Tag Archives: Faith

Overcoming Anxiety with Gratitude


Matthew 6:25-33

During the Thanksgiving season, which at least on social media begins on November 1, we often get to hear what so many people are thankful for. We get a daily dose of thankful words from our Facebook friends with hashtags like #NoticingGrace. The “Living” or “Religion” sections of our newspapers and online news services have opinion pieces on thankfulness – “20 Reasons to be Thankful” “How to be Thankful Around Your Disagreeable Family Members” “Being Thankful in a Time of Terror” “How Being Thankful is Good for Our Bodies”…and the list goes on.

Thinking about thankfulness has made me wonder what exactly we are overcoming with our gratitude. Unlike the authors who are excited that gratitude lowers blood pressure (which, yes, is fantastic), I was more curious about what gratitude, and not just the November short-term version, does for our souls. What is it about our human struggle that thankfulness helps?

The answer is: probably a lot of things. But one in particular came to my mind that I think influences much of our spiritual and bodily lives, one I struggle with daily – Anxiety.

I read the Matthew passage above and very much want to be consistently non-anxious, knowing how much God provides and is among us. I want to be able to trust that much. Yet, life throws curveballs: I am busy, I get overwhelmed, tragic and frustrating things happen. And off goes any hope of that non-anxious existence.

Theologian Paul Tillich says that a major function of being human is our tendency toward anxiety. And he says it is not just about anxiety given to us by life’s circumstances, but that our very existence is anxious about its being. In his book The Courage to Be, Tillich tells us that anxiety is a deeply-rooted problem of humanity grounded in our fear of nonbeing – that we have an end. This leads to feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness. We are inherently worried creatures.

But there is hope.

Being anxious is not the end game, and there are ways to accept our anxieties of nonbeing while simultaneously moving toward fully being. But how do we do this?

Jesuit theologian Anthony de Mello said, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” In other words, cultivate that which is not anxious; be thankful. By doing this, you make holy and important those things instead of your anxiety.[1]

This kind of gratitude does not come easily, though, especially when we are already in the throes of anxiety. It likely will take small steps of movement toward gratitude before we begin to slowly turn away from our worry. Taking moments every day (and not just every day in November) to be thankful for the small things – birds, lilies of the field, fluffy dogs, sunshine – can provide little movements toward a wholeness of being that keeps us from focusing our anxiety of nonbeing.

Jesus wants us to take time to notice what is right here in our midst. He calls us to believe that God is among us in everything, providing daily reminders of our relationship to God’s hope in the small parts of life that provide us joy and hope. By being thankful for these small things, we take steps toward wholeness that decrease the anxiety in our souls and make living a more joyous undertaking.

Being thankful is the antidote to our worry – by placing our attention on that which is holy and wonderful, we look away from that which we cannot change. By seeing the birds, lilies, food to eat, homes to live in, friends and family – we look away from the sickness, struggle, depression, and death.

May we be a grateful people, able to heal our souls of anxiety through the grace of gratitude, this season and all year round!

[1] Note that I and others are fully aware of the legitimate need for medical and therapeutic intervention for anxiety and depressive disorders that keep us from being able to find gratefulness – but once someone is able to be grateful again, perhaps after talk therapy or medication, the advice to find small moments of gratitude to move toward fullness of being still applies as we tend to our souls.

[Cross-posted from RRCB Pastor’s Blog: http://www.rrcb.org/2015/11/overcoming-anxiety-with-gratitude/]

A Note About Political Hate Speech

You know, I don’t buy into it – the language on both sides of the political debates that serve only to demean the other side’s position to the point of labeling “them” as “destroyers of America,” or “God’s judgment on our country,” or labeling whole groups as “backward” or “bigoted” without ever attempting conversation that truly hears their opinions, fears, and beliefs.

By labeling each other in such ways, our conversations (politically, and often in many other spheres of conversation, including everything from dinner conversations about bills & travel arrangements to friendly chatting online) – all suddenly move from interesting conversations, where all involved learn something new about the people to whom they speak, into idealist rants that no longer conform to reality.

When Christians buy into the one-sided hype of a news group, Facebook meme, or conspiracy theory, we become unable to love our neighbor.

Folks, that’s the second greatest commandment. Words from the lips of our Savior. Kind of a big deal.

When we believe the other side to be nothing but hostile to our own, first, we’re letting a “side” identify us rather than our Kingdom identity as citizens of Heaven. Second, we’re reducing people who are our friends, family, and colleagues to faceless drones promoting our anti-ideal.

When we do this, we create an image of these people that is not the image God gave them – God gave them God’s image – not conservative/liberal, not pro-life/pro-choice/anti-choice, not gay/straight, not left/right.

I am extremely distressed when my dearest friends, of any persuasion, reduce the people they claim to love to being inherently wrong, godless, merciless people because of a political leaning or personal opinion.

Our words are indeed powerful. They build up and they can tear down. What we choose to do with them matters greatly.

