“Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties.”
Parenting, thy name is anxiety.
This week I heard a mom joke that she tossed and turned for twenty minutes last night, mentally trying to design multiple escape routes from her home in the event of a fire.
“I thought, ‘What if the fire breaks out between my room and my daughter’s?’ What would I do then? So I had to come up with yet ANOTHER plan.”
We laughed, but behind the smiles lay a nod of affirmation: Yes, I’ve been there. Yes, I’ve worried about that. Yes, I’ve lost sleep, too.
Whether anxiety starts during pregnancy or flares during the teenage years, worry goes hand-in-hand with being responsible for a child. Parents cannot protect their babies from all the dangers in the world, and they toss and turn wondering how to make choices that will keep kids safe.
Today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks directly to our anxieties, both worldly and otherworldly. Yet this passage can seem frustrating: everyone suffers from anxiety; God doesn’t want us to be anxious; so, good luck reconciling those two truths on your own.
But read alongside today’s Gospel, we are invited to see anxiety in a whole new light.
While teaching in the synagogue, Jesus encounters a man with an “unclean spirit.” When the man cries out, Jesus orders the spirit to come out of him, and the man is set free.
A Scripture professor once told me that the stories about “evil spirits” in the Gospels can be read as descriptions of people suffering from mental illness. Lacking today’s clinical language of depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, people in Jesus’ time understood the forces that took over someone’s mind and behavior as evil spirits.
Anxiety falls into this category, too, given how devastating its darkness can become over the mind and body.
So today we hear a story of a man who brings his suffering into a holy place of worship, right to the feet of someone he senses – despite the darkness that has consumed him – can help.
And Jesus does not delay, to the amazement of those who witness the healing.
What if parents could bring their worries to church, in the hopes of being set free?
What if depression and anxiety were no longer cloaked in shame, but bravely revealed in the light of day?
What if we could marvel at the ways God can cast out demons and darkness in each other’s lives, instead of gossiping behind backs about other’s mental states?
Would we worry and agonize a little less, knowing that our faith and our community could help “deliver us from all anxiety and grant us peace in our day”?
My prayer, like Paul’s, hopes yes.