The Anxious Church

The Martha and Mary story will not leave me, particularly Jesus’ tender concern for the burden Martha carried. An anxious heart will bury the soul, this I know.

I see a lot of anxiety these days. It’s tricky business to locate because anxiety can appear so helpful, so “concerned,” so righteous, so radically Christian. Most anxious people are not cowered in the corner biting their fingernails. Most anxious people are working like mad, intently focused, advocating, pushing. We rarely call a spade a spade here because anxious people get stuff done. Anxiety is a mighty potent fuel.

We’re anxious that we’ll louse it up as parents, so we frantically read and worry and jump expert to expert. We’re anxious for the injustices of our world, so we charge from cause to cause with no space for life or laughter or human frailty. But some day, these anxious fumes will burn out; and even if they blaze eternal, could we stop to consider the kind of life we’re burning to the ground in the process?

A great sorrow to me is that the Church (the very people to whom Jesus said, Go live, free as a lark and My burdens are light and Don’t be anxious. For real, don’t)┬áis often the most anxious-laden place I know. We’ve got budgets to raise and mission to accomplish, a city to save for crying out loud. And anxious rhetoric gets stuff done.

An anxious church may be a prosperous church or a socially engaged church or an exciting church, but in the end it will prove to be a hollow church and a tired church. When the Spirit is active, our work is not a burden that buries us but a dance that invigorates us.

Whatever else we might accomplish, if our churches never guide us into places of deep rest (those green pastures the Psalms speak of), then we have surrendered the very life God has given us.

11 Replies to “The Anxious Church”

  1. Our sermon yesterday was on the parable of the prodigal son and, for the first time, I saw a connection between Martha and the older brother. They’re both overworked and complaining about someone else being irresponsibly absent. And maybe, I’m thinking after reading your words, they were both anxious. An anxious heart is an absent heart, like that of the older brother, removed from the present, removed from home and the life and, yes, rest, found there. Both Martha and that older son allow their work to carry them far from home and that lostness, that absence, is So heavily present in the american church; those roots run deep.

  2. Hey Winn. Good word. It reminds me how anxiety in a system, like the church, tends to hit and jostle people not only there, but also in the other systems of which we’re a part…like a children’s mobile: bump one and the balance is thrown out. So anxiety is indeed infectious. Thanks for the reminder to live more restfully and freely.

  3. I so resonate with these words – on the community level and my own inner spirit as well. Anxiety is a killer. And you’re right – it shows up most visibly in what we all think are invisible ways: by being driven and critiquing things to death. I am wrestling that spirit within me even on vacation these weeks and I just want to drop-kick that sucker someplace far, far away from me!

  4. A comment on yellow jacket stings and I’m reading your anxiety thoughts and planning to share them. Anxiety is indeed a pervasive malady on us all. Yet, there is a nagging since of dread is there not? We reap what we sow, right? I look for a calm that comes from God (if I’m allowed to say that).

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