(4/18): Acts 3:12-19 • Psalm 4 • 1 John 3:1-7 • Luke 24:36b-48
In this week's Easter reading, Jesus – fresh from the grave – is back, in-person with the disciples. Luke tells us that they thought they were seeing a ghost. The story goes on with Jesus asking for something to eat, and doing everything he can to let them know that he is in the flesh, back from the dead. Here are the grief-stricken disciples, unable to imagine that the good news standing right in front of them is real.
As an example of the intricacies of the human brain, this story would be hard to beat. It's hard to take in the unexpected, and harder still to believe the unimaginable, even if it's right before your eyes. More than that, the unexpected generates a fear response. The disciples were startled and terrified (v. 37).
Sometimes, a startle response is a good thing. From a mosquito buzzing near your ear to an ambulance coming up quickly behind your moving vehicle, the ability to act quickly can make a difference. In this case though, being startled was interfering with the disciples' capacity to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them.
Somehow Jesus manages to calm them down so that they can hear what he's come for. Stopping the fear response – or, more generally, getting less worried, less reactive – can make a difference in what one can hear and understand about life. Some of us have a designated person in the family who does the worrying for us. In my family, this was my Aunt Lavonne. She was famous for the expression Ye Gods and Fishes, which she would utter at the slightest provocation, setting all the rest of us to solve whatever problem she had uncovered before things got worse. An oldest child in a family of very limited means during the Great Depression, she was constantly vigilant. Potential threats were many in her mind, although she was, by the time I knew her, way past any realistic danger of privation of any kind.
Becoming more realistic may be part of bringing one's own worries and reactivity down. Reacting to the upset of another, without considering the extent of the threat itself (if any!), keeps a person busy with calming another person's anxiety. On the other hand, if one can respond a little less automatically – thinking about whether and how one might want to respond in terms of one's own view of the matter – then a person is beginning to manage her own anxious response, rather than someone else's. In the end, the calmer person is simply more free.
Staying calm in the face of my Aunt Lavonne would have been challenging. Her anxiety would have initially increased, I imagine, if I had not always done her bidding. Refusal did not seem a choice as a child! As an adult though, I can slow down the path of automatic reactivity which my brain is used to following. I can stop blaming others and look for a more complex understanding of the world around me. The approach has broad implications for leaders everywhere. Generally, if one person can start to calm down and think realistically to gain a broader perspective, others will eventually get interested and follow where they are leading.
Enter the disciples, who eventually catch on in today's gospel story. It's the eventually catching on that interests me. It takes a lifetime, it seems, to slow down one's own reactivity, to think realistically, and to see a bigger view of life. But what else have we got to do?
Morning: Who does the worrying in my family? In my workplace? When is it me? What's automatic for me, in response to the worries of others?
Evening: When did I manage to notice my own reactivity? Slow it down a bit?
Psalm 4:8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.