two long months of pressure. Suddenly I realized what had been happening to me. I understood in an instant that all the strings time had meticulously tied between my mom's heart and mine had to be tenderly untied as such strings have been in families for thousands of years. As hard as this was for me to accept, I knew it was true and through prayer I did what I had to do so I could fulfill my commitment to my mom to handle all her "end times" affairs.
Stress can beat us down and break us to pieces or it can make us stronger. It all depends on how we choose to handle it. Trusting God and finding pressure relief valves helps us endure situations we otherwise could never dream of handling. As we enter a time of year known to be full of stress, I pray we stay calm and peaceful instead of joining the world in its frantic last minute rush to purchase the "perfect Christmas" and most exciting New Year. God Bless You and Keep you peaceful and at rest in the loving arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.