“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."
-Jesus (John 14:1)
This week, for the first time in our 15+ year marriage, we purchased a television. This one is an upgrade from the decades-old technology of our previous hand-me-downs. I was pleasantly surprised that as a smart TV perk, it came preloaded with a number of free channels (we don't do cable, so you can just imagine the excitement from the kids).
Most of the free channels are rubbish, but after channel surfing for a few minutes we stumbled upon The Bob Ross Channel.
Twenty four hours a day. All Bob Ross. All the time.
For the unaware, Bob Ross was an iconic painter whose gentle spirit and accessible teaching style captured millions of people through his PBS show in the 80s and 90's. I liked him then and I love him now. Thinking it was all nostalgia, I was shocked at how my kids were absolutely spellbound watching this man create paintings of "happy little trees" and quietly reminding people that on the canvas, "we don't make mistakes, we just have happy accidents." For a generation that is overstimulated with ever shortening attention spans, it bordered on miraculous to see them peacefully engrossed in the slow beauty and quiet attitude of this painter. They've continued to go back to that channel whenever they're allowed, and I'm even tempted to get out some paints and practice "happy accidents" myself (to be clear, the entire painting would fall in that category for me).
Bob Ross was in the Air Force for 20 years before becoming a professional painter. In his own words, he was the one who was tasked with "being tough." He was "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work." When he left the military, he decided that he never wanted to shout or raise his voice again. It appears he succeeded in that goal. I read stories this week of people who put Ross' vintage videos on repeat at night to help them sleep. Such is the value of a non-anxious presence.
Jewish Rabbi and family therapist Edwin Friedman says that any system-- family, church, or otherwise-- will break down unless there is a non-anxious presence there.
More and more I see the need for Christians to let Jesus be our non-anxious presence.
More and more I see the need for Jesus to form us into non-anxious presences for others.
It's hard to read the gospels without finding a disciple freaking out about something. They think they can't heal people, they think they can't enter the kingdom, they think they're going to die in a boat during a storm, and they think they don't have enough resources to feed others or survive themselves. And again and again, Jesus tells them to slow down. He is with them. They will be able to stand firm. They'll be able to do all these things. They'll even be allowed to rest when tasks are still left undone. Jesus is the non-anxious presence in their lives, and he's also the one who teaches them how to think about God so that they become a similar presence for others.
So, I guess in that way, Bob Ross kind of reminds me of Jesus. Is that sacrilege? Both knew of multiple ways to use their influence. Both choose to do so in a way that took the pressure off of people, rather than putting more pressure on them. The result was fresh peace and freedom in making something beautiful.
Religion places burdens and expectations on people to follow the rules and get it all right. But grace invites people into spacious places of delight, where we want nothing more than to build something beautiful with God because the pressure is off and we are already enough.
Christ's non-anxious presence in our lives settles us and then equips us to exude that same presence in our families, our workplaces, and our spheres of influence. So our efforts for compassion, justice, and reconciliation are not categorized by worry and fear, but by love and peace. This is the eternal perspective that God is at work for good all the time.
Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic, heard God's spirit speak to her with the now famous words: All is well and all will be well. That doesn't always feel true. But having Jesus in our lives allows us to trust this conviction.
So our family is going to keep watching 30 year-old episodes of The Joy of Painting. And I'm going to keep thinking about how Jesus is making a beautiful world and inviting me to participate- but I can be at peace with however my work turns out. Such is the calming power of grace.
Jesus, reframe my thoughts and settle my spirit so that I can join you in creating beauty today.
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