The Age of Anxiety

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul tells the church not to be anxious.

Clearly the Philippians didn’t move house often because we are in the midst of preparing to move house and anxiety seems to be our default setting at the moment. There is no one stress point, but rather a team of them conspiring to dominate our lives: too little time to get building work and decorating done, removal companies late in their quotations and all the necessary sifting through our stuff that must be done.

We’re tetchy, our short term memories are failing us and we’ve started issuing orders to each other.  They say getting a divorce and moving are two of the most stressful things you can do and I’m beginning to see that they may be related. We are nervous wrecks even though moving house should be an adventure and the chance to make a fresh start. It also means we don’t have to rake the leaves this autumn. What’s not to like?

As I’ve shared my anxiety with various people and groups, I’m beginning to sense where it  might be coming from. When we moved into our first flat together, we had very little stuff. It was furnished, we had no money and so we kept it simple. But each time we’ve moved, we’ve acquired more stuff. We’ve acquired children. Our children have acquired more stuff. Moving has become a process of sifting through our stuff to see what stuff we want to move into our new house. It’s about getting rid of stuff, replacing stuff and finding places for our stuff.

So I blame my anxiety on stuff. It costs a lot of money and time to move our stuff. We’re complaining because we’re losing a reception room and a bedroom in this move.  We’re a bit put out because the diocese isn’t doing all the work we’d hoped they do on the house. If all we had to do was pack a suitcase each and a box of books each it would be so much easier.

That must sound awful and arrogant to those who live each day on a subsistence level, who may be vulnerable to job loss or unaffordable housing.  I wonder whether Paul understood this anxiety better than I give him credit for. Here’s the verse in full:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6

Thanksgiving might be the antidote to anxiety. Thankful that a lovely house comes as part of the job. Thankful that I have work in these hard times. Thankful for the good books we’ve read and kept. Thankful for the furniture we sit on as we enjoy and enrich ourselves. Thankful that we can take our nervousness and offer it to God rather than having to deal with it alone.

Being thankful can be hard when we are so affluent. At times we are thankful for what we expect to get rather than for what we have received. If our expectations aren’t met we get stressed. No matter how good the gift, we can be put out if it isn’t given to our specification.

I could be wrong, but it’s made me start saying thanks for the small simple things in my life that make me feel better when the big stuff fails to deliver.

This week I had my perspective transformed at communion. The reading was from Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out his disciples with nothing but his own authority. They don’t take cash, extra clothes or hotel reservations. What they need for what they are sent out for will be provided by God through other people.

We like to take Jesus at his word but we also like a bit of back up just in case he doesn’t deliver.  What we worry about is something going wrong with the failure and inconvenience being placed at our door to work through ourselves.

The worst part of anxiety is that it keeps drawing our minds and spirits back to the thing we are worrying about. Anxiety blocks creativity and empathy and relationships. Which is why Jesus’ radical call, in part, is for us to leave behind the burdens in which anxiety is rooted. To leave our “stuff” behind and one day learn not to pick it all up in the first place.

That’s not an easy thing, but it is a possible thing. Perhaps we learn it by practicing the further radical call of Jesus to make ourselves available in love to our neighbour and to find part of our joy and satisfaction in that.  We don’t need stuff to do that. We just need ourselves.

So if you are a praying person, pray for us and our stuff to be at peace as we move into a new home and that we might learn the way of peace is far better than the way of anxiety.

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About newnortherner

I'm a vicar in the town of Macclesfield with a lovely wife and three kids who are a credit to me. A friend at theological college told me I was a walking theological reflection so I figured a blog was the best way to get out lots of words without tiring lots of ears. I like cycling, reading, films and just chilling out.
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