The only pressure I’m under is the pressure I’ve put on myself.
~Mark Messier, NHL Hall-of-Fame player (Oilers/Rangers)
Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing
~Chuck Noll, NFL Hall-of-Fame Coach (Steelers)
‘Pressure’ is a word that is misused in our vocabulary. When you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started to think of failure.
~Tommy Lasorda, MLB Hall-of-Fame Manager (Dodgers)
Courage is grace under pressure
~Ernest Hemingway, Author
Whatever you see—any good results—are all from the pressure
~Ziyi Zhang, Author
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following post intentionally applies a secular position through its majority, eventually applying a Christian perspective near its conclusion. The rationale for this decision is that it will help non-Christians see the general relevance of the topic, while also highlighting my view that a Christian perspective for addressing moments when feeling pressure (or confronting those poorly dealing with pressure) is best. This post focuses on issues that I believe are both prevalent and pervasive within the culture in which I find myself. I attempt to be as thorough as possible in my logic and as reasonable as possible with my justifications. What I do not claim is omniscience or perfect clarity on this issue—or any issue. Therefore, I welcome thoughtful dialogue with anyone who may disagree with any or all of my positioning | Any bold, magenta words within this post are hyperlinks that provide useful, supplemental information. If the magenta hyperlink is followed by (a), for example(a), then there is an available blog or appendix page that allows for a deeper look into the topic hyperlinked.
Feeling pressure. Who doesn’t feel pressure at one time or another? But for as frequently as we feel pressure, do we even understand why we feel it? And, what is “pressure”—really?
When I sought definitions for PRESSURE, I came upon the following:
1. the continuous physical force exerted on or against an object by something in contact with it.
2. the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something.
1. the attempt to persuade or coerce (someone) into doing something.
While I cannot speak for others, the definitions provided above fail to fully capture what it is to “feel pressure” from my own experiences. Rather, the above definitions are contextually focused on what I would refer to as “being pressured.” Being pressured and feeling pressure are neither synonymous; nor mutually exclusive.
I believe that some clarification is warranted…
Yes, we’re all likely to eventually feel pressure in situations where we’re being pressured. However, being pressured is an external force, whereas feeling pressure is internal. We are being pressured when someone or something else is attempting to persuade, influence, or coerce us into particular actions, behaviors, commitments, worldviews, etc. We may feel pressure when we’re being pressured to engage in something that we either want to do or that we should do. There is also the possibility that we’re being pressured into something that we both want to do and should do. And sometimes, we believe that we don’t know what to do, but feel pressure because we realize that we should do something—because if we don’t do anything, we’ll experience an ever-increasing feeling of pressure. Let’s call this phenomenon “experiencing a growing anxiety.” This last situation—experiencing a growing anxiety—usually (but not always) occurs when individuals know what they should do, but are choosing to either pretend that they don’t know what to do or completely ignore the reality of their circumstances. In other words, anxiety is often caused by some form of avoidance.
Now, some may wonder why any of us would avoid doing something that we know that we should do. For that matter, many of us would probably question why most people would choose not to do something that they would want to do, right?
It does seem as though my efforts to provide clarification are thus far convoluted, and—at minimum—counter-intuitive; though, to establish a near comprehensive understanding of what constitutes “feeling pressure” is complex. Therefore, let’s continue to conceptually deconstruct what it is to feel pressure by the scenarios we’ve identified:
“WE WANT TO DO”
To start, let’s consider why individuals may feel pressure to do something that they want to do. When reflecting on my own experiences, I’d suggest that the primary reason for individuals feeling pressure to do something that they want to do is that they either believe or know that it’s something that they shouldn’t want to do. Also, there are circumstances where we “want to” please someone else, but to do so conflicts with what we believe is the right thing for us to do. We’ll continue by examining these two proposed reasons for feeling pressure.
Feeling pressure because we want to do the wrong thing. We human beings are emotional, and subsequently, irrational creatures. We often embrace short-term pleasures to the detriment of long-term benefits. The pressure we feel in such circumstances represents our internal turmoil—a conflict between our emotions and logic.
Our emotional urges for instant gratification often encourage us to make decisions and engage in activities and behaviors that contradict what would be logical choices for the long-term. When we decide to regularly engage in instant gratification, we’re likely to disregard many of the negative consequences associated with our behaviors. And sometimes, it isn’t even necessary for us to completely refrain from certain gratifying behaviors. Rather, we may only need to exhibit patience for when it’s actually appropriate for us to engage in those behaviors—deferring gratification. This is also known as exhibiting self-control.
A well-known Stanford University experiment that was conducted in the late 1960s and early 70s by Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen examined deferred gratification (i.e. self-control) in children. Known as the marshmallow test, children were offered the choice between an immediate reward (e.g. one marshmallow), or a larger reward (e.g. two marshmallows) if they were willing to wait for a short-period of time (e.g. 15 minutes). The researcher would leave the children in a room (often) alone with the short-term reward; returning when the designated time period had passed. These experiments found that the children who were capable of resisting the urge for instant gratification were more dependable as adults, and scored higher on scholastic aptitude tests. Basically, according to these experiments, if we embrace deferred gratification as our modus operandi, then we’re more likely to benefit over the course of our lives.
Consistently deferring gratification, however, is difficult; especially in an age that encourages destructive behavior through instant gratification. In recent years, there have been regular increases in how much we dine out, shop/date online, and view porn. Everything we want to consume—whether or not it’s appropriate to do so—is constantly becoming more readily available with instantaneous access. Businesses want to generate as much revenue as possible. They want our money, and more of it. As consumption of various services and product offerings become easier to buy and consume, our susceptibility to committing impulse purchases increases. With the thousands of messages that inundate us daily, our ability to exhibit self-control is constantly challenged.
Subsequently, if we never feel pressure to refrain from doing something that we want to do, maybe it’s necessary for us to consider whether we’re even attempting to exhibit self-control! Either that, or we’re all perfect people who are never tempted to do anything that we shouldn’t 😛
Wanting to please someone else. Another explanation for feeling pressure to do something that we “want to do” is that we realize it’s not a good decision—or maybe we have doubts as to whether it’s a good decision—but someone else whom we love wants us to do it. We want to please them. We’d never want to disappoint these people in our lives.
