How can I handle stress on the job?
I wrote this to you because I know I’m not the only Christian officer out there that struggles with playing the difficult role of being stern and forceful, and still acting godly. Sir, I would greatly appreciate it if you would use this message in your column to guide not only me, but everyone who struggles with stress at work.
I have a nephew-in-law who is an officer, so I can relate a little bit to your question, at least in terms of police work. I can relate a lot to your question in terms of stress, as I know so many readers can. Whether in school or in our career or raising kids, stress seems to go with the territory.
The single most effective stress-reducer in my life, bar none, is spending time with God. If I do not make time in my day to stop everything else and focus my attention entirely on God, I am toast when it comes to stress. I will worry more, be more impatient, more angry, more frustrated, more reactionary and generally more driven by my “flesh” than anything else.
Now, there is probably no more common pat-answer to a problem than “spend more time with God,” but I beg you not to think I’m giving you a pat answer with the above paragraph. I tried the Christian life without spending time with God (which I realize is somewhat oxymoronic), and I saw the difference between me and those who were spending time with God. We had similar difficult circumstances, but they had peace, and I had stress. I had all the facts I’d learned about God over the years, but they had God himself. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but knowing some facts about the beach is not the same as putting your feet in the sand and breathing in that ocean breeze.
I know your job is time consuming. I know you are exhausted at the end of the day. I know the events of your day are re-played like a tape in your head as you lay down to sleep. I know you are just wiped out when that alarm goes off in the morning. I know how hard it is to make time solely for re-orienting your heart to be centered on Christ. But you just have to do this. Think of yourself as on a journey (which you are). You wouldn’t just look at your compass once, find North and be done with it for the rest of the journey. You would walk a bit, then check the compass; walk a little more, then check the compass. You would do this until you reached your destination.
You are on The Journey, a lifetime spent walking with God. God has currently called you to live out The Journey as a policeman, but what you do is not the point. The point is knowing God and growing in a more intimate relationship with Him and experiencing His presence along the way.
Your particular career is exposed to more of the blatant ugliness resulting from the Fall than most. Basically, your job exists because we’re a fallen race — people don’t do what they’re supposed to do — and it’s your job to try to deal with it. A steady dose of that exposure can create, over time, a real hopelessness in your heart. When my wife and I began having children, I remember her fear about whether they would be healthy. She worked as a nurse all day, every day with children and infants who were very sick and needed heart surgery. It made her wonder if there were any healthy children around, and it stressed her out about having children herself, almost to the point of not wanting her own.
Because you are so continually exposed to the Fall’s ugliness, you need to make extra effort daily to surround yourself with the Redeemer’s Beauty, to remind yourself that while the impact of the Fall is the ultimate tragedy, the Beauty of redemption is the ultimate triumph.
In addition to carving out specific time devoted entirely to conversation with, and worship of God, here are some ideas off the top of my head to get you started putting more Beauty into your day. Maybe these will help get you thinking.
Prescribe yourself a dose of classical music at some point in your day, maybe as you get ready in the morning or as you drive around in your cruiser (I have always wanted to use that word!) or as you wind down the day. I don’t know much about classical music, but I know this: My wife and I are amazed at how changing the soundtrack in our home reduces stress with two pre-schoolers running around. Not all classical is peaceful; some can be downright frenzied, but find that which speaks beauty to you and drink it in. Worship music is great, too; although, I’ve found little in pop worship that I would categorize as beautiful art musically, but the heart of it is generally beautiful.
Work into your weekly (or at the very least, monthly) schedule time away from city noise, whether that’s a hike, a sunset, a sunrise, a campout or a botanic garden reading Psalms, anything to change your physical scenery to God’s beautiful creation. Don’t approach it as something to get done, but rather something to experience. If you have the freedom to do it, take your lunch to a park rather than a restaurant, and just absorb the restful quiet, thanking God for His redemptive work through Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Print off Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son and stick it on the dash of your cruiser (twice in one article!) to remind yourself that every call you go on, every person you encounter who is enslaved to sin has a Father who is passionate for his or her return. Before every call you make, ask God to open your eyes to see His hand, what He is doing and wants to do in the lives of those with whom He brings you in contact.
Finally, find an older mentor, ideally within your line of work, who can help you process all that you are experiencing. If no such person exists within your field, then find anyone with whom you can talk through your experiences. Having someone who is several miles ahead on the road you’re traveling can help prepare you for upcoming terrain and how to best handle it.
Thank you for your work, and I pray God’s protection and blessing over you as you bring beauty to a dark world.
Copyright 2011 John Thomas. All rights reserved.