The Anxiety of Can We Talk Later?

[Jesus said:] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

John 16:12-15

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (June 12, 2022) on John 16:12-15.


One of the more anxiety inducing phrases we sometimes hear or say is: “can we talk?” Those words, on their own, don’t really mean too much but they hit differently when used by someone important to us. When someone I care about or respect uses those words, my mind immediately starts preparing for the worst. I wonder: are they going to tell me bad news? Are they angry at me? Did I do something wrong? My throat begins to tighten while my heart starts to race. And I suddenly become really uncomfortable as my brain comes up with every worst case scenario possible. Every once in a while, my physical and mental reaction to these words are way over the top. But there are other moments when it’s not. When someone says “can we talk,” we don’t know exactly what they want to bring up. We’re given a lot of uncertainty which is why, I think, our bodies and minds react so quickly once we hear those words. This simple phrase tells us we might be starting a really difficult conversation. Yet there’s also the option to make this phrase hit even harder. And that’s when the important person in our life asks, “can we talk later?” 

By just adding one word, everything we’ve already started to feel gets expanded. It’s hard to wait for that difficult conversation to begin and so we usually fall into an anxious spiral centered on what we don’t know is about to come. That feeling is one Elizabeth Evans, a deacon in the United Methodist Church, noticed while looking at our reading from the gospel according to John. She wondered if the disciples felt all these kinds of feelings when Jesus said his version of: “can we talk later?” “I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now” is a weird thing for Jesus to say in the middle of his last long sermon to his disciples before his death in John. Jesus, at this moment, is in the middle of his “Farewell discourse” which stretches from chapter 14 through chapter 17. During John’s version of the last supper, Jesus interrupted their meal by assuming the social and cultural position of a slave and washed  the feet of every one around the table. Once he was done, Jesus talked; and talked; and talked. Since he, according to John, knew the disciples would soon see him betrayed, arrested, and killed;  Jesus wanted to prepare them for the horror of experiencing what people do when God’s love makes itself known. This wasn’t the first time Jesus had talked about the Cross but the disciples struggled to integrate this reality into themselves because Jesus was still in front of them. Jesus, then, wanted to give them words they could hold onto to help them live through whatever came next. Yet in the middle of all his words, Jesus had the audacity to say there were even heavier things he couldn’t share with them right now. I imagine that once those words left Jesus’ lips, the disciples entered deeper into an emotional spiral of worry and fear and anguish that everything that might come next. When they needed reassurances that their experience with Jesus wasn’t for nothing, the disciples had to sit with every one of their uncomfortable feelings about their uncertain future. 

And the truth is that we don’t really know how to cope or handle all the stuff that comes with holding these kinds of feelings in our bodies and in our minds. In fact, we don’t often even acknowledge these feelings because of the amount of vulnerability required to admit we can’t control tomorrow. We sometimes try to shift the blame of these feelings onto others, saying it’s their problem or it’s them that caused us to feel this way. We get angry, defensive, or even bury our head in the sand, acting as if this uncertainty doesn’t really exist. But those feelings that reality is right there and “psychologists remind us that the only way to get past emotions is to feel them, as if [we’re] practicing the Marie Kondo method of tidying up—holding our feeling in front of us, naming it, thanking it for what it taught us, and letting it pass.” Admitting and then holding onto all of the stuff that comes with uncertainty is really hard. And I often wonder if some of the anger and worry and hatred and violence and the inability to empathize with people who are not exactly like us I see swirling in our world – comes from our inability to admit the uncertainty deep inside us. We convince ourselves that our real problem is that we’re just uncomfortable and the solution is to seek out, above all, a kind of comfort that avoids the conversations and experiences that might challenge who we imagine ourselves to be. And by ignoring that uncertainty, we end up letting it define how we live in the world. We act as if we’re in control but it’s the fear which makes us who we are. And so we do not reflect or wonder or ask meaningful questions about ourselves, our community, and our world because we don’t want to show how vulnerable this uncertainty makes us feel. 

Which is, I think, why we Christians need a Trinity. Instead of only describing what God is, we – as Christians – also give a name to how God is made real in our lives. God is the creator of everything and the reason why we’re here. Yet God is also the one who revealed God’s self in Jesus – who was crucified because we’re not as good or loving or as welcoming as we think we are. We need help – something stirring with, in, and through us, helping us to love like God loves. And that, I think, is one way to describe the spirit – this gift from God that animates us through the promise of the continued presence of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we see this Spirit throughout all of our holy scriptures, noting how it’s often described with a variety of pronouns, male and female, because the presence of God contains all. The Spirit doesn’t cure our “uncomfortable feelings associated with uncertainty,” but she comes to remind us we’re not alone. The Spirit reassures us we are not forgotten or that the pain or pride or fear or worry or uncertainty or uncomfortable feelings that define us will not define our relationship with God. It’s the Spirit that lets us sit with these uncomfortable feelings and exposes the uncertainty we’ve tried to hide from ourselves and from God. And when we experience all those feelings and truths and sorrows and anger and sadness we’ve tried so long to avoid, it’s the Spirit that gifts us faith, prayer, the Bible, worship, the Lord’s table, and the opportunity to bring everything to the foot of the Cross. Once there, we do not immediately get all the answers that will tame the uncertainty at the center of our fear. But we do see more clearly the promises given to us by God. You were created. You are loved. And in Christ, you are worth living and dying and rising for. The uncertainty you face and feel is very real but the love of God for you is real too. We can name and see and sit with all the uncomfortable feelings that come from the uncertainty we can’t control. Yet we don’t have to let those feelings limit the love we share because we have a God who will always carry us through.