Jim Bishop: Address, Confess and Bless This Stress Mess

“When this ole world starts getting me down,
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet. . . ”

Where’s that?

For the famed rhythm and blues group, The Drifters, their escape route was “Up on the Roof,” to lower their anxiety and stress levels. In the process, this Gerry Goffin-Carole King composition climbed to No. 5 on the charts in 1962. (I had to wonder if the air really was fresh and sweet if theirs was an inner-city retreat).

That was then, this is now . . .

When nervous tension accelerates to the near danger point for me, depending on the setting and situation, I select from among various options:

  • Stare long and hard at a recent group photo of my amazing, supportive family on the left side of my desk. For backup, I gaze over my left shoulder at a portrait of MAD magazine’s eternally young talisman with the impish smile, Alfred E. Neuman, and repeat his catch phrase, “What, ME Worry?” And I feel better.
  • Reach for the small Radio Shack “Executive Stress Eliminator” electronic device, a permanent fixture on the right corner of my desk, and press the appropriate button – zapper, rat-a-tat, quick shot, lazer shot, blaster or my favorite, bombs away. Again, a peaceful, easy feeling returns, even though the noise may irritate anyone in proximity.
  • Probably most frequently, I turn to the trusty CD player in the right corner and select several oldies but goodies that quickly sooth the savage beast (again, while annoying my workplace colleagues who don’t seem to appreciate these primitive sounds).
  • Too often, the last gasp I take should be the first response – quieting myself and petitioning the source of ultimate strength through prayer – quiet, meditative, or verbalized. An answer may not come immediately, and if it does, it might not be what I asked or expected. God’s timing and ours doesn’t always match.

Some of my apprehension is triggered by the barrage of bad news on every hand, from the unbelievable devastation in Japan to the tinder-keg situation in north Africa, the unending violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple fatalities from accidents and shooting rampages in public places and news of unexpected deaths and crises closer to home.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m no spring chicken either, running around like a fine-feathered fowl with its head detached.

I arose at my usual time, 5:30 a.m., the other day, stumbled towards the bathroom, nearly tripping over pet feline Avery who followed me, demanding attention at that ungodly hour, and while lathering up in the hot shower (aaaah, another stress-buster), the lyrics and melody of a song from antiquity suddenly invaded my skull:

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

From whence did that haunting refrain arise, I asked myself. Haven’t heard or sung this ditty since childhood, and that’s a long time ago. A quick Google search revealed that this song was written by Johnson Oatman Jr., with melody by Edwin O. Excell and published in 1897. The words seem simple, almost clichéd, yet the sentiment holds up after all these years – adding up my many blessings will multiply my joy.

While rooting through my vinyl collection to assemble a special music CD to surprise a friend on her 60th birthday, I uncovered an album from 1970 by a Canadian group, Great Speckled Bird (Ian & Sylvia). The final track, “We Sail,” by Sylvia Tyson, stirred my psyche:

“We sail, and we sail together
The name of our ship,
Is the new beginning . . . ”

I put the disc on my JVC turntable and sang along, caught up in the compelling lyrics:

“And our sails are a hopeful color
Filled with the winds of changing times.”

The song continues:

“We sail, and the sea around us it waves
And it swells as a great heart beating . . . ”

That’s often how it works in life, or should. I get all keyed up, and then determine to keep my eyes focused, moving straight ahead. Then, I look down, hesitant, doubtful, like Peter jumping out of the boat when he saw the Lord coming towards him, walking on the water. At first, he walked on water too, then began to sink into the water the moment he took his eyes off the Lord (see Matthew 14:22-33).

“All the storms of the night are passing,
How can we sink when we can fly?”

With no pain, there’s little gain, certainly, but less fretting and worrying coupled with fresh resolve means there’s less stress too.

I can live with that.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. Contact him at bishopj@emu.edu.

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