Thursday, November 01, 2007

Prayer Relieves Toxic Stress & Worry

Prayer That Relieves Stress and Worry

By Jeremy Reynalds
Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
Book cover

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS) -- I'm a compulsive worrier, so when I see a book titled "Prayer That Relieves Stress and Worry," I pay attention.

I'll be honest with you. I worry about continuing funding for Joy Junction, the homeless shelter I founded and of which I am the CEO. I worry about aging and getting sick (I just turned 50), and I worry that I worry so much.

With that in mind, you can see why Eddie Ensley's book about Prayer, Stress and Worry (Contemplative Press) was a good choice for me.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Eddie by e-mail. (I didn't ask him if he was worried whether or not the book would be a success (just kidding!)

Eddie told me that it took him about nine months to write the book but he used materials he had already developed over a number of years.

Eddie said that the best part of the book was writing and dictating the first draft. The worst part, he said, was the copyediting.

Knowing that some writers enjoy special snacks or drinks while they're putting together a book I asked Eddie if he enjoyed anything in particular. He said that diet soda, "lots of it," was his beverage of choice.

Then I moved onto the more serious questions.

Toxic Worry

I asked Eddie how what he called the cycle of "toxic worry" can be broken.

He responded by saying that toxic worry is different from normal, daily worry. Toxic worry, Eddie said, is when worry and stress severely interfere with our lives, relationships or our work.

Eddie said that when our worries become unmanageable, it is essential to go see a trained doctor or therapist. Talking to a family member or trusted friend can also help, he said.

But, Eddie added, "Talking with God about our concerns is every bit as important if we truly want to gain a sense of peaceful perspective. Generations have found prayer to be a huge antidote to worry. Prayer breaks the cycle of constantly digging up our worries and chewing on
them over and over again."

Eddie surprised me at first when he said that in some cases worry can be good for us. I asked him to clarify what he meant. He explained that, for example, if students didn't worry about tests, they may not bother studying. And if parents don't have a healthy amount of worry about an infant, the child may be inadequately taken care of.

However, he cautioned, "The problem comes when worry becomes excessive and eats at us and won't let go of us."

I asked Eddie if prayer had helped him deal with loss and illness. He said it had - countless times - like the time his father was taken ill and died of a heart attack.

Another time prayer helped him, Eddie said, was when he faced dying from cancer.

He said, "I had always thought I would take the news of approaching death calmly. After all, as a Christian I believed death was not an ending, but a beginning; the start of everlasting life with our Lord Jesus. But instead of calm, a nearly overpowering sense of terror filled me. That whole week before surgery, stress so tied me up that I found prayer impossible. However, toward the end of that week, through sheer will power I forced myself to open a conversation with God."

Eddie said he was finally able to squeeze out the words, "'Dear Jesus, I am scared and terrified.'"

He said he repeated those same words for 15 or 20 minutes. He added, "It surely was not an eloquent prayer, but at least I wasn't holding back. The raw honesty of the prayer slowly quieted my soul."

Eddie said as he continued talking to the Lord, other words came to his mind. He said he told the Lord, "'Lord, I know you love me tenderly. You have walked at my side throughout my life. You have helped me through so many rough spots. Please ease my soul, and let me know what You hold in store for me as I go through this suffering.'"

Just talking with the Lord helped, Eddie said. He said at least now he knew he wasn't alone. As he put it, Eddie said, "I rested awhile in the tranquility of God's nearness. God's presence warmed me, as if He were whispering to me, 'I love you with an everlasting love, I will never let go of you.'"

The day before the surgery Eddie said he met with the surgeon, who smiled and said he would be going home as the CT scan indicated it wasn't cancer. Eddie was understandably relieved, but that relief, he said, only lasted three years.

In June of this year a follow-up CT scan showed that Eddie had a tumor growing. Surgery removed one tumor and a part of his right lung, but there was still a problem.

His lung had stage four carcinoid cancer. Eddie said, "However, carcinoid cancer is the slowest growing of all cancers and it could take five years for it to come back, if it ever comes back. I'm not out of the woods, but I likely have several more healthy years, at least."

But here's the miracle. Eddie said, "This time around, the terror and tension were not present. I was in constant prayer, it seemed, before the surgery and in the aftermath. I did the only thing possible; give myself over into God's hands. God's peace and God's love surrounded me."

But that sense of God's peace and love doesn't always come when you ask. I've had many dry periods in my Christian life and I asked Eddie if that was normal. He said yes; everyone goes through dry periods when they pray.