A common example often occurs when individuals are transitioning into adulthood, with many parents having (and regularly expressing) certain hopes for their sons and daughters since they were wee lads and lasses. I’d dare say that such hopes often involve their children’s career pursuits. The below (fictional) story serves as an illustrative example:
George is a fourth year college student at the University of Virginia (UVA). He is a legacy student, with both of his parents—Bob and Bernadette—being alumni of the university. Both of his parents are also successful lawyers, partners in a nationally recognized law firm.
From an early age, George’s parents have expressed the hope that he would one day attend UVA, go to law school, become a lawyer, and join their firm; eventually becoming a partner. Recently, George has begun feeling the pressure of his parents’ expectations. He loves his parents very much; spending significant time with them—even while a student. He knows that they’ve done whatever they could to provide him every opportunity to be successful. Bob and Bernadette helped George enjoy the best primary school education possible, and paid all of his college expenses. Unfortunately, he struggles to see himself as a lawyer…
George is passionate about teaching and coaching. Upon completion of his Bachelor of Arts in English, he wants to pursue a Masters in Education. He has quietly begun the process for obtaining his coaching certification. He hasn’t said anything to his parents…yet. While he isn’t passionate about law, he’s signed up to take the LSAT in a few weeks. There are days when he thinks that he should acquiesce to his parents’ preferences and attend law school. The thought of disappointing his parents leaves him emotionally weary. Unfortunately, the thought of being a lawyer torments him as well…
George is conflicted, experiencing an ever increasing anxiety.
My illustration above is written from George’s perspective. How many of us can relate to George? His situation sucks, right? How many of us think negatively of his parents for putting all that pressure on him to become a lawyer? Well, George’s situation isn’t as awful as he views it. Continuing the story, below shares the reality (of my fictional illustration 😛 ):
George’s parents are unaware of his plight—he hasn’t told them. While they’ve regularly shared their hopes of him one day becoming a partner at their law firm, it’s always been shared from a loving place of innocence. They possess a passion for the legal system, and they love their son. From their limited perspective of his passions (George isn’t necessary super expressive), they assume that there would be nothing their son would enjoy more than to become a lawyer. And since they’re really close to him, and he hasn’t said anything contrary, what else would he want to do? Where else would he want to work?
If George shares his passion for teaching and coaching, his parents will be supportive. Yes, there will be a tinge of disappointment, but they love their son and will see the passion and commitment that he holds for both professions. They’ll quickly realize that he’ll be successful as a teacher and as a coach. They’ll acknowledge his ability to make wise and thoughtful, long-term decisions.
In learning more about their son’s interests and pursuits, they’ll come to understand him better. Eventually, they’ll come to trust in their son’s discernment. They’ll recognize the character and integrity that will serve him well throughout his life.
Upon seeing the parent’s perspective, it’s apparent that George feels pressure that he creates—it originates from his assessment of his circumstances. His parents aren’t intending to manipulate him, nor are they attempting to pressure him into something that he doesn’t want to do. They’re sharing their hopes for him; obviously believing that George would be blessed to find himself in such circumstances. (Otherwise, it wouldn’t be their hope for him. They’re not wishing ill on their son!)
Of course, my illustration could have been developed differently—it’s a fictional story. I could have written a different plot for my story. For instance, what if George’s parents were extremely disappointed and responded poorly to the news. They could have threatened to pull the financial support they’d been providing. Maybe they’d distance themselves emotionally for a time. Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that when George—or any of us—feels pressure, it originates from him (us). Pressure is a response to perceived circumstances. Ultimately, the reality is that we should always attempt to do the right thing—hence, why it’s termed “right”—rather than do the wrong thing to please others.
We need to be careful in these “want to do” scenarios, however, to discern whether we’re feeling pressure because we’re debating about doing something wrong to please someone else; or, if we’re actually trying to resist good counsel from someone when we’re doing something wrong. The latter of these two scenarios is closely associated with feeling pressure to do something that…
“WE SHOULD DO”
I believe that feeling pressure to do something that “we should do” is frequently and significantly tied to fear. We can experience fear in an unlimited variety of manifestations that can reveal itself suddenly, or can develop over time. And how long fear remains with us is, for the most part, dependent on us.
As stated earlier, feeling pressure is an internal response. While some fears are influenced by the external presence of physical harm (i.e. survival instinct), many of the everyday fears that we possess are internal perceptions that manifest in our minds. We all have fears. And exhibiting a physiological response of fear isn’t necessarily bad, depending on our circumstances. When we’re legitimately being threatened physically, the physiological response of fear can be life saving. It engages our body’s “fight or flight” mode.
In instances where we experience fear, adrenaline is sent into our blood stream. From a physiological perspective, this provides us with two key benefits. We are able to:
- run faster and longer (flight) OR fight with more force and stamina
- maintain intense focus, being vigilant/hyper-alert
A problem, however, arises when we’re perceptually associating fear with people or situations that are not physically harmful or threatening. More often than not, fear under these circumstances serves as a hindrance or worse; encouraging us to be self-destructive. When we’re experiencing this type of perceived fear, it’s necessary for us to overcome it—to fight back. When we choose not to resist and fight such fear, it will:
- sap our energy (chronic fatigue), encouraging us to be avoidant and reclusive
- limit our personal development, keeping us from reaching our full potential
- negatively affect our ability to have deep and meaningful relationships
- consume our thoughts and actions
If we choose to run away from mental fear, it’ll always catch up with us. For example, if we become fearful of the circumstances surrounding one situation (e.g. situation A), then we’ll run to another situation (e.g. situation B). Unfortunately, mental fear will follow us to this new situation. We’ll eventually (mentally/emotionally) project our unaddressed fear into our new situation. Again, we’ll run to another situation—the process repeating itself. But what are we going to do when we ultimately find ourselves backed into a corner? Are we going to fight our mental fear or retreat into ourselves?
