Uncertainty surrounds us daily, straining our mental health. The unknown can be threatening. It is the domain of fear, worry, and anxiety.
One of the most uncertain times in America was during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were many unanswered questions about the spread of the virus, treatment and cause of origin.
It left Americans suspended in fear. Understandably, people were concerned about getting the virus and facing potential side effects, including death.
Uncertainty is not only caused by a global pandemic, but seemingly everything in our society contributes to worry— interactions with others, our plans, and much of the news cycle. In this climate, people must learn how to navigate and regulate overwhelming emotion.
If someone does not have well-developed coping mechanisms and emotional regulation, they will turn to anything to alleviate the intolerable. They might numb themselves with distractions like drugs or otherwise attempt to keep themselves busy.
Others simply ignore or shove their feelings down. This can lead to lashing out at others, finding someone to blame, and arguing.
Uncertainty often leaves me unable to predict or control the future situations, or events. My thoughts race trying to prepare myself for everything.
If I could just plan enough or control a situation, then everything would be okay. I realized how often it prevents me from actually living. My mind disassociates from the present, focusing on the unknown. I can’t enjoy the moment.
Living my life trying to control the future did nothing to help. It provided a second of relief from the pressure, but no matter what I did, the feeling of fear always came back around.
All these behaviors create the illusion of certainty with temporary relief. My need to control was a failing coping mechanism. Uncertainty still appeared despite my best efforts.
I wonder if there is another way. What if instead of running from uncertainty, we embrace it?
The Bible gives several reassurances towards the unknown. The writer of Philippians 4:6-7 exclaims, “Do not be anxious about anything… And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Likewise, Matthew 6:25-34 gives reassurances against worry, providing examples of how God cares for creation. Proverb 3:5-6 asks that readers not lean on their own understanding but God’s wisdom.
Although Philippians, Proverbs and Matthew were all written to different audiences, there is something they all have in common. The unexpected and uncomfortable happened to every single audience.
They were unable to escape the uncertainty of life. I believe these verses were written not to relieve uncertainty but to encourage people through it.
The river of life continues to flow. We have no control over the tide or speed. The only way is to keep going.
Going against the current of uncertainty does nothing to help. We can spend all our time swimming against it. We can needlessly wear ourselves out, missing everything around us.
Leaning into uncertainty means embracing the storm. Numbing, ignoring and shoving down emotions does not negate the fact that negative emotions will continue to arise. We must learn how to welcome anxiety, worry and fear into our own lives.
God does not promise a life protected from uncertainty. Rather, the unexpected will occur throughout our lives. Negative emotions will come and go.
What I think the Creator does promise is their presence. When we focus on the storm, all hope might seem lost. If we focus on God’s presence, then we realize what seemed unbearable will not overtake us.
A current Master of Divinity student at Campbell University Divinity School.