Third Sunday of Easter 2018
A recent cartoon spoke to the truth of 21st century life: A business man, suit on, briefcase in hand, stands outside a hut with the word “Guru” above the door. He looks at the bearded wise man and says, “What’s the meaning of life? But make it quick, I’ve got an important meeting in half an hour.”
Do you realize it is not just adults who know the anxiety of life. A recent education article opens with the 4- and 5- year olds in Marty Davis’ Utah kindergarten classroom getting anxious. “We expect so much from them, and they feel the pressure, the teacher says.
That pressure continues. By high school and college, many students have run out of steam. Anxiety- the mental health tsunami of their generation- has caught up with them. According to several studies, today’s teens and young adults are the most anxious ever. In 2016, nearly two-thirds of college students reported “overwhelming anxiety.” That was up from 50 percent five years earlier.
For seven straight years anxiety has been the top complaint among college students seeking mental-health services. Common symptoms that affect their academic performance include persistent feelings of dread and jumpiness, frequent panic attacks, headaches, stomach problems, shortness of breath and fatigue.
Researchers have focused on two causes for these increases, testing anxiety and social media. As noted by the opening illustration, testing anxiety can start in Kindergarten. Where once art, group play and making friends was a focus, testing starts in the K classroom and by high school many stress not disappointing parents, or failing to get to their top desired school, or that college is the right choice for them.
As to social media between 2010 and 2015 the number of teens who felt “useless and joyless,” surged 33 percent. And the number of 13- to 18- year olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.
Where does the increase come from? Prof. Jean Twenge of San Diego State notes, “After scouring several large surveys for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives, the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.” Teens who spend five or more hours online every day were 71 percent more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor.
As a parent of a college student and a recent graduate, this scourge strikes close to home. Yet more than that, the pervasive, corroding impact of society driven anxiety on all ages, strikes my heart. We, as people of faith, are in a unique position to encourage remedies for the culture of anxiety and stress that is devastating modern life.
Today as we begin a new series, “7 Covenants of Discipleship,” we’ll explore seven habits we can practice that will grow our ability, as disciples of Jesus Christ to impact God’s world. These seven habits are: Pray Daily, Worship Weekly, Study Regularly, Live Faithfully, Serve Creatively, Give Generously, and Witness Boldly.
First up, Pray Daily. I’ve laid out some modern needs for prayer, the anxiety of the lives we lead, especially its crushing impact on young people. In the story of Elijah, it sounds like his anxiety was just as high as any we or our youth might encounter. No wonder he flees and hopes to die, Jezebel has literally sworn out a death warrant for him. Have you ever had a time when you wished for a cave in which to hide from the anxiety all around you?
If so, in that sheer silence in which God’s presence is made known, I think we glimpse an avenue for healing and easing the anxiety of our times. Prayer.
In his concluding remarks to the Philippians, Paul encourages them: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” His advice to counter the anxiety of our lives with prayer is no simple catchphrase designed to simply mask the terror, contingency, and uncertainty of daily existence.
It is a call to take those anxieties to God in prayer and allow God to refashion them. Our prayers are not to be mere wish lists for God to grant and fix. Our prayers are to be enriched, and qualified by “supplication and thanksgiving.”
Supplication means that in prayer we come before God with supreme humility. This humility does not grow out of any doubt about the ability of God to accomplish God’s will, but the contrary. In the face of an omnipotent God, one can only be humble.
Thanksgiving means that when we pray, we come before God with supreme gratitude. Our gratitude does not grow out of any confidence in our worthiness, but the contrary. We can only be truly grateful when we acknowledge our unworthiness before God. So the humility implied by supplication and the confidence implied by thanksgiving are both necessary to the kind of prayer that opens our path to easing anxiety and not worrying.
Yet it is not just for ourselves that an integral form of our discipleship is our daily prayer. As we pray, our actions model for others faithful discipleship. Imagine children or grandchildren observing us engaged in prayer on a daily basis. Doing so over the generation of raising, nurturing and caring for them, hands them one more tool to combat the anxiety that is devouring their generation.
Now I suspect most of us pray. Some of us use the time in our cars to offer to God our current list of challenges and concerns. Some, when we find ourselves in a sticky wicket offer a “foxhole prayer,” ‘Oh God, if you get me out of this mess, I’ll…” fill in the blank. For others our prayer routine is the strategic kind, “Oh Lord, I’m late for work, please may there be a parking space;” “Oh Lord, if only the lottery, my problems would be solved,” etc.
Maybe you have a book of devotions, or a blog that comes to your computer every day with a text and reflections to focus your thoughts and prayers.
I encourage each of you in such prayerful endeavors. Yet, to take Paul seriously, to ramp up our discipleship, and to set an agenda of discipleship in our households that will combat the scourge of anxiety, I suggest we have more to do. To that end, prayer in the manner of an ancient Christian practice known as Lectio Divina may be our answer.
Lectio Divina is Latin for “Divine Reading,” and is a slow, contemplative praying of scripture. It opens us to scripture not as words to be read, but rather as the living Word for communion with God. Setting aside time each day for Lectio enables one to discover in daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within the rhythm is discovered an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to God and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us Jesus Christ.
Engaging the Lectio allows our daily concerns, relationships, hopes, disappointments and aspirations to intertwine with meditations on scripture. Daily use of the practice allows us to attend “with the ears of our hearts” our own emotions and listen for God’s presence in the events of our lives. The more we engage in such contemplative prayer, the more we model for those closest to us, a prime tool for sensing the embrace of God’s love and care. And truly that is a significant part of an antidote to anxiety, loneliness and despair.
I will put a more detailed methodology of using Lectio in a link in this manuscript on our website (see below). Briefly the practice of Lectio has four movements: Read, Meditate, Pray, Contemplate.
First, after selecting a text, read it slowly. Listen for the “sheer silence” of the text. After some moments begin to focus on a word or phrase that seems to say “I am for you today.” Memorize the phrase, center on the phrase. What memories does it bring for you? Ponder, ruminate, allow it to invite you into dialogue with God.
Now, speak to God in the words of your mind and heart. Whether you are vocal, or silent, whether you draw a picture or sing a song, does not matter. Interact with God who loves, cares, and cherishes you. Give to God what you discovered in your meditation, and what is on your heart.
Finally, rest in God’s embrace by reading the text again. Contemplate that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
Daily Prayer practiced as Lectio Divina can last a half hour, it can last an hour. The significance is that such focused prayer time deepens our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. It also models for those around us, those we love dearly, strategy for opening their lives to a closer awareness of that loving embrace.
1) Studies taken from Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington Post, and Clinical Psychological Science.