Eddie added, "At times we will abundantly feel God's presence, at other times we will not. Those dry times are often times God is working an unseen work in our hearts deeper than our feelings. The test of prayer is where we live our lives. If our prayer is full of feeling ,and we hear angels singing the Hallelujah chorus and our prayer does not help us to love others better, then we hardly prayed at all. Then if our prayer time is dry and we feel nothing while we prayed but can love our families and our fellow humans better, then our prayer reached beyond the heavens."

Forgiveness and Gratitude

I asked Eddie to tell me about the healing power of forgiveness and gratitude about which he writes. He was quick to answer, saying that they can often chase away worry. He referred to the old saying, "When you forgive you set a prisoner free, and then find out that the prisoner was yourself."

Eddie added, "Forgiveness does for the human heart what sunshine does for a plant; it warms it and stimulates growth. When we let go of entrenched resentment, we let go of a weight that was dragging us down and we can move more freely and joyfully in God's world."

Eddie said it is also important to get our mind off ourselves.

He said there was a well known New York psychoanalyst told the story about one of his patients, a middle-aged woman who was so self absorbed that everything she talked about in therapy was about her woes. Finally, in exasperation, he told her to spend a couple of days at Niagra Falls, get absorbed in its beauty, and get her mind off herself.

"When we give thanks to God," Eddie said, "we can become absorbed in his beauty and our problems and worries seem tiny in comparison with the vastness of His love for us."

Eddie said he has a good prescription for relieving stress. He said during those times it's a good idea to get out a pen and paper and begin a prayer of thanks.

He said, "Start with the phrase, 'I thank you, Lord, for . . .' Next write out, item by item, all the people and things for which you are thankful. Next, unhurriedly and prayerfully read what you have written. If a phrase (stands out), just repeat it over and over again and let that carry you into the stillness.


I wondered why Eddie compares resentment to a "drug that inebriates" He said it's because of power and control.

"Few things deliver the mighty rush of power that hurting others can deliver," Eddie said. "Resentment also rips us apart. It wrecks our relationships. When we resent, we no longer have time to breathe in the freshness of each moment. We cease to see the beauty in the world. Hatred leaves little room for love of any sort."

He added, "When we resent, we push away those who love us, even those who have never hurt us and never will. At times we can even push away God with our resentment. The first step in breaking this pattern and forgiving others is to realize how much God has forgiven us personally. God is a lavish forgiver. Coming to Him often to be forgiven teaches us about how we should forgive others."

Conversational Prayer

Conversational prayer, I realized, can be very helpful in resolving worry. But some people don't really know what it is.

Eddie defined "conversational prayer" as "an intimate communication between friends. Jesus listens to us; we listen to Him. Hardly anything comforts and eases us more that someone who lovingly listens. Jesus -- the greatest listener, the greatest friend -- experienced our fears, our stresses and worries."

In conversational prayer, Eddie said, not only do we talk to the Lord but He talks to us. "Not only do we speak with God in conversational prayer; God speaks to us. God will not make himself heard by you in a voice that reaches your ears but rather in a voice that only your heart knows well."

Wandering Thoughts

I asked Eddie what advice he could offer about the multitude of wandering thoughts that arise during times of prayer.

He said that wandering thoughts are part of being human. Eddie added, "I'm sure Jesus had wandering thoughts when he prayed; He was human, after all. Wandering thoughts in prayer are not sinful; they are natural. You didn't will to have these thoughts; they came unbidden. Wandering thoughts in prayer are a symptom of pent-up stress; the thoughts were with us all along, suppressed, pushed down and locked inside."

Eddie gave the example of what happens when a capped bottle of cola is shaken. "The bottled-up fizz creates great pressure inside the bottle," he said. "Finally, when the cap is taken off, the fizz spews out the top, relieving the pressure. Our busyness and preoccupations cap the thoughts within us. When we pray we take the cap off and the thoughts, which were with us all along, but hidden, emerge into our consciousness."

If you worry, Eddie's book is a great investment. I recommend it. (If you don't, it's still a great buy). You can obtain "Prayer That Relieves Stress and Worry" by going to

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, or He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City: A Call to Service." Additional details about "Homeless" are available at He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at Tel: (505) 877-6967 or (505) 400-7145. Note: A higher resolution JPEG picture of Jeremy Reynalds is available on request from Dan Wooding at

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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.
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