Anxiety Antidote

John 17:6-19


Our reading today from the gospel of John and the previous reading of two weeks ago are part of Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples. It was common place in ancient times for someone who is either leaving for good or dying to give a farewell speech to his (not “her” since in a patriarchic society this was reserved for men) loved ones. This is what Jesus is doing now. But he is not dying – yet. He has been warning the disciples that he is heading for the executioner. Now he is attempting to prepare them for carrying on his ministry after he is gone.

His long speech, now ending in this long prayer to God, had to have been an anxious time for the disciples. They had already, each one of them, suffered through tremendous anxiety if not out right trauma. They were called to Jesus’ ministry. This was no easy call. They were effectively yanked out of their known way of life into a risky, radical way of living … all done suddenly and precipitously.

It’s been three years now since that happened. And each day of those three years was a rolling coaster for them: swinging from wonderful expressions of God’s Kingdom and their contribution to the coming of God’s Kingdom to the angry, threatening accusations made by the powers. And that’s just what has been reported in the Gospels. We do not know how each one coped with these huge changes. And the anxiety and upset had to extend to their families and friends. Were their families involved? Were they threatened too?

It was no easy life to follow Jesus. It was full of uncertainty. It was full of wonders. And it was full of risk.

With Jesus present and ministering to them, they probably could manage their inevitable daily anxiety. But now he’s threatening to carry his ministry to its end and sacrifice himself … and they will be without his support. He knows this and so this long speech and its concluding prayer is intended to build them spiritual support without his human presence.

Anxiety haunts all of us. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. But for the disciples given their situation it was probably a prolonged experience of daily anxiety. Anxiety is isolating, corrosive and despairing. Jesus no doubt was aware of this.

He had to see in his disciples what any loved one sees in a husband, wife, child, parent or close friend when he or she is anxious. Anxiety is a fog of the mind and heart. It creeps into the mind and refuses to go away, shrouding in darkness even the brightest day. It barricades the person into their own painful world. The world beyond the self-imposed inner life is unfocused, distant and threatening, often the pot in which the anxiety was cooked. The outside world clamors to get in, but it’s often just too much to take in.

Anxiety reduces living to cradling the anxiety, constantly contemplating its source and its cause and its demise. It can become the dominant thought. It becomes the highest priority pushing down in the list family, work, and just plain life. It is corrosive of the soul and the heart.

Jesus in his prayer asks God that we will be given eternal life. Jesus doesn’t mean immortality … for an anxious person that is no gift at all. But rather living life eternally is to deeply know God and God’s love and God’s support and God’s presence. We often pray about God’s eternal love and eternal presence. It is love and presence that is always available to us no matter how we feel and no matter whether we’ve earned it … or for that matter whether we are alive or dead. And by that I don’t mean just bodily death, but also when our souls and hearts seem dead. God’s love and support is still there.

It is this eternal living that the disciples knew and felt in the presence of Jesus. He was the flesh and blood incarnation of eternal life. But now he was leaving them … and this must have been the worse of all traumas: loosing eternal life. Yet in his farewell speech and now in the prayer he is showing them how they can continue to live the eternal life.

We maintain our eternal living by remaining faithful to Jesus’ teachings and way of life. We live our lives faithfully and righteously. We are civil to our friends and our foes. We are forgiving and non-judgmental … indeed we work to have no foes. We reach out when someone is in need.

But eternal living goes beyond just righteous acts. It is also a way of perceiving the world around us. And that eternal perception is the light that can temper, even disburse anxiety. It is a perception that this life is a gift from God. But it is only a gift if we unwrap it with excitement and appreciation of the gift-giver.

We need to break through the fog of anxiety and see beyond it. We need to remember the untold blessings that God has given us. Anxiety denies us the joy of wonder that God puts before us and all around us. Anxiety contracts our lives while joy expands them.

When we are anxious, our minds wrap around whatever is making us anxious – sometimes we have more than one apparent cause. Our minds loop through these causes analyzing them, justifying them, thinking of ways to resolve the cause. Many causes will simply resolve in the passage of time or cannot be confronted immediately and we must be patient. Anxiety robs us of patience.  For example, we worry about the health of an unborn baby and how the birth will go. We can do nothing about that except support the mother and pray to God. Only God and time will tell.

Some causes we cannot resolve and must simply accept them. Anxiety robs us of the ability to let go and move on. For example, a close friend enlists in the Army and you are anxious for his survival and health. You cannot change that and must come to terms with the constant risk.

So our minds and our attention are consumed by the anxiety. Everything else is a distraction from what can be an obsessive need to constantly worry. And so our lives are dominated by the anxious thoughts.

But joy expands our lives and liberates us to embrace the world around us. In his prayer, Jesus asks God that the disciples know the joy he knows of knowing God. Jesus knows that joy will be their antidote from anxiety and the sign that they are truly living the eternal life. Joy is the consequence of living in God’s eternal grace.

We often think of joy as recreation … it’s something we experience as a result of something else happening, such as a baby being born. But we are not raised to pursue joy for joy’s sake. Yet, it is as important to our living in God’s eternal grace as is doing righteous work.

God has given us wonderful beauty and diversity. And God’s grace and love is woven into the world around us. They are woven into Nature, into our relationships, into our imaginations and into our exploring. Recognizing and celebrating joy is a way we worship God and thank God for God’s love and grace.

That the joy permeates all of creation readily gives us an antidote for anxiety. We often let a beautiful day go by unexplored because of our busy-ness or our anxiety clouding our lives. Yet it is so easy to make a point of celebrating each day, each morning and each evening for the wonders of Nature that surrounds us for just a few minutes. That effort in and of itself will break through our anxiety – even for a moment.

To stop our anxious thoughts for just a moment and celebrate our loved ones that God has brought us breaks through the anxiety. And to go beyond just what our eyes can see and our ears can hear, and imagine what is hidden in the wondrous world around us – just for a few minutes, then we can get past our anxiety. And in each of these short, small efforts we step into the eternal life that God offers us. Each of these efforts embraces the grace and love of God.

The world we see and hear and smell is just the surface. The world is much deeper than what our senses can show us. God has put many mysteries into the creation, in Nature, in our relationships, and in the dynamics of society.  These are not mysteries forbidden to us. Rather they are offered by God for our wonder and our imaginations.

In the midst of our struggle to overcome our challenges and face the risks of the days to come, God says to us, “Stop for a moment – just a moment. See what I have done for you and yours and for all the world.  Just stop and wonder. How do the geese know to fly in a V formation? What are your children really thinking? What is life like on the other side of the world? What would immortality be like? What do I, God, look like? Who were the playmates of Jesus when he was a child? Just for a moment, take a break. I give you all of this not to be successful or to be rid of your fears, but for your wonder and enjoyment.”

For all the struggles that Jesus and the disciples lived through, what God wanted from their effort was to set in motion the coming of the Kingdom of God and the eternal life – or in simpler less dramatic terms – God wanted to set in motion an age when joy and its siblings love and compassion will reign in this world.

I think when the Kingdom comes, we will still have anxieties and fears and worries. But we will not succumb to them. For when the Kingdom comes and living in the eternal grace of God, we will be so close to God that our anxieties and fears will quickly resolve. I think when the Kingdom comes, joy will prevail over fear and worry.

And while we wait for the transformation from a “kingdom” of greed and hyper individuality and violence to a Kingdom of joy and grace, we can open our minds and hearts to those moments when the Kingdom of joy and grace can break into our lives. And in that we can rejoice.


Think about it …

God’s grace and love be with you …