Acts 7:55-60 • Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 • 1 Peter 2:2-10 • John 14:1-14
Even as I begin writing this piece, I am aware of my inability to follow the instructions of Jesus: Do not let your heart be troubled. How? Take the usual stressors as thing one, add covid-19 and whoa! I'm troubled! Distressed, agitated, tense, mentally worried, going to extra work, you name it: all aspects of troubled come and go these days.
The virus has been a lot of bother, from what kind of face mask works best to where to get toilet paper to how to manage multiple zoom calls. More troubling worries about the health and livelihood of oneself and one's family and friends preoccupy each of us, more or less. Watching the news provides more places for anxiety to land. Jesus, though, is saying to stop being troubled and instead to believe. Being troubled signals a need to look at something from the perspective of one's beliefs, considering one's responsibilities for it and to others, deciding what to do (if anything) and how to do it, doing so, and moving on.
In the reading, Jesus moves on quickly, talking about his going to prepare a spacious dwelling place for us. Perhaps it is impossible to go to this place before putting one's anxiety aside, trusting one's beliefs. The frustrated disciples try to pin Jesus down on what he means here, but he will have none of it, insisting that knowing him provides the way.
On a pragmatic level, simply knowing what Jesus said and did can provide a sense of the way. That's the easy part! Then one has to do it – which is what I think the disciples were really protesting. Stopping oneself from continuing to be troubled, for instance, is not easy. Right now, the pandemic is the focus. Even before this year, though, many of us were anxious and worried, about something! Somehow, anxiety is in the air, looking for a place to land. Maybe it's easier to look for a place to put anxiety – something to criticize, some problem or someone to fuss over – rather than thinking it through. Both the alertness to threat (Danger?) and the perception of threat (Danger!) happen as worry takes form and takes over one's ability to think.
Recently I heard a high school senior talking on the news about how upset she had been over the fact that there would be no graduation ceremony at her school this year. While the inability to connect with others in her life is a frustration, the funneling of the worry onto the graduation itself might be a misuse of anxious energy. Instead, listening and acting on what her troubled heart is telling her – that she needs her friends – would harness her feelings and her mind into a thoughtful effort to stay connected with them.
Much has also been in the news about anxiety as mental illness, specifically anxiety related to job loss. I wonder to what extent it's a sign of a healthy mind, grounded in reality, gathering the strength to face a real problem. How a person can notice the anxiety, letting its energy be useful without taking over the capacity to reason – that is the challenge. None of this is easy. The effort itself to stop being troubled can be at once both challenging and comforting.
Morning: How am I troubled today? What do I need to deal with? What is not on me?
Evening: When did I find more energy for living?
Psalm 31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead me and guide me.