This is a non-scientific observation, but I am convinced science would back me up on this, there has been an increase in anxiety and fear in our society over the past 50 years. At the very least, we are doing a better of naming it. Over the past few weeks I have spoken with people who are worried about their health, social interactions, new beginnings, failing- you name it. Fear is a powerful emotion. It can be paralyzing. Starting a new non-profit has contributed its own anxiety to my life. Maribeth and I bet so much emotional, intellectual and financial capital on 12plus1 there are times that the idea of failing was too much. Can I survive if I fall on my face again? Unfortunately, I am learning the answer to that question and I suppose the answer is yes.

It is normal and likely that all of us live with fear. Fear that we are not good enough, will not be liked, cannot manage school or work, will not have the finances to pay our bills, will miss out on the latest trend, will not be included, accepted or love.  Although more connected than ever before through technology, this can breed superficial relationships that prevent us from being our authentic selves or truly having authentic connections. Surface level relationships that only allow a person to show their grade A self accentuates feelings of fear and isolation: often the source of stress, anxiety and our worst behaviors. 

The Netflix series, The Kominsky Method is the story of the relationship of two older friends.  Sandy (Michael Douglas) is a failed actor who, ironically, teaches an acting class.  His best friend Norman (Alan Arkin), who is his also his agent, just experienced the death of his wife.  Norman has become a crabby, bitter curmudgeon who acknowledges his own brittleness since the death of his wife.  In the final episode of season one, Norman’s grief catches up with him as his anger is unleashed on an innocent widow at a charity event.  That same evening Norman goes missing. After wandering the streets of Los Angeles to clear his head he is found by Sandy at a Police station.  As Sandy drives Norman home, they have this conversation:

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Norman:          I think maybe I’m losing my mind.

Sandy:             You’re not losing your mind.

Norman:          Oh, like you know.

Sandy:             You’ve just been through the f***ing wringer, your wife died, your daughter’s back in rehab for the umpteenth time, and I don’t know if this needs to be said out loud, but you’re also like a thousand years old.

Norman:          I thought I was angry . . .  but the truth is, I am scared.  I am scared all the time.

Sandy:             Listen to me, we’re all scared.  And you know why?  Because it’s a scary f***ing world.  But we get through it because we’re not alone.  You’re not alone.

Norman:          Who do I have?

Sandy:             (Exasperated and agitated) Me, you dumb s**t! 

Can you see me?  I am right here in front of you…….

(Waving) Hi!  Hello, there.  I see you.  You see me? (Norman nods. Sandy pats him on the shoulder.)


I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
— Nelson Mandela

Norman is angry and out of sorts because of his fear. He has legitimate fears:  he is scared because he feels alone after his wife’s death, he is afraid for his daughter and her struggle with addiction, he is afraid of his own mortality.  These fears are probably very much like your own: relationships, family, purpose and mortality.  As Sandy points out the answer to fear is an authentic, open and supportive friendships. Through the first eight episodes Sandy and Norman get on each other’s nerves, try one another’s patience and have arguments. Yet, when the chips are down they find the ability to let down their guard and be open with the other. Norman is comforted by the fact that Sandy reassures him he is not alone.  He has an authentic friend who knows his anger, fears and Idiosyncrasies who he can rely on. Sandy does not promise everything will be fine and there is nothing to fear.  He tells him that whatever you experience I will be with you.   

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The Kominsky Method may be an unusual place to find God, but it reminded me that the phrase that appears in the Bible most often is a version of “Do not be afraid” or “fear not.” God knows the human condition and understands the terror we feel when we are out of control.  Therefore, he issues this command the most often:  do not be afraid. Often people say if there was a God then that bad thing would not have occurred.  My father would not have passed away, my significant other would not have broken up with me, we would not have gone through bankruptcy, my health would be better, I would not have lost my job.  God does not promise that life will be easy. Instead, like Sandy, God promises to be with you.  Do not be afraid I am with you. 


Here are five examples:

  1. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10

  2. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you."  ~ Psalm 56:3

  3. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

  4. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” ~ Luke 12:22-26

  5. “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

Our task is to find and trust in the presence of God through one another.  Like Sandy, God is saying to us, “Do you see me?”  through that friend who you can rely on, your spouse, pastor, teacher, mentor, your child or co-worker.  Life is not going to be easy, but you are not alone.


Hi!  Hello!  Do you see me?? 


Do not be afraid.  I am with you.


Questions for Reflection

  • What causes you fear?

  • What relationships can you depend on the most? Where do you find God in that relationship?

  • What relationship would you like to improve? How can you meet your goals for that relationship?

  • What is the one thing that scares you, that you will commit to trying?

  • Who needs you to be there with them? How can you be present to them?

Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1. He has been a Pastoral Minister since 1991 serving as an Executive Director of Inspirio Youth Ministries for six years. It is his belief that to renew the Church the Spirit is calling us beyond doctrine and to become humble servants like Jesus caring for people as they are and allowing God to do the rest. Joe and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of five kids, eight grandkids and an oafish Golden Doodle named TS Eliot.

joe and Mari bio.jpeg

When We 'Ghost' God

Since I’ve been home I’ve been talking. Talking a lot. I’ve spent countless hours with my friends and we have not shut up. After the magical last year of my life most people assume that we have been chatting about all of my wild adventures. Those people are sweet and misguided. Boys. We have been talking about boys. To be fair we have also been talking about girls. Essentially the only thing on our minds is dating. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Does he like me? Should I ask for her number? These are the questions we are spending hours dissecting with more thoroughness than we ever did while diagraming sentences or analyzing our Shakespeare homework.

