What keeps you up at night? What are those thoughts that seem to swirl in your mind and can’t seem to find the door to get out? It’s intriguing to me that one of the newest places of entertainment for groups are Escape Rooms. I know many of you have experienced these places where you go in with a team and you work together as detectives to figure out clues, find hidden items, and solve riddles or puzzles to escape the room before the time runs out. I imagine some of you have won, some have lost, and perhaps there are people I don’t see at worship anymore because they’re still trying to get out! No, you may NOT use that as a reason you’ve missed worship the last three weeks in a row. *snort*
Is escape the answer to what keeps us up at night, to those thoughts that won’t go away about what we’re not doing that we should be, what we are doing that we shouldn’t be, what we said to that one person that one time that forever will change their ideas about us, what we didn’t say to that one person that one time that if we had would have changed the trajectory of our life? Is it about money, you know, do we have enough, will we have enough, how much is enough? Is it about health? Are we eating right, are we exercising, are we dealing with stress without getting stressed out?!? Is it about relationships? Do we have one, do we want one, do we want out of one, are we working on one? Is it about career? Are we good at what we do, is this what we really want to do, is it something to do until we can do something else, is it all there is? Is it about our faith? Do we have any, is it enough, is it relevant, are we good enough, strong enough, filled with doubt too much, living in or out of God’s will and how do we know?
If you weren’t anxious before, have I stirred it up? Why is it that most of those thoughts happen when we’re trying to go to sleep, when we wake up in the middle of the night, or when we get a few moments during the day and our minds are free to roam? And then do we get mad at ourselves again for not enjoying the day and focusing on the struggle instead of the abundance of our lives?
Is escape the answer? Maybe we need a vacation, a new car, a relocation, an expensive meal on the Plaza, a balloon ride, a piece of chocolate cake, or maybe the whole cake! My mom makes this chocolate sheetcake with this melt-in-your-mouth icing that, when left alone, I can eat a row in the pan, and then because the row is often uneven, I have to keep evening it out and well, the rest is history. And it’s not a bad thing if there’s a little vanilla ice cream to go with, just sayin’. And when I’m done? It hasn’t solved my anxiety somehow, I’m simply on sugar overload.
So again, is escape the answer? It is for those rooms you’ve paid money to go into to figure out how to get out of – but even then it’s not really about the escape, is it? It’s really about the process of the escape, but then it isn’t only about the process, is it? The process really comes down to a team, a group, that particular set of people with whom you’ve voluntarily decided to spend time to challenge the nature of what you can do together. And when you’re part of that group that is spending time together and solving puzzles and riddles and clues, do those thoughts run through your head about all the things for which you have to be anxious? I’m guessing not. And by the way, that doesn’t mean we should be spending every waking hour and dollar in Escape rooms, but maybe what does it mean?
You’ve probably guessed by now that I don’t believe escape is the answer to anxiety, worry, or feelings of dread or powerlessness. Escaping, even for a few moments or hours doesn’t really change the reality of our way of being in the world. It can be a nice respite, but finally I believe the only way through that which is causing us anxiety or worry is to walk toward it, lean into it, and trust that we will find our way.
If it’s our health, then let’s take an honest look at where we are. If it’s financial, then let’s take an honest look at where we are. If it’s relational, then let’s take an honest look at where we are. If it’s spiritual, then let’s take an honest look at where we are. That can be scary, but you may find out that it becomes less fearful when you decide to be honest and try your hardest NOT TO BRING A VALUE JUDGMENT to an honest assessment. See, here’s the deal, and I believe this even when I’m not always able to live it. We are loved exactly as we are, period. What a great place to start, right? Someone loves us, that would be God, before we are, in our judgment, “better.” We are loved before we are a more perfect friend, partner or spouse; before we have a stronger and more healthy long-term financial plan; before we start eating more cleanly; before we take the next training to be better at our vocation; before we start going to worship more often. (You do not know how hard that last one is for me to say! *snort*). We are loved by a creative and fabulous God whose covenant is never to abandon nor criticize us the way we criticize ourselves or are criticized by others. Can we let that free us to grow right from where we are, rather than knocking ourselves around believing somehow that will motivate us to start and keep going?
So sometimes I eat a row of cake, or a sleeve of thin mints, I know, right? And sometimes I eat cleanly and go for a nice walk or run. Sometimes I celebrate who I am in relationship to others, and sometimes I shake my head and wonder how I have any friends left. Sometimes I have a handle on my finances and feel great with the resources I have, and sometimes my credit card statement shows a few too many Blue Moose meals. Sometimes my faith is alive and vital and as real to me as the generous and graceful God I know to be true and ever-present, and sometimes I live in a dark night of the soul feeling lost and a bit uncertain about direction. And yes, I’m a pastor who’s a bit long in the tooth meaning I’ve been around long enough you might want to think I have my faith stuff all put together. My faith has certainly matured over the years through trial and error and struggle, celebration and some heartache, but I do NOT have faith all figured out and put together. I just don’t. AND, like all of us, I’m loved where I am, and loved into possibilities for growth, moreso than escape I think.
I’m not apt to stop all the anxious thoughts that sometimes fill my being, and yet perhaps by accepting and working toward being at peace with who I am, I may be more awake to the presence of God who loves, and loves, and then simply loves some more.
One of these days I’m going to one of those Escape Rooms with some folk who love riddles and puzzles and wordplay of all sorts – we may never get out, but we’re gonna have some kind of fun trying!
Loose translation of the German at the end: “Must we disguise ourselves that we may come close?”