Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stress, Suffering and Religion; Healing the heart of America

Most people remember where they were at the day the twin towers fell.  It is forever etched in their mind. There are many that still bear the internal scars of a loved one that was lost that day.  There are countless other stories of the collective pain and anguish of a nation. While no one expects the devastation and massive loss of life to come upon him or her like the United States experienced on September 11th, stress and suffering is part of life.  Whether it is a terrorist attack, cancer, murder, a traffic accident or simply a caffeine headache, our lives are filled with suffering and stress.  The question is then how does one handle stress and heal the suffering? 
               There is growing evidence of the therapeutic benefit of prayer, faith and giving of one’s self in dealing with stress and suffering.  Research conducted on volunteerism associated with the September 11th attacks demonstrates the benefit of selfless giving and its long term therapeutic benefit.  Additionally, research reported in the Holistic Nursing Practice Journal shows the benefit of faith and one’s spiritual walk to mitigating stress and suffering. Given the research, which direction should someone take when dealing with stress and suffering? There is the medical model for the body.  There is psychology and professional counseling for the heart and mind.  In all the models described above there is a relationship.  People seeking support from other people.  Yet if that is all there is, how well can a finite human being contribute to a person's overall healing? What about faith? According to the Bible healing comes in the form of  body, soul and spirit. So which one works and why does it work for some people and not others? 
                In the midst of suffering, people want to be able to act, to put distance between them and their suffering.  Maybe that is the reason for the benefit of volunteerism because it puts people into action.  They can grieve, yet their action gives them purpose and helps in the healing process.   From the Biblical method, Jesus is the one that invites us to Him during our troubled times. He says in Matthew 11: 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest".  In the study on the benefit of faith and religion to suffering,  the importance of the spiritual and belief in One who is greater than all things, brings hope.  If people, either professional, layperson, neighbor, friend or family helps point a suffering person in this direction then we all contribute to the person's healing and so fulfill God's desire to "carry each other's burdens..." (Galatians 6:2).  
                The best answer to such a complicated question of dealing with stress and suffering is in the individual person’s worldview.  If a person perceives the world should be a place devoid of suffering, then life is lived in an attempt to mitigate any type of stress or suffering. Yet if the person’s worldview accepts that suffering is universal, it creates another question.  If everyone suffers, who stands a better chance of healing and making it through those stressful times?  A person might try a doctor who attempts to alleviate their symptoms, such as prescribing a medicine for a headache.  Yet is the headache the problem or is it a symptom of the problem?  What about the psychologist that attempts to help a person with anxiety or depression?  If their view is that life should be lived free from suffering and this is their view of health, then he or she will address their client’s problem accordingly.   But what about faith?  The Bible lets people know upfront that suffering is part of life, because of our choices and because of original sin.  According to the Bible, our suffering is important and plays a role in moving us towards greater healing and fullness of life in one’s relationship with God and others. In Psalm 119: 71, the author explains, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees”.  Again in James 1: 2-4, the author states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.   What the Bible has said for thousands of years, science is finally starting to empirically validate. 

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