I have yet to regale the tale of me accidently plunging into a rocky pool in Thailand and pulling myself out because I was all alone. Or shared the joy that was giving a rescued elephant a bath at Elephant Nature Park. Or the time I rode a toboggan down the Great Wall of China or rode an ice bike on the river surrounding the Summer Palace. So many adventures. So many stories to share. Yet the other night at trivia, we spent more time analyzing the texting patterns of relative strangers than we did answering the actual trivia questions. On occasion we do talk about other things. For example all of the pop culture references that are beyond me because I simply missed them. I have no idea who Laurel or Yanny are. I was blissfully unaware of the horror men like Harvey Weinstenin had caused. I didn’t watch the royal wedding and I have no strong feelings about Avengers: Infinity War.

There is one in particular term that I keep chewing on. To complete this rambling circle l I have to admit it, it is about dating. Ghosting. Ghosting is a practice that I am horrified by. In case you were out of the country like me or simply missed this less than delightful memo on the latest dating trends, ghosting is when a person ceases all communication and contact with another person thus ending the relationship. In all reality this could probably happen with any relationship but I have primarily heard in reference to romantic ones. Apparently this has become a social norm.

And. I. Am. Horrified.

The biggest problem here is the blatant indifference to others. Perhaps I am taking too strong of a stance on this. There very well may be people out there who prefer things to end in a vacuum of silence. However, based on the conversations I have had with people of all sorts, those people are few and far between. Rejection is fun for no one. No one likes being told that they are not wanted. Obviously not everyone in the world is going to be attracted to us. We know this. But hearing it is not high on my list of things I like to do in my free time. That being said, I never ever want someone to simply disappear off of the face of the earth. You’re not into it? That’s ok. Tell me and then we can both move on. I’m not looking for perfect closure. I am well aware of how rarely endings are tied up in pretty little bows and honestly I’m annoyed by people who wait around for closure, those who demand life be gift wrapped. But that’s another blog entirely. All I’m saying is I don’t expect a promposal of an ending. If I’ve had coffee with you once in no way do I expect to talk for hours about our feelings in order to amicably come to conclusion that this just is not worth pursuing. I have zero issues with a text that literally says “Hey you are great. I’m great too. The thing is you are just not the kind of great that I’m looking for.” Boom. Over. On to the next great or maybe not so great thing.

Beyond rage, this scares me. Now that I know about this depressing phenomenon, I can clearly see how it is crossing over into other areas of life. I’ve even read articles about people ghosting from jobs. They simply stop showing up! What madness is this? When did accountability stop being an important character trait? Even more concerning is this same lack of care in the Church.

Learn more about   Discovery House  , a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

Learn more about Discovery House, a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

I recently accepted a new role as a Youth Minister and in that process I have become distinctly aware of how easy it is for people to ghost God. It’s heartbreaking. But then I need to remember, I also ghost God. Just last Sunday I was feeling overwhelmed by my anxiety and the struggles I am having adjusting to life back in Milwaukee so I chose to stay home from mass. I didn’t pray. I didn’t reflect. I just skipped it. I didn’t have a second thought. I ghosted God because my interests were more important than His.

Just one more thing in life that makes me a hypocrite. I was outraged by the lack of care and accountability in others and here I was exhibiting the same behavior. I’m going to make some broad generalizations here, but it’s the best I can do. I think we are so terrified of confrontation, so worried of hurting others, so lazy in our communications (a behavior enabled by social media) that we have decided that ghosting is acceptable in all relationships – even our relationship with God. Of course I’m not speaking in absolutes here, I know not everyone does or feels this way. However, I am seeing a whole lot of this behavior both in and outside of church. It’s gut-wrenching because this could not be further from how Jesus taught us to treat others, from how He taught us to love.

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
— Brene Brown

The challenge here is to break those social norms. To stop being lazy. People matter. Even if they are on the other end of a phone, tablet, or computer and you have never even met. They matter. Just as importantly, so does God. When I realized I had exhibited the same behavior that I’m mortified by in others I was devastated. God has given me so much. So many things that take my breath away. He has surrounded me with beautiful people and given me the courage to live out so many delightful adventures. When I look at all of the blessings in my life it is absolutely wild that I could not take the time to thank Him. To pray to Him. How selfish of me. How cold. How downright awful.

I can be lazy in my relationship with God. I need to hold myself accountable so that I can pay forward the blessings he has given me in the best way I can, be being a disciple. One way I can do that is by being kind to others. That means no ghosting. Perhaps the attractive but dull stranger sitting across from me on a first date hasn’t bestowed blessing upon blessing on me but does that mean they deserve any less care or effort? No. So now the challenge is to remember that. Even if it is easier to disappear I am going to be accountable to others. Because they matter. God matters. I matter.


Questions for Reflection

  • Where in your life do you lack social accountability?

  • What can you do to help yourself be more accountable to God?

  • If you could change one thing about how we communicate in your relationships today, what would it be?


Margaret Russell is an almost thirty something who has looked for God just about everywhere – even China. Nothing about her journey has been traditional and it turns out that is exactly how it was supposed to be. She thinks. Maybe. With a background in education, a self-awarded doctoral degree in tacos and a propensity for the ridiculous, Maggie hopes to spend the rest of her life loving as loudly as she laughs and sharing the joy that is her faith.