The best thing any of us can do is to address our perceived, mental fears immediately. If we don’t work to overcome these fears, they’ll overwhelm us, and we’ll actively marginalize the opportunities that our lives avail us. We’ll eventually reach a point where we’ll be so exhausted and consumed by fear that we’ll refuse to do things that…
“WE WANT AND SHOULD DO”
Ultimately, we’ll stop running and we’ll do one of two things. We’ll either:
- confront our fears and start living our lives from a much healthier perspective
- accept fear’s leadership in our lives and retreat from everything (good and bad)
The latter occurs because fear finally convinces us that feeling pressure is always bad. Not surprisingly, the longer we operate by retreating from fear, the more difficult it will become for us to confront it. Why? Because fear develops friendships in our lives. These friends fight against our logic. Let’s call these friends DOUBT, CONTROL, and COMMUNITY.
Say that again?
Fear’s friends are: DOUBT, CONTROL, and COMMUNITY.
Let me explain…
Why Doubt? The longer we live in fear, the longer we permit fear to dictate our behaviors. When our decisions never seem to spare us from fear, we doubt our ability to escape it. Our doubt becomes a companion of our fear. Doubt buoys our fear because it convinces us that we’re not capable of…well, anything. It discourages commitment. And when others challenge us to confront our fear, doubt runs to the aid of its friend.
When confronted, we’re inundated with various forms of doubt. We doubt whether we’re capable of doing what we’re being challenged to do. We doubt whether we truly know if we’re doing the right thing–doubting ourselves. And in doubting ourselves, we doubt the intentions of those individuals who challenge us to confront our fears. We doubt them, because we doubt that they could ever understand or know us. How can they, when we’re not even sure—given our inability to overcome our fears—that we truly understand or know ourselves? When feeling pressure to do what we want and should do, doubt encourages us to perceive any pressure that we feel to be negative. And because we’ll now feel pressure in the presence of individuals who love us enough to confront us, we’ll avoid them. Sometimes, if they’re persistent, we’ll aggressively push them away; forcing them out of our lives. Why? The negative perceptions that we associate with feeling pressure are now attributed to these individuals. Therefore, when doubt consumes our thoughts, it wins. Moreover, when doubt wins over our thoughts, it’ll decide that our fear stays…
And doubt encourages another of fear’s friends—control—to take residence in our lives, often under the guise of independence.
Why Control (Independence)? When we’re not sure what would be best for us to do, then we’re fearful to make changes, being concerned that we wouldn’t be capable of handling our circumstances if they worsened. This is the “grass is browner” mindset. But as a retort, let us consider the following words of wisdom from good ole’ Benji Frank (Benjamin Franklin):
“If you do tomorrow what you did today, you will get tomorrow what you got today”
Franklin’s (snarky) words are straight forward, outlining reasonable expectations when engaging in repetitive behavior. However, when fear controls so much of our lives, and doubt encourages us to avoid confronting our fear, how can we not feel helpless? Would it be a stretch for us to attribute our sense of helplessness to our inability to control our lives? And what is the easiest way to feel as though we’re in control? Like researchers conducting experiments, we eliminate any unnecessary (i.e. required) variables—we become reductionists. We remove as many people from our lives as possible, and then do everything we can to maintain an exclusionary environment—claiming that we’re being independent. As if that’s a good thing…
Furthermore, in those instances when we can’t help but feel overwhelmed by fear, we’re more likely to engage in unhealthy means of escape; including (but not limited to) behaviors such as heavy drinking, drug use, and sexual promiscuity—using our self-perceived independence as justification. What we’re calling independence, however, is more akin to distrusting others. While such escapist behaviors may occasionally place us in public settings or around others, we’re not engaging in these environments from a healthy, emotionally committed perspective. Any encounters with others when engaging in such behaviors are more likely to cause collateral damage than they are relationship.
Do we see the irony ?
We control our circumstances so as to avoid feeling pressure, because we associate feeling pressure with feeling fear. The fact that feeling pressure often makes us aware of our fear leads us to develop this unhealthy association. However, feeling pressure is not, nor should it be considered, synonymous with fear. We need to realize that fear is not something from which we can run away. To truly rid ourselves of any fear, we must confront it.
And actively attempting to avoid feeling pressure is a counter-productive behavior, because it helps fear become more entrenched in our lives. Feeling pressure is an internal mechanism that tells us when we need to examine our actions and behaviors. In other words, feeling pressure often informs us that we need to pay more attention to where we’re going. And like directions from a Global Positioning System (GPS), feeling pressure often warns us when we’re heading off course. Not surprisingly, when we’re ignoring or muting the directions provided by our GPS, we’re going to find ourselves lost. And like stubborn drivers, heading everywhere but where we’re intending, we don’t allow others to help us—we’re independent! We got this, right? Well, maybe not…but we’re not ready (if ever) to admit defeat, and we’re too proud to make apologies (if ever we see our fault) later…
Thus, over time, we develop a hyper-sensitivity to criticism and confrontation. Remember, we don’t want to feel pressure—which, for us, is tantamount to fear. So, anyone who challenges us receives the following (or equivalent) response: “Get out of our vehicle (our lives)!”
We’re the driver…
…but are we?
When operating in fear, the reality is that we’re not actually in control of our lives. We’re not driving. Fear is in control, driving us. We’re only passengers misled to believe that we’re behind the wheel.
Though, we’re never the only passenger. Fear always has it friends along for the ride, because fear likes a supportive community…
Why Community? As mentioned previously, when fear is in charge, we’re encouraged to remove any individuals or environments that challenge its control. We’re convinced by fear that we’re building peaceful environments, with loving and caring people. We assure ourselves that any individuals who are confronting us about fear’s control in our lives aren’t good for us to have around. How are we to heal, right?
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t caring or loving people in our lives when we’re living under fear’s control. What I am suggesting is that we’re more likely to:
- remove those loving and caring people from our lives who confront us, and
- restrict our community to a population that we’re more capable of controlling
In this respect, fear chooses our community.
Our remaining community is prone to (primarily) consist of people whose unwillingness to confront us condones our choices to abide by fear. Whether or not it’s their intention—I’d suspect that it’s not—these non-confrontational people, under such circumstances, serve as enablers.
