Godtalk: Anxiety Overcome


Christ our Light on a yellow sun with rays

Anxiety eats into us at various levels. Superficially, we worry about many things. But deep down we are anxious in a way that colours almost everything we do.  So much of what motivates and drives us is an unconscious attempt to free ourselves from anxiety.

We are forever nursing the hope that we can free ourselves from anxiety through achievement, success, financial security, fame, leaving a mark, and through power and sex. We nurse the secret belief that if we have the right combination of these in our lives we will have the substance we need to feel secure, no anxiety.

But experience teaches us that these things, though good in themselves, are no cure for anxiety. Indeed they can, and often do, make us more anxious.  As soon as we have financial security, we become anxious about protecting it; and as soon as we have power, we are constantly looking over our shoulders in fear about losing it.

As well, success can quickly become a cancer because we tend to identify our self-worth with our achievements, and this pressures us always to be doing something of importance for fear of no longer feeling worthwhile. And sex, unless it is experienced in a truly committed  relationship, becomes a drug, with the same addictive quality and ineffectiveness as any other drug.

We are forever trying to give ourselves wholeness, but we cannot. We cannot self-justify. We cannot make ourselves immortal. We cannot write our own names into heaven. Only love casts out anxiety and, indeed, only a certain kind of love can give us substance. Only God's love can write our names into heaven. 

‘We were made for You and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.’ St Augustine.

We must pray that in our deepest self we will hear God saying to us: 'I love you!'  Before we hear this inside us, nothing will  be enough for us, nothing will be right. After we hear this from God, we will have found what we've been looking for so long.

In essence, this is what Jesus invites us to in John's Gospel. And, in that Gospel, the first words of Jesus are an invitation: "What are you looking for?" 

Throughout John's Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are looking for many things: living-water which quenches our deepest thirst and never needs to be drunk again, a truth that sets us free, a rebirth to something above, a light that shines eternally. But these images can seem abstract. What is the truth they present?

John’s Gospel eventually answers that. Near the end of the Gospel we have that poignant, post-resurrection meeting between Jesus and Mary of Magdala. It takes place in a Garden, the archetypal place where love happens.  Mary, carrying spices to embalm his dead body, goes searching for Jesus on Easter Sunday morning. She meets him, but doesn't recognise him. Supposing him to be the gardener, she asks him where she might find Jesus’ body.  

The risen Jesus replies by repeating the question with which he opened the Gospel: "What are you looking for?" Then, before she can answer, he gives the deepest answer to that question: He pronounces her name in love: "Mary".  In that affirmation of love (for which we pray) he writes her name into heaven. He gives her substance, and he cures her of her anxiety.

Since love needs to be mutual, that affirmation has to be responded to in kind.  And in that lies the risk.  Are we prepared to trust God?

Peter Knott SJ