Accepting the Anxiety

Being a pastor is strange. By the nature of my calling, I walk alongside families, individuals and teenagers through the rituals and transitions of life. Pastors baptize, marry and bury. We hold the stories of congregants. It is a unique and privileged experience to look out from the pulpit and just know.

One couple in the third row is struggling through a divorce, a few rows back another couple just found out about a long-awaited pregnancy. In the balcony, there’s one family whose breadwinner just lost their job, and another on the left whose eldest just got into the school of their dreams. There’s one individual in the back still fighting an intense battle with addiction, and another near the middle on the lectern side who finally heard good news about a diagnosis. 

Each person who darkens the door of the church is on a journey. A journey that is glorious, terrifying, messy and beautiful. My pastoral colleagues and I are privileged to be along for the ride for a tiny part of that long, long journey, honored to hold the stories of the people of our congregation. And the past two and a half years of a pandemic have understandably made everything more complicated, more difficult, for all of us. And it just won’t end.  

My brother, also a pastor (because of course he is), prayed this prayer for me when I was in the process of discerning my call to ordination. I didn’t know then that it would be a prayer I would often return to, reminding me that I, that we, that all of us are never “finished.” We are always “on the way,” as brother Teilhard says. I’ve shared it with you before and still I can’t help but notice how apt the words feel for this moment.

Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin – “Patient Trust”

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability —
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually — let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our God the benefit of believing
that Their hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

I have yet, I think, to truly accept that anxiety, but I'm working on it. As a pastor, I am blessed with a small window into that "slow work of God" in your lives. And as such, I know I'm not alone living in this tension of desire for understanding, for the final fruition of whatever it is that God is doing.

In this strange moment, as we live through history, remember that God looks at each of us and knows exactly what we are navigating. Perhaps more than we ever can, God sees us and understands what each individual life entails — pain, heartache and joy. And not only does God see and understand, but God is with us in each of these moments of utter humanness.

Remember my friends, that neither death nor life, neither pandemics nor political upheaval, neither our pasts nor futures, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.