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Jesus Recognizes Anxiety

Jesus Recognizes Anxiety

In the gospel of Mark, an interesting dynamic emerges. When the person approaching Jesus narrates their problem as an external problem happening “out there,” Jesus often refocuses their attention to their internal state. Jesus will deal with the external problem eventually; He’s not ignoring it. But often, He first wants the person to recognize their own anxiety as the starting point.

Take a moment to read about one such example from Mark 5:21-42:

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet. He pleaded earnestly with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put Your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around Him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.”

Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched My clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against You,” His disciples answered, “and yet You can ask, ‘Who touched Me?’”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow Him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him.

After He put them all out, He took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.

When Jairus first approached Jesus, he narrated his problem as one that was “out there” — the health condition of his daughter back home. Natural and understandable. If I were Jairus, that’s exactly how I would narrate my problem and my request. The problem is my daughter’s illness, which is happening back there at my house, and my request is for Jesus to fix that situation.

Jesus accepts this man’s initial approach and travels with him back to his home, the supposed location of the problem. On the way, they are interrupted by the woman with the flow of blood, a condition that automatically marked her for shame. The woman starts telling Jesus her whole story. She has been sick for twelve years, has tried many doctors, and is discouraged because nothing worked — and so on and so on.

As this woman’s narrative of worries and shame drags on, you can imagine Jairus glancing at the position of the sun (since he didn’t have a watch) and tapping his sandal-clad foot. My daughter back at the house, my daughter back at the house, my daughter back at the house. That’s the real problem, and this is taking too long.

Some messengers arrive with bad news: Jesus is too late, Jairus’s daughter is dead. Jairus’s attention naturally goes even more to “out there” back at the house. I imagine he launches into questions about what happened there. “Are you sure? When did she die? Who is with her now?”

If Jairus believes the messengers’ news, perhaps his mind switches to a “high-functioning anxiety” mode to deal with other external problems: “How am I going to comfort my wife? What kind of burial arrangements are we going to make? What will I say at the funeral?”

Notice Jesus’ response. He interrupts Jairus’s train of thoughts and redirects his attention. To where? To his internal state. “Don’t be afraid,” He says. Jesus directs Jairus to what is happening inside him.

  • Jesus wants Jairus to recognize his anxiety.

This response is especially striking. Jesus could have said, “Jairus, I’m raising your daughter from the dead even as we speak. We don’t even have to finish this journey.” Jesus responded that way in another miracle with a centurion in Luke 7. But with Jairus, He doesn’t even explicitly promise a specific external outcome. He doesn’t say a word about how He will deal with Jairus’s external problem. He directs attention solely to his internal state of anxiety.

Jesus cared about the dead daughter. Jesus cared about Jairus, whose pain is real and his situation heartbreaking. Jesus understands why it preoccupies Jairus, and He will eventually deal with her death with His resurrection power.

But first He wants to deal with the anxiety inside Jairus, which means Jairus must recognize what’s going on inside him. The journey must go there.

Notice what this means. Jairus does not know exactly what Jesus is going to do to solve his problem. He has to walk all the way home with Jesus while dealing with his anxiety.

Try to imagine what that journey was like for Jairus because it represents our own anxiety journey. In our own life, all sorts of external problems will trigger our anxiety. And we will naturally want to focus our attention on finding solutions for those problems. We may even ask Jesus to fix those problems. In fact, trying to get Jesus to fix those external problems will absorb an enormous part of our spiritual energy.

  • Jesus understands our problems. And He will ultimately respond. He has a plan for those problems.

The plan may or may not achieve the kind of solution we are seeking. Most of the time, Jesus doesn’t tell us ahead of time, just as He didn’t tell Jairus.

Before the plan is fully revealed, however, Jesus may first direct our attention to our own internal anxiety. He wants us to recognize what is going on inside us. Why? Because spiritual growth happens within us, not out there. From the soil of our inner anxiety, we grow closer to Jesus.

Back to the journey home. I envision Jairus and Jesus walking side by side. Jesus had essentially said, “Let’s start with your state of fear, Jairus.” In my imagination, Jesus now raises one of His eyebrows, tilts His head slightly, and smiles kindly. All of it signals, Shall we talk about that? The invitation hangs in the air.

How will Jairus respond? Will he keep focusing on an endless string of potential external problems? Or will he accept Jesus’ invitation? Will he recognize his own anxiety and make his inner reality the topic of conversation with Jesus?

Mark doesn’t let us in on how willing Jairus was to talk to Jesus on their journey. He leaves it open-ended. I think it is because we are supposed to insert ourselves into the journey.

Are we willing to recognize our own anxiety as we walk with Jesus? Are you?

Excerpted with permission from The Anxiety Opportunity by Curtis Chang, copyright Curtis Chang.

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Your Turn

Do you recognize your anxiety? Jesus isn’t ignoring your problems, worries, or concerns! He’s with you and wants to help not just your situation, but also your internal state. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily