By Father Casey
This year is off to a tough start. Newspapers have never been the most positive hubs of information, but lately, reading them has been an exercise in despair-management. This past week, the columnist David Brooks wrote about the way that our society seems to be coming apart at the seams, not only in the highly publicized events like the insurrection, but even more so in millions of smaller incidents all around us.
- Reckless driving is rising dramatically, and with it, the number of fatal accidents in 2020 and 2021 spiked – this in spite of the fact that we’re actually driving far less.
- Airlines continue to deal with a surge in altercations, and the same is true of most other service-based industries that are grappling with a crisis of aggression, abuse, and violence.
- Drug overdoses are increasing rapidly, as is alcohol abuse.
- Teachers are dealing with nearly three times the amount of disruptive student behavior as three years ago, corresponding with the unprecedented vitriol displayed by parents in school board meetings.
We could blame this on a few people who have made life miserable for everyone else, and that is partly true. The vast majority of folks aren’t yelling at teachers, driving intoxicated, or stocking up on assault weapons (January was the third-highest month for gun sales in American history).
But the truth is that we’ve all been soaking in a highly condensed brew of anxiety for the last few years, and it’s made us all a whole lot more volatile. We have evolved with the fight-or-flight instinct when faced with stressful situations, and thanks to the limitations of the pandemic, “flight” wasn’t really an option. Think about yourself and ask whether you’re more or less likely to overreact, to let your anger get the best of you, or to use dangerous or self-destructive methods to cope with your stress than you were just a few years ago.
Which is why it’s so important that we take steps to make ourselves more flame-retardant, and for followers of Jesus, the first step is to ask God for help. We simply cannot do this on our own. The forces of cynicism and cruelty, of anger and division, are too great to combat with our own power. Prayer, then, is not just a polite religious pasttime; it is like putting on a fire suit before walking into a burning building.
So pray, friends. Pray with all your might for God to help us not drown in our anxiety, or succumb to our anger. Pray for a renewed spirit of humility, so we can resist reactivity and judgmentalism. Pray for kinder words to speak, kinder thoughts to think, kinder ways to act. And pray for patience – so much patience! – because the path through this fiery ordeal will almost certainly be a long one.
We’re exploring prayer right now on Sunday mornings, so if you want a little help getting started on becoming less flammable, I hope you’ll join us. But I want to share with you a prayer to help you get started in putting on your fire suit. It was composed by Lutheran pastor and bestselling author Nadia Bolz-Weber, and in her typical fashion, it is raw and honest and powerful. So, I share it with you, in hopes that it helps you speak to God about all your anxiety and anger, and ask for help to be the people God needs us to be right now.
I am sad to inform you that the planet is on fire and there’s a global pandemic that goes on and on and takes more and more from us.
It’s all a bit much right now.
I don’t want to feel numb but sometimes I do.
Except for when I’m having random level 9 responses to a level 2 situations. I mean, it’s humbling to admit that yesterday I shouted “FOR F— SAKE” at the guy with the painfully and unnecessarily loud muscle car in front of my apartment. Bless that guy, Lord.
Please just show me what is mine to do because otherwise I will feel horrible not doing everything or callus for just doing nothing. So, give me grace for myself and others.
Also, everyone is understaffed right now so grant me patience with every clerk and delivery driver and customer service rep.
And when all I can do is stop during the day and place my hand on my heart and hold all these heavy realities up to you, may it count as prayer.
Help me to know when there is water in my bucket and which fire to throw it on, but also to know when to wait because I am on empty. Help me to trust that you will give me what I am to give away and to not feel like I must carry water for everyone else.
I guess what I am saying Lord, is: please show us some mercy, and help us to show this same mercy to ourselves and others.