Fear of Forgetting to Worry

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Desert Evening Primrose by God
Photograph by Carolyn McIntyre

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”   Matt 6:34 ESV

For many of us, worry about tomorrow is just the tip of that iceberg. Tomorrow is for amateurs — we’ve got a worry schedule that’s months into the future. After all, worrying is a tough job but, by-golly, someone’s gotta do it! And like all tough jobs — if you want it done right… So… we swallow our antacids, clock in as soon as we open our eyes and clock out somewhere in our restless sleep. “Don’t be anxious…” that’s just crazy talk.

Each of us are born into a state of absolute dependence and vulnerability. From that very day, life becomes a stepwise path toward overcoming that vulnerability. Even as children we are acutely aware of our frailty and grasp at anything that helps us feel more secure and autonomous. I believe that there is very little that people are unwilling to forfeit in exchange for feeling safe and in control. It is the obsession of our culture, perhaps our species.

So — having said that — let me tell you a story…

As I was preparing to leave home for the first time to make my way in the wide world, my father, I think feeling that he should say something, in his penetrating, almost shy way, said to me, “You know how you are son?” This seemed like a trick question so I cautiously said “Yes…” He looked me right in the eye and said, “Don’t be that way.” Now — to be honest, this turned out to be excellent advice — but I found it hard to follow.

For me, I think the Sermon on the Mount is stuffed full of similar advice. Jesus is simply saying to all of us, “You know how you are?… don’t be that way.” Chief among that advice is this instruction about being anxious which is fundamentally simple. Jesus gives us examples of birds and flowers that are fed and clothed without apparent worry. He appeals to our sense of species superiority and suggests that if God cares for birds and flowers, aren’t you more valuable to God than them? (Of course, I’m insecure enough that I worry about just that kind of presumption).

Jesus tells us that 1) God knows our needs, and 2) God cares for us more that he cares for birds and flowers. Jesus chides us saying “O you of little faith.” He’s telling us that we can rely on God’s provision and that our worry, however good a job we make of it, won’t help a bit.

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”   Matt 6:27 ESV

I think for many of us this comes down to a very simple question. Do we believe him? At the heart of the matter I think another question is just as important. What is God like?

Some of us have a view of God as a stern accountant who measures our lives with weights and balances to see if somehow the good weighs more than the bad. If not, a trap door flies open and you go… you know… down. Otherwise you get a stern reminder that he’s always watching and are sent grudgingly on your way. (OK — I can’t be the only one that once thought this way). If this is our view of God it’s no wonder we struggle letting go of our worry. No one wants to turn over our wants and needs to Mr. Scrooge.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells us the story of the prodigal son. I think that much of the point of that story was to tell us what God is like. God is more likely to throw a party than ask for a careful accounting.

“It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”   Luke 15:32 ESV

Perhaps we think, yes — Sure God might care for the bird and the lily, but in caring for us he will demand careful frugality and cautious accounting. But, in the sermon on the mount Jesus asks us to be generous. Even crazy generous (Luke 6:35). That’s because God is crazy generous with us. We are children of the King not beggars on the road. We can be generous, not because we are willing to go without, but because there’s plenty where that came from. The Kingdom is not a place of poverty.

“Give so that it might be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into our laps.”   Luke 6:38 ESV

We need to come before Jesus with expectation. In Matt 7:2 Jesus says “with the measure we use it will be measured back to you.” We come to him with a teaspoonful of expectation and wonder why we walk away with a teaspoonful of blessings. He’s asking us to bring a bigger measuring cup. There’s plenty — perhaps we have not because we have failed to ask. This is not a prosperity Gospel, but nether is it asceticism. It is simply a release of the worry over our needs to God.

So if God will adopt us as his children, and is generous with us, and will throw us a party, why is it so hard to stop worrying? Probably because we don’t really believe it. We cling to our worry like a talisman believing somehow our anxiousness will keep evil at bay. It’s not that we’re trying to add an hour to our lives, it’s that we feel that the our life is like a lot of dinnerware precariously balanced on the edge of a rickety table and only our faithful fretting can keep it upright. To loose concentration even briefly can result in a lot of breakage.

So what can we do?

First, avoid people who have a quick easy answers. These are matters of trust and belief and we can spend a lifetime learning the depth and wonder of who God is and what he means in our lives. But I think Jesus gives us a key here in Matt 6. We can seek first His Kingdom. Maybe because we’ve turned his words into camp fire songs we’ve missed the point. Perhaps Jesus is suggesting that if we seek first His Kingdom, those things that worry us so much will come into perspective. If it’s not about us, perhaps we can let go us worrying about us. There are more important things out there than us, and if we seek those things — suddenly we see our own lives in a new light. In the mean time, God knows what we need. Let Him worry about that. Easy to say, but unless we can change our focus, we will never see beyond the reach of those things we believe we can control.

This is the reason we must abandon our worry, not only because it demonstrates a lack of faith, but because it obstructs a biblical view of God’s kingdom. Perhaps God is less concerned about our problems than the colossal amount of time we spend obsessing over trivial shortcomings and long forgiven failures.

I don’t in any way mean to trivialize this issue. To the contrary, I think it one of the most serious issues in our little corner of the world. Anxiety can be crippling in our lives and I think all of us who struggle with it need help overcoming it. Some of us need medical and psychiatric help. If so, we should, in prayer, admit it and find the help we need.

I do know that Jesus will help us. He gets it — he was one of us. He helped me — he’ll help you too.

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