Besides receiving an AARP card in the mail, nothing says, “You’re getting old” like your very first colonoscopy. For my younger readers, this term signifies a procedure that involves a spelunking expedition led by a gastroenterological-guide. A camera attached to the end of a tether is launched into the nether regions of your digestive system. This allows the exploring physician to screen for the GI equivalent of unwanted stalagtites and stalagmites. To enhance the effectiveness of this expedition, the owner of the colon (i.e. a 50-plus year-old patient) is advised to conduct a thorough house cleaning (i.e. colon evacuation). To accommplish this mandate, the host must willingly sign up for the stomach flu. Two liters of a high-octane laxative are consumed twelve hours apart.
After downing the first liter of the explosive liquid, I went about my business attending to the usual chores. I had imagined that the process would slowly swell to a crescendo, like a movement in a classical piece of music. Well, I was right about the “movement” part, but there was nothing slow about it. With all the subtlety of a firm hand squeezing a tube of toothpaste, my colon demanded that all extraneous activity came to an abrupt, and immediate halt. As if trying to run in a long, slender skirt, I found myself taking very rapid, diminutive steps to the restroom. A heartfelt prayer accompanied my mad dash to porcealin release, “For once in my life, Lord, please let me be anally retentive.”
In the midst of all of this, it occurred to me that this wasn’t the first time I had experienced something like this. My colonoscopy prep was reminiscent of a similar feeling twenty-one years earlier. It happened exactly three days after I had purchased my very first house. The acting President of my workplace, Barnes College of Nursing, called an emergency meeting of all the faculty and staff. He explained that our beloved little college was merging with the University of Missouri, and that all of the faculty would get to keep their jobs. In the middle of his self-congratulatory speech, one of my colleagues from Student Services raised his hand and asked, “What about us? Will non-faculty get to keep our jobs?” “No.” He responded. The University will not have jobs for you.” I am pretty sure he said many other things after that last sentence…probably something about “retraining opportunities,” or “human resource packets”…or “watching the job postings.”
In that moment, all I could see was the fat check with all of those zeroes that I had signed, and handed to a realtor, just two days earlier. Then and there, I was given a bitter foretaste of the colonoscopy prep I would undergo twenty-one years later.
Since that time, I have found that adulthood is chock-full of moments that grab hold of your gut, and squeeze. These moments are generally associated with sudden, unwelcome changes. For some of us, the changes are large: loss of a family member, a serious illness in someone dear, a rift in a marriage. Some changes are medium-sized: more work/same pay, goodbye to a favorite co-worker, a new boss. Some are small changes: a new IT system, a new neighborhood, a new schedule.
Researchers have described the signature feelings associated with change: gut squeezing fear, anger, or sadness. Other common phenomena that can accompany unwelcome change include disorientation, identity loss, relationship disruption, diminished concentration, and pervasive negativity. Frequently, in an effort to ease the colon-squeezing experience, the unconscious will employee denial as a psychological defense.
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage Matthew recorded Jesus’ famous “Lilies of the Field” sermon (6:24-34). In it, he encouraged his followers not to worry so much. A famous spiritual song paraphrases this selection nicely, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Once the inevitability of my job situation sunk in, I employed many strategies to help myself cope. I attempted to look indispensable to my boss, my boss’s boss, and my boss’s, boss’s boss. I sent out resumes. I went on many interviews. I received more training. I utilized sport’s psychology, and cognitive psychology techniques too.
When all was said and done, the thing that helped me more than anything else was when I stumbled upon Psalm 23. It must have been one of Jesus’ favorites. In many ways the Gospel selection this week simply restates the themes from that spiritual poetry. The line that grabbed me was, “The Lord is My Shepherd.” That phrase entered my soul like a case of Tums soothing down my writhing gut. Here’s how it translated to me: “If this psalm is correct, then my boss is not really my boss. And once I get a new job somewhere else, that boss will not really be my boss either. The Lord is my shepherd, and that makes me self-employed.”
Change has always been a part of the human condition. What is different in our time, is the pace, and the amount of change each of us will encounter before all is said and done. As you attempt to navigate the rapids of change in your own life, see if you can hold onto the solid, immovable insight that “The Lord” is your one and only “shepherd.” The spiritual truth toward which this psalm, and today’s Gospel point offers freedom from the useless anxiety that seeks to flush away the gifts of this day, and this moment.