There’s no denying it. The press is reporting it, social media feeds are illustrating it, and casual conversations confirm it. These are anxious times.
As I understand it, there are two types of anxiety we experience, clinical and environmental. The former can be exhausting and demoralizing, and typically involves reoccurring symptoms like shortness of breath, racing heart, trembling, and feelings of unreality. If you believe you are experiencing clinical anxiety please consult a mental health professional. You can talk to your medical doctor, or give Suzanne or me a call and we can help you identify your resources. Most of all, I want you to know, you are more than your anxiety.
Environmental anxiety can be caused by countless external factors. Things like work related stress, family tension, personal trauma, and sociological unrest are common environmental factors that can pull us into anxiety, and this is not mutually exclusive from clinical anxiety. Meaning, the two types of anxiety can have a relationship with one another, so if you’re experiencing debilitating anxiety, effecting your mood and behavior, then please talk to someone. Just like physical health, there is no shame in seeking mental health.
I provide these pastoral remarks because I believe we are living in anxious times.
Regardless of political affiliation; no matter whether you identify as “conservative” or “liberal” or, like me, sometimes “conservative” and sometimes “liberal,” it is likely that you can tally the places of anxiety just as easily as you can make a grocery list. The divisive nature of our political climate is compounded by divergent sociological values. At least two times a week our whole nation seems to come unglued, especially when we debate the interpretation of history, the application of empirical facts, or the value of subjective experience.
Our politically discordant environment is but one place of anxiety. As well, seismic shifts to our culture have exposed other places of anxiety. Our community institutions served as cultural binding agents in generations past, but now they’re struggling to adapt. Take for example the Mainline Protestant Church, congregations like our own. These churches were the center of neighborhood; they were the catalyst for much of social justice progress of the past century, but now our culture, while retaining a strong sense of spirituality, is relinquishing what institutional religion has traditionally offered.
These are anxious times, but Jesus, confronting the ultimate anxiety of suffering and death, says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many places to rest.”
These words from John 14 are often read at funerals, but they’re not meant for the dead; they’re meant for the living. Yes, the world is filled with stress and anxiety, but enfolded within the love of God, we find restful dwelling places.
Sometimes when I most acutely feel anxiety I find statements of gratitude help me to follow the teaching of Jesus and to move from frenzy to faith. Even in this anxious time, we can practice thanksgiving. We can look around at the lovely faces of family, neighbors, and fellow church participants. We can pause production just for a moment and be present to the gift of vocation. We can turn off the news for the night; we can sign-out of social media; we can take a Sabbath, all to experience the satisfaction of this very moment. My friends, we can lift our voices in song, our bodies in dance, and our spirits in joy, for there is much—so much—for which to be thankful!