A growing concern of mine involves what I see as a cultural disposition to enable or outright avoid (i.e. “because we don’t like drama“) our friends when they find themselves in dark places. In the region where I currently live, a significant majority of people seem to carry a negative cultural presupposition about confrontation. This presupposition is relationship debilitating; encouraging others to “not get involved” with those who get caught in a behavioral pattern of following fear.
The unsaid (and broken) logic underlying this presupposition is that “confrontation isn’t encouragement,” neglecting the fact that sometimes encouraging others to do what is right and good (and healthy) functions as confrontation—diametrically opposed to the existing behavior (that is damaging, fear-induced, and unhealthy). Of course, we need to consider various situational contexts for when and how to lovingly confront others (…maybe in a future post); doing so when it’s appropriate.
Unfortunately, doing what is right and loving doesn’t necessarily benefit us directly. Life isn’t fair, and doing what is good isn’t always rewarded (in this life). Confronting an unhealthy person that is embracing fear will often lead to being temporarily, and possibly permanently, ostracized. Unhealthy people, whether or not friends, will struggle to see the love of others when they’re under the influence of fear.
No wonder hurt people often befriend hurt people…
Again, when we’re living in fear, doubt and independence serve as fear’s friends. And fear likes to be surrounded by its friends. Therefore, fear institutes policies (i.e. behaviors) that encourage us to build community with its adherents. We allow people with the same fear-driven mindsets to serve as our counsel. And when confronted by others, those people—who in their doubts, like us, want support for their (fear-oriented) perspectives—will assure us that those confronting us are “manipulative and a threat.” Our community of fear-mongers convince us that the confrontation we’re receiving is a control mechanism. Instead, our fellow fear followers implore us to hold tightly onto our independence. They’d likely tell us, “You do you.”
Do you see the deception? Fear and its friends emotionally reposition the truth to support unhealthy patterns of behavior.
But—some may ask—why bother confronting our friends if we risk having them push us away? To this question, I’ll respond with a couple questions of my own. First, are we to love and care for our friends? Second, do we believe that love is greater than fear? If the two questions that I pose are answered in the affirmative, we’ve answered the initial question. If we’ve failed to respond in the affirmative to my two counter-questions, then, we probably fall into the enabler group…
The following words from Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s novel, An Ambitious Man, align with my own:
“To sin by silence, when we should protest, make cowards out of men.”
And consider the following analogy:
Failing to confront when necessary is equivalent to being an apathetic voting member on a company’s executive board. Not confronting a self-destructive friend functions the same as having “no objection” on a crucial executive board vote. We’re providing passive approval when we should be actively objecting. Basically, we’re saying that we’re okay with the direction the company (i.e. our friend) is heading. And in this particular vote, we’re granting carte blanche power to fear. Ceding complete control to fear allows it to position its friends into key leadership roles (i.e. community). Due to our initial passivity, a hostile takeover (divine intervention) may be the only option for removing fear from its executive office…
Now, consider the power of a loving community confronting us before fear has had the opportunity to entrench itself. Rather than apathy, what if we chose to compassionately encourage one another to confront our fear when it becomes visible in our actions? Imagine the impact and influence that a collective response of loving concern could have upon us!
Reflecting upon what has been discussed thus far, three important (and tightly interwoven) application questions arise:
- When and how should we confront others?
- How can we examine ourselves when being confronted by others?
- How can we discern whether or not we’re the ones being deceived by fear when feeling pressure?
My response to these questions will be provided a little later, as my answers require a faith-oriented position that we’re not quite ready to discuss. First, I intend to share fear’s chief strategy for combating and winning confrontations—using our feelings as its foundation for behavioral justification.
FEAR WINS WHEN ARGUING FROM A FOUNDATION OF FEELINGS
Ask yourself: Why do we argue? Do we argue to win? Or, do we argue for truth—do we hope to establish peace?
For clarification (a hypothetical):
Let’s say that I confront a friend about his destructive behavior. I make every attempt to be gentle and loving. I thoughtfully state my concerns with actual examples—these events serving as the basis for my concerns. My focus is on their health. My hope is that he can find peace with himself, and there can be peace between us. That is what I strive for within my community.
My friend tells me that I’m being forceful, and that he feels pressured. He continues by informing me that confronting him about his (destructive) behavior leaves him feeling judged and betrayed. I am hurting him, and he doesn’t feel as though he can trust me anymore. He feels as though I’m trying to manipulate him—that I’m trying to control him. He feels that real friends would never confront. Instead, he informs me that a good friend would respect his feelings, and be supportive—they would show encouragement.
How can I respond?
I can try to continue to find common ground. But if he isn’t willing to stop referencing his feelings to justify his (destructive) behavior, is common ground possible? That only leaves me with two viable options. One option would be that I could acknowledge his feelings in a way that he would view as supportive, but then I would be giving power to his fear; condoning his behavior. This, however, would be a disingenuous response. My other option would be to play the feelings game too. But then, who wins? Obviously, our feelings—given our previously stated positions—will be in disagreement with one another. At best, we can both agree to disagree, “respecting” each other’s feelings. Does this sound foolish?
Some could say that I shouldn’t have said anything, and there’d continue to be peace between us. My response to that rationale is that I could never be at peace with myself if I knowingly allow my friend to harm himself. How can I choose to be a passive participant? If I’m okay with my friend harming himself, then I’m not (and never was) his friend, and we’re just two people who happened to cross upon one another during this life. [NOTE: this post will not go into detail as to what I believe constitutes friendship]
When people use feelings to justify behaviors, how can common ground be found? Fear wins when feelings serve as the justification for (destructive) behavior…if it can be called winning. Unless we can speak to one another from an agreed upon common ground, the best result possible is that we agree to disagree. But this begs the question, what can serve as common ground during an argument or discussion?
The secular perspective is limited. For “common ground” to be common or shared ideally necessitates that it isn’t subjective (This is why I don’t bother arguing with people who adhere to postmodern philosophy 😛 ). Common ground should be something that all parties accept as being universal.
So what is considered universal from a secular perspective?
The natural sciences (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics, etc) generally adhere to universal laws and principles (with the exception of the ideal gas law during New England Patriots games). However, theories in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology) are less supported. These theories are quasi-objective at best, with scholars acknowledging an inability to completely remove subjectivities from their research (i.e. post positivism). The quotes below strongly reflect the general sentiments of these scholars:
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” ~ Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor (121-180 A.D.)
