Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)
Anyone in my family can tell you that I tend to worry about outcomes. In fact, my family has watched me work hard to lighten up and overcome this innate tendency. It’s about faith. Not that faith can be achieved by any amount of effort, but there are the "aha" moments in the midst of personal suffering when underlying reality becomes quite clear. One of those occurred for me when I realized that not one minute of worry had changed the course of my life or resolved a crisis. It was clearly a waste of precious energy and a misuse of my mental and spiritual resources to engage in catastrophic thinking and problem solving. Most of what I focused on never came to be. At that point, I was blessed with a very clear awareness of the "everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27) and God’s loving care manifest in my life. A particularly graphic example of this occurred when my mother-in-law lay in intensive care following complications after elective surgery, and the doctors prepared the family for her imminent demise.
Stunned and heartbroken, I could not overcome my overt grief. At that point, a dear and very wise friend advised me to "stay in the present"—a present where my much loved mother-in-law still lived and needed me very much. Thankfully, I shifted gears, stopped anticipating the worst, and began to do what I could to help her survive. She did, recovering life and health for six more years—a miracle according to many involved in her care while hospitalized, and one in which I was privileged to participate.
I share with humility that this is a lesson I need to keep relearning. Perhaps because I continue to struggle with letting go of worry (and the fears behind it), I’m struck by the extent to which our culture runs on fear these days. We are living through days of duct tape and plastic, orange alerts and dire predictions. New York Times columnist Bill Keller recently wrote, "[In Iraq] victory may be expensive and bloody and it may give way to an ugly peace, but it is assured. You can declare it, date it, and celebrate it with a parade. On [homeland security], the overwhelming odds are that no matter how rigorously the government prepares, America will again suffer what the administration calls ‘terrorism of catastrophic proportions.’ Every day without a terrorist attack is not a victory, merely a reprieve."
Many share his sentiments. I’m often there myself. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s Academy Award-winning film "Bowling for Columbine" repeatedly and pointedly asks why are we in the U.S. so afraid? It’s tempting to blame our seemingly insatiable appetite for murder mysteries and thriller movies about epic disasters, or our commercial media, which is heavily focused on inhumane behavior on every conceivable front. Collectively, we keep that catastrophic thinking front-and-center, in our entertainment, our news media, our TV programming. But it seems to me that there’s more at work here than the influences of our media and film industries.
Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, addressed the annual sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting this past March. A deeply spiritual and political person, he shared with us that his second son was born just as the war in Iraq was getting underway. The inevitable rejoicing in that birth reminded him and his wife of God’s grace in these challenging times. It seems we are always living in the worst of times—and in the best of times. Actually, I’ve heard news of many births during the recent months of destruction in Iraq. Perhaps our real task is one of focus. Keith Helmuth, in his article "U.S. Exceptionalism vs. Human Solidarity" (p.6), suggests that the shared concerns of humanity should be our focal point. I agree.
I’ve never seen a living bluebird until this past week, during which I’ve seen three, one in New York and two right here in Philadelphia. For me, endeavoring to have eyes that see and ears that hear, this feels like a sign of hope. We are surrounded by hope. We just need to open our hearts to find it.