By Stuart McAllister
Sometimes I get the feeling from our media that there is a serious effort underway to keep us all anxious, in a state of informed concern, and always on the alert against—well, everything. Rather than a balanced, more general, and necessary exhortation to be cautious, we seem to manufacture fear. We take the advent of 24/7 news, a proliferation of “experts,” and a deluge of “the latest studies,” and out comes an overdose of worry or outright fear.
Everyday I am told that education standards are falling, the economy is in shambles, crime is rising, my food is dangerous, predators are on the prowl in neighborhoods, my body is under assault from saturated fats, and I can’t trust my bankers, accountants, or politicians. There are religious fanatics on the loose and weapons of mass destruction waiting to get me. Gas prices are rising, work seems hard to get, and on top of it all, the poisoned environment is gearing up to offer a big time payback.
Now, I don’t know about you, but the constant immersion in such things, the saturation of space, and the occupation of time by these ideas, does not add to the balance of hope, expectation, joy, or comfort. Could it be that into this culture framed narrative, we can listen to a word from another century? Jesus, speaking to his disciples, once said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). How on earth can we not worry?
Is this possible, is it practical, is it even real? We have whole industries, massive budgets, and multitudes of people, all whose business is marketing worry. Now I’m not exactly suggesting that there is some large scale conspiracy effort to manipulate us all. What I do mean, however, is that many of us live unreflective lives. We don’t pay much (or any) attention to the things that may deeply influence or affect us. For example, it is a necessary condition of a modern economy to keep us restless, dissatisfied, and always seeking, wanting, striving for things, experiences, stuff, education, honors, fun, or whatever. Yet, this perpetual stimulus, as Kenneth Gergen writes in The Saturated Self, indeed has fallout. It leads, he proposes, to a condition of “multiphrenia.”
We are all used to terms like ADD and many similar symptoms to describe our age. We are distracted, busy, under demand, and more often than not worn out or beaten down. So what can we do to combat these forces that deeply affect us? When I was a child in Scotland, I was taught a basic discipline essential to all children in areas where walking to school by busy roads was the norm. Where crossing roads and moving through traffic was inevitable, the key was learning to do it safely. Hence, we were taught: Stop! Look! Listen! These three words and practices were drummed into us. Let me draw on this.
Learning to stop is often the beginning point in our harassed lives. Simply stop and be still. Then, look. Look around, look within, evaluate, and discern. Next, listen. What do you hear, see, sense? Culture’s invasive power may be resisted by a simple set of steps that break the hold of intrusion and allow us to reestablish our focus (see Matthew 6:33). With a fresh resolve to live differently, listen carefully, and act intentionally, new life and will to live is unleashed. Socrates is identified as having observed that the unexamined life is not worth living. I think for many of us, this is the problem. We simply let life take over, circumstances dominate, and pressures define us. But a spirituality of resistance learns to say no. Writing in a time of great pressure, real danger, and many struggles, Paul said to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” What can we expect as the outcome? God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds.
There are indeed vested interests in the promotion of worry and the amplification of anxiety. But the Lord of history offers an alternative: Trust in Christ and be anxious for nothing!
Stuart McAllister is Global Support Specialist at RZIM in Atlanta, Georgia.