A recent article in the New York Times tells the story of a 37-year-old social media consultant who wrote on Twitter her concern for a friend not communicating. “I don’t hear from my friend for a day – my thought, they don’t want to be my friend anymore,” she wrote, appending the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike. Soon thousands of people offered their own examples. It stuck a nerve. “If you’re a human being living in 2017 and you’re not anxious,” she said, “there’s something wrong with you.” Notice the anxiety is about relationships.
The article went on to say, “anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition….a shared cultural experience ……. …. We’ve been at war since 2003, we’ve seen two recessions. Just digital life alone has been a massive change. And nobody seems to trust the people in charge to tell them where they fit into the future” (Kai Wright). “People with anxiety were previously labeled dramatic,” said Sarah Fader, a Brooklyn social media consultant, “Now we are seen as human being with a legitimate mental health challenge.”
Men, we live in a barren waste land, giving us little help in knowing ourselves, allowing us to have a healthy relationship with God and others. The anxiety discussed in the New York Times article points to a ” depleted self.” There is no one home on the inside. This is cause for real anxiety since we are made to have a relationship not only with God and others, but also ourselves. Kierkegaard defined faith relationally, “That the self in being itself and in willing to be itself rest transparently in God.” “Let me know thee, O God, and myself, that is all,” was the advise of Augustine. In my opinion, contemplation is vital in dealing with relational anxiety.
We are created as relational beings, who are not able to handle our uniqueness. Church Father, William of St. Thierry, reflecting on contemplation, asks, “Why, then, do we go outside of ourselves to seek God in external objects when all the while he is with us and in us, if we will only make it our preoccupation to be with Him and in Him?” Contemplation calls us to pay attention to the center. In contemplation we become aware of God’s presence within. “You don’t have to search for God, you have only to realize him…So do not go out so much into reflections…but close your eyes like a child and confide yourself to the hidden being who is so near to your inwardly (Tersteegen).” .
When the Psalmist prayed, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Ps 42:5), he was aware of how his relationship with himself and God caused him anxiety. The Message puts it this way, “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again.” Fixing our eyes on the Lord is the key to contemplation.
Men, in the days to come you will be tugged two and fro by the conflicting voices in our culture telling you what a man should be and how he should conduct himself before others. If you are not sure of who you are, producing insecurity in your relationship to your heavenly Father, you will be anxious. Paul reminds us, “For God, who said,’Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:6). The darkness of relational anxiety is removed by the light of Jesus’ presence in our hearts.