If you're not feeling at least some measure of anxiety right now, you would be in a very small minority. Our whole world has been shaken and the things around which most of us built our lives are showing themselves to be the unstable foundations that we never wanted to admit that they were. And beyond that, even the things that are supposed to be strong and stable - things like family and community and even church - are shaking. It's hard to not have at least one nagging thought in your mind right now. It's hard to not have at least one thing that keeps you up at night.
Most of us can feel our blood boiling when we read through social media, no matter what we believe about whatever issues seem most pressing to the world today. We see others who continually choose against what we believe is in their - and our - best interest, and we can't fathom how anyone can be so...dumb. So shallow. So selfish. So whatever.
The truth is, we're not really as upset with them as we think we are. What's happening is that our anxiety over a particular situation has led us to adopt a certain position in order to give us some sense of a measure of control. If we believe X about Y, then we can convince ourselves that we have a handle on it, that we know what we're doing, that we can see a way out. And then, when someone else comes along and doesn't follow our master plan, we feel our control slipping away and we start to feel all of our vulnerability and insecurity all over again.
Why can't everyone else just see that I'm right about this and work together to give me my life back? (At our most noble, we're certain this gives everyone their life back, but the truth is that if it did, it's what everyone would be choosing and there would be no debate about such things. And that's where so much of our tension between folks comes from.)
Oh, we couch this in all kinds of other things. Most notably, we try to call it "moral indignation." That is, we believe ourselves to be morally correct in our assessments and therefore, anyone who does not agree with us is an immoral buffoon. They are "evil." They are unjust. They are selfish. They are ones doing "this" to all of us. And so on we go until our hate builds....
...our hate builds because we can bear hate far better than vulnerability.
It's not long before our desperate clinging to our own sense of control starts to permeate every facet of our being. It dominates the way that we deal with our families. It dictates the circumstances under which we are willing to engage in aspects of public life, everything from going to the grocery store to sending our children to school to attending church services.
And it's not long before our desperate clinging comes to dominate even our life of faith. This is most true in our life of prayer, and it is manifested in two different ways: either we pray for God's judgment (or, more mildly, His conviction) on those who aren't doing as we believe they should do or we pray for exactly what our own sense of control demands God do for us in this situation.
Neither is particularly helpful and actually, both of these approaches tend to worsen our anxieties because they keep them playing out in front of us all the time. They make them "the" thing in our lives, the one thing that drives all other things. In fact, they even bring us to the place where if God Himself doesn't play by our rules - the rules we've set up for ourselves because we alone know the way out of this mess - then we are ready to disown Him, too.
Are you feeling this? Is this sounding familiar? (Probably not. It's hard for most of us to consider that we might be acting out of our own selfish need for control when we feel so downright morally justified and even gregarious for offering our wisdom to the world.) Take a good look at your own heart...are you feeling this? You're not alone.
We're going to talk about anxiety and prayer this week. It's important. Stay tuned.