Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Advent Week 3: Uneasy Journey

When I was a pastor in a rural area, some folks participated in a low-key mission project called “Dental Transportation,” for lack of a more exciting term. Every once in a while, volunteers would get a call notifying them that a family needed to visit the only dentist in the area who accepted Medicaid and provided pediatric services. His office was at least 30 minutes from our town, which meant that many of these families had been putting off the dental care for a long time. (Thank goodness it was only half an hour! I know many people have a much longer drive.)

I went along on one of these trips, to attempt to translate for a Spanish-speaking family. (Languages get rusty if you don’t practice!) On that trip I learned more than I ever wanted to know about childhood tooth decay.

Until today, that is.

This morning, my family was the family bringing in the baby with a mouth full of decaying teeth. We are still not sure how this happened — we have tried lots of things, and the only thing we have left to try is “brush more.”

But I’m not writing this to tell you a sob story. I’m writing because the episode has taught me about Christmas.

You see, I felt absolutely ashamed bringing my daughter in there. There is a stereotype of children with poor oral health: that their parents don’t take good care of them, that they can’t afford a toothbrush, et cetera. Many parents, myself included, also carry around a wishful-thinking stereotype of a well-educated suburban family with gleaming teeth. I thought I wasn’t a person who bought into to stereotypes. I’m above all that, I thought. Yet the stereotypes hit me with full force this morning, and I was ashamed. Afraid too.

After she got her fillings, and after we had received another reminder about brushing, we collected our precious doll and went home. As we left, I started thinking about Mary and Joseph.

What were they thinking as they traveled to Bethlehem? Did they wonder, “How did this happen to me?” Were they hoping that they wouldn’t run into anyone they knew? Did they give evasive answers to people as they asked around for lodging? (“Yes, she is my … uh … wife.”) Were they ashamed? Were they afraid?

I hope they felt full of confidence as they traveled that road. After all, how many couples do you meet that have received two visitations from angels, and who are about to be the caretakers of the Son of God? But it would be OK with me if I found out that the journey was emotionally trying for them. Nothing good is ever easy.

If Christmas means anything to us, it ought to mean that we sympathize with Mary and Joseph. They were tired, poor, outcast, and potentially in big trouble. And yet they brought forth a gift for all of us.

So, if we sympathize with Mary and Joseph, what is holding us back from having mercy on people in similar circumstances? Judgment? Fear of becoming like them? Shame?

If you can only give one gift this year, make it a gift to someone who is vulnerable and worried. A little comfort and joy go a long way on an uneasy journey.

a student surveying the journey ahead, New Mexico 2010



Advent Day 7

Advent Day 7:  the Fast

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.

–St. Richard Chichester (1197-1253)

I feel a little awkward writing about fasting, because I’ve never had success with a traditional fast (i.e., not eating.)  Every time I do it I get sick.  However, recently I found a different idea about fasting.  Some spirituality teachers (including Foster and Thompson) write about fasting from other things we consume or activities we do on a daily basis, to help make us more open to receiving God’s Word and Spirit.

Many of the college students and young adults I meet have a pretty steady diet of anxiety.  They are anxious over the future, over relationships, over personal identity, and over whether they can “perform” on the academic or social scene.  Feeding your soul with anxiety is like feeding your body with chocolate-covered coffee beans.  Sure, you’ll get a rush, but you’re depriving yourself of the nourishment you need for the long haul.

 So the practice for today is a fast from anxiety over performance.   Try to spend a day refusing to be anxious, and consider these questions during your day:

  • A person observing a more traditional fast will think about how God provides for them, even though the thing they want (food) is not available at the moment.  Use this same thought process:  how does God provide for you, even though your anxiety isn’t cured at the moment?
  • What do you really need to get you through the day?  Even the hands-on, high-energy people I described in yesterday’s post need down time.  No one is Superman, and why would you want to be?  He never gets to live a regular life.
  • What would unconditional love look like in your life?
  • What is holding you back from giving others unconditional love, instead of doling out love based on their performance?

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):