March 21, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
Emmanuel. “The God who is with us.”
This phrase is one of our family’s favorite theological mantras to remind our teenagers of God’s grace, peace, and strength. When they are walking into a tough game, test, or complex situation, we leave them with one last word: Emmanuel.
Emmanuel is of utmost importance given the escalating rates of stress and anxiety experienced by young people today. As the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, I don’t go a day without being asked tough questions about teen mental health, depression, and suicide by a leader or parent–especially now that concerns about COVID-19 have upended normal routines and disrupted virtually every area of teenagers’ lives.
But it’s not just young people who are battling mental health challenges. According to one estimate, one-third of the US population is affected by an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. (See Borwin Bandelow and Sophie Michaelis, “Epidemiology of Anxiety Disorders,” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, September 2015, 17(3): 327-335.) In these days of social distancing and quarantines, anxiety seems more prevalent than ever.
Mental health questions cut across all generations. Which means all of us need a better toolkit to help ourselves and those close to us. Based on what we’ve learned from faculty and alumni in Fuller’s Schools of Psychology and Theology, we recommend you choose one theological mantra to reflect on yourself when you are feeling anxious, and to offer others.
Mine? You guessed it. Emmanuel.
In our new four-week Faith in an Anxious World multimedia youth group curriculum, we start by highlighting that Jesus doesn’t leave us alone in our anxiety. By quoting Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23 both links the life of Jesus with the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and proclaims the good news that Jesus is with us always, even “to the very end of the age” (see Matthew 28:20).
In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and calms the external storm surrounding them—literally. Similarly, Jesus is now with each of us now in our lives, cars, kitchens, classrooms, and boardrooms, ready to calm the internal storms that disrupt our lives and psyche.
God, through Jesus Christ, isn’t a distant or unapproachable God. Whether through an on-the-run “Help me” prayer, or an extended, focused season of seeking him, he’s ready for us to reach out to him.
Something to Think About:
What theological phrase is particularly meaningful to you as a response to stress and anxiety?
If you don’t have one, how do you feel about adopting Emmanuel?
Something to Do:
If you can think of someone you know struggling with anxiety, share your theological mantra with them by phone or text. Let them know you’re on their team and praying for them. More importantly, remind them that Jesus is with them. Mark your calendar, or set an alarm, to reach out to that friend again in a few days.
To access more resources—ranging from parent podcasts to youth group curriculum—please visit https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/anxiousworld.
Gracious God, thank you that you are our Emmanuel. You are with us at all times, in all places, in all circumstances. Thank you that you sent Jesus as the ultimate Emmanuel to be with us here on earth. Please make us more aware of all the ways you are with us. Please work through us to show friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues that you are also with them.
I especially pray for [someone you know] who is struggling with stress and anxiety these days. Please bring hope and freedom to them, and use this time to teach them more about following and trusting you. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1-2)
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