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Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. ~ Philippians 4:4

Birding is often seen as a quiet pastime offering peaceful moments of stress relief. Well, yeah, there’s that, but there’s also the adrenaline pumping thrill of the chase and the related fear of missing out. A tree dripping warblers in front of you while hearing birders down the trail naming species that you know are only passing through is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. After all, there are only so many spring mornings, only so many hours in a day available for finding every gorgeous fleeting flying marvel. What is here today, may literally be gone tomorrow. The goal may be to discover the presences of being in the moment but sometimes it takes tremendous effort to be here now, when the urge is to bird like there is no tomorrow.

It is not too difficult to extrapolate from apparently benign obsession, to unhealthy mental states. Addiction appears in many forms. In mild cases like chasing a longer list or every increasing experiences of joy can actually be beneficial in overcoming boredom or even depression. But there are times when lines are blurred that it is easy to see damaging behavior emerge. Stories of rare birds being harassed to the point that their agitation results in harm are sadly all too common.

Birds may not be your “drug of choice” but surely we all can relate to times we were at least tempted to cross lines we otherwise respected in moments of excitement. If we can understand how we might be capable of such behavior then surely we can empathize with those who endure mental illness that they did not choose and cannot change. Paul encouraged the Philippians to rejoice always while letting their gentleness show through. That sounds like a good recipe for avoiding manic behavior, for those who have the choice. He goes on to prescribe a response to anxiety, offer it to God and trust that God will provide. That sounds like a practice more than a solution. If the height of your anxiety is worrying that you might not add every migrant bird to your list, then you are truly blessed. There are those whose mental health management requires prayer in the tangible forms of therapy and medication. Since all of us fall somewhere in that continuum, we should lean hard into gentleness with ourselves and each other. Maybe rejoicing 24/7 is unrealistic, but increasing joy by finding it in this moment is a worthwhile effort in trying to reach the goal.

Prayer: Mighty Counselor, we offer you our anxiety, trusting that it will make room for rejoicing. Amen.


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