I’ve been missing church a lot due to Zoë’s weekend softball tournaments. But with the fall season concluded, I attended a service last Sunday, about ten days after the San Bernardino massacre. As we also live in Southern California, I supposed the message might include some thoughts about coping with fear or anxiety.
The sermon did feature advice about finding peace, but I thought if I were preaching, I would address fear and anxiety more directly. Then I thought, hey, I’m due to write another church for writers post.
So here goes:
Mostly as a parent, I have learned that the best and maybe the only way to change anyone’s behavior is to change my own behavior. If someone is argumentative, I can forgo my inclination to argue. If someone acts moody, I can attempt to model equanimity.
Similarly, if fear or anxiety threaten my peace, I can counteract them by actively pursuing peace. And I know of no better way to pursue peace than by turning away from my selfish concerns and turning toward love.
Soren Kierkegaard, maybe the wisest philosopher of modern times, considered Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors a command for us to love without distinction. Repeat, love without distinction.
Granted the difficulty of acting in love toward everybody all the same, we can certainly move in that direction.
Recently I attended a talk by the principal of the high school Zoë hopes to attend. He is a retired U.S. Army general. When asked how he intended to safeguard the students, he replied that the most effective way to prevent violence is to treat every person, regardless of whatever, with dignity. In the vocabulary of Christ, I believe this means to love our neighbors.
So my best advice on how to confront fear or anxiety or to cope with an increasingly violent world is the same as my best advice about parenting or writing. Here goes:
In all pursuits, the most effective action I can take is to love better.
My most common prayer is, Lord, please help me learn to love better.
As Walt Whitman wrote: “Love the earth and sun and animals. Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks. Stand up for the stupid and crazy. Devote your income and labor to others … And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear …”