What most people don’t realize about me is that I struggle with agoraphobia. When it comes to getting up in front of people, I am a nervous wreck. My hands get sweaty. I find it hard to remember to breathe. Sometimes, even to the point of being light-headed. Anxiety is a part of my day-to-day life, and I struggle with it.
There is this quote from scripture, though, that says:
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phillippians 4:6-7 RSV-CE)
People often post this in response to someone being anxious, as if that person is a bad person for having emotions or struggling. But the Psalms show us a different story, a gambit of human emotions from anxiety to peace, fear to calm confidence. St. Ambrose called them the “Gymnasium of the Soul” because they covered all human experience, the good and the bad.
How do we make sense of that, then? Let me share with you an experience this morning. I was asked to do a Committal for a family traveling through and wished to bury their mom/sister/friend. On the way there, all the normal anxiety struck. My hands were shaky; I didn’t know if I had the right address, I was unfamiliar with the family, my checklist of things I needed went through my head repeatedly (did I have my book? holy water? alb?) I even had to stop to ask the gentleman mowing the graveyard if I was at the right place.
The family showed up early. The rain stopped. I got out of my car, and the moment I introduced myself, there was calmness. A peace. One that “surpassed” understanding because here, moments ago, I was a wreck. For that service, I was the servant Jesus, the Deacon. I spent some time listening to them, learning about them, and sharing their lives.
There is something about the words of the Holy Spirit, written down in the Rite of Committal, that moves Jesus to be present. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. It’s not just a Deacon or Ordained thing because all of us are part of the general priesthood of Christ. You were Baptized as Priest, Prophet, and King.
So again, what does that mean? Does it mean that when I am anxious, I failed? What if I fear or doubt, am I not close enough to God? What it means is that in those moments when Jesus needs to be present to others through you, if you are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, He will give you the words. He will give you that sense of peace and calm that lets His presence be there for others.
And yes, faith can help with anxiety; faith can help with doubt and fear. But faith doesn’t preclude those emotions. Instead, as the Psalmists show, it’s our response to those emotions that help us grow and be more who we were created to be. So the Psalms may start with fear and trembling, with doubt and sadness, but they always end with some statement of faith that God will make it right.
I think that’s why today I experienced that peace that surpasses all understanding. While this family was hurting, grieving their loved one, He was there. He was listening to our prayers, our hopes, our love for the deceased.
As the Rite says:
There is sadness in parting, but we take comfort in the hope that one day we shall see them again and enjoy their friendship. Although this congregation will disperse in sorrow, the mercy of God will gather us together again in the joy of his kingdom. Therefore let us console one another in the faith of Jesus Christ.
And so we hope, we trust, we pray for peace, and we can be certain that in those moments that He needs to be present through us, He will be.