“There are no facts, only interpretations.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosopher (1844-1900 A.D.)
The dominant, secular perspective within the social sciences suggests that morality is highly dependent on subjectivities that we develop over time through social conditioning. Subsequently, approaching truth from a secular perspective becomes a subjective exercise; being dependent on our subjective moralities and ethics.
Therefore, is “feeling pressure” simply a conflict in how two of our environments attempt to socially condition us; forcing us to address our cognitive dissonance? If so, then applying a secular lens to examine and address this psycho-social phenomenon is problematic.
Defined from a secular lens, morality—its right and wrong—becomes a constantly moving target among an indeterminable number of individual realities. This would make finding common ground among people difficult, if not impossible—right? And if peace is defined as “unity absent conflict [a common definition],” should the concept of peace—the end state we seek by finding common ground—be deemed fallacious?
What if scholars are assuming too much by not assuming (nor accepting) that which they’re unable to prove?
I can agree that we all—to greater and lesser degrees—adhere to moralities and truths that possess personal subjectivities and are influenced by sociocultural norms. What I struggle (and currently refuse) to believe is that a universal morality founded upon a universal truth cannot exist. The fact that society fails to identify or follow a universal morality doesn’t serve to confirm its non-existence. Rather, the situational reality is that we’re unable to definitively identify either a universal morality or its corresponding truths through the scientific process.
Of course, this subjective view of morality and truth hasn’t always been the accepted, dominant perspective. The late Oxford scholar (and lay theologian), C.S. Lewis, wrote an essay that expressed his concerns regarding the acceptance of a subjective morality; alluding to what (or Who) is capable of judging our morality from a universal vantage point:
Until modern times no thinker of the first rank ever doubted that our judgments of value were rational judgments or that what they discovered was objective. It was taken for granted that in temptation passion was opposed, not to some sentiment, but to reason. Thus Plato thought, thus Aristotle, thus Hooker, Butler and Doctor Johnson. The modern view is very different. It does not believe that value judgments are really judgments at all. They are sentiments, or complexes, or attitudes, produced in a community by the pressure of its environments and its traditions, and differing from one community to another. To say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; and our feeling about it is the feeling we have been socially conditioned to have.
But if this is so, then we might have been conditioned to feel otherwise. ‘Perhaps’, thinks the reformer or the educational expert, ‘it would be better if we were. Let us improve our morality.’ Out of this apparently innocent idea comes the disease that will certainly end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes. Everyone is indignant when he hears the Germans define justice as that which is to the interest of the Third Reich. But it is not always remembered that this indignation is perfectly groundless if we ourselves regard morality as a subjective sentiment to be altered at will. Unless there is some objective standard of good, over-arching Germans, Japanese and ourselves alike whether any of us obey it or no, then of course the Germans are as competent to create their ideology as we are to create ours. If ‘good’ and ‘better’ are terms deriving their sole meaning from the ideology of each people, then of course ideologies themselves cannot be better or worse than one another. Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring. For the same reason it is useless to compare the moral ideas of one age with those of another: progress and decadence are alike meaningless words (The Poison of Subjectivism, p. 73).
Lewis highlights the folly in attempting to establish a right (good) and wrong (evil) if there isn’t an actual, universal morality. He also suggests, however, that for us to identify a universal morality—to judge good from evil—requires an ability to be independent from it. This is an ability that we don’t possess.
So, let’s say that a universal morality and its corresponding truth does exist. The question remains: How do we identify a firm foundation (i.e. universal morality/truth) for fostering healthy relationship whenever conflict requiring confrontation occurs? Where can we find common ground?
CONSIDER: What if the supernatural realm exists and has influence on the physical realm? What if our answers we’re seeking originate from the supernatural realm? And what if a person came from the supernatural realm into the physical to share the truth with us; outlining universal moral foundations for healthy relationship—not just for this life, but for the life to come (i.e. heaven)?
Basically, what if we’ve already been provided our common ground, but not everyone is willing to accept it?
And why wouldn’t everyone accept it?
First, this would require that we believe in an ultimate, fully sovereign Authority that we didn’t choose—that this Authority is sovereign regardless of our allegiance. Subsequently, this Authority’s perspective of what’s good (right) or evil (wrong) is the only perspective that matters—it’s the only perspective that can represent a universal truth (i.e. Truth), and that can judge morality with consistent standards. This is an extremely difficult point of acceptance for those who’ve established authoritative power in this world, and/or who’ve earned recognition as experts.
Second, this would require that we believe this Authority knows more than us—not only being omnipotent, but also omniscient and omnipresent. This Authority is not capable of being deceived. We’d only be fooling ourselves to believe differently. This necessitates an acceptance that we’re only capable of knowing what this Authority reveals to us.
And third, if a person came to us from a (or the) supernatural realm—regardless of whether or not he looked like us—he would be different, and he would act differently. If we weren’t willing to accept his story (of from where he came and the Truth that he was sharing), then we’d probably consider him a lunatic or a liar (or both). And if we’re in positions of institutional authority, and His story began to gain traction with others—threatening our authority—what would we do?
Would it be possible to believe that we’d kill him? That’s the most permanent (though disturbing) way of removing someone from our lives, right?
Well, the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato (424-347 B.C.), would undoubtedly agree with our reasoning. In his short story, the Allegory of the Cave, Plato attempts to explain the effect of education on an individual, and the lack of it in our nature (how many of us aren’t active learners, but only learners by necessity). The story suggests that—even if we existed in a horrific environment—we’d initially resist accepting anything outside of what we’ve been socially conditioned to believe as Truth. This resistance would likely be so strong that we’d likely need to have the new way of living and thinking forced upon us. Then, once we’re exposed to a better understanding of our reality, we’d never want to go back to our previous way of thinking. However, if we returned to our previous environment, sharing our new lifestyle and way of understanding with others, their responses would mirror our own initial response—resistance. They consider our new way of living and understanding of reality as foolishness. Seeing what our experience did to us (viewing it negatively), they would consider us or anyone else who attempts to expose them to the same as a threat—killing them.
