In 2001, I co -led a group of 16 people on a mission trip to Kenya where, through the help of the Newbold College community, we financed and helped to build a church/ community centre. We finally arrived in Imbo, a village quite near to lake Victoria, after a tumultuous fourteen-hour drive. My first impressions of Kenya were idyllic. Zebras crossed the streets, beautifully made mud huts were asymmetrically situated and the sun beat down on the dusty roads. However, the reality of the situation was more complex than my first romantic musings.
“I tried to kill myself yesterday.” The words tumbled from the mouth of the young woman seated in front of me. I noticed skin staples and a reddened wound under the soiled dressing she removed from her left wrist. She continued tearfully, “I cut my wrist without thinking. I didn't want to live anymore. My father found out I was not paying the car insurance and was spending on marijuana and cigarettes and sodas.
Intermingled with writing these comments is a lingering memory of President Obama’s State of the Union address, sprinkled with references to ideals, virtues, discipline, and sacrifice. Some in the audience were living examples of the ideas and ideals espoused in the speech. It not only reviewed the past, commented on the present, but its purpose was to vision-cast, to picture a future state for the American people. Obama’s imperative statements were intended to move his audience to grasp that vision of renewal and ideals – by action.
About a year ago at a family gathering, my siblings and parents confronted me about how stressed they thought I was. Up till that point I thought I was probably just busy. I figured my schedule would soon loosen up and that I’d get back to normal. This was, of course, self-deception of the most common variety. But the concern of so many of my loved ones pushed me to think about stress and how I might handle it. I’d like to say that I went straight to my Christian tradition, to the principles of Scripture in order to study how to handle it, but that isn’t what happened.
The lesson this week reminds us of the scriptural promises that we don’t need to feel anxiety, worry, or fear. This is undoubtedly intended to be encouraging, but unfortunately the quotation from Ellen White with which it ends could be taken to mean that being anxious is a spiritual failing. It seems to imply that the only reason we don’t have “peace and happiness as we pass through … this life” is because we don’t have sufficient “faith … [and] trust in our heavenly Father” .