Life is uncertain.
If we didn’t know that six months ago, most of us now are certain about that uncertainty.
We live more by probability than certainty. We’ll probably wake up tomorrow morning. We’ll probably still have our job. Our children probably will be healthy. But we know that probabilities can—and do—fail, so we’re left feeling uncertain.
And that uncertainty makes life messy. Unexpected things go wrong. Our careful plans fall apart. Bad things happen to good people. We want guarantees, but what we get is uncertainty.
All too often we have trouble dealing constructively with that uncertainty. We try to avoid its harsh reality by what one writer describes as “negative coping strategies,” such as:
But what else can we do? How might we approach uncertainty as we attempt to redefine our reality?
Perhaps we can begin by taking an honest look at what’s causing the fear or anxiety that contributes to our uncertainty. In some cases, our fear acts as a valid warning system that alerts us to a danger or risk we really should avoid.
Our fear or anxiety, however, often has little to do with anything that’s rational or realistic. We meet new people, and we worry they won’t like us. We’re offered a new opportunity, and we become overly anxious that we’ll fail. We feel an ache in our body, and we conclude that we must have cancer.
In the great uncertainty of life, it’s possible that someone may not like us, that we might fail, that we could get cancer. But allowing life’s uncertainty to paralyze us doesn’t help us or anyone else.
Rather than giving into such paralysis, maybe we can allow fear or anxiety to point to places of potential growth. According to one psychiatrist, the areas in our personality marked by anxiety often become the areas of most significant growth when we’re able to deal with our underlying anxiety constructively.
Our fear and anxiety can be an opportunity to grow. Instead of saying, “I shouldn’t feel this; it makes me a bad person,” we can say, “Here’s where my fear or anxiety is inviting me to grow.”
When we meet someone, we can feel our anxiety but still risk initiating a conversation. When we’re offered an opportunity, we can feel our fear but still take the risk of trying something new. At the doctor’s office, we can feel our anxiety but still seek a diagnosis and treatment.
Facing uncertainty in this way takes an open heart and open mind. It also invites us to practice our faith in an open way and to think of faith as one writer describes it:
Faith is not the absence of anxiety. Faith is not a desperate attempt to control life
and end all uncertainty. Faith is not having a “stiff upper lip” while we forge
ahead in life, trampling on other people’s feelings and our own, as well. Faith is
not a rigid belief system to hide behind or judge others with. Faith is the inner
knowing that no matter what happens in life, we are loved and can grow into a
fuller human being. Faith is the inner knowing that no matter what happens, we
can always reach out to help another human being. Faith is the inner knowing
that no matter what happens, there is a Power greater than human here to guide
us and comfort us. There is a larger spiritual context in which we place our little
Associate Executive Minister