THE LESSON: Truth threatens fear.
Basically, by fearing what they do not understand, they reject the means for understanding. For everything cannot be understood until it is. And sometimes, to believe (or to know) requires faith.
FINDING OUR ANSWERS IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
I believe that faith in Jesus Christ provides the answers that we’re seeking. A Christian faith provides us with both a universal truth, and a corresponding, universal morality. He alone can serve as a firm foundation (Luke 6:46-49). He alone can function as our common ground (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Universal Truth. Jesus is the person that came from the supernatural world to share universal Truth (John 1:17) to us in ours (Malachi 3:1; John 17:8). When scripture refers to Christ as the “Word Manifest,” the original Greek word used for “Word” is logos. Logos translates more accurately to mean divine rationality, suggesting that Christ is literally a physical representation of universal Truth. Jesus affirms such thought when He refers to Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6, NASB).
The bible is the written Word of God, literally claiming to be theopneustos, or God-breathed. God superintends for His words to be written within scripture’s books. He cleans Isaiah’s (sinful) lips with a burning coal. He says to Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. And Jesus, the Son of God (John 5:19; Hebrews 1:5)—the living Truth—affirms scripture to be His message:
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me(a)” (John 5:46, NASB)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB)
With the above understanding of both Christ and scripture, we should ask ourselves: What Truth is shared? The following table highlights relevant Christian convictions for outlining the Christian faith, and defining what constitutes universal morality from a Christian perspective.
What does it mean for us who follow this perspective? How do these convictions guide us when we’re feeling pressure? Well, it provides:
- a common destination (i.e. heaven) and purpose (i.e. relationship with God) to pursue
- the way to this destination (i.e. faith in Christ)
- the means for following the way (i.e. Holy Spirit) and not getting lost (i.e. discernment)
- a description of how the journey should progress (i.e. sanctification to glorification)
With faith in Christ (i.e. Truth)—and the gift of the Holy Spirit—Christians are able to ascertain what is moral from immoral.
Universal Morality/Immorality. Universal morality is shared as universal Truth is communicated and demonstrated through and by the life of Christ. While detailed appendices have been provided on what constitutes Christian morality(a) and immorality(a), the below infographic may be more useful for explaining the material.
Essentially, Christian (i.e. universal) morality centers on love and relationship with God and others(a) through the person of Christ with help of the Holy Spirit. From a Christian perspective, anything done outside of this moral framework of Christ (God) centeredness represents immorality(a).
The more I’ve explored scripture on this topic, the more convinced I’ve become that our ability to make moral versus immoral decisions ties closely to whether we view existence and reality from an eternal or temporal perspective respectively. The temporal perspective will lead us to “miss the mark” (sin), as our actions will always be focused on something other than God (e.g. lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life). An eternal perspective will lead us to glorify God; loving Him and others, even in temporal circumstances that would otherwise encourage sinful behavior. The more that we see life as being eternal (which it is), and make decisions in accordance to that perspective (which we should), the more we’ll experience peace, contentment, and joy(a).
Again, the Way to do this is through Christ (John 14:6). His life—shared through the scriptures—provides us a model for moral living. We are to be imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). Why else would Christians be referred to as His followers?
But, what if we need help in understanding His Word (i.e. the scriptures)? For those of us who are called to serve as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20-21), taking up our crosses daily and following our Lord’s leadership (Luke 9:23), we’re assured to receive guidance from the Holy Spirit:
I [i.e. Christ] will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [i.e. the Holy Spirit], that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17, NASB)…
“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful (John 14:25-27, NASB)
Through the Holy Spirit, we’re equipped to know what is good and pleasing to God:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12, NASB)
Therefore, with faith, hope, and love in an almighty, sovereign, and relational God—Who is representative of both perfect love and perfect justice; demonstrating eternal forgiveness, mercy, and grace by sending His Son as a sacrificial payment for our sins—we’re presented a model of morality that focuses on peace, hope, love, and compassion founded upon a universal Truth and a universal Law. Through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, the Truth shared through Christ, the Law found in scripture, and the moral accountability system available to us through a healthy [Christian] community, we’re capable of exhibiting wise discernment.
WHEN FEELING PRESSURE: DISCERNMENT FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
While I’m unsure as to whether or not I should consider either to be positive character traits, I’ve been introspective and analytical my entire life. Maybe it’s because I—for as long as I can remember—believe the Holy Spirit to communicate with Christians through our consciences (Romans 9:1; Acts 24:6). For me, feeling pressure—that sense of something isn’t right—always serves as an indication that I’m about to enter a situation, or find myself in circumstances, where there is (or are) potential conflict(s) regarding:
- what I want to do versus what I should do (i.e. temptation)
- what I want to do for someone else versus what I should do (i.e. idolatry)
- what I should do versus what I’m considering to do (e.g. fear or deception)
- what I want to do and should do versus active fleeing and/or avoidance (i.e. fear)
- a need for action versus an indecision as to what action to do (i.e. distrust, doubt)
When feeling pressure, I first attempt to identify and understand all the factors surrounding my situation and/or circumstances—all that should be considered prior to any action. Further, if there is, or are, any emotions that I’m associating with my pressure, I attempt to ascertain—at a deep, causal level—why I’m experiencing those particular emotions, and whether they should be considered beneficial or detrimental.
Next, with a thorough assessment of my situation or circumstance, I examine my potential actions/behaviors against scriptural teaching (Psalm 119:66), for “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB). Scripture shares Christ and His Truth; and serves as our moral compass. For this reason, we’re encouraged to meditate on scripture constantly (Joshua 1:8), so that the Word of God—and its loving wisdom—is ingrained within our hearts (Psalm 119:11).
Once I have done my due diligence to understand my situation/circumstances, my heart, and any relevant scripture, I then seek wise counsel (Proverbs 13:10) from fellow believers—my friends (Proverbs 27:9). I believe it is wise to seek counsel from those who both know us, and know the Word (Proverbs 13:20); being both loving towards us and obedient to the Truth (Proverbs 15:31-33).
Throughout this process, our constant Counsel should be God through prayer. We’re told that if we, with a fervent faith (James 1:6) pray for wisdom, God will grant it to us (James 1:5).