I implore you, as a fellow traveler on this faith journey, my brothers & sisters, do not let your words tear others down. Yes, be involved in national politics. Speak up when you see injustice or bad decisions/speech (on EITHER side!). But never, ever buy into any group that labels whole groups wantonly.

We are so often deceived by our own prejudices. We must fight to reclaim the inclusive love of Christ that sees all people equally – that says “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

That means stopping hateful speech, first from your own lips (keyboard), then from the lips (keyboards) of those you love.

When you hear/read the phrase “all those [______]” (e.g., conservatives, liberals, bigots, illegals, gays, Muslims, etc.), immediately understand/accept that the author could no more know all of the [______] any more than you do. No one is an expert on all persons in any group, and only God knows the human heart anyway.

When you are tempted, because of your own fervent political (or even theological) belief to speak or post a snide, rude, unthoughtful, or generalizing comment, use the spiritual practice of self-discipline to withhold your initial feelings. Sleep on it. Ponder both sides. Maybe even go take a few minutes to meet with someone of the opposing position and just listen. Perhaps “those people” are not as general a group as you first believed.

And lastly, remember that just as your neighbor might not be perfect (might even be wrong!), so too are we all often wrong, horrible, and unkind. But we are a forgiven people, begotten of God, beloved of the Eternal, and we have been given grace beyond measure – grace that should always be extended, whether or not our family/friends/colleagues/enemies choose to extend it to us.

As it was written to the Christians in Ephesus (Eph 4):

“I…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

Those who love the body of Christ will strive to maintain unity in the Spirit. They will avoid believing everything they hear about whole groups of people. They will speak up when a group is marginalized, even a group they may not always agree with. They will make wise decisions about what should be re-posted, shared, or commented on.

Prov. 14:15 “The simple believe everything, but the clever consider their steps.”

Prov. 18:2 “A fool takes no pleasure in understand, but only in expressing personal opinion.”

They will take great pains to do the hard thing Christ commanded us to do: Love your neighbor as yourself. And who is my neighbor? Let’s ask Jesus:

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus, ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ 28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

 The Samaritans were a hated, marginalized group that was often generalized in Jewish circles as being inherently wrong about matters of faith, practice, and politics. They were called horrible names and chastised by their Jewish neighbors. They were theologically and politically considered absolutely wrong in most every way.

And Jesus, a faithful Jew, tells us: Such as these are our neighbors – we are called to care for them, and they for us.

You may disagree with them. But you are called to speak up for them.

You may not care for the way they live their lives. But you are to love them.

You may not want to support their causes. But you are called to avoid gossip & hate speech, all while standing up for them in their time of distress.

You’re even called to spend your time and money caring for their needs.

This is the way of the Kingdom.

On Faith, Doubt, and Ministry

Maybe this is a way of inhabiting faith that is, indeed, faithful; that is generative. Maybe God has given some people belief like a pier, to stand on (and God has given those people’s steadiness to the church, to me, as a reminder, as an aid), and maybe God has given other something else: maybe God has given to some this humming sense that we know nothing, this belief and disbelief a hundred times an hour, this training in nimbleness (and maybe that is a gift to the church, too).” – Lauren F. Winner, Still

“On subjects of which we know nothing, or should I say Beings…we both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble.” –Emily Dickinson

I have recently been reflecting on my particular brand of faith. This is not some treatise on denominational or theological boundaries, but rather, a reflection on who I am becoming each day I attempt to walk this journey with Christ.

Some days I wonder if I’m cut out for Christianity, much less clergy. But then I realize yet again that we are all works in progress. People of the cloth are nothing more than continuously forgiven sinners called to serve others. We are generally given little status in the public arena (except of course where it benefits those in power – when it ceases to be a calling and can stray into arrogance – see http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/7234/9/). But we are to be considered in church to be the teachers, the leaders, the bridge between the faithful and God. That is more than a high calling – that is a scary feat.

Most often, when I “wear my minister hat,” I feel under-qualified. That is to say, Yes: I finished 3 years of seminary and finished them well. Yes, I passed an ordination council and was ordained by my local congregation. Yes, I have debated the intricacies of the Trinity, Atonement, Ethics, Hebrew, Greek, Old & New Testament. And yet – once the robe is on or the crowd suddenly realizes I have a title, I feel like a small child wearing Mom’s dress, with shoes too big to fill.

But these lingering doubts about my own abilities have never outweighed the drive in my soul to bear witness to the goodness Christ has for others. Even when I am ready to toss the collar and hide on the back pew (if I come to the church at all), I feel lost when I am not helping others find their way in this maze of faith. My own doubt drives me to seek to find more in my faith. It does not serve to destroy anything – on the contrary, it is my doubt (my fears, my insecurities, my humility) that is my salvation.

1 Corinthians 2:1-7, 11

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory…For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.

I figure I’ll never be that “pier to stand on” Lauren Winner describes in the quote above. But the wax and wane of my belief is what pushes my boundaries, reminds me of who I am called to be, and forces me into a better place where I can more faithfully serve God’s people with me entire being – doubts and all.

