So today is my birthday. I don’t know if it’s my age, but I find myself frequently facing two personal demons — regret about the past and anxiety about the future. Like ghosts, past words, deeds and decisions hauntingly whisper during the quiet moments of my life. What if I raised my kids differently? What if I had spent more time with them than at work? What if I had stayed in professional ministry? Did I somehow miss or disqualify myself from God’s calling on my life? And if given too much room, regrets can turn into paralyzing despondency. But thinking about the future can be no better. Rather than facing ghosts of my own making, I face wraiths of what might yet come. Loss of job, loss of family, loss of security, loss of… well everything. These in turn can cause paralyzing fear and panic.
The thing about regrets and anxiety is that we wield no control over them. Nothing we do can change what has happened. And while we may think decisions in the present may somehow govern what happens in the future, it’s a false sense of security. We have as little control over the future as we do changing the past.
That’s when the serene, yet solid words of Psalm 23 calm the raging storm. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing” and “I will fear no evil for you are with me.” Jesus is my caring and compassionate Shepherd. He is always intimately and protectively present. And in him, everything I need for life in his kingdom within this world is provided. There’s no need to fear any evil, including regrets and anxiety, for Jesus’ real, tangible, interactive presence eclipses everything.
It’s within this reality that St Paul’s words make so much sense, “Rejoice always. Pray continuously. Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God’s will, desire and intention is that we live in Jesus’ intimate and interactive presence. As we do, the natural response will be continuous joy, prayer and gratitude. Fueled by the reality of Jesus’ ongoing shepherding presence, their continual flow from our lives will vanquish the voices of regret and anxiety.
I used to get Paul’s words backwards. I thought it was my responsibility to muster up continuous joy, prayer and gratitude. But I’m finding the more I discard the false realities of how I see the world and immerse myself in the solid REALITY of Jesus’ interactive presence as the Shepherd King of this world, I’m naturally filled with joy, prayer and gratitude.
Photo credit: My best friend and awesome photographer, Mark Feliciano