Don’t Worry

We worry about a lot of things.  Jesus mentions three: food, drink, and clothing.  But we tend to get anxious over more than these things.  I remember when both my daughters were first born.  I would sometimes be unable to fall asleep because I was intensely worried about whether they were breathing!  We fret over our children.  We get vexed about bills, schedules, and what other people may think of us.  So, today’s scripture passage, a favorite for many, not only comforts, but also liberates.  Anxiety can be a prison, and Jesus wants to break us out of that prison.

Worry can signal a lack of faith.  In fact, for Jesus worry is the opposite of faith, not doubt.  It reveals that deep down in the heart we don’t rely on God but ourselves.  Faith is letting God be God.  Faith is surrendering ourselves to God.  Faith is giving control of our lives over to God.  Essentially, it’s realizing God always was, always is, and always will be in control.  To believe in God is to lean into that realization and let it shape one’s life.  The alternative is to worry, which means we don’t believe God is in control, so we have to be.  If, deep down, we think we have to be in control, we will inevitably become control-freaks.  And, a control freak is a chronic worrier.

It seems a major sin of western society is the idea of self-sufficiency.  Our culture holds up self-sufficiency as a prime virtue.  It does this so vigorously that we consider any sign of dependence a weakness.  Western culture views self-sufficiency as a strength.  Such a person doesn’t need anyone else, and relies on no one else.  The focus is solely on the self.  This likely comes from our culture’s exaggerated sense of individuality.  We often don’t see ourselves as part of a larger community, a greater whole.  We prefer the fantasy of individual achievement.  We want to be on our own, and the self-reliant person has to control everything to make sure it’s done right (which means it’s done according to the self’s wishes and concerns).  The self-sufficient person likely turns into a control freak and a chronic worrier.

Of course, when Jesus says, “Don’t worry,” it’s easy to dismiss him because we also see worrying as a sign that one cares.  We think this shows someone is invested.  A mother worrying over her son away at college is a good example of this.  Will he stay out of trouble?  Will he study?  Will he eat?  For Jesus, though, this kind of apprehension still points to a lack of faith.  We are still assuming it’s all up to us.  The mom fretting over how her son is doing at college presumes only she can truly solve these problems.  The center of her concern is not her son, but ultimately her own fears.  Everyone gets overcome by anxiety in life.  When we allow our fears to consume us, we get overly preoccupied with these fleeting concerns, though it may feel like they’re anything but fleeting at the time!  Thus, we fall into an illusion that these fears are real.  We lose contact with Reality, Absolute Reality, which we call God.  Such anxiety becomes a source of identity other than God.

The remedy is to set our hearts on God’s kingdom – on the presence and action of God within us and among us.  The remedy is the same for most of the problems in our lives.  Jesus invites us to surrender, to pray, or to seek God alone.  This remedy is reflected throughout Christian history.  Saints and mystics echo Jesus’ wisdom on not worrying by seeking God alone.  In the first half of the Twentieth Century, the Capuchin friar and stigmatist (someone who has received the wounds of Christ Crucified), Padre Pio, said, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”  St. Francis de Sales said, “Do not let anxiety sabotage your search for God.”  Contemporary writer James Danaher says, “For many people, worry is at the center of their lives. It is their source of identity and occupies the place that only God should occupy.”

We worry because we don’t know where or when we will secure our next meal, how we can afford new clothes for the kids, or how we will ever pay off that loan.  Jesus puts all these concerns in the much wider and freer context of seeking the reign of God first, that is, of staying in touch with Absolute Reality.  To pray is to get in touch with Reality.  Now, when we know Absolute Reality – God – everything else becomes relative.  In the light of Absolute Reality, everything else becomes less important and the bite of anxiety decreases to the point of nonexistence.  A small dose of Absolute Reality is enough to wipe away our anxious tears.

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