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Elmo's Viral Post Exposes Our Anxiety but Does Not Have to Define Us

Elmo statue at Universal Studio JAPAN, Osaka, Japan (Adobe Stock Photo by Ameri Cantaro)
Elmo statue at Universal Studio JAPAN, Osaka, Japan (Adobe Stock Photo by Ameri Cantaro)


Not long ago, Elmo, the fuzzy red character from "Sesame Street," asked a rather benign question on X, garnering over 212 million views, "Elmo is just checking in! How is everybody doing?"

In thousands of replies, X users from all walks of life let Elmo know just exactly how things were going. "Elmo, I'm depressed and broke," one wrote. Others told Elmo that they had been laid off or were anxious about the 2024 election. 

"Elmo, each day the abyss we stare into grows a unique horror," read a response posted by a prominent poet. "Our inevitable doom which once accelerated in years, or months, now accelerates in hours, even minutes."

More than revealing a temporary uneasiness, the responses to Elmo's questions show that people are chronically anxious; in fact, anxiety affects a third of all Americans. People carry heavy burdens. There is a crisis of hopelessness that has a stranglehold on much of humanity.

We have all experienced the feeling of increasing pressure in our chests. A pressure that feels like a heavy weight. Our shoulders tense up, and our breath becomes shakier. This mounting strain is often a result of deep anguish, growing stressors, and even conscious and subconscious anxieties. Maybe it is the loss of a loved one, unbearable financial debt, an unexpected health diagnosis, a turbulent relationship, or merely overwhelming day-to-day responsibilities. 

While these are heavy weights, we were never meant to face the hardships of life on our own. So rather than continuing to hurt ourselves with a burden that is too heavy on our own, what if we release that weight to Jesus, a presence and a person who can carry it? Jesus is not only a burden bearer. He sits with us, shepherds us, and shoulders us. He is a person, not a resource to be used in adverse circumstances. He is the Savior sent by God to rescue a wrecked, stressed-out world.

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More than simply acknowledging our sorrow or grief, Jesus was intimately acquainted with grief. The Cambridge Dictionary defines "acquainted" as "to know or be familiar with something because you have studied it or have experienced it before." And while we may not feel like our sorrow comes close to what Jesus experienced – He still deeply knows the feelings of sorrow. He knows the mounting grief after the passing of a loved one. He knows the pain of being rejected by friends. He knows the anxiety surrounding the outcome of the future. 

Because Jesus is beautifully human and fully God, He relates to us, allowing us to relate to Him. I have been involved with "The Chosen" for the past year as the CEO of the Come and See Foundation, a nonprofit with an ambitious vision: to reach 1 billion people with the authentic Jesus. We want each viewer to see the human qualities of the Son of God – the humanity of Jesus. 

If you've seen any of the episodes and your experience is anything like mine, your perception of Jesus' humanity has changed as a result of the authenticity viewed on your screen. I have known Jesus since I was seven years old, but for the first time, I am relating to Jesus as a person. Before watching "The Chosen," I viewed Jesus as my Savior, not my friend. He was my example, but not someone who has experienced sorrow and pain. Now, I have seen the depth of emotion and desire for a relationship. That's what I mean when I use the word authentic. Jesus is real. Jesus is genuine. Jesus is true. 

Jesus knows what it's like to stare into "the abyss." In the garden of Gethsemane, He inwardly battled over His upcoming crucifixion. While there, Jesus said to a few of his disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." With friends at His side, He pleaded with His Father to take away His sorrow. But more than that, Jesus physically fell with His face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Imagine that, Jesus falling to the ground over sorrow and grief. 

As I have thought about why Jesus is such a present reality to us in our emotional distress, I land on the word empathy. More than any other person, Jesus can empathize with those who are filled with sorrow and grief because He has experienced both. In the book, How to Know a Person, David Brooks observed, "Most of the empathetic people I know are able to use their own moments of suffering to understand and connect with others."

Jesus did this well. We see the raw humanity of Jesus in His grief over the death of His close friend, Lazarus. Jesus called many people "friends" throughout His ministry, but when describing Lazarus to His disciples, He referred to Lazarus as "our friend." He was so grieved by his death to the point of weeping. Weeping is not a few tears shed – it's an audible, physical reaction to sorrow. Likewise, when Jesus learned of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, He "withdrew to a solitary place."

After Jesus withdrew to a solitary place, because of John the Baptist's death, Jesus did not stay isolated; rather, we read that He had "compassion" on the crowds, and He went back to his ministry, to His work, to His friends. He both walked with the people around Him and remained devoted to the work He had been called to do.

Of this we can be sure: Jesus shoulders our burden with us because He has suffered. As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus, He is the "man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." He hasn't promised to remove our sorrow and hopelessness, but He has promised to be there. Just as He sat with his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He sits with us too.  

Stan Jantz is the CEO of the Come and See Foundation and a bestselling author. His latest book is "Ten Essentials for New Christians" (Harvest House Publishers).


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