As I was catching up with a friend over coffee, we started talking about writing projects. I was reminded that it had been quite some time since I took the time to write. My good intention of posting an article at least once a month somehow got lost in the vortex of time.
My “baby” has just graduated from high school. No, I’m not going to say, “I feel so old!” In fact, if anything, I feel young and don’t understand how this could have happened. I still remember restraining the roll of my eyes when I was a high school student and some parent or teacher would comment about the passage of time, adding the ridiculous advice, “Don’t blink.”
Well, I’ve blinked countless times since then, and much has happened. Just since the start of 2021 there seem to have been a disproportionate number of substantial life events. I’ve had joy and pain, losses and gain. As the saying goes, the only thing that’s constant is that nothing will stay the same.
As I grow older, I’ve become more reflective and contemplative. I wonder why things happen the way they do. I consider what role I played, or alternately, what role I should have played when I failed to engage. I have to choose not to linger on “What if . . . ?” and instead shift to “Now what?” Of course, we need to learn lessons from the past, but there are no do-overs. Today is the day for our involvement with those around us and the situations at hand.
I often try to imagine what is to come. That can go one of two ways in my mind: excitement or panic. When I stay mentally neutral, I seldom try to forecast the future. The power to dream is an extraordinary gift, but thoughts without constraints run wild; and I have yet to experience a situation that turned out just as I thought it would.
At this stage in world history, we are exposed to more news than ever before. We get headlines from around the world. I remember a speaker once saying something akin to “We weren’t made to take in all this information. Past generations didn’t concern themselves with all manner of chaos in other nations because they simply didn’t know about it. Why do we think we are better equipped to handle bad news from around the globe?”
I don’t want to camp out in the belief that ignorance is bliss, but I do want to acknowledge the incredible toll that the bombardment of news is taking on our psyches. News about disease, death, and suffering surrounds us. Fear seems to be an ever-present companion as we try to navigate decisions that impact our own well-being and that of others. A report from Mental Health America released on October 20, 2020 states:
“The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.”
So where do we find hope and help? I dislike pulling a few Bible verses out of context to apply as a Band-Aid to a given situation. On the other hand, we need an anchor in this storm and a source of hope as we try to navigate our way forward. I’ve been contemplating Philippians 4:4-7, and an emphasis on just three of the words contained in this passage has given me a much-needed change in perspective. Here it is in the ESV:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So, which three words have made a difference for me? “. . . surpasses all understanding. . . .” Somehow I’d always read this passage thinking that the relief from anxiety would come in the stage after I’d received understanding. However, my new contemplation involves giving up my right to understand the situation. I’m never going to understand cancer, pandemics, trauma, or the vortex of bad news that swirls relentlessly around us. It’s amazing how much of my pride has been tied up in feeling that I am owed an understanding. Once the expectation of understanding is removed, I am positioned to be able to receive peace.
One might argue that the feeling of peace is a much more attainable emotion than an attitude of rejoicing during times of trial. I suppose that for me, the two emotions go hand in hand. I can rejoice that as painful as any situation may be, it won’t last forever. The whole story (from an eternal perspective) tells me that there is every reason to hope for the restoration of all that has been broken.
I’m sure that when the end of my life comes, I will marvel at how much happened between my blinks. In all likelihood, a majority of the events will have completely escaped my understanding. I hope and pray that I will learn the lesson of surrender to the One who understands, and allow His peace to guard my heart and mind.