Psalm 34 & Luke 12:22-32
“Self-Discovery in the Wilderness: (Part Two) Stress, Anxiety and Worry”

 “Self-Discovery in the Wilderness: Stress, Anxiety and Worry

Psalm 34 & Luke 12:22-32 ~ Northwood UC ~ March 13, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook  

Walking in the wilderness can be wonderful. You have done activities like this, haven’t you? You smell the fragrant mountain air, you take in the wonderful sights of Creation: the sounds, the smells, and the sights as you ease into the wilderness…and it is breathtaking. And we spoke about this last week as we considered the emotions of wonder driving us into the pursuit of living in awe of God’s creation.  

However, after being in the wild, you inevitably encounter increasingly difficult parts in your journey. We have been on this walk for (and who’s counting if you are undergoing a Lenten discipline of giving up a favourite thing) 12 days. And as things begin to get a little more difficult; as the initial luster from the awe and wonder begins to fade, we start to encounter some increasingly difficult emotions. And on this second Sunday in the season of Lent, we consider how God’s faithful deal with the very difficult emotions of stress, anxiety and worry.  

As I mentioned going into this Lenten series, we are having a conversation with Dr. Brenee Brown’s most recent research released at the end of last year alongside scriptures that speak timeless insight into the varied areas of emotion. Dr. Brown is a researcher of emotions and released findings of 15 years of her studies in her book Atlas of the Heart. And I am delighted that many of you have been on the website and looked at her rich variety of resources. The central thesis underlying her work is that the broadening of our awareness of emotions allows us to be more fully, more deeply…human. What she found, early on, was that the average person carries around an awareness of 3 emotions: happy, sad and angry. And as we take a deep dive into the emotions that we neglect and tuck away we deep our lives. Quoting the famous 20th Century German Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” And so, we move more deeply into the emotions we feel and consider where God shows up in their midst. What I find interesting to note, in this second Sunday, is that Dr. Brown places this morning’s section ~ stress, anxiety and worry ~ first. The conversation we are having is the jumping off point for all of her work.  

We all have our own understanding of stress, anxiety and worry, but to ‘get on the same page’, Brown offers some helpful analysis. Stress is that emotion experienced when it feels like our ability to cope outreaches the environment being placed upon us. When the world becomes unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloads, both our bodies and our minds & spirits become overwhelmed with stress. Anxiety is an emotion coming out of stress. And it leads us, generally, towards one of two coping strategies: worry or avoidance. Worry occurs as the thread of thoughts and bad feelings that might happen unfold. Avoidance is more dynamic. It is the counterproductive zig-zagging behaviour we may exhibit when anxiety consumes us. And I know that when we are in our wilderness times…after the initial luster of awe and wonder has worn off, many can feel these emotions of stress, anxiety, worry and avoidance. Perhaps, at times, you like me feel them all at once? And we realize that we are, just like Jesus, in the wilderness parts of our life: tested, tempted…hungry and thirsty…pondering how to walk the faithful path.  

I often wonder why the psychological community fail to credit Jesus more when it comes to the founding of psychology. I guess as a pastor, I am biased. We certainly hear lots about Freud, Jung, Rogers, Adler as being among the founders of modern psychology. But when have you heard of Jesus being remembered as one of the founders of psychology? I believe he should be. Because as we begin to place this morning’s gospel lection alongside these emotions of stress, anxiety and worry, we realize that 2 millennia ago, Jesus was speaking deep wisdom into how we might more fully live the human life. Luke recalls Jesus teaching his community saying: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” Jesus knew, long before the term ‘psychology’ was even coined, Jesus knew that a core emotion for us to navigate would be our worry…our stress, our anxiety. And so, dealing with it, head on, Jesus teaches his followers a new way to deal with this complex part of the human realm...stress, anxiety, and worry.  

Jesus’ analysis, we must be clear on, is not an admonition against these emotions. Let us be clear that Jesus is not teaching: ‘just get over it’…‘it’s not that big of a deal’…(or as Bobby McFerrin sang) ‘don’t worry be happy’. Jesus is putting our worry, anxiety, and stress in a theological perspective. He says: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” Jesus begins to broaden our emotional radar beyond our selves. He helps us get beyond our own perspective when we can’t seem to see beyond the forest for the trees. And he teaches us a new way to begin seeing that allows us to deal with the worries, stresses, and anxiety that accompany our the full depth of living.  

He offers a few examples to get us out of our own perspective and begin to trust God. The first example is the raven ~ the bird. Noting that they do not sow or reap, they are not self-sustaining animals, they do not create food by sowing and they do not harvest by reaping. Yet, Jesus notes, God feeds the raven. And continues asking: “and of how much more value are YOU than the birds?” The other example is the growth of the lily ~ the flower. Look at the way they grow. They do not toil or spin ~ their growth seems effortless ~ yet even King Solomon, in all his glory was not clothed as magnificently. Jesus asks the rhetorical question: “Can any of you add a single hour to the span of your life by worrying?” But, if God feeds the raven who neither toils or reaps. And, if God dresses the lilies up in colour, how much more will God provide for you YOU…(and here’s the punch line) YOU OF LITTLE FAITH! (We will come back to that!)  

Dr. Brown, in a similar way, calls us away from a life of stress, anxiety and worry and into the living of a life that is vulnerable ~ that trusts. Not wanting to throw these emotions away; however, she notes that stress, anxiety and worry are not the enemy. The have not always lead us in the wrong directions. For example, resisting the impulse to act, at times has been part of an evolutionary protection mechanism. When stress, anxiety and worry caused us to hide away, there were times when it might have the wisest and most self-protective choice available. In prehistoric times, stress, anxiety and worry might have caused us to flee a predator and, thereby, stay safe. In our recent living, these emotions might have protected us as we deal with the difficult choices before us: talking about our feelings, starting our own business, dealing with a scary health diagnosis, knowing when it is time to retire…and the list goes on. These emotions of stress, anxiety and worry do help, at times.  

But at some point, Dr. Brown notes, we cannot allow stress, anxiety and worry to disable us from living the one precious life that God has given unto you. At some point, we cannot be held back by these emotions and we must introduce another emotion alongside. We must be vulnerable. We must trust that we can move ahead…that all will be well. I think that this is the balance that Jesus is getting at in the gospel text. What Dr. Brown calls vulnerability, Jesus calls…faith. “Can any of you add a single hour to the span of your life by worrying?” But, if God feeds the raven who neither toils or reaps. And, if God dresses the lilies in colour, how much more will God provide for you YOU…YOU OF LITTLE FAITH!  

I wonder how your faith will allow you to walk forward into the wilderness? A wilderness that is often filled with stress, anxiety and worry. It is faith that allows you to boldly make decisions and to seize opportunities. It is faith that allows you to release others to live their lives knowing the stress, anxiety and worry that they will encounter. It is faith that allows you to pick up that ringing phone when the doctor is calling back with the results. It is faith allows you to go back to the plate even after you have struck out. It is faith that allows you live that one wonderful life, that is never long enough, never perfect enough, but all that it should be and more. May we continue in the wilderness of our living amidst the stress, anxiety and worry, living with a depth of vulnerability in the one who created us to walk in grace.