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OBJECTIVE

To help young people identify negative stress in their lives and learn how to deal with stress in a healthy Orthodox Christian way that is beneficial for both their bodies and souls.

PREPARATION

  • Have an icon of Christ somewhere in the room.
  • Make copies of the prayer so everyone can pray together.
  • Familiarize yourself with the bible passage in this session so that you can properly guide the discussion.

OpENING PRAYER

O Lord, I do not know what to ask of You. You alone know what are my true needs. You love me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I do not dare to ask either for a cross or for consolation. I can only wait on You. My heart is open to You. Visit and help me, for the sake of Your great mercy. Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Your holy will and Your unsearchable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to You. I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will. Teach me to pray. Pray You Yourself in me. Amen.
Prayer for the Acceptance of God's Will,
by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

OBJECTIVE

(State the following aloud, summarizing it in your own words)

In July 1997, the world was taken by surprise with the news that the Russian space station Mir had a sudden failure of its power supply, due to a wrong command issued by the commander. The physician who was in charge of the crew explained that "the mistake resulted from the Commander’s high level of stress."
And what is stress? There is still no clear definition in the medical pathology textbooks, but a current dictionary defines it as "the set of all organic reactions to physical, psychic, infectious, or other, aggressions, which are capable do disturb homeostasis (the internal body equilibrium)".
Today in our session we will use the word "stress" to refer to anxiety or worry. This is a negative type of stress that, unfortunately, is very common in today's society.

ACTIVITY

Draw an imaginary line through the room. Tell the participants to stand somewhere on that line, according to their stress level. One end of the line is for the most stressed people, and the other end is for those who have no stress. Everyone should find a place on the spectrum. For instance, if Eleni is "kind-of stressed," she should be standing about halfway down the line. Before the participants begin, you should place the icon of Christ in a place next to the "unstressed" end of the line. Don't point out the icon until after the activity; participants shouldn't notice its presence.

Have participants go down the line, from one end to the other, and state why they are stressed at that particular level (either high-stress, low-stress, or somewhere in the middle).

After everyone has had a turn talking, point out the icon of Christ in the room. Then state the following in your own words:

If you notice those of you who are more stressed are further away from Christ than those who are less stressed. This unfortunately is often what happens in many of our lives. At times when we need God the most (when we are busy and stressed) we forget to turn to him for help. Let's see what Jesus Himself says about stress:

READ (Matthew 6:25-34)

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, `What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

DISCUSS

(accept all answers and reflect back)

What is Jesus saying here? (have participants briefly summarize the passage)

STATE

(paraphrase in your own words)

Stress and anxiety are so prevalent today that they interfere with work, school, relationships, and other everyday functions, as we heard in the story about the Mir space station. However, anxiety is nothing new - Jesus was talking about it 2000 years ago! Jesus identifies negative stress as something that can interfere between individuals and their relationship with Jesus. He gives people the solution to deal with stress, by changing their focus.

DISCUSS

(accept all answers and reflect back)

  • According to these words of the Gospel, what is stress?
    (worrying, questioning, anxiety, seeking the things that God knows we need)
  • How does Jesus tell us to deal with stress or anxiety?
    (He says not to worry about material things. He knows what our bodies need. He says to put Him first, before all the other areas of our lives, and then He will take care of everything else.)
  • Where should our focus be?
    (the kingdom of Heaven; God; righteousness)
  • Did Christ emphasize focusing on today or thinking about tomorrow? Why?
    (today - because it doesn't help anything by worrying about tomorrow because tomorrow you can worry about tomorrow - "each day has enough trouble of its own")
  • What are ways that we keep our focus on the Kingdom of Heaven?
    (answers will vary; could include church, prayer, sacraments, serving others, trusting God, etc.)
  • By saying all this, does Jesus mean that we shouldn't take care of our physical needs for food and clothing?
    (NO! Jesus is saying that He wants us to FIRST seek His kingdom - in other words: God should be our priority. When we place Him first, He takes care of our physical needs.)

STATE

(paraphrase in your own words)

So, we know that stress and anxiety are not new problems. And Jesus told us that we need to keep our focus on the kingdom of heaven instead of on our worries and stress. But how do we do this? The less anxious we are, the easier it is to focus on Christ; on the other hand, the more focused on Christ we are, the less stressed we will be.

What are some physical ways we can reduce stress?

Let the participants come up with ideas, but help guide the discussion to the following "solutions":

  • Get enough sleep. Studies show that teens need at least nine hours of sleep every night.
  • Learn to say “no” to people and activities that consume too much of your time.
  • Adjust your diet – reduce things like sugar and caffeine, which can increase stress.
  • Exercise regularly several times a week. Even 30 minutes of exercise greatly reduces stress and gives you energy.
  • Rest when you are overworked and busy. Take quiet time during the day for yourself. Even Christ did this.
  • Do the best you can and don't worry about the rest. For instance, sometimes it might be impossible to study as much as you would like for your test at school - accept this as the reality and do the best with the time you DO have.

What are some spiritual or emotional ways we can reduce stress?

Let the participants come up with answers to this question, but wrap up the discussion by emphasizing the following points:

  • Pray no matter what – everyday. The more we stress, usually the less we pray because of time constraints. But St. Basil tells us we should do the opposite – we should pray more when we are busy and stressed!
  • Confession can help relieve the stress and anxiety of sin. “I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin” (Ps. 38:18). When we sin, we add more weight to our lives and Confession helps lift that weight and allows us to move on, knowing we are forgiven.
  • “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad” (Prov 12:25). When you’re stressed, take a break and phone a friend to give you a “good word.”
  • We need to give all of our stress to God, trusting that He will take care of us. Let’s use our energy to do positive things, like praying or serving others, rather than worrying which does not benefit anyone, like Jesus says.
  • Read the Bible daily. The words of Scripture remind us of God's love and care for us, which brings us peace and rids us of useless anxiety.
  • Keep a list of reasons to thank God and ways He has answered your prayers. This will remind you that God hears us, answers prayers, and gives us many blessings.

CHALLENGE

(paraphrase in your own words)

Today we have talked about negative stress, anxiety, and worry. We know that these things don't benefit us. Christ told us not to be anxious but to trust Him to provide for us. In order to reduce anxiety and stress, we must make sure our focus is on Christ and His kingdom. To do this, you have made suggestions about physical and spiritual ways to reduce stress. Today I challenge you to take these suggestions to heart. Try to implement at least one physical and one spiritual stress-reducer into your life within the next two weeks. You might be surprised at the results!

CLOSING PRAYER

O Lord, I do not know what to ask of You. You alone know what are my true needs. You love me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I do not dare to ask either for a cross or for consolation. I can only wait on You. My heart is open to You. Visit and help me, for the sake of Your great mercy. Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Your holy will and Your unsearchable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to You. I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will. Teach me to pray. Pray You Yourself in me. Amen.
- Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow