Two years after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, members of Congress approved the 25th Amendment. Ratified in 1967, this law lays out a process for the continuation of leadership if the President cannot carry out their duties because of death, resignation, or “inability.” These clarifications were deemed necessary since Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution, does not offer a straightforward process for the transfer of power in such cases.
Nine times in history, this process transferred power to the sitting Vice President. Once due to resignation and eight times as a result of death.
The other time that the power of the presidency transfers is after an election where the incumbent is replaced by a newly elected leader. This transfer of power has happened 44 times, according to my count. Each transition comes with its own nuances, anticipation, surprises, and anxiety. Threats made by our current President is increasing an already tense situation.
Meanwhile, our country faces other challenges where our attention should be focused on. Cases of the coronavirus are increasing again, just as the medical experts warned. And this failure by our leaders is taking away from two other, more complex challenges, racial injustice, and global climate change. I’m noticing that my anxiety is increasing despite thinking I had already maxed out.
“Take a deep breath and slowly release. Breathe in and breathe out slowly. Notice the calming effect as you focus on breathing.” These are instructions repeated numerous times each day by persons across the county. Self-coaching is one coping strategy for releasing some of the tension created by anxiety and worry. Focus on the simple yet fascinating process of breathing and feel the tension ease.
Last week, I asked listeners and readers to start a habit of praying five times each day. For some, this may add to the stress, with one more thing to keep track of—morning, night, and before each meal. Begin with a simple thank you and see where it takes you. It’s really that simple.
A more advanced idea when searching for peace is to end the day reflecting on where you noticed God at work. Someone helping another person. A beautiful sunset. Kind words. These are all signs that God is paying attention and always present. Gratitude leads to reverence, which leads to peace.
Gratitude leads to reverence which leads to peace…
A lot of stress comes from situations where we want change but feel helpless to do anything. Learning that we aren’t in control is a difficult lesson that most of us learn repeatedly. For a worrisome medical diagnosis or losing someone close to us, denial is only a temporary fix. Eventually, we learn to accept the reality of our situation. And hope for peace.
Brittany Isaac, writing on the topic of acceptance, offers this modified version of the serenity prayer. “Lord, grant me the serenity to change the things I cannot accept.” 1 As I read her chapter, I found myself in complete agreement. “Preach Sister,” I thought in support of her insight. Isn’t this what leadership is all about? We see a situation that we can’t accept, and we lead others toward change?
Years ago, I discovered what it was like to experience burnout. After choosing to accept a position, opening a new office in Detroit for a computer software company, I put all of my energy, education, and body into succeeding. And I succeeded. At least for a few years until I hit the wall. The intensity took everything I could offer and more. It took some advice from an intern under my supervision years later to discover a balance I needed to avoid this happening again. Business is a marathon, not a sprint.
In high school track, I was a sprinter. I loved to run as fast as possible but discovered that my body could handle only a couple hundred yards before I was spent. My coach pushed me to consider longer distances, noting that my exceptionally long stride was a detriment at the beginning of a sprint, but an asset in longer distances. I didn’t want to hear it. I enjoyed the thrill of a sprint even though I realized that the longer the race, the better my chances of winning.
Accepting the possibility of failure is hard for me. I suspect failure is hard for most of us. Accepting that we cannot do that, which captures our imagination and motivation, feels like a whole new level of failure. Team sports are great at teaching another life lesson. We are stronger together. But as soon as I becomes we, accepting that which we cannot change stares us squarely in the face.
And then I met Jesus Christ. Our relationship has been rocky at times. Jesus is in it for the long haul. A marathon that never ends. A pace that never leaves another person behind. An understanding of Sabbath that offers periodic rest and recuperate. And most of all, an acceptance that blows my mind.
There was this time that Jesus was facing the ultimate test. He knew what was coming. Jesus was a prayer extraordinaire who wrote the Book on praying without ceasing. And we read in the Gospel of Matthew how Jesus prayed the night that the authorities were on their way to arrest Him. He asked God to find another way if possible.
This famous prayer, said by Jesus, ended with the most excruciating conclusion imaginable, at least for Jesus. “Your will, God, not mine.” Jesus accepted that which God had in mind for Him. Twenty-four hours of agony, followed by death.
But His death was followed by resurrection. Jesus trusted God. And yes, it was easier for Jesus since He and God are One. But don’ let this detail spoil the main point. Jesus accepted that which He wanted to change but knew that He did not need to change because God was in complete control. Jesus could find peace amid intense anxiety because He trusted in God.
Yet not what I want, but what you want.
This is true for you and me as well. We can find peace by trusting in God. We can find peace in accepting that which we cannot change. God may make the change we hoped for or not. If not, stay tuned. God had something better in mind that we simply couldn’t see coming. Resurrection comes in God’s perfect timing.
This chapter ends with a spiritual practice to add to our collection of coping skills. I suspect that the steps share a commonality with other techniques taught by therapists and spiritual leaders. The practice involves naming the feelings that are causing us to be anxious. This takes some effort. Settle into an awareness of whatever is happening to your body without judgment.
The second step may seem out there a bit if you are new to this sort of practice. Welcome, whatever is causing your anxiety. If you are afraid, welcome the fear that is trying to overtake you. If you are feeling pain, accept the pain. Welcome whatever is causing you distress.
Then comes the clincher. Let go. Release yourself of the need to control whatever may be the source of whatever your feeling that has you tied up in knots. Brittaney Issac offers this suggestion, “I let go of the desire to change what I am experiencing.” More simply, let go and let God.
Life is a struggle for most of us. And these are anxious times. White supremacist militia groups living in our state plotting to execute our Governor, friends, and family dying from a deadly virus, racial injustice, a changing climate bringing intense weather patterns, and more.
The message appearing on a painting by a Central Michigan College student in front of our church building challenges us all with “Together we can change the world.” And we can. But along the way, there will be somethings we have to turn over to God so we can focus on what God wants us to do.
Figuring out the difference comes at the end of the serenity prayer. First, let’s focus on the change we can make. Stay tuned for next week’s message, Courage.
This month’s series is called Serenity. If you’re feeling stressed from the pandemic, worried about the future, or just anxious for any number of reasons, this series is for you. You can read about our series in our newsletter or online. I pray that you will join us online or in person. Be aware that we follow social distancing practices without exception. Free face masks are available and must be worn in our building.
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1 Erin James-Brown, Editor. Finding peace in an anxious world. © United Methodist Women, 2020.