What frightens you?

This past week, Christina Caron shared that she was afraid of driving in a New York Times article. As a result, she avoided driving for almost a decade until the pandemic motivated her to face her fears. On the first day of driving school, Christina’s instructor helped her put her anxiety into a helpful perspective when he told her that “The fear never leaves you.” 2

I’m usually a cautious driver myself. And while I wouldn’t describe the anxiety I feel while driving as fear, I’m generally on high alert when I’m driving around the neighborhood. But my concern doesn’t come from a fear of children darting from behind a parked car into my pathway. Instead, it’s other drivers who treat stop signs and red lights as suggestions.

But I don’t ride my bike either. Instead, I simply look both ways and presume that a car coming toward the intersection may choose not to stop before speeding through the intersection. Like Christina, I treat my anxiety as a warning, but I still cross intersections on my way to my destination.

According to neuroscientist and author Wendy Suzuki, “The emotion of anxiety and the underlying physiological stress response evolved to protect us.” Her conclusion comes from a theory known as Yerkes-Dodson validated that anxiety helps improve performance. However, there is a tipping point. As anxiety increases, so do the physical symptoms, including a faster heart rate, muscle tension, rapid breathing, sweating, and fatigue. 2

However, attempts to simply refuse to acknowledge anxiety produces even more stress. Psychologist Seth Gillihan writes, “A lot of the distress that we feel with anxiety comes from the resistance to it.” In other words, telling myself that “I need to stop feeling anxious” adds to my anxiety. 2

Nevertheless, driving to the store shouldn’t feel like a workout at the gym. But speaking of exercise, taking a walk helps reduce anxiety by increasing the level of serotonin and dopamine in our brain and reducing stress.

There are other benefits to accepting that anxiety is simply part of living. For one, “accepting anxiety can help you face your fears,” argues Christina in her Forbes article.

Often, being the person God created takes courage. Much more courage than driving. Particularly if the critique of others feels like a personal attack. And when we choose to stand in opposition to popular choices, the spotlight reaches us, even in the wilderness. Therefore, engaging and managing our anxiety is essential in the wilderness.

A popular story is found in three of the gospels about a woman who forced her way through the crowds to get to Jesus. She believed that healing was certain if only she could get close enough to Jesus to touch His coat tail.

The woman suffered from a persistent medical condition for twelve years. Then, apparently, she heard the stories about this traveling Rabbi who miraculously healed people. But the popularity of Jesus created obstacles for access.

When we look close enough, this story about an unnamed woman contains bits and pieces of our own story. We all have persistent obstacles in our lives that hold us back from being the person God created us to be. Sometimes our obstacles come in the form of addictions. Other times we lose a job, or a person we depend on lets us down.

But we must be living under a rock if we haven’t heard stories about Jesus and miraculous healing. Sure, some of the stories maybe a little over the top or come from less than reliable sources. Yet, there is something luring about His reputation that piques our interest. Just as it has for generations.

Luke’s telling offers a few more details. For example, we read that the people were crowding Jesus from every side. And that the woman’s medical bills took every penny she had. But there’s another detail from Luke that’s important.

We read that after the woman touched the edge of His coat, Jesus stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” Everyone denied it, of course. And Peter, who may have rolled his eyes, spoke up. And he reminded Jesus that, of course, someone touched Him given the size of the crowd. But Jesus persisted in His search.

Of course, the woman knew that it was she who pushed through the crowd behind Jesus until she caught up with Him, reached out, and grabbed a hunk of His coat tail.

Courage, my daughter! Your faith has made you well
Matthew 9:22

Luke writes that when the woman realized that she had been found out, she came up to Jesus trembling and threw herself at His feet. And then, in front of everybody, she told Jesus why she had touched him. And how she had been healed at once.

What happens next is where I prefer Matthew’s telling of the story. Matthew writes that after the woman’s confession and public show of humiliation, Jesus tells her to have courage.

In all three accounts, we learn that the woman’s belief that Jesus had the power to heal her was sufficient for her to get what she needed. But it took courage to do what she did, although not as much courage as it takes for her to live differently as a result.

After encountering the living Lord, the woman moves from the comfort of knowing that her condition kept her back. With her obstacles out of the way, she moved into her wilderness home of knowing the truth about Jesus.

This knowledge changes everything for her. Including a realization that she can’t possibly keep what happened to herself. Her friends, family, and strangers will notice. For one, focusing on her own suffering is no longer necessary.

And while her meeting Jesus took care of an immediate problem, there are always more challenges. But now she knows where to look first for the solution. For she learned that day who she is in the eyes of God.

And so you and I are likewise faced with a choice. Do we spend everything we have searching for quick fixes and promises that never live up to our expectations? Or do we muster the courage to go to where we belong?

There is room at the feet of Jesus for everyone looking to confess. Everyone willing to say, “I am the one who reached out for You, Lord. I am the one who found healing when I finally felt Your touch. I need the courage to carry Your message in my heart, on my lips, and in what I do.”

This week, will you push through the crowded circumstances that keep you from knowing that Jesus is the One who holds the keys to releasing you from your suffering? Will you reach out for Him with the confidence or even the desperation of knowing that nothing else is working?

There will always be new challenges and more struggles. But you never need to face them alone.

This week is the final episode of our series, Wilderness experience. As we end our series, we discover that the wild heart we developed by being who God created us to be, has changed our perspective. In other words, metaphorically, we realize that we belong to the wilderness.

This week we don’t transition out of the wilderness. Instead, we take a new path that takes us further into the wilderness. We’ve discovered a new home in the wilderness, and we follow a path that brings us to the New Jerusalem. This path was called the Way by those first pilgrims.

We follow Jesus into the wilderness by sticking close to the Way. But this takes courage.

I’m grateful that you chose to join us on our Wilderness experience, and I pray that you’re starting to feel at home. Feeling at home in the wilderness is crucial because we’re not ready to leave here just yet. More work is to be done as we live the Way that Jesus teaches us to live.

Our new series, the Way, begins February 4. I hope you will join us as we celebrate Black History month by examining our role as followers of Christ in a world plagued by privilege and idolatry.

I invite you to worship with us on any given Sunday. We gather in the Asbury Arts Center in person and online on YouTube and Facebook. Video replays are available to watch later.

You can join us each Sunday online by going to the button on the homepage of our websiteClick here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy

 

1 Brené Brown. Braving the Wilderness — The Quest for True Belonging and the Quest to Stand Alone. New York: Random House, 2019.

2 Christina Caron.“The Upside of Anxiety.” © New York Times, Jan. 24, 2022.