Sunday, July 19, 2020

Dealing With Anxiety During A Lockdown #JesusFollowers

This is a troubling and anxious time. We're locked down, isolated, lonely, and frequently filled with anxiety about material things and about the future.

Anxiety and people's overall mental well-being are prime concerns for many, as they are home, quarantined, either alone, or with others in close proximity who, frankly, are just as anxious as they are.

But how does our teacher, Jesus, instruct us to handle our anxiety? The question is part of the answer, because we have to see Jesus as a teacher and our master, not as a mere "psychological crutch" or as someone who simply is an "easy fix" for our problems and feelings (as in: "Give it over to Jesus.")

He is just that for many millions - a psychological crutch - which means that other crutches, such as drugs or alcohol, sex, escapism or emotional "highs," are seen as just as easy and sometimes more present substitutes. Of course they aren't, and Jesus shouldn't be filling that role, either.

No, we have to view Jesus as both teacher and master ("lord") in order to find the answers, and we of course do that in his words and teachings, which form the entirety of the Gospel he preached.

Jesus in fact spoke directly about being anxious, saying to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ... Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all." (Matt. 6:25-31)

Some may say, "That's all well and good, but my life has real problems. Unlike birds, if I don't work, I can't pay bills or put food on the table."

But that misses the point. Jesus often speaks in metaphor, parable, and (in some aspect) exaggeration, such as when he says to pluck out your eye rather than sin by lusting. That's not to say he doesn't mean what he's saying. It means we have to understand what lesson he's teaching, and what methods he's using.

His original call to the disciples was to immediately follow him. They left their jobs to walk with him ... IMMEDIATELY. That doesn't mean Jesus hates working for a living. His father, Joseph, taught him a trade of carpentry, and he likely worked into adulthood in that field, helping to feed his brothers and sisters.

No, Jesus is teaching here that we need to put material things into PERSPECTIVE, and that will relieve our anxiety. The previous verse before this passage was the oft-quoted, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matt. 6:24)

As we recently explored, Jesus doesn't hate money, either, he just tells us to put it into perspective, and not idolize it. ("One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” he is quoted as saying in the Book of Luke, 12:15)

In the same way, we ought not become overly ANXIOUS about our clothes (are they good enough to impress our neighbors?) our food (are we eating at the 'right' bistro?) or the latest energy drink we're seen drinking. That, as Jesus says, is what the Gentiles (non-followers of Jesus) are doing.

WE, on the other hand, are called by Jesus to tread a higher path  - to channel our anxiety towards positive, Godly outlets. He calls us to put our efforts into serving others, doing good, setting an example of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus calls us to seek to enter RIGHT NOW, here, among others. We can't do that if we have excess anxiety about material things, or if we're obsessing about our lack of them in our lives.

And our service to others is part of the plan. By treating our neighbors EXACTLY as we would wish to be treated, and by ensuring that they are fed, clothed, housed, and comforted, God is indeed providing, through us, his children.

It is our mission to comfort the anxiety and fears of our neighbors, reassuring them, providing for their needs, and relieving their stresses in this stressful time.

And yes, we need to seek out work, pay the bills, and do what responsible citizens should do, even in these times of quarantine. But we have to realize that if we take Jesus' lessons to heart, and not worry artificially about things that don't matter, all the while seeking to serve others, we will be better off, have far less anxiety, and live in the comfort of the salvation Jesus is unfolding to us through his teachings.

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