I really enjoyed the service at the Presbyterian church this morning, for it related to issues that I especially went through this week: worry, and how to handle criticism.
I thought that the pastor presented constructive ways of looking at those things, especially with his anecdotes. For example, he told us about Jay Leno, who years ago was rehearsing to host the Tonight Show, and Johnny Carson didn’t think he’d be right for the job, since Jay didn’t have enough jokes. Jay was devastated and resentful, but he went back and honed his material.
The pastor referred to a lady who concluded that most of her worries were needless—for, often, the things that she worried about did not happen. There may be a degree of wisdom to this, but I’ve found that I’ve worried about things that actually do happen, such as alienation in social situations, and other things. Are situations usually as bad as I think? Maybe not. But I think that worry is an understandable emotion, not something that’s unrealistic. As the pastor himself said, there are things in this life that make us insecure. He told a story about a kid who was scared on his first day of school, and how worries increase in adulthood, as we wrestle with anxieties about finances, health, family, etc. Personally, even as an adult, the first day of school frightened me—as did every subsequent day of school. (That’s why I appreciated that the pastor referred to people who get psychotherapy to deal with their worries: there are people like me who have needed help!) And there are tragedies in this life. I know of two people who died in their late 50’s this week—and one of them was a social studies teacher I had in junior high school. How can I not worry, when life is so fragile—for me and my loved ones?
The pastor told a story that I had heard before, but I appreciated hearing it this time around because it overlapped with my study of the Psalms (and, by the way, at the service this morning, one of the liturgists said some beautiful and authentic things about the role of the Psalms in her personal faith). In Cologne, Germany, during World War II, in a place where Jews had hidden, something was found written on the wall: “I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining. I believe in love, even when I am alone. I believe in God, even when he is silent.” The pastor said that we do not know what happened to the people who wrote that—if they were captured by the Nazis, if they were safe, etc. But the pastor said he believed that they faced their situation with courage, on account of their faith in God.
I’ve often wondered why I should believe in a God who will make everything turn out all right, especially when there are so many things in the world that are far from all right. If God doesn’t appear to take care of those situations, then why should I believe that he’ll take care of me? But, as I’ve read the Psalms, the conclusion I’ve reached is that I may not know how things will turn out, but I can find security in the presence of God and live one day at a time. The Psalmist expected God to make things all right, and yet, in the midst of a situation in which he was extremely vulnerable, he chose to stay in the presence of God (in the sanctuary) rather than fleeing to the mountains. (Many have interpreted Psalm 11 in this manner.) His outlook was changed by being in the presence of God. That’s what happens when I receive strength: the world is still out there, with all of its problems, and yet I am a little bit stronger.