Under The Same Leaky Roof: Stress Mess
The Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale
I have no idea what stresses you out this morning. I have no clue as to what you brought with you and the stuff that you are facing.
Stress can come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from family issues to work things, financial woes, health concerns or just too many things coming at you at the same time.
We all have our stress, but did you know that too much stress can kill you or at least make you sick?
Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe were among the first to make the connection between stress and wellness.
Working with over 5000 sick people, they determined a correlation between the stress of major life events and its impact on overall health.
What they managed to do is create a stress scale from 0 to 100 of 43 different life-events. They clearly outlined the suggestion that a stress score of over 300 meant at a high risk for an illness, while a stress scores less than 150 translated to a low risk of illness.
This has become known as the Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale.
Near the bottom of the scale are things such as a change in sleeping habits, facing Christmas or even going on a vacation, while near the top of the list is separation, divorce and the death of a spouse.
Take a look at the scale and do the mental math to get a pretty good sense of where you this morning.
My bet is that many of us are facing life events that can quickly push the scale up a notch or two.
The Family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus
If we can only figure out how to live with stress, or perhaps de-stress with the life events near the top of the scale, then the rest should fall into place.
After all, if you can manage the big stressors of life then the rest should be a breeze, right?
At the very top of the scale is losing a spouse. Their research shows that no greater stress is there in life then losing a spouse. It is the life-event that tops out on any stress scale including this one.
From the pages of the New Testament comes a story of a family who faced exactly that, namely the death of someone near and dear. The insights learned by them can certainly help us face whatever stressful life events in front of us.
This is the story of three adult siblings named Mary, Martha and Lazarus, who lived together in a tight family arrangement.
Remember, not all families consist of moms, dads and their 2.5 kids.
Obviously many do. But there are all kinds of family arrangements, from extended families under one roof to blended families, from single parent families to arrangements like this where three adult siblings lived under one roof as a family unit.
At their house, their roof was also leaking as they were being hammered with the incredible stress of their beloved Lazarus so desperately sick that they feared for his death.
“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:1, 3
Lazarus was sick. Desperately sick. So sick that the sisters fearing for his life made a desperate attempt to reach out to their friend Jesus whom they knew to be a healer.
This was long before the days of text messaging, email or even phone call. It would take days for the message to get to Jesus and days more for Jesus to be able to get there.
Can you imagine the kind of stress this would cause? It would be near the top of Stress Scale for sure and it would only climb higher as the desperate sickness turned into death.
Everyone Deals with Stress Differently!
In fact, when Jesus finally arrived his friend had been dead for four days already. “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” vs. 17
Holmes & Rahe list the death of a spouse at the very top of the scale. In this family arrangement, Lazarus’ death felt like the death of a spouse.
You can see the stress the sisters felt in their reactions to Jesus when he showed up.
“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” vs. 20-21
The one stays home while the other flings angry accusations at Jesus. We’re not sure why Mary stayed home. Some have suggested she may have been sullen or angry and simply refused to see Jesus.
Not so sure about that. I’d like to think she was more contemplative and less impulsive than her sister.
After all, this was the same Mary that sat at his feet listening to what he had to say while her sister was stressing out with all the preparations that needed to be done.
This may point to the fact that everyone deals with stress differently. Martha certainly had her way of dealing with it, and Mary in all likelihood had her own way of dealing with the stress of this incredible loss.
I remember the stress of my brother dying; the many travels from Lindsay to Hamilton; the rollercoaster ride between hope and despair; the heartbreak of seeing him decline; the sheer exhaustion of it all. Talk about stress, especially for his wife who tried to keep the family going while my brother was slowly dying.
Many of you know what I am talking about. You’ve lost parents, siblings, spouses and sometimes even children.
Everyone reacts differently. There is no right or wrong way. For Martha it was this outburst, and for Mary it was a more reflective pulling back.
If Only You Had Cared a Little More!
One of the more troubling things in this whole story is why Jesus waited as long as he did before he responded.
“Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” vs. 6
Wow, why would he do that? Why not rush over there as quickly as you can and try to prevent his death?
For that matter, why not simply command a healing from where he was? A long distance healing – he could have done that! He is Lord, after all. He can command the healing to happen even over a long distance, right? Jesus could have done that.
But he doesn’t do that. Instead he waits around another two days and when he finally gets there Lazarus has been dead for four days.
The math is pretty simple, isn’t it? Even with leaving right away he still wouldn’t have made it in time. He still would have been dead for two days. The outcome would have been the same. So why the delay?
The context of the story suggests there was immediate danger in travelling but that was not the reason for his delay. When he finally did go, the danger was still there and yet he travelled.
So he comes across as uncaring and even unloving. You can certainly read that in between Martha’s reaction: “If you would have been here, my brother would not have died.”
She might has well have said, “If you cared a little more” or “If you loved him and us a little more.”.
Truth be known, that was also Mary’s reaction. Though much more tempered than her sister and more reluctant to say it, it says that when she saw him, “She fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” vs. 32
Can We Really Trust Him?
Both sisters, as different as night and day, but both have the same reaction; one flinging her words almost in anger, and the other collapsing at his feet as she sobs the same words.