Who I am; Why I Write

Okay, so I’m new to this blogging world. I’ve only been on Twitter for about a year, and through that I have learned that I love the blogosphere and everything it has to offer to a person who wants her voice heard: A place to speak her mind, a place to bear her soul, and most of all, a place to potentially make a scratch of a mark in the Kingdom of God.

So, here I am.

I have written gobs of academic papers. I have a C.V. prepared for PhD work. I have mentors who write books – all the time. But I have never been a good journaler. I never kept up with one, not even in middle school, when that kind of girly, lock-and-key personal journal stuff mattered. Not in seminary, when I probably could have used it for a difficult spiritual journey. Not at any time in all that marriage counseling or marital emotional abuse (again, really could have used it then). But, I never did.

Now that I am re-learning how to be me, however, I am also learning the power writing has in my life. When I face tough times in my relationships, when I need to get a thought out and bring it to my counselor, when I have strong views on issues –  these are the times I not only want to write; I need to. Desperately.

To become a better writer (and a more consistent one), and to generally better myself as a person/academic/minister, I have taken up reading a book a week for Lent.

This past week, I have been reading the book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner. Her honesty moves me. For once, I feel like the academic, ordained minister that I am has a soul-friend: someone who gets me. It’s suddenly okay for me to have doubts and still influence people, to be divorced and still godly, and to give life even when my life feels so taken away by both the misdeeds of others and my own failings. She gives me words for my confusion, my pain in this “middle” of my faith.

So, this is where I start: a place of both review and reflection on a new favorite book. I’ll take each part section by section, as things have touched my soul.

For my first post, I’ll start with her thoughts (and mine) on being divorced and a woman in ministry.

Her words: “Some days my mantra was I will stay in this marriage because I am a Christian and Christians stay, but other days, I thought: if the choices are Christianity or divorce then I will just have to embrace my secular humanism because I am not sure I believe any of this anymore and it is one thing to devote twenty minutes every morning to praying when you are not sure you believe anything anymore and it is another thing to organize your whole life around a marriage you don’t want to be in because a God who may or may not exist says let no man put asunder.” (Still, p.7)

This is the struggle of holding on, of giving oneself to a relationship where there is no longer any emotion, no longer any love. For her, this journey seems more an issue of unhappiness (we are not told her reasons for divorcing). For me, it was pretty clear-cut emotional abuse. But whatever the underlying cause, holding on to a dead marriage because people tell you it is sinful to leave is no way to live. It makes faith buckle under the strain of deep, emotional burdens.

I realized through this process we cannot fully understand a marriage unless we are one of two people in a marriage: man or wife. And no one but they can decide when a marriage is over. God calls us all to love, and when a child of God’s isn’t loved or cannot love anymore, perhaps it is time to leave the pain, experience the grief, and start a new chapter.

Winner: “And also because of the few jagged mean things good Christian people said to me, things I shouldn’t hold on to, but I do, like a friend into whose lap I poured all my misery said, Well, you know Lauren, if you leave your husband, you are leaving Jesus…”

I expected the very same reactions from my friends. After months of being sure I couldn’t sustain my marriage alone anymore, I left abruptly one night, surprised my parents at home with two packed suitcases, and left everyone to wonder why. I wanted to explain to them that I had good reasons. That I wasn’t just “giving up.” That I had put hours, weeks, years into finding a solution that wasn’t to be found. But I knew that for some people it would never matter. That for some, the only reason to leave would have to be outlined in Matthew, from the lips of Jesus, for it to be “good enough.” And still they’d want me to try harder. Painful as divorce always is, there is no reason to continue in a tortured relationship just to appease someone else’s deeply-held theological beliefs.

I knew I had tried all I could. And the marriage was still over. When I left, I felt the rush of relief, knowing that so much bad had finally ended. I also felt the pang of loss as I gradually moved my things from my home, split up my five dogs, and made space for myself in a house with already too many generations under one roof (my grandmother also lives with my parents and myself).

“Something a friend said to me, long before I left my husband: I don’t know if you will get divorced. I hope you don’t; I don’t know if you will. I do know that, if you do, two years later you will know some things about God that you don’t know now.”

Like Dr. Winner, I too, hope these words continue to come true. I know that one year after I decided to leave, these words are already true in many ways. I know so many new things, about God, about myself, and about what God can do with me and through me. And I have found moments, glimpses of peace in the presence of the Divine.

I am sure that no there won’t be a time where I feel completely at peace with the loss of a nearly decade-long relationship, the loss of my early twenties, or the loss of my self-esteem for seven long years. But with every new day, I embrace my grief anew. Instead of making me ill at ease or depressing me until I’m unrecognizable, that embrace empowers my very being.

Grief and I are new to each other – I had avoided grief in favor of making peace in my former relationship, hoping to never have to face grief’s grip. But inevitably we will all face grief. Mine was a deep pit of loss that I have since reclaimed as part of who I am. As grief and I walk hand-in-hand, I appreciate the world and its wonders that much more. I learn one more thing about the nature and person of God. I become a better friend, daughter, sister, girlfriend, minister, woman, person.