Stress inoculation

A number of years ago, a pastor and spouse were referred to a psychologist for help in parenting two young children. The older child, just starting school, had been seen by dozens of professionals from many disciplines, none of whom could fully explain the learning disabilities and quirky behavior. The couple had already experienced many difficult situations when the child had a change of routine or was in a large crowd. Their question of the psychologist: Can we really take this child to the big national church conference nearby? How do we take care of our responsibilities at this event and still meet the needs of our children?

The psychologist acknowledged both the importance and the stress of the situation. They talked about various ways to respond to certain situations. They talked about the fact that this was not a unique event; there would continue to be family situations that would cause considerable stress. Then, he encouraged them with these words, “Think of it as stress inoculation.”

“Inoculation” is a medical term particularly relevant during this time. The standard way of preventing the spread of a virus is to inoculate large groups of people against it. Inoculation introduces a dead or weakened strain of the virus into a person’s bloodstream. The body copes with this foreign invader by creating antibodies to fight against the virus and get rid of it. With the build-up of these antibodies, when the stronger virus comes along, the body already has a way to fight it off.

In other words, by resisting a weaker enemy, we are able to deal with a stronger one. The problem with the current COVID-19 virus is that there doesn’t yet exist a means of inoculation, or, in other words, a vaccine. So as a society, we are encouraged in other disease prevention methods such as healthy eating, handwashing, social distancing, and even quarantine. This leads to considerable stress for many people.

So now, our world is dealing with stress on many levels. There is anxiety about whether we have been exposed. For some, there is the loss of a job and income. For others, particularly healthcare workers, there is too much work, and the extra stress of caring for patients while running short of needed masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

For many of us, the extra stresses are currently small. So, think of them as stress inoculation. Dealing with them well is God’s way of building up your spiritual antibodies and thus providing inoculation from the larger stresses to come. As we surrender ourselves to God’s “stress inoculation,” accepting the circumstances God has given us with humility, grace, love, and contemplation, we are better able to not only deal with the larger stresses to come in our own lives, but to be channels of grace and peace to others.

So, I encourage us all, whatever our current circumstances, to accept the “vaccine” God provides, the stress inoculation that enables us to live joyful, healthful lives in these challenging days. 

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