These words open the lectionary gospel passage today (John 14: 1-14). As I read them, I paused and mused them over. Just eight short words yet so relevant for today when such turmoil is surrounding the nations of the world.
My immediate response to reading these was —how? How do I prevent my heart being troubled, day by day, moment by moment?
My heart is not troubled constantly but worry rears its head several times a week. I’m sure everyone experiences this. Perhaps, more especially during this time of universal crisis.
On a personal level my heart is troubled when I think about my children all of whom are still travelling to their places of work during the pandemic thus being exposed. I think about other family members including a 93-year-old mother who is isolated but still vulnerable. I think about my dog who is suffering an illness that he won’t recover from. I think about the unemployment and loss of businesses that is affecting family members.
On a wider level my heart is troubled by what is happening in the world. As time goes on —we personally have been in social isolation for forty-eight days — uncertainty seems to be the underlying message. Often those leading nations and the medical advisors seem to be in conflict as to the best way to proceed. As always crisis seems to bring out the best in people and the worst in people.
Of course, my heart is troubled by far more than the brief things I have mentioned. I wonder, what other people’s hearts are troubled about?
I’m not sure that having an untroubled heart will ever be attainable. It seems to me it is unrealistic to expect that. In life things will happen that will cause unrest and anxiety. These are often unexpected and unplanned for. Andy and I planned what a great summer this was going to be. My sisters were coming in June, it is more than a dozen years since they have been here. Then family from Thailand were coming in July. Now the plans have changed, of course I prefer everyone staying safe, but my heart is sad and troubled by it.
So, I don’t think having one’s heart troubled can be avoided. It feels unrealistic to say that. I think it is part of our humanity, thus, I have to say, God-given. Therefore, when I read “do not let not your heart be troubled “, I view it more about how it shouldn’t overwhelm me. How can I ensure that my heart being troubled doesn’t move from a normal part of human-ness to an unhealthy preoccupation?
I find it helpful to set this verse into context. It was placed immediately after discourses about very troubling things — the prediction of Jesus’ death, the betrayal and the denial. Heavy stuff that would unsettle anyone.
Therefore, the rest of the text is penned to offer comfort to the disciples. I gleaned two ideas from the passage which may be helpful in the midst of troubling times
The first is hope in the future. In the passage this is shown in the conversation between Thomas and Jesus (2-7). Hope is always important in trying not to let a troubled heart overwhelm one. Hope brings about a confidence for the future.
The second is in the exchange between Phillip and Jesus (8-11). Jesus is recorded as talking to Phillip about finding the father-mother in him. As I read it, I mused about finding Christ (God) in all things and all persons — not the easiest thing to do sometimes. Yet, if my heart is troubled and I look and find Christ in the situation — however tenuous that might be —it is a way forward. A way not to let a heart be overwhelmed by sorrow.
Talking about troubled hearts is all a little depressing therefore I will end with some words from the lectionary psalm for today:
[God] you are my rock and my stronghold (31:3).