“If only you would have been here. If only you cared more. If only you loved us more.”
It is a sentiment shared by many. Notice the reaction of the people: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” vs. 37
This feeds into the fear of ‘Can we really trust God?’ ‘At the end of the day, when push comes to shove, will God be there for me?’
Both Martha and Mary’s reactions feed into the fears we all have. ‘If you had been here my brother would not have died.’
Martha and Mary also had their doubts. Thomas wasn’t the only one, and Martha and Mary wouldn’t be the last ones!
This is the fear that all of us have, the fear that at the end of the day I am alone. This fear only makes the stress worse.
A crisis is bad enough. Any of the life changers listed on that scale causes enough stress, and I don’t need the extra stress of fearing I am alone or that God is uncaring.
It’s bad enough that the marriage is in trouble, or that there is sickness in the family, or that I can’t make ends meet, or the mess of trying to blend two families together, or a million other stressors.
This doubt that God really cares for me only makes it worse.
Jesus at The Top Of The Scale!
So let me flip this around and suggest to you what may seem preposterous at first and that is Jesus intentionally waiting until Lazarus was dead as the ultimate demonstration of his love for them.
How on God’s good earth is letting someone die actually helpful? If you had the means to intervene, how would not intervening be helpful?
If nothing else, allowing the sickness to turn into death would push the stress to the highest level possible.
Holmes and Rahe identify the death of a spouse as the highest stressor possible, resulting in a score of 100, while health problems of a family member comes in at 44.
If Jesus had healed Lazarus he would have proven himself faithful at the 44 mark. But there still would have been the question of what about even bigger things. What about life beyond 44?
Above the 44 mark of health problems of family members lie greater stressors of life including facing retirement, getting married, loss of a job, personal injury or sickness, the death of a family member, separation and divorce and ultimately the death of a spouse.
When Jesus allowed the sickness to keep on its natural course leading to death, which in their case was akin to the death of a spouse, it was his way of saying that he was there in the biggest stressors of life.
If he can be there in the biggest stressors of life then he certainly will have no problem being in all the stressors below it.
By allowing the situation to move up through the scales Jesus was actually teasing out the doubt and fears they had that Jesus wouldn’t be there for the top ones.
We are moving up and down that scale all the time like keys being played on a piano.
I don’t know where you are this morning, and which direction things are headed, but there will come times when your life will top out near the very peak of the stress scale.
If you have seen God at the very peak, then you know that it will be nothing for him to meet you at the lower points as well.
I am suggesting this morning that Jesus allowed this thing to escalate so that he could show his great love and compassion for them at their most stressful moments of life.
The Love of God So Rich and Free!
In fact, everything about this story screams the love of God.
“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” vs. 5
“When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” vs. 33-36
Out of his incredible love, he does what he only has done a couple of times and sets aside every natural law in the universe that says we live and then we die; that all organic things must die and that once death has happened the organic side of us decomposes never to return back to an organic state.
That’s the law of the universe. Nothing sets that aside. Except here.
And so as a way to demonstrate not only to Mary and Martha but to every doubting Thomas who has ever lived that he deeply cares and loves us, and that he is in fact even in the most stressful moments of life, he does the impossible and brings Lazarus back to life.
In so doing, he defies every law that’s ever been written, defies the natural order of things and demonstrates his incredible love for Mary and Martha and you and I as well!
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
“That they may believe that you have sent me.”
That even Mary, devout and reflective though she was, did not fully believe that God loved her so much that He sent his Son to be with her in every situation of life.
This same love of God is for you and for me in our days so much so that when Jesus returned to heaven he left God’s Spirit on earth so that we would not be alone when all hell breaks loose around us.
John and Sonya
I remember so well when I got the call to go to the hospital in Lindsay. As one of the pastors in town, I was one of the on-call chaplains at the local hospital on a rotating basis.
I got the call somewhere in the middle of the night. I was to come to the Emergency Dept. and to meet with a couple whose baby had just died. I knew I had no words, but I knew I had to go.
The nurse had told me the mother was Catholic and had come to Canada from Austria and that their three-month Down syndrome baby died of natural causes.
When I pulled back the curtain and saw Sonya sitting on the floor rocking her three-month-old dead baby amidst the sobs of a crushed heart, with her husband John as forlorn as she was beside her, all I could do is kneel down in front of her. I told her, in her mother tongue of German, that God loved her baby, loved her and that she was not alone.
Of all the community chaplains I was the only that spoke German the night Sonya needed to know that God speaks German.
It was a turning point, when in her greatest moment of heartbreak and stress, she felt the love of God fill her broken heart.
John and Sonya eventually gave their hearts to the Lord, got baptized and joined our church and became our friends.
Where are you this morning on the stress scale? We are always moving up and down that scale with some near the bottom where life is swell and others near the top going crazy.
You are always going to be moving up and down that scale. As you do, you need to know you are not alone. God loves you so very much and He has always been there even in the darkest moments.
He loves nothing more than to carry you, even you, through the roughest patches of your life.
That single set of footprints that you see in the sand where the sea is the roughest is not because you are alone but because He has carried you and all you see are His footprints in the sand.
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.