For many of us today there persists a pervasive internal anxiety. Can you feel it? If we’re honest we find anger, fear, and desperation driving our daily reactions to circumstances.
Each of us individually may be able to identify the perceived source of our unease. However we exist in a society largely driven by a collective anxiety that leaves us scrambling for relief, safety, and comfort like a squirrel dodging traffic.
Most of the search for solutions to problems focuses on the symptoms rather than the causes.
In this political season many are juking and jiving their way toward this candidate and that – depending on sound bites and debate comments. Ubiquitous polls give us the daily list of winners and losers. Engaging in the political process is an important and appropriate role for each of us as citizens.
However, may I suggest, no matter who is elected, your level of anxiety will not completely go away? Our political system is broken due largely to a divided country and the gridlock of political self-interest. If your chance for internal peace rests on the ability of any candidate to make good on his or her promises you will be sorely disappointed.
Among the pathologies of our modern American culture is the addiction to entertainment and comfort. We operate in the delusion that Netflix is our way to rest and renewal. I’ve heard of people seeking God through “fasting Netflix” as if this is a way of denying our flesh and identifying with a suffering Savior. I can’t point a very long finger – my 3 week Daniel fast devolved into becoming a cashew-aholic as I fed my pharisaic flesh in the very season of proposed denial.
Many among us legitimately suffer from loss of health and economic security. This is identified as the cause of much anxiety. We may find ourselves asking, “Who is to blame for this situation?”
The fear of climbing the mountain in front of us today and the terror of an unknown tomorrow drives us to reactions ranging from self-pity to prayers for a miracle. To this Jesus offered Mtt 6:31-34.
Edwin Freidman writes in Failure of Nerve these five characteristics of emotional regression in a society with chronic anxiety:
- Reactivity – the vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another.
- Herding – a process through which the forces for togetherness triumph over the forces of individuality and force everyone to adapt to the least mature members. (sounds like the totalitarianism of tolerance)
- Blame displacement – an emotional state in which each member focuses on his/her victimization rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny.
- Quick-fix mentality – A low threshold for pain that constantly seeks symptom relief rather than fundamental change.
- Lack of well-differentiated leadership – a failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four.
Do you find yourself responding to life along the lines of these five characteristics? My assessment of most of the groups I am a part of would identify these factors as issues. As I assess my life I see the same things. It isn’t pretty.
I’ve been contemplating my response to the significant anxiety I see in myself and in my behavior and thoughts. I need to think and behave differently but most importantly I need to BE different. Here are some steps I am taking to address not the circumstance of anxiety but the source of peace within.
- Colossians 3 and Philippians 4 call us to “let” the peace of Christ reside in us. We don’t strive for it. We don’t make his peace exist. Peace doesn’t come from the presence or absence of circumstances, laws, politics, entertainment, or people around us. If we have Jesus, we have peace. I (almost) daily practice the exercise of several minutes of contemplatively praying “Jesus – you are my peace” as I breath in and out. It doesn’t change my circumstances – but it changes me. I have found that the peace of Christ resides as I let my being exist in this place.
- I am working to be consistent in a weekly period of Sabbath – resting, celebrating, learning, meditating on and in the glory and goodness of God in my life.
- I read/listen to people who think differently than I do so I can learn to “love my enemies” and resist the “herding” so prevalent in my circles.
- In areas where I have leadership or influence I am working to discover the anxiety within me that often drives my decisions and responses to situations. Leadership is as much about emotion as it is about philosophies and methodologies.
In our society, millennials, gen-ex and boomers alike squirm with anxiety. Some suffer quietly and others loudly. Some get angry and others escape.
What we need to experience and share in the midst of the regressive societal tide is the peace of Christ – it does indeed pass all understanding.
It is available to you today. Lay down your burdens and rest in his peace.