Child psychologist David Elkind believes there are at least three contemporary sources of stress that mark our age as a difficult one. First, due to the alarming increase in violence and crime, we are more afraid. Second, due to rapidly changing job markets, technology, and economic factors, we are more professionally insecure. Finally, due to widespread separation and divorce, we are more alone.
These words were written several years ago but they still ring true today. I think when we faced riots in our streets, businesses boarding up their windows, and curfews being enacted, many people experienced a great deal of anxiety. However, as I have worked with men over the years, it is hard to determine if a man is struggling with fear, because we do a good job concealing it. In our culture, real men are not supposed to be afraid, so we fake it.
I share this because I believe the great yearning in men’s lives is to experience a deep sense of peace. They find it to be elusive and have no idea where it is found.
Several years ago I was reading about the San Francisco earthquake that took place in 1991. There was a psychologist there in the Bay area who was interviewed and was trying to help the people deal with the stress and trauma of the earthquake. He was asked:
“It seems like our ancestors just didn’t used to fall apart when it came to disasters. Our ancestors used to bury half of their children before they reached maturity. They took troubles and tragedies in stride. Now why is it when we have a tragedy, everyone has to run on in and help everybody because they feel so traumatized?”
The psychologist’s response was quite interesting:
“Well think of it this way. First of all, our ancestors believed they were small in a big universe that was controlled by God. They knew God, they prayed to God, and they didn’t have this same sense of being powerless. For example, for our ancestors this life was a small part of reality. You lived here for a while. Then you died and went into heaven.”
“But for us this life is all we have. Not only that, we’re the only ones running this world. When something like this comes along, we feel so powerless and helpless, and it engenders tremendous trauma.”
As we have become more and more secular, many people see no need for God in their lives. We are masters of the universe and this life is all there is, but without realizing it we have a much harder time dealing with difficulties. It is only a matter of time before fear comes pouring into our lives because we don’t have an anchor for our souls.
Tim Keller shares a great illustration to help us understand this reality:
“Imagine you are a little girl walking into Macy’s, holding your mother’s hand, for the first time. You walk into Macy’s and say, “Mom, let go of my hand. I can get around. I know what I am saying.” Your mother says, “Don’t be silly. For you this is a vast, endless place. You’ll never find your way around, and you’ll never find your way back to me.” So you hold on to your mother’s hand, but inside you say, “Hmm. First chance, I’ll show you.”
At the first chance, away you go. You say, “Ha! I’m free. I’ll show her. First of all, I remember there was a little ice cream stand back here. I have 25 cents. I’m going to buy myself something. Wait, it should be here. All right, maybe it’s down here. Wait it should be here. Oh no. I’m lost! I want my mommy! Now wait a minute. If I go back to Mommy, she’ll say, ‘I told you so,’ I’ll ask somebody else where the ice cream stand is. But what if they’re kidnappers?”
Keller asks, “What is happening? A spirit of fear. Have you ever been a child who is lost? That is exactly what the Bible says is the condition of every human being apart from God. Here is our problem. We are too small for the position we’ve taken. We were built to hold God’s hand in the universe. When you let go of God’s hand, you are trapped by a spirit of fear.”
We were designed by God to live in a relationship with Him. The metaphor used in the Bible to describe this relationship is that of a father and child. When a person puts their faith in Christ, we are adopted by Him and He becomes our heavenly Father and we become His children. He then walks with us through life, through the storms, particularly through the valley of the shadow of death. (Psalm 23:4) As Keller said, “We were built to hold God’s hand in the universe.”
As I was preparing this blog I was reminded of some of the words of Elton John’s popular song, “Goodbye Norma Jean.” It was about the life of Marilyn Monroe. The lyrics were:
“And it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain sets in.”
Who are we going to cling to when the rain sets in? Who, or what will be the anchor of our soul?
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.