For those of you who follow me on social media you know I like to post about a certain hobby of mine. And it’s not meant to be braggadocio, but rather a measure of accountability for myself. In order for me to be the best me I can be I try to at least daily, or every other day, head out and go running. You see, for me running is self-care. And the more I post about it, the more I hold myself accountable to do it. The reasoning behind this is because I am also a father of four and a husband. So, in order to find space to be a good husband and father I have taken to running in the wee hours of the morning. Thus the need to stay accountable. That being said, in Nashville the sun doesn’t even wake up in the wee hours of the morning. So today I tried a new convention and ran with a headlamp for the first time…and it was quite the adventure.
I found out quickly that in order to run with a headlamp one has to concentrate on the immediate. There were moments where I wanted to look ahead and try to anticipate the next bend or the path up ahead and the minute I would do this is the exact moment I would stumble. I found out pretty quickly, that although I moved slowly, it was so key to keep the light on my next step. There was a verse from scripture that kept coming to my mind that comes from Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” And I know most of us are familiar with this passage of scripture, but we often don’t really know what it means to apply “the word” to our immediacy. We struggle with the future and the next steps versus the now and the immediate. But believe it or not, scripture itself can help us to understand how to avoid this trap of confusion that often overwhelms us with anxiety for the future.
In the prelude to his gospel, John writes to us that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. We can often become overwhelmed in trying to apply the word to our lives, but there is actually a really simple place to start; Jesus. He is the word incarnate and He draws us into what it means to live into the present. In fact, his own words to us are, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:33-34. I think the headlamp for us in the immediate is to realize what it means to live as Jesus lived. Someone who was fully present at each and every moment. He would see the hurting, touch the leper, feast with sinners and love the unlovable at every step of the way. This is our roadmap. This is our light. And this is the way we learn not to stumble but to trust the next step.
Last night I was awakened suddenly after only being asleep for about an hour. And as most parents can testify, when your kid wakes up in the middle of their night it usually means one of two things…nightmare or stomach bug. Unfortunately for our five-year-old and for us, it was the latter. All of a sudden it’s five alarm status as the washing machine gets going, the sprite starts flowing, the Lysol cloud envelops the house and you find yourself as parents staring down the barrel of a gun. Because let’s face it; we hate for our kids to get sick, but we really hate for our kids to get sick and then pass it on to us. So now my wife and I spend the next 24 hours wondering where it will strike next, if it does at all.
The sad thing for many people is that something like this isn’t just a 24 hour reality, but life itself. Life has shown itself to them to be unfair at some point and so now they live the rest of their life waiting for the other shoe to fall. This kind of anxiety is not only unhealthy, but it’s ultimately not what God intended. In the Sermon on the Mount (you know the most famous sermon ever given by Jesus) we find these words, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” – Matthew 6:27. Jesus asks us a very pointed question and one that is bent towards us understanding how worry doesn’t add another hour to our life and it ultimately robs us of the time we find ourselves currently in.
Before you think this is me lobbing missiles at those of you who are worriers from a distance in my worry free life let me assure, you that the reason I write this today is that I are one as well. There are times that I have lost sleep worrying over situations or individuals I can’t control and God time and time again has come to remind me that I’m not making the situation better by my actions. Worrying about the future does nothing but rob you of the possible joy of the present. In that same sermon Jesus goes on the share with us, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33. So if you find yourself waiting on the other shoe to fall, staring down the proverbial barrel of a gun or just worrying about something you can’t control, then maybe it’s time to actively pursue His Kingdom and His Righteousness. And how does this happen? By getting outside of ourselves. By loving the least, ministering to the poor, praying for our enemies, washing the feet of our fellow servants and embracing the call of Christ. So may you today find that you cannot add an hour to your life by worrying, but you may add joy and contentment through serving.
The dynamic of the Arp family is usually best described as unpredictable. And for the most part we are cool with that…until we realized we really aren’t. Not so much me, or even my wife or daughter, but rather our son. It kind of took us as surprise as our lives have always been marked by spontaneity. But our son Jonas has always had issues with fits and meltdowns and for a season he seemed to be getting over them. But then we had a family tragedy take place and the wheels came off again. And try as we may we really couldn’t understand how to help him until a family friend (who happens to also be a therapist) suggested that perhaps Jonas has Sensory Processing Disorder. Just to give you the shorthand version, whenever Jonas encounters something that might make you or I anxious it sparks in him the Flight or Fight response. And so the unknown, the unpredictable, etc. all of a sudden became an issue for the Arp family.
I tell you this because it has become a unique thing for us (especially in the midst of a pastoral transition at our church). How do we as parents create an environment for our son that relieves him of anxiety and the unknown? This truly has become a daunting question. In the midst of all that is going on anxiety even weighs heavy on me. But in the book of Philippians the writer Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.” (Philippians 4:6-7) in every situation? With thanksgiving? How are we supposed to offer up thanks in the midst of the unknown? But I think there might be something to that. The unknown provides the opportunity for faith, for trust. And as we offer thanks and prayer on the midst of that faith moment we are told that peace which transcends human comprehension guards us. This is a reason to offer thanks.
So I come back to my son. I am trying to teach him what it means to trust us in the midst of the unknown. And as I do so I catch a glimpse of what our Heavenly Father longs for for us in the midst of of walking in faith into the unknown.
It’s time for some honesty. Not that this blog hasn’t been about that since day one, but certain events in my life have brought me to a different place…a more raw place. I have always loved the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and I particularly loved the passage on worry. I even finding myself quoting the famous verse from Matthew 6:34 quite often, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” But recent events in my family’s situation have had me doubting whether or not it is quite so easy to live this out.
The preceding text in this passage seems easy enough for me and my family. We have never been too consumed by things and if you know me you know I am probably not too consumed by what I wear (with the exception of the occasional Converse purchase). Our eating needs have never been too particular either…after all, we are a youth ministry family. But recently it seems as if all of the events around us were spinning out of control. It seemed that almost every circumstance that came barreling down on us crippled us in a different fashion. Our family dynamic, shelter, health and even financial security were all threatened within a matter of two weeks and honestly…it was too much.
I’m not saying I lost faith or anything, but I also wasn’t in the best place. Loss of appetite, inability to sleep and troubled thinking were just a few of the symptoms that characterized my demeanor for the last week. And all the while the words of Christ to “not worry” kept coming back to me. How in the midst of physical impairment induced by anxiety am I supposed to “not worry”? To tell you the truth, I was at a loss. In and of myself I felt like I was drowning. But that’s when I came to a certain realization…I wasn’t alone. I had never been alone. Outside of the presence of the Holy Spirit, God has granted us each other as ambassadors of His peace. The words that we speak and the presence we impart to each other are sometimes the way in which God imparts himself to us more fully.
A passage that is often quoted out of context in order to present a household of inequality is Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” We often forget the verse that immediately precedes it, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The anxiety and worry that had been crippling me was also hurting those around me…and I knew it. The hard part for me was giving voice to my inadequacy and allowing myself to admit my shortcoming, even to my best friend: my wife. But through humbly admitting and giving voice to how the anxiety was affecting me, my bride was able to speak peace into my life where I saw none.
And maybe this is where healing comes…in confession, in submission. We are made after all in the image of our Maker who in and of Himself is characterized by humble community (a Triune God who chooses to suffer). Maybe as we live out lives of submission and confession to one another we find ourselves surrounded by God’s peace and free to live outside of the worries that characterize life absent of the presence of God. May you find yourself in need of community this week if only to understand the presence of God all the more.
Grace and Peace