Therefore, in summary, I believe that when feeling pressure, we should actively engage in the following process:
- personal introspection, while listening to the Holy Spirit
- examination of feelings and possible actions through the lens of scriptural teaching
- counsel through prayer, and through discussion with [Christian] friends
Do not quench the Spirit [e.g. listen to the Holy Spirit]; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully [i.e. with prayer, through the lens of scripture, and with wise counsel]; hold fast to that which is good [i.e. act with loving righteousness]; abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, NASB).
This process, when guided by the Holy Spirit (1 John 16:13) enables us to exhibit wise discernment(a), and provides an answer to the three questions that I posed earlier in this writing.
- When and how should we confront others?
- How can we examine ourselves when being confronted by others?
- How can we discern whether or not we’re the ones being deceived by fear when feeling pressure?
By growing in our ability to discern wisely we’re capable of:
- identifying good from evil (Hebrews 5:14)
- responding to conflict from a common ground (Christ), whether confronting or being confronted (Matthew 18:15-20)
- resembling Christ (Philippians 2:1-11)
When Confronting. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus provides His disciples guidance for confronting other Christians (i.e those who acknowledge the common ground of Christ):
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17, NASB)
Jesus gives us three successively more aggressive steps for confronting others:
- First, confront the individual in private
- Second (if unrepentant), confront the individual with a small group of other believers
- Third (if still unrepentant), ask the church to intercede on behalf of the individual
I’d suspect that the more consumed the individual is by their sin, the increased likelihood that additional steps of confrontation will be necessary. For example, if individuals have been acting from pride or fear for a long time, he or she will have been shaping a self-identity revolving around sinful behavior. The confrontation will feel more combative and personal. Gentleness will more likely be considered “hurtful.” Encouragement to do good will be more likely to be perceived as “manipulative.” The Truth will likely need to be more boldly proclaimed (Philemon 1:8-9) and validated (Deuteronomy 19:15; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19) for these individuals to be able to see past the deceptions they’ve accepted. These confrontations should be conducted with loving compassion, patience, gentleness, and an uncompromising Truth. As much as it depends on us, we should seek to establish peace with our Christian brother or sister—and that they can repent and be at peace with God (Romans 12:18).
Though, sometimes, individuals may—even after every healthy means of confrontation has been attempted—be unrepentant. When we’ve done everything possible to lovingly confront our friend about their habitual sin, we’re to treat them as they behave—as nonbelievers. They’re not acknowledging the Truth; thus, they are rebelling against it. They’re living by the world and are positioning themselves as God’s enemies (James 4:4). If we continue to treat and acknowledge this person as a Christian, it compromises the Church’s message that depends on both “deed and Truth” (1 John 3:18). It “muddies the waters” for those thirsting for the Living Water (John 4:14).
Now, if such individuals comes back at a later time with a repentant heart, we’re to accept them back into the Church as siblings in Christ. This is good in that it both prevents Satan from taking advantage of us through his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), and it restores another person into a healthy relationship with God through Christ:
“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish (Matthew 18: 12-14, NASB).
Sometimes, unfortunately, there may never be repentance:
The prudent see danger and take refuge [in Christ], but the simple keep going and pay the penalty [i.e. death] (Proverbs 27:12, NIV).
Disclaimer: Now remember, the above process is intended for confronting those who are Christians. We cannot hold a standard to those who do not profess or claim the standard. We are not to condemn—judgment is for God alone (James 4:12; 1 Corinthians 5:12). We can only hold accountable those who profess Christ as Lord (Ezekiel 3:20; 1 Corinthians 5:13; Hebrews 10:24-25). For nonbelievers, we should speak with Truth and serve with love when the opportunities present themselves; unashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16); though, exhibiting cunning in such situations (Matthew 10:16).
When Confronted. After providing the detailed description for confronting a Christian above, I believe that there should be an understanding of how we should respond when being confronted. Proverbs repeatedly provides an answer to what would be a wise response:
Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD will stand…cease listening, my son, to discipline, [and you will] stray from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:20-21, 27 NASB).
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel (Proverbs 12:5, NASB).
Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways. Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD. But he who sins against me injures himself; all those who hate me love death (Proverbs 8:32-36, NASB).
Ultimately, our response to confrontation really depends on whether we’re accepting Christ as a common ground, and whether both parties are focused on the Truth rather than “being right.” We obviously need to consider whether those confronting us are speaking with both love and Truth, adhering to scripture (God’s Word). Though, none of us are without sin, and should exhibit a humility and a willingness to conform more into Christ’s likeness. Otherwise, in claiming to be without sin, we’re rejecting Christ—calling Him a liar:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10, NASB)
To be a Christian necessitates that we both acknowledge our need for Christ, and follow Him. None of us want to make the same choice as the rich young man:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is[a] to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:17-31, NASB).
Encouragement, confrontation, humility, repentance, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, service, wisdom and Truth; encompassed by love through relationship are all necessary for…
BECOMING LIKE CHRIST: SANCTIFICATION TO GLORIFICATION
With loving community that adheres to Christian morality—addressing conflicts with Christ as their common ground—members of that community should continuously progress towards a likeness to Christ. And the more we conform to Christ, the more that we as Christians should conform to one another. We become more like one another because we’re all moving closer to the same, permanent moral standard—a constant, universal morality; shared with us by Christ—available to us through Christ.
This process of the Holy Spirit conforming us to Christ’s likeness is called sanctification(a).
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18, NASB)
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, NASB)
The following explains sanctification in one sentence. Once we see Christ, believe in Christ, and come to know Christ; we begin the process of becoming like Christ.
Sanctification requires both the Holy Spirit, and a standard to pursue: Glorification. As emphasized earlier, a secular perspective of morality is subjective by nature. Therefore, as social preferences change, “what is right” from a secular perspective also changes. Those with a secular, progressive mindset typically want to enact changes that lead to something new. Conversely, secular conservatives typically want to maintain the status quo, or revert (i.e. change back) to a prior standard. Both mindsets are focused on directions—not a destination.
