Last Wednesday, The New York Times Magazine carried a piece about the rising epidemic of anxiety in young people. I’ve witnessed it first hand. The article addresses “teenagers,” but it is true for those older, but still quite young. In the last year I have seen two fathers of preschoolers suffer anxiety, one expressed in anxiety attacks and the other had an anxiety-related stroke. This is a serious problem.
The article is looking for causes, comes up with several from indulgent helicopter parenting to social media, but is ultimately inconclusive. But as I read through it and thought about what I have witnessed I could not help but reflect that everything I was reading or considering involved an absence of grace. Social media is notoriously ungracious. Helicopter parenting, constantly trying to help kids succeed, sends a deep message that failure is unacceptable – but grace is defined as love in the midst of failure.
We live in a world that tries to be “inclusive,” but is decidedly graceless in the efforts to be so. We think of a lack of rules or guidelines as a relief from the pressure to perform, but the very lack of standards creates a serious indecisiveness which can lead to anxiety. David French wrote yesterday about how the absence of traditional sexual ethics makes Harvey Weinstein inevitable. Somehow I think never knowing if your boss is going to rape you is more anxiety producing than traditionally ethical behavior. There is no grace in our current permissiveness.
Consider our current political culture where the safe course for our politicians is generally to do nothing, and certainly nothing substantial. The general lack of grace in our political climate makes inaction far preferable to the wrong action and there is always someone willing to label your actions as wrong. The game we currently play politically is one of dissatisfaction. Grace is dealing with dissatisfaction, but our politics will not allow it.
We need to relearn grace.
Rom 5:8 [emphasis added] –
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
There is the very definition of grace – love in spite of failings. Not love that ignores failings, hides failings, or prevents failings, love in spite of failings. Relearning grace starts by acknowledging failure, “confession” in church speak. A lot of my blogging of late has focused on the need to acknowledge our failings. As I wrote such I considered that it might be unpopular. People like to hide from their failings. But when they do so, they also hide from grace, and hence there is anxiety.
The grace of Christianity does not end there though, if it did we could only continue in this anxious mess. Rather, Christ’s grace remakes us from people loved in spite of failing to people without failings. That remaking is a process and involves time-after-time of seeking love in spite of our failings, but slowly we move towards it. Each time we fail, we are relieved from our anxiety by that love, which in turn under girds our desire not to fail that way again. It is a deep grace indeed.
Our world is missing grace. It is time to offer it anew.