Living in an Age of Anxiety

April 19, 2017

The original impetus for writing on anxiety came in the form of an invitation from the Lung Cancer Alliance folks, to share on the topic for a webinar in December 2017. In preparation, I am keeping a personal anxiety journal, just for the heck of it, so that I have plenty of current illustrations!

Okay, I admit I am feeling a little anxious these days. I am looking forward to my April 26 CT scan, a routine image every six months to check for signs of a cancer reoccurrence. One is said to have “scanxiety” in anticipation of one’s periodic scans. Mine is a very specific and temporary concern, and then when the scan comes back “all clear,” I go back to a state of relative serenity— until the next one. One of my coping mechanisms is to keep busy and find wholesome distractions to divert my thoughts from dwelling on something (a scan) that is going to happen, no matter what. Later this week my distraction is to see three plays at the Ashland (Oregon) Shakespeare Festival. I’m hoping Henry IV (Part I) and Julius Caesar will do the trick!

Seriously, though, my little bit of anxiety is nothing compared to the build up of community-wide, even national anxiety. It depends on where you live, how much exposure to world news you get, and life circumstances or age encroaching upon you.

I started noticing this more corporate anxiety right after 9/11. A mother of young children, a parishioner of mine, freaked out about the horrific event and feared for the safety of her toddlers. She watched replays of the event night and day. Her anxiety reached irrational levels, leading to her refusal to let her children stay in the church nursery during worship and Sunday school.

More recently, I observe that drivers on the road are more tightly wound than ever before. Admittedly, I live in an area known for its legendary, impossible traffic. There is no longer a rush “hour”; the morning commute starts at 5:30 and continues until 9:30; the afternoon commute in the opposite direction starts as early as 3:30 and goes until 7 o’clock. It’s a jungle out there. The condition has not engendered virtue among drivers though. Rather, as people get more frustrated, they take more chances. They become rude and self-entitled. They go after motorcyclists who have some special traffic privileges in the state of California. They speed when the slightest bit of black pavement opens in front of them, or they honk their horns. [It is possible that these behaviors are not signs of anxiety but of anger. . . I concede the point. But their bad manners cause me anxiety, I can tell you that!]

Nowadays, I think a blanket of generalized anxiety has enveloped Americans with fears of terrorism, the possible loss of health care insurance coverage, a President and Congress moving in uncharted directions, and hearing a political or religious point of view one deems threatening. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis have I been aware of such angst. The fact that every act of violence, every unusual (even rare) occurrence, is broadcast not only during the News Hour but also across social media 24/7 does not help a person keep perspective. This week, for two hours on Facebook, it was possible to watch in horror as a crazed individual kills another in cold blood and posts the video in real time.

What is a person to do? How would knowing the Risen Christ make a difference when we feel like we are taking a bath in anxious waters? Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). The NIV translates this passage, “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus overcame the world—and the devil and death also—by his own death and resurrection. God is bigger than all of creation and any problem, and we are invited to believe that God is at work through both creation and difficulty. His work does not necessarily prevent pain and suffering for me in the short term, but God is gaining the victory over all the enemies that make humans suffer. The fact that God, the Lord of History, is working things out over time is the source of our hope:

20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  —1 Corinthians15:20-26

He will prevail, and therefore so shall we.

Tomorrow I will draw from the Apostle Paul, who experienced plenty of pain and hardship in the course of his ministry, and yet seemed remarkably free of anxiety and worry. He is going to give us some ideas about how we can handle anxiety in the day-to-day matters that bother us.

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3 Responses to “Living in an Age of Anxiety”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    The Rev. Hans Cornelder posted this on ChurchandWorld today so perhaps his outreach will help to restore your readership.

  2. Jeff Winter Says:

    I was scared to death as a middle schooler during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Your article preaches to my spirit. Thanks Mary

    • revmary Says:

      Yes, Jeff! I remember, too. Children practiced drills and people built “civil defense” shelters. At the opening of the Iraq War, people bought Humvees and started installing Safe Rooms in their homes. Crazy times.

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