With secularism, there always seems to be a strong emphasis on “progressive thinking.” Such thought often challenges a permanent moral standard, as it considers morality to be subjective. Subsequently, “progressive thinking” perceives a permanent moral [i.e. universal] standard with derision; negatively describing such morality with terms like “stagnant”—emotional terms that play the “feelings game” discussed earlier in this post. Addressing such “progressive thinking,” C.S. Lewis brilliantly responds with the following:
For the emotive term ‘stagnant’ let us substitute the descriptive term ‘permanent.’ Does a permanent moral standard preclude progress? On the contrary, except on the supposition of a changeless standard, progress is impossible. If good is a fixed point, it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can approximate or from which they can recede. We can go on getting a sum more and more nearly right only if the one perfectly right answer is ‘stagnant.’ (The Poison of Subjectivism, p. 76).
Christianity focuses on that permanent moral standard—one that was established by the Ultimate Authority. And from a permanent moral standard, unlike secular progressives, we can—ironically—progress closer to that standard: our destination. When Christians reach this destination, they transform; entering a glorified state of being:
that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:21-23, NASB).
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21, NASB).
We’ve now discussed what it is to feel pressure; the importance of having a universal moral standard to address conflicts arising in those moments of feeling pressure; and how a secular moral perspective is unequipped to resolve moral conflicts. Further, we’ve discussed how faith in Christ, and establishing our identity in Christ(a), allows us the opportunity for a loving, eternal relationship with God; existing forevermore in a state of glorification.
We’ve addressed much. So, you may ask: What is the key takeaway? What are the implications, and how can we practically apply what has been shared from this post?
The key point is:
OUR PERCEPTION OF PRESSURE IMPACTS OUR PROGRESS TOWARDS GLORIFICATION
The primary application point of this post is that our response to feeling pressure likely possesses significant influence on our sanctification progress. There is no metric or form of quantitative measurement to confirm this belief—only the logic provided herein.
For many of us, we perceive pressure to be our enemy. We avoid it. We run from it. Essentially, we hate it. Why? Because, as stated earlier, we confuse it with fear. When we confuse pressure with fear, however, we’re giving fear a power that it would otherwise never possess in our lives. Fear is a sin, and leads us away from Christ-like behavior. This perception of feeling pressure, however, is a deception.
As it pertains to our negative perceptions of feeling pressure, I suggest that we follow Abraham Lincoln’s recommendation for dealing with enemies:
The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
The truth is that pressure is what we make it to be—an enemy or a friend.
If we respond to pressure fearfully, then we’re almost guaranteed to see ourselves descend into a downward spiral of immorality—what some Christians refer to as backsliding. And even scarier thought: maybe we’re falsely proclaiming ourselves to be Christians [i.e. not indwelt with the Holy Spirit], and fear is working diligently to keep us from embracing the Truth [i.e. placing faith in Christ]!
However, what if we see the glorious opportunity that feeling pressure provides us? If we respond to pressure as a cue to grow and a caution that there is a major “do right or do wrong” situation facing us, then—with wise discernment—we can further ourselves down the path of sanctification.
Even recent research agrees [surprise]!
Aligning with what I’ve been reading from scripture, a recent TEDTalk by Stanford-educated Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggests that our perceptions of stress [i.e. “pressure”] significantly influence our health. A negative perception of stress is believed to cause 20,000 premature deaths each year! Conversely, positive perceptions of stress leads to a better physiological response; mirroring joy and courage. Further, the more we engage with loving community, the easier it is for us to maintain a positive response to stress. McGonigal suggests that living in a loving community, and changing our perception of stress, could lead to a longer [temporal] life. Even better, scripture suggests that it could lead to a joyful, eternal life.
So let’s recap:
How we respond to feelings of pressure can lead us either to habitually sin or to become further sanctified with help of the Holy Spirit.
Sin (immoral behavior)—whether driven by fear, pride, or idolatry—encourages us to be:
- tempted (lusting)
- anxious (doubting)
- idolatrous and adulterous
- fearful [i.e. worldly fear]
- foolish (in deed and deception)
- rebellious (towards God)
- distrusting (of God and others)
- discouraged (performance driven)
- avoiding (of God and others)
- isolationist (separated from God and others)
Guided by the Holy Spirit, prayer, scriptural teaching, and loving relationship (moral behavior) encourages us to be:
- self-controlled (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6; 2 Timothy 1:7)
- patient (Genesis 12, 13; Galatians 5:22-23; Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 6:15)
- faithful (Proverbs 28:20; Matthew 25:21; Hebrews 1:11; 2 Timothy 2:13)
- loving (Luke 6:35; Romans 12:9; 13:10; 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Peter 4:8)
- courageous (Joshua 1:6-9; Psalm 31:24; 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 5:8)
- wise (Proverbs 13:10; Ephesians 5:15-16; James 1:5; 3:17; Colossians 4:5-6)
- obedient (Deuteronomy 28:1; John 14:23; James 1:22; Romans 12:1-2)
- trusting (Genesis 15:6; Proverbs 3:5-8; Galatians 3:6-9; Luke 12:8-10)
- confronting (Galatians 6:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Timothy 5:20; James 5:19-20)
- relational (Genesis 2:8; Luke 6:31; Ephesians 4:2-3; Hebrews 10:24-25; 2 Cor 6:14)
Simply put, if we decide to take a positive perspective of pressure, listen to the Holy Spirit, and follow Christ: we’ll become like Christ:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:1-11, NASB).
While I can’t speak for anyone else, I want to be like Christ.
A PRAYER: FOR ADDRESSING PRESSURE POSITIVELY
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for loving us while we were still Your enemies. Thank you for the gift of grace in Your Son, Jesus Christ. And thank you for providing us a constant companion to help us keep Your commandments in the Holy Spirit.
Lord, may we all learn how to positively respond to pressure, perceiving its presence a blessing. May the Holy Spirit speak to us in such situations, as we reach out to You in prayer and meditate on Your Word. May we be introspective and reflective on Your Truth. May we build communities conducive to stir one another to love and good deeds. And when we find ourselves in darkness—in environments that encourage us to stray from your Truth—may we instead be a light in that darkness; serving as a powerful ambassador for Christ.
In all we do, may it please You and be for Your glory and our joy.