It seems as though anxiety levels are on the rise in more than a few people these days as we are confronted with a never-ending barrage of issues.  A couple years ago it was all about the elections.  Then came the pandemic.  Of course, one must add in shootings – at schools … by police … across our nation.  Don’t forget the devastating forest fires, flooding at Yellowstone, a tornado up north, and multiple weather advisories.  Now it’s soaring prices (like $5.00/gallon gasoline and $4.00/gallon milk), shortages in baby formulas and multiple other items, rising interest rates, and falling stocks … and the circling back to elections … Then yesterday the heat index topped 100 – and it’s not even summer yet!
These raised anxiety levels, unfortunately, do not just play out in the news.  They also are having a major impact in many homes and families.  Anger and impatience, frustration and shortsighted selfishness arise.  Many times these distractions pull people away from focusing on fundamental basics like listening, caring, and planning.  Simply put, things are not working these days for many people and families.
In my re-reading of “Canoeing the Mountains” (Tod Bolsinger, 2015) I came across this: “One of my early leadership coaches, Kirk Kirlin, taught me, ‘When we meet those moments of disequilibrium that arise within us because we are in an unfamiliar, anxiety-producing situation, we have to resist the temptation to fight, flee, or freeze.  We have to deliberately resist our default reaction to repeat what we have already done, hoping that this time it will have a different result (the oft-quoted definition of insanity), questioning our own tenacious clinging to previous training, a re-active mindset, and quick-fix tactics.  At those moments the tendency is to double down at doing what we have always done and resist the new information that tells us that the circumstances are different and that more drastic change is necessary.” (p. 108)
For me, I know this process starts with a return to God and his word for guidance – though this is by no means my “default reaction.”  His word, however, repeatedly urges me to “resist the temptation to fight, flee, or freeze.”  His Spirit directs me to hang with David of old.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.  Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.  One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.  For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27.1-5)
Yes, all of the things mentioned in the first paragraph are realities that we dare not ignore.  However, at the same time, they often also end up being distractions that Satan uses to draw us away from the “one thing that is needful” (Luke 10.42) And it is amazing how simple things like “dwelling in the house of the Lord” (that is joining God’s people in worship) … “gazing upon the beauty of the Lord” (that is, meditating upon his Word) … and “inquiring in his temple” (speaking to him in prayer) reduce our anxiety and increase our ability and endurance in being functional, helpful human beings in our anxious world.
On that same page 108 Bolsinger goes on to say, “In his Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things, Laurence Gonzales writes that the key to surviving in a world filled with unknowns is keeping a constant posture of ‘curiosity, awareness, and attention.’ But, says Gonzales, we are not naturally inclined toward these characteristics.”  A healthier response than fighting, fleeing, or freezing in anxious times or around anxious people is to work on calmly observing what is taking place and then asking non-judgmental questions.  And this becomes a more natural pattern in our lives as we regularly spend time with David focusing upon the Gospel promises of our God.
So today I am simply urging you to be attentive to one key passage: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8.32) Let your “child of God-ish” curiosity go wild as you meditate upon this question.  Become more aware of what is meant by “with him graciously give us all things”.  And then in your prayers bring your concerns to his attention.
Yes, there are a ton of crazy things going on in our world. Some have even suggested to me that this is a great time for me to retire – rather than deal with all the craziness.  But this is one of the things that makes me hesitant to do so.  I am deeply curious to discover what God is going to do next … and have a passion to help others be aware of and attentive to our Lord’s wonderful promise, “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as this world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14.27) … Oh, that I could combine my faith and passion of today with my stamina and health of 30 years ago!
I’ll simply close today with a benedictory word of praise that will hopefully keep us all from becoming too distracted: “To him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” (Ephesians 3.20-21)

Fearful Distractions