Today’s scripture readings have a few themes:
In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I struggled with panic attacks. I had an immense amount of anxiety about dying. This manifested itself in different ways, mostly through a fear of getting sick or having a heart attack. A few factors contributed that I could think of. One, I was a new father. We had Christopher and David a year apart and I was pretty nervous about not being present or available to them. This had symbolic meaning to me as a fear of abandonment. I didn’t want to abandon my kids and see them struggle without a father and I also had to cope with my own fears of being left fending for myself. Two, I was just starting to work as a corporate chaplain and the stories I was hearing were very overwhelming. Three, lack of self care. I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or exercising very well. The result? Panic attacks.
Here’s what helped me:
- Talking with a therapist. I was able to talk about the pain of being abandoned and how much it hurt. It helped me realize that, while I felt abandoned, I could learn new ways of parenting myself so that I’d know that I can handle whatever life might throw my way. In spiritual terms, I learned that I was never alone and that the Higher Power (Jesus) would be with me. Growing up latino and in a pentecostal home, seeing a therapist was a taboo because we were taught that we really didn’t “trust God”. That was nonsense! 🙂
- Self-care. For me, this meant getting 8 hours of sleep, staying away from fast food and greasy food, and cycling. I took up road biking, lost 20 lbs, and felt great. I also started making time to take regular retreats throughout the year. I have to plan them in advance and then stick to them.
- Community. I needed more friends in my life that I could go to eat with, go to concerts, and just be silly and laugh. I needed connection and deep friendships.
We grew up with not a lot of money so I developed a fear of not having enough. It’s driven many of my financial decisions. But as I think about life and God, the scripture is clear that God thinks in terms of abundance, not scarcity. I’m not talking about or promoting a “prosperity gospel” where abundance is the sign that God loves you and that you are more special than others. But God does care about abundance and wants to lack no good thing. I’d be very wary if someone used this to try and make a case for materialism or consumerism. That’s just bad theology. I’m talking about being able to have an attitude and heart that is at rest with what we have and isn’t ruled by “stuff”. Fear of not having can be very costly. And it usually doesn’t get us what we really want.
In each reading, there is provision and comfort for the hungry, the needy, and the sick. Death is overcome. Sickness is healed. And there is a feast of table for all people. Jesus has compassion on the crowd. Some are sick. Others are hungry. We read about a God who cares about the daily stuff, about the burdens that we carry. He is not a god who sits by idly. Jesus is engaged with the people and is about making wrongs right.
I’m not sure I wholeheartedly believe that God is that compassionate. I feel like have to earn his abundance and comfort. I feel like if I don’t perform well as a disciple, I will be mistreated. When I feel this way, I look at a picture of my sons or a picture of “little Roy” and imagine how much God loves us. I want to trust that love from a Heavenly Father who is in heaven, and yet breaking into my world to transform my heart and mind. This the concept of grace at work. This energy, favor, love that God bestows is His hearts’ disposition.
Questions for Reflection
*What are you most afraid of these days? Can you tell God about it?
*Where do you feel like you are lacking? Ask the Great Shepherd to lead you beside still waters and restore your soul.
*How might God want to comfort you today? Tell him where the pain is.
Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.
May your new life fill us afresh.
May you cause to see how you are abundant in our lives.
May you have compassion on us.