May 17, 2023
I was reflecting this week on a couple of my past notes related to the general subject of "peace:"
DeaconNote 17: Jehovah Shalom at https://www.churchofcolchester.org/post/deaconote-17-jehovah-shalom
DeacoNote 30: Happiness X-Factor at https://www.churchofcolchester.org/post/deaconote-30-happiness-x-factor
Between them they explore several aspects of personal peace - what it is, and things and situations, that seem to present obstacles for achieving it. It was then, that I happened to notice an email in my reader from a Christian resource I subscribe to, that offered tips to church leaders on overcoming anxiety. I excitedly opened the message, expecting to find encouragement, that would be a good follow-on to my previous thoughts.
What I found was a four-point presentation that can be summarized in two verses:
Philippians 4: 6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is a reassuring verse to be sure. It reminds us that we have a huge resource on our side in the form of God, to whom we can turn for help, understanding, and comfort, as needed. It gives us the much needed perspective, that we are not alone. That is nothing to be scoffed at! It is not, however, a particular useful verse to give to someone, who is currently feeling overwhelmed with anxiety from the multitude of stressors in their life. Too often, the verbiage that accompanies the reference to this verse is, "get right with God, and you will be at peace!" The recipient of this advice then prays, still feels anxious, and concludes you have told them, that they are somehow not right with God, and thus, in a round-about way, it is all their fault! This is decidedly not helpful! In a great many cases, it is not correct, and not at all the message we wanted to give to our friend in need. Anxiety (the lack of peace, for the purposes of today's discussion) is a symptom - a response to any one or more of a thousand different problems or stressors. These stressors are all different, unique in their own way, and in all likelihood, require different actions to resolve, or remove. As such the simple answer is all too often, too simple to be useful. I liken it to seeing the world as black and white, versus shades of grey. Way back when I was a teenager in high school, I was the president of the photography club. Back then, photography meant film and lots of it, if you were trying to teach young kids how to take, develop, and print good photographs. Our advisor got what he thought was a good deal on some army surplus film for us to practice on. The price was right, but the results left a lot to be desired. The film turned out to be extremely high contrast. You can think of it as true black and white, and not much in between. The resulting images sometimes resembled ink blots from a Rorschach test. Large areas of black and white only. Sometimes the shapes allowed you to guess what the original subject of the photograph was, while other times, there was simply too much missing detail to hazard such a guess. Many years later, I retired from my corporate job and became a wedding photographer. I studied the masters of the craft to improve my art. And for so-called black and whites, the master was Ansel Adams. Everyone has heard of him, and many can tell you that they have sat in awe of his photographs of Yosemite National Park, or his famous, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. The first and most significant thing, that you learn about Ansel Adams' photography, is that his famous black and whites are NOT black and white. He and Fred Archer developed an approach to each photograph, that divided the complete tonal range from pure black to pure white into 11 zones. And then in the composition, taking, and developing of the end photograph, every zone (every tone or shade of grey from black to white) was represented somewhere in the photograph. In the end there was very little pure black or pure white. Another way to say it is this: if you look into the darkest parts of the photograph, you would still see defining detail; and if you also looked into the brightest parts of the photograph, you would still see detail - it would not be "whited out." In essence, he saw the picture as ranging from very very dark grey (almost black) to very very light grey (almost white). As a wedding photographer, my objective was to photograph the groom in his pitch black tuxedo, standing next to his bride in a pure white wedding dress, and allow you to see the texture difference between the lapel of the groom's jacket and its sleeve, while at the same time appreciating the intricate white-on-white needlework in the bride's expensive gown.
These are beautiful subtleties you can only see if you view the world in shades of grey, and not simply black and white! And, what every photographer has to learn, is that the framework may be laid out in the overall pose and composition, but the story is told in the gradation of shadows, that enables you to tell the difference between a smile and a grimace. So too in other aspects of life. And this is the problem with stressors that induce anxiety. As anxiety increases, the world in which we find ourselves, begins to look more and more black and white - all or nothing - a living Rorschach test, if you will. At the extreme, we lose the ability to identify foes from friends, and any clues to a solution for our problems are lost in the brightness of the whites and the darkness of the blacks - we are grey blind! Sometimes, it is not that we do not have the ability to deal with our problems - we just cannot see clearly. It is for this reason, that I love another set of verses from Paul's letter to the Philippians. To me, it is a prayer for vision - the ability to see through the fog of circumstances - to remember what is important, and what matters right then.
Philippians 1: 9-11 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.
Children can sometimes be sources of anxiety for their parents - not purposely or maliciously - just as a natural course of their growing to maturity.
Consider the relatively simple case of teaching your child to walk. At first you carry them everywhere. Then you help them and support them as they take their first steps. At some point, you step back and let them try on their own. You may be at the ready to make sure they do not fall into the hot woodstove, but you do let them try to walk on their own. This is in the sure knowledge, that if you never step back and remove the direct support, they will never develop the necessary strength, coordination, balance and skills to walk.
The trick as a parent is to KNOW when to help, and when to step back and watch. And that line is constantly moving as they grow. In the beginning, you help a lot, but as they develop their skills, you withdraw and let them exercise them. You may even let them make some mistakes. As the child grows, you may find yourself teaching them to ride a bicycle. Many a parent can be seen running alongside, keeping the bicycle balanced, while the child struggles with the ability to control their balance and coordinate hands and legs. Eventually, you let go, and watch them pedal away. The trick again, is to KNOW when to intervene, and when to let go. And before you know it, you will be sitting in the passenger seat, giving verbal instructions to a nervous new car driver. I am sure there are some cars, that have parental fingerprints permanently embedded in the door handle or dashboard from parents, who struggled to control their near panic, when their child was a little slow in braking, or forgot to check the mirror before pulling out to pass.
Knowledge. Insight is key. The ability to discern what is best in that situation at that time is crucial! And as the situation or problem becomes more and more complex, I think this is the one thing, that can always help. A rising fog of anxiety has a way of obscuring our vision at the very time, when clarity of sight and insight is most needed! So this is what I pray for - shades of grey:
the ability to discern what is best and pure
the ability to tell friend from foe
the ability to tell help from hurt
the ability to tell love from loathing
Solomon is said to have prayed for wisdom as a child,
I Kings 3: 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
And when Paul listed the gifts of the spirit available to us, I do not believe it was an accident, that the first on the list was wisdom,
I Corinthians 12: 4-8 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works in all of them in all men. Now to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit.
Having prayed for wisdom, I also pray with Paul, as he did for his spiritual children in Philippi
Philippians 1: 6 ... that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Your Brother in Christ,
Please also feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend.
In addition, I invite you to post a comment or related thought of your own below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester