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