Escaping the Vortex

A friend of mine is an airplane pilot. He is also very knowledgeable, and loves to tell stories. On one occasion we were talking about the process of escaping from a graveyard spiral. In aviation, a graveyard spiral is a dangerous spiral dive entered into accidentally by a pilot who is not trained or not proficient in instrument flight when flying in bad weather conditions. The plane begins to circle and descend, and if I’m recalling it correctly, the only way out is to initiate a maneuver that goes against all common sense. It’s as though you must accept the fact that the plane is steeply diving and address the tightly banked turn FIRST, but in so doing the steep dive will be reversed and normal control response is returned. Strangely, this is the only recovery method that will prevent a disaster.

The Golden Gate Bridge Shrouded in Fog | July 2018

Perhaps you’ve experienced a different kind of vortex. In the dark hours of the night you wake up with a nagging and incessant sense of anxiety. You try to talk yourself out of it. You pray. You cajole yourself. You try to sleep. All to no avail. With Jesus as our teacher and example we can learn to escape the vortex. 

Jesus the Teacher

“Do not worry…”

[Jesus says,] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:25-34

Imagine a friend comes to you with a deep concern for his health. He’s received a notice from his doctor that he is to make an appointment to discuss some recent test results. “I don’t know what to do about this,” he confides. “There’s a history of heart trouble in my family, and I’m just not feeling right.” 

I hope you would never say, “Well, why don’t you just worry!” That would not be good advice. Jesus counsels just the opposite: Do not worry. Jesus’ instruction is important to us in that he tells us that worry will do us no good. Most of us know this. We fight against worry because we know it does us no good. It causes stomach ulcers. It deprives us of sleep. It distracts our thoughts from the work at hand. It paralyzes us in the face of decision-making deadlines. Worry is not our friend.

We know this, but exiting the worry vortex is a great challenge. How do you not worry? 

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

Fyodor DostoevskyWinter Notes on Summer Impressions, 1863

Thankfully, however, Jesus does not leave us with the dangers of worry and an admonition not to engage in this self-defeating activity. He provides an alternate activity. Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. We’re not left to our own devices and mind games in avoidance of worry. We’re to seek God’s kingdom first. He promises to take care of the rest. 

A friend of mine told about a trek through the Canadian wilderness. She and her husband were on a long hike and she spotted a beautiful flower along the way. The only problem was that it was off the path, and would require some serious photographic acrobatics, some trust-holds by her husband, and an over-extended arm to get the image of the flower. The only way she was able to take the photo was to hold her husband’s hand, lean out over a treacherous cliff and take the photo. She was going out of her way to seek this photo. And she got the shot!

God’s kingdom – his rule and reign – is something for which we are to seek in an active and deliberate manner. It’s not mere happenstance. It’s not a matter of serendipitous discovery. It is a matter of intentional effort on our part. Sometimes that means looking behind the curtain of everyday life, and beyond the immediate and obvious events we face – especially in times of stress and trouble. 

And that’s what we’ll consider tomorrow…

Jesus the Example

When John was arrested…

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