The season of Christmas is one in which we emphasize how God comes to us. Immanuel. God with us. Or perhaps, as we tend to think of it, God with us, rather than we with God. And so God comes to us, embodied in Jesus.
But it seems the minute Jesus gets here, he starts turning tables in all sorts of ways, not least being his invitation for us to come with him to where he is going. "Follow me," he says. Sure, he came to the disciples in their distress while they were in a boat on a storm-tossed sea, but immediately asked one of them to go, to move to where he was.
It is as if God is in the business of coming to us in order to get our attention, so that he can then move our attention directly away from ourselves to what he is doing. It is striking how the mind responds to such coming and going, such invitation to adventure once it knows it is not alone. We tend to pay the most attention to the anxiety-provoking things we create in our own minds. This is how the brain tends to work when left to its own devices. It pays attention to the most fear-inducing stimuli, and the more it does so, the more isolated it becomes. With increasing isolation, the more anxiety, and the cycle builds on itself.
Not surprising then, that our attention is so frequently fixated-even and especially in non-conscious ways-on the sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts that are the building blocks for our distresses. These embodied mental activities are the materiel from which we craft the idols of our minds that inevitably exploit us.
We think we are worried about those things that exist outside of ourselves-our difficult relationships, work, children, marriages, health, and more. But ultimately, our anxiety is a function of what it is about our own minds that has captured our attention. And then Jesus comes. Comes to us, pitches his tent among us. Forgives. Heals. Comforts. And then-he goes. He goes and bids us follow him. He asks us to shift our attention to the story he is telling and the work he is doing. And suddenly, when my attention is no longer on my story, but rather on the one he is telling, I find myself seeing things and going places I never thought I would see or go.
Certainly there are times when this is unsettling. But when my attention is turned to novel places in which Jesus is traveling, it has less opportunity to be trapped in the endless cycle of repeated neural firing patterns of my own anxious thoughts, distressing images, and catastrophic futures I have in store for myself. Not unlike Eden, where paying attention to a moving God who was walking in the cool of the day felt more risky and required more work than attending to a tree that was fixed and going nowhere, we would, perhaps, rather that Jesus only come to us, and not go anywhere else.
But he has no interest in leaving us where he finds us. He has no interest in coming only. He intends to go, and for us to follow. In this season of the Coming, let us be equally ready for the Going.
Dr. Curt Thompson is part of the Seasons Weekend team and will be sharing insights, inspirations, and exercises for your mind and heart at our upcoming weekends. To learn more about Curt, visit www.being known.com