Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. (I Peter 5:7)
A long while ago – I was in college, I think – a pastor grabbed hold of the Bible I had been given at a spiritual renewal weekend for teens and young adults. “Believe it,” this pastor wrote, “God is an even better giver than you are.” I remember the conversation we had about what he had written. I remember feeling anxiety around what these words meant when put together in a sentence, and written in ink, just below this verse. I told him how I felt. He smiled and assured me I had nothing to worry about. This is good news, Paul. Let down your guard for just a moment and receive all the love and mercy God has for you. You are not alone. I admitted I had no experience with letting down my guard. Still in the early stages of young adulthood, I felt all kinds of anxiety, because everything was so up in the air. Everything felt out of my control. Everything felt like it could fall apart in an instant.
I felt as though I was in a plane with a parachute on, ready to be released into a freefall.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.
Under these feelings was a truth I didn’t want to face at the time: There is no way to lean into the promise of those words without letting go of the things I used to hold myself back.
“God is an even better giver than you are.” These words are with me still, inscribed on my heart the way the scar from a bite I once received from a dog I once owned is still etched on my bottom lip. I may not always recognize their presence with me. Anxiety set up camp in my DNA far before I was born. Anxiety often tempts me not to believe these words about myself. Yet I know the truth of these words abide far deeper within me than I know almost anything else. Before anxiety took root, God decided to make good on promises that still bear fruit within me each day, whether I’m aware of them or not.
What I mean is: before the anxiety came the grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.
It’s a relief to write those words given how I felt earlier today. I sat together with a group of friends. Each of us was catching one another up on our lives. In some ways, the story each of us told was similar. I felt sadness and worry build within me. I closed my eyes at a certain point and silently prayed for each of us, that we would be met by the grace that holds us all.
It would be so easy to lash out, to find blame and cover others in the shame we think they should feel for what we think they’ve done. Yet, let’s honestly take a moment and take a breath. The desire to call attention to what’s wrong and who’s to blame is a product not of righteousness, but self-righteousness. And under the self-righteousness, there is a whole field of anxiety upon which we’ve built our justification for how we live in Christian community. Our umbrage is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is a sign we feel afraid. It is a cry, a plea for God’s love and mercy.
In I Peter, the author is aware of how things spin out of control when Christian community undergoes things that are difficult, painful, sad, awful, and hard, hard, hard. The words he writes offer neither shame nor blame, but room and space for a grace we can hardly imagine. “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) This is a Lord who knows what’s going on for us, because Jesus Christ has decided to set up camp among us, right alongside the grace that is closer to us than we are to ourselves. By this grace, we are eased. Our fists unclench, our hearts thaw, and we see God at work in ways that stun and surprise us. Our restlessness finds rest in a “God [who] is an even better giver than you are.” Thanks be to God for that, for among the things God gives us is space to heal and mourn, to rejoice and remember, to rest and to be raised.
In Christ’s amazing grace,
Pastor Paul Lutter