A New Word For An Old Foe
“Does anyone know what rumination is?”
That was the question a facilitator asked during my stay in a psychiatric hospital a number of years ago. She continued...
“Rumination is when you think you’re strategizing your way out of a problem, only to find yourself spiraling into anxiety.”
That was it. That was me. I’d been ruminating. For a very long time. And I didn’t know it had a name.
Taking The Past Into The Future
One of my favorite moments in scripture is when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. It’s an epic culmination to a life-long story. The highs of a father’s love and political power. The lows of enslavement, imprisonment and false accusation.
There must have been excruciating times when Joseph would have asked: "God, what are you doing?" So many problems to face, and so many opportunities to be crippled by mysterious circumstances.
Eventually, Joseph is blessed with the same hindsight as we receive as the reader, where he tells his brothers:
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50 v 19-21)
Joseph finds peace in realizing what God has been doing all along. Joseph has not been in control of his life. God has. And that brings him peace because he knows that God is good.
When I’m filled with anxiety, it’s based on future uncertainties. When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I instinctively strategize. Or at least I think I do. I would be wise to adopt Joseph’s perspective.
What is it that God has been doing in my life? How, with the benefit of hindsight, have I seen his hand at work? And how will I carry that into the future?
Bringing The Cross Into The Present
Throughout my years in ministry, I have come across many theological reflections on the cross of Jesus Christ. Justification. Atonement. Propitiation.
These can all be helpful truths to explore, but I don’t believe we need to have a full grasp on them to get to the heart of what the cross means.
At its core, the cross reminds us that God is for us and not against us. Not just with words, but with actions. This is love most powerful. A love that would lead to death and a power that would end with resurrection.
When I fear the unknown in my life, I would be wise to remember the cross. And so when I ask myself the question ‘God, what on earth are you doing?’, I may not know the specific answer, but I can be sure of his heart.
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 v 6-7)
God doesn’t guarantee me an understanding of everything that will happen in my life. And that can be a source of great anxiety. I stress about what I can’t control and lose sleep over what I can’t change.
But as Paul so helpfully reminds us, with prayer and thanksgiving, we can find peace. Deep peace in the uncertainties. How? Because the same God we cry out to is the same God who did not even spare Jesus.
I have not mastered the art of an anxiety-free life. But very slowly, I am becoming more at peace with not being in control, because he has made his heart for me abundantly clear.