Back when I was in grad school, I’d get this weird feeling whenever I was under a considerable amount of stress. It felt like I’d swallowed a chunk of peanut butter and it had gotten lodged in my throat. I felt pressure in my chest and had trouble taking adequate breaths. It would last for days or weeks, depending, but was annoying more than it was physically concerning. Eventually, I figured out it was reflux, a common reaction to stress. I figured out how to manage it and I eventually graduated, which cured it entirely.
But it has recently started coming back. Kids, work . . . this darn election cycle. I’ve started to notice every time I watch a debate or another round of Tuesday primary results, I’d get that peanut-butter-stuck-in-my-throat sensation. My brother’s wedding is quickly approaching, involving a cross-country family trip with plenty of packing, planning, and logistics.
Peanut butter in my throat.
My husband’s car required an unexpected, pricey repair last week. A BIRD broke into our house the same week, hijacking our busy night’s plans. And now, international terrorist attacks and dear family members living in Europe. Peanut butter in my throat.
Cut to a recent rainy Sunday morning, when I was sidelined with a sinus/allergy thing (OK, and a touch of daylight savings), leaving me home for a rare two hours in a quiet house while my husband and kids went to church without me. I watched the Sunday morning political shows, hoping for reason, logic, or an explanation of our country’s state of affairs. I searched Pinterest for budgeting ideas to help take control of our finances. I searched every retail site known to man for the right dress to wear to my brother’s wedding. And in my quiet house, on a peaceful Sunday morning, I still had peanut butter in my throat.
And then it occurred to me, taking so much longer than it should have, that I was missing my opportunity.
Not only was I missing church, but I wasn’t using these unusual hours of quiet to open up my Bible, pray, reflect, or journal. I always complain I don’t have enough time to do so, and here I was, spending this sacred time doing everything I could to feel like I was in control of my life. (Did you catch all of those I’s?)
So I reached for my devotional to gain a sense of direction in my Bible and one of the opening sentences read, “Trouble and distress are woven into the very fabric of this perishing world.” The grounding scripture was John 16:22, paraphrased, “Rest in My Presence, receiving joy no one can take away from you.”
The reading was short but I was overwhelmed with the clarity of the message, how implicit it was in that exact moment of my helplessness. “No one will take away your joy” echoed and reverberated in my head and in my heart. That was not what was happening in my life as I watched the chaos in our world, and I needed the blunt reminder:
Politics will not steal my joy.
Terrorists will not steal my joy.
Calendars will not steal my joy.
Bank statements will not steal my joy.
The nightly news will not steal my joy.
No one will steal my joy.
My own little happy ending? I found a dress for the wedding this week. I bought it at Macy’s, where a Muslim woman in a headscarf rang my purchase, and an African-American saleswoman stopped by to fawn over the grinning baby in my stroller. The three of us spent a few minutes chatting about the wedding, travel, and a new grandbaby for one of the saleswomen before wishing each other well and going our separate ways. No ground-breaking racial or ethnic reconciliation, just a gentle reminder that no matter what the news says or what the candidates say, our country is not defined by hate and fear, God is still on His throne, He is still our joy.
No more peanut butter in my throat.