One of the amazing things we learn from an early age is the art of self-soothing when we are sad, scared, or angry. Watching my nephews grow up, I find it amazing to see just how quickly they have learned those self soothing skills and how they are unique to each individual. When I was a preschool teacher, I would see it in the classroom when children would transition in and particularly when they had nap time. The more distressed the child was the more you would see these self soothing techniques kicking in.
Some children immediately turn to their thumbs. I was a thumb sucker. My nephew Jackson would cuddle up to someone with his nanni, which was his blanket. My other nephew Jameson relies on his binky. Some children have a blanket that they rely on, others a teddy bear or stuff animal. Other children twist their hair. I had a blanket and would suck my left thumb, although in a pinch my right one would suffice. My blanket was a white cotton blanket with the tattered remains of a ribbon along the edges. I had ripped my blanket in half using only one half.
I always identified with Linus in Peanuts because my blanket was like a good friend. My blanket’s name was baby and baby went with me everywhere until I hit the age of three. At three my blanket came with me to Mystic Aquarium and somehow what was left of my ragged blanket fell into the dolphin tank. I remember that day clearly. My whole world was turned upside down. My poor parents suffered for this because there was no soothing me for days until I discovered the other half of the blanket.
As adults, we too have those things that sooth us when we are upset and life is unpredictable. What are some of those soothing things? For some, it is a nice cup of tea, warm milk, having their hair pet, or eating something sweet or savory whatever your preference might be. So what does self soothing have to do with the creation of the Golden Calf? You might be wondering what the connection is here. There is a connection here.
The Israelites were not yet used to the worship of Yahweh. They had lived for hundreds of years in Egypt with Egyptian society and they developed their own self soothing techniques that they relied upon in their times of distress. Moses led them into the desert and to freedom. Then he went into the mountains and stayed there with God very many days, weeks, and months. The people began to become distressed. So, they began to wonder whether Moses was even still alive. They turned to what had brought them comfort in the past, the worship of false idols or gods from the culture they had resided in for hundreds of years. They were self soothing in a time of uncertainty. That golden calf was their security blanket. They hadn’t learned new coping skills.
When we are children we might cope by sucking our thumbs and having a blanket, as adults we develop replacement coping skills such as prayer, wearing crosses, drinking hot beverages, etc. When I am faced with difficult decisions, difficult life situations, loss, or anything else that sends me out searching for comfort, I look towards prayer. I come to church and sit in the choir loft sometimes angry, other time sad, and still other times scared and I pray and I might sing a hymn or two and then I listen in the silence. There is comfort in an empty church for me. That closeness to God, that is what I search for and that is what God expected from the Israelites yet they still did not have the new skills required to change their traditions of coping.
I believe that in our lives we are constantly learning what to depend upon, what to find comfort in, where to find solace. And sometimes we find that comfort and develop self-soothing techniques that build us up and other times we find those things that are detrimental to our well-being and do not create life. David Foster Wallace, a 21st century theologian says, “Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to- day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
We can choose to find our strength in God, in the message of Christ, or we can choose to find our strength from that which is not real. God gets angry with the Israelites not because they had broken a commandment which they didn’t yet know existed but because what they worshiped was something that would not build them up in life, that which could not offer real comfort and direction. And although we are no longer making golden calves, we sometimes place other things in life in the far too important position of comforter in our lives. For some people, it is that comfort food, for others it may be shopping, drinking, gambling, and sometimes even other people. None of these can offer us what God can truly offer.
In Philippians, we hear Paul reminding the people about what we receive from Christ, from God in life when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” To me I find so much comfort in this passage. It is a reminder not to worry and to place my trust in God, to keep God the focus of my worship, the focus of my life, to keep God in the role of being my solace and my comforter. So next time you are feeling stressed, worn out, worried, and in need of comfort instead to turning to that jar of cookies, that second or third glass of wine, remember that you can depend upon God. God will give us comfort; God will give us peace; God will sooth us, if we allow him to hold that place of honor in our lives. As Wallace said, the choice is ours; ultimately it is up to us to seek peace and life from sources that create life. So what do you choose to place your trust in?
 David Foster Wallace, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, 21st century.
 Philippians 4: 4-7, NRSV.
(Based on Exodus 32: 1-14 and Philippians 4: 1-9)