It’s a cold and rainy Presidents Day here in Dallas this Moltmann Monday morning. I hope you are well where you find yourself. What I do know is that many of us are suffering from, or at least encountering, a good bit of anxiety these days, so today’s selection is from Jesus Christ for Today’s World. I even provide a three-step practice to reducing anxiety at the end, because who cares about theology if it isn’t helpful?
Our countless anxieties continually crystallize in a general fear of life. That fear of life is the heightened, diffused anxiety which grows and spreads, takes on an existence of its own and robs men and women of their self-confidence, indeed of their very identity. It wins the upper hand and drives us into a corner if we fail to identify it for what it is, or if we try to suppress and ignore it. Then we feel that there is no way out of our situation. We no longer know who we really are.
OK let me stop right there before we continue. So, we know that anxiety is not good for us. We know that anxiety can rob us of our sense of well-being. But listen to how Moltmann describes this: it takes away our confidence, indeed our very identity. We no longer know who we really are. (You can guess what I’m about to say, right?) Anxiety is a direct by-product of forgetting our original blessing. We lose our confidence, our identity, when we forget that we are, first and foremost and even last of all, beloved. We forget we are bookended with blessing. And that’s where Jesus comes in.
Theology identifies this anxiety as ‘God forsakenness.’ It is a separation phobia, a dread of severance from the ground of our being, from the meaning of life, from what is worthy of trust. To identify anxiety and put a name to it is not enough to free us from it, or to let us get the better of it. Even ‘religiously integrated anxiety’ still does not mean that our anxiety is abolished. We have to be released from it. That is the experience of faith in anxiety. In the remembrance of Christ’s anxiety and fear, what he has already done with us and for us is actualized and repeated: he endured the fear of being forsaken by God–that fear of separation we have talked about–and he has struck out a way through this experience for those who trust and follow him. In fellowship with him we discover that we are released from fear as we endure it. By recognizing our fear in his, and by seeing our fear as caught up into his, we experience that ‘blessed anxiety’ (as Georges Bernanos called it) which kindles and unconquerable hope. To be released from fear means getting up out of fear and resisting it. It means walking freely through the midst of it.
Jesus makes a way through his own anxiety, and in so doing he shows us a way, too. And that way not only leads us out of anxiety but into abundant life. As it turns out, the antidote to anxiety is compassion, Jesus’ divine suffering-with. This is why I describe in Original Blessing that Jesus is a blessing, and the cross is a blessing, because it reminds us that we have one when we are so wont to forget. We forget who we are. We forget Whose we are. We forget that we know the way through, if we would only trust it. Jesus, in his bravery, his steadfastness, releases us from this fear and anxiety. And when we are released, we can get up out of fear and resist it. We can walk freely through the midst of it. Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for He is with us.
If I were to make this theological section into a post on a three-step process to overcome anxiety, here’s what they would be:
1) Acknowledge your anxiety. Name it. Don’t let it stand as your identity or your existence. Treat it like the outside invader it is.
2) Return to your original blessing. Remember the ground of your being is not your fear but your belovedness. Rest there, breathe deeply there, until you find your center again.
3) Remember that Jesus has doubled down on this blessing by being in solidarity with humanity even unto death on a cross. He made it through, and because he did, we will, too. Be released. Get up out of that fear and resist it.