Somewhere in southern Virginia, driving home from a wonderfully relaxing Thanksgiving in Richmond with our kids, I asked Ardelle if she wanted to listen to a podcast episode about anxiety. She said, “sure,” and so we did that. Which, it occurs to me now, might provoke some anxiety in you at the thought of being trapped someday on an extended road trip with these two funsters during which you will subjected to their idea of what passes for a good time. (#straightouttadante)
What the psychologist in the podcast interview talked about was learning to befriend our worries. Anxiety is information, she said. And research has shown that anxiety is less likely to become harmful and debilitating when we learn to listen to what our worry is trying to tell us rather than add guilt and shame to the fact that we can’t get even get through an otherwise pleasant holiday weekend without having our anxious thoughts crash the party at some point.
Another way of describing anxiety is as a heightened form of attention to something that may or may not happen in the future. Which suggests that worry is also a form of waiting. And if Advent is about the art of waiting, could Advent be a season in which we learn how to worry well? Or at least how to worry a little better?
Well, here’s an idea I’m sure has never made it into any Advent spiritual practice program ever. Maybe think of your worry — stay with me — as a little John the Baptist on your shoulder doing his “Prepare the way of the Lord … or maybe just prepare your blog post before Thursday, buddy!” thing. It’s not helpful to respond to your personal J.B. with a lot of handwringing and self judgment, convincing yourself that you’ve finally emptied the blog tank in your head completely and will never have anything interesting to say to anyone ever again. It’s better to say, “Good point there, my tiny little worrying prophet guy. Maybe I’ll get up early on Wednesday and see if I can peck something out, even if it ends up being a rambling reflection on something I heard in a dumb podcast. You won’t believe what these kind and openhearted blog readers are actually willing to read and respond to.”
And it may well be in that last part where our worried Advent waiting can become a vessel of grace. Once we take the uncertain future seriously, we can not only be truthful about what actions are or are not available to us now that might affect it, we can also remember that there has been grace and forgiveness in our past, and there will be grace and forgiveness in our future alongside whatever has us reaching for the Rolaids. Remembering that my worry isn’t my only friend and that my anxieties aren’t the only source of information about what’s to come is also part of the wisdom that we can grow in during this Advent season of holy waiting.
If you’re reading this without a care in the world… well… I guess I’m sorry to have wasted your time here today. But maybe you’ve glimpsed something that the rest of us in the human family struggle with from time to time, especially during seasons when our calendars fill up so much with opportunities and obligations that we can no longer can tell one from the other. And as we move through this season with other anxious, joyous, expectant Christians everywhere, practicing the old Advent art of waiting, perhaps we’ll find that when we give worry a seat (but only one) at the table, other friends like Grace and Forgiveness and Joy may take their places as well.