‘Does anyone know what rumination is?’
That was the question a facilitator asked during my stay in a psychiatric hospital a number of years ago. I’d never seen the word before, but somehow I instantly knew what it meant.
‘Rumination is when you think you’re strategising your way out of a problem, only to find yourself spiralling into anxiety’.
That was it. That was me. I’d been ruminating. For a very long time. And I didn’t know it had a name.
Taking The Past Into The Future
One of my favourite moments in scripture is when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. It’s an epic culmination to a full life’s story. The highs of a father’s love and political power. The lows of enslavement, imprisonment and false accusation.
There must have been so many times when Joseph would have asked ‘God, what are you doing?’ So many problems to face. And so many opportunities to be crippled by the unknown.
Eventually Joseph is blessed with the same hindsight as we receive as the reader, where he tells his brothers:
Joseph finds peace in realising what God has been doing all along. Joseph has not been in control of his life. God has. And that brings him peace, because he knows that God is good.
When I’m filled with anxiety, it’s based on future uncertainties. When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I instinctively strategise. Or at least I think I do.
I would be wise to adopt Joseph’s perspective.
What is it that God has been doing in my life? How, with the benefit of hindsight, have I seen his hand at work? And how will I carry that into the future?
Bringing The Cross Into The Present
Over my years in ministry, I have come across many theological reflections on the cross of Jesus Christ. Justification. Atonement. Propitiation.
These can all be helpful truths to explore, but I don’t believe we need to have a full grasp on them to get to the heart of what the cross means.
At its core, the cross reminds us that God is for us and not against us. Not just with words, but with actions. This is love most powerful. A love that would lead to death and a power that would end with resurrection.
When I fear the unknown in my life, I would be wise to remember the cross. And so when I ask myself the question ‘God, what on earth are you doing?’, I may not know the specific answer, but I can be sure of his heart.
God doesn’t guarantee me understanding of everything that will happen in my life. And that can be a source of great anxiety. I stress about what I can’t control and lose sleep over what I can’t change.
But as Paul so helpfully reminds us, with prayer and thanksgiving, we can find peace. Deep peace in the uncertainties. How? Because the same God we cry out to is the same God who did not even spare Jesus.
I have not mastered the art of an anxiety-free life. But very slowly, I am becoming more at peace with not being in control, because he has made his heart for me abundantly clear.