Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October 22, 2008 - Keeping Faith in Anxious Times

I’ve just finished a 3-part sermon series on living with anxiety. What I had in mind, as I preached these sermons, was the current economic situation. After enduring the one-two punch of collapsing real-estate values and the Wall Street meltdown, the American public has been living with high levels of anxiety.

Here’s a short excerpt from the first of these sermons, “KEEPING FAITH IN ANXIOUS TIMES, I: REPAIRING THE CISTERN”:

“Some psychologists – borrowing language from medical science – draw a distinction between acute anxiety and chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety, they say, is related to some immediate threat. If you step out of your front door, for instance, and come face to face with a grizzly bear, that’s acute anxiety you’re feeling. No surprise, there. Yet, if you wake up each morning with a sense of free-floating dread – but have little idea where these dark feelings are coming from, nor any idea when or how you’ll break free from them – then, chances are, you’re a victim of chronic anxiety.”

Acute anxiety, anyone can understand. A newly-diagnosed cancer patient, getting ready to scoot over onto the operating table or receive that first chemo treatment, will quite naturally feel anxious. It’s the patient in remission, or maybe – like myself – out of remission but in a long-term watchful waiting regime, who feels chronic anxiety.

Here’s another excerpt, from the same sermon:

“The word “anxious” is historically related to a Latin word, angere, which literally means “to choke or strangle.” If anxiety gets its bony fingers around your neck for any length of time, you’ll soon be gasping for breath. There’s another English word that races its lineage to the same Latin root. The word is angina – which, as you surely know, describes the sharp, piercing pain that precedes a heart attack. Angina arises when one of the coronary arteries is choked off by arterial plaque, blocking oxygen from reaching the heart muscle. Anxiety, in other words, can kill you.

Another English word that grows out of this Latin root, angere, is “anger.” Anxious people, as it so happens, are often angry people. They sense the breath of life being choked off from their soul – and so they lash out, flailing wildly in an effort to remove the threat, whatever they imagine it to be.”

I borrowed some of this stuff from Peter Steinke's book, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times (Alban Institute, 2006).

I was preaching, that day, on a passage from the book of Jeremiah. The prophet blasts certain faithless people: who – in his eyes – “have forsaken [God], the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

I think that cistern image has a lot to teach us. If the spiritual sustenance God provides for us is like a spring of water, then religious practice is a method of gathering that water into cisterns. It’s a beautiful thing when God provides us with what we need, spiritually, right on the spot, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes we need to rely on water stored in the cistern. If we neglect the regular practice of our faith, we can end up with “cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”

Many of us cancer survivors live with chronic anxiety every day. A significant step in the journey towards healthy survivorship is learning to recognize it for what it is, and name it – but not letting it master us.

I don’t think we ever solve our anxiety, or cure it. We’ve got to learn to live with it.

Much as we learn to live with our cancer.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Finding ways to channel the anxiety can be tough. It's tougher on the people around the cancer survivor than the one who actually goes through it.

God Bless.


Ronni Gordon said...

Yes, it certainly is a big challenge, especially if you were a worrier (like me) before cancer.

I enjoyed this post.

Meg Rodgers said...

This post really resonates with me these days. I always enjoy reading your blog, and am thankful you visit ours (and leave comments).

Best wishes for less anxiety and more healthy times-

Meg Rodgers

Carl said...

Thanks, folks. I appreciate the good words.

Nelle said...

Amen. Wonderful sermon.