It is an ironic consequence of our technological age that we worry about our lives more than ever. On the one hand, medical science has made incredible strides, to the point that almost no one even considers that they might die when they go into surgery. The State of Indiana hasn’t had a single student lost in a school fire since the mid-1800s, and that is because we have alarms, sensors and fire drills in every school. Our checkbooks have overdraft protection, our health insurance helps pay for our gym membership and many of us even have access to free counseling through our employers’ EAPs. We ought to be less worried than we are.
Despite the progress, the end of the last century found a lot people referring to our time as the “Age of Anxiety” because people in First World countries are worrying more about their lives and futures, not less. This has only increased as the recent recession has deepened and families have had to struggle to make ends meet.
Part of today’s Gospel sort of foreshadows Bobbie McFerrin’s song in the 1980s, entitled “Don’t worry, be happy!” I still don’t know exactly why people loved it so much, but my own sister, who is deeply religious, told me on numerous occasions that she wants that song played at her funeral. Maybe she and everyone else who bought that album needed some reassurance that everything really is going to be alright. Notice that the song doesn’t tell us exactly we are supposed to release our worries, so in that sense it’s not practical. Maybe our need for reassurances and answers is deeper than that.
We already know about life’s challenges: there are marital problems, job issues, illness, addictions and when someone we love dies, we can be shaken to the core. We’ve all endured tremendous obstacles, but we’re still here. Still standing. Some among us will go through difficult times in the months ahead, and we will be here for them.
We will be here because we have come to the realization that no matter how dark and terrifying the storm, God is here to help. God has always been here to help, and even though in the darkest night we don’t perceive God’s presence, the storm passes and we look behind us and see quite clearly that we were carried aloft by love. Then we can say our prayers of thanksgiving. This is good, but Jesus wants us to be conscious of blessing all the time. That’s why he looks around one day and observes some birds, and it occurs to him how perfect things are in the natural world. Jesus says: “Don’t worry. Nothing has ever been gained by worrying. Instead, look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. You are even more precious to God than they are!”
We are children of God, the ones who bear the Divine Image, so what do we have to fear? Hunger? Financial worries? Relationship issues? Illness and death? If we remember to remain in that space of gratitude, we won’t be tempted to doubt about God’s abundance. This attitude is itself the antidote to fear and worry. As we are freed from worries, as our gratitude to God overflows, we will find ourselves able to reach out to others; to people that may be worn down from worrying, stricken with their own negative view of life, too absorbed in their own dark corner of the world to see that there is light everywhere around them.
You and I have both known people like this, who are so negative and so restricted in how they perceive God’s abundance and grace, that nothing seems to go right for them. They cling to thoughts of fear and insufficiency and, of course, that is what they bring to reality in their lives. Their faith is more in their fears than in God’s goodness, and they live exactly the life they have held in their minds and hearts.
There are other people, thank God, who cling to God’s faithfulness and grace even in the darkest of situations. These are the people in our lives that are truly gifts of Heaven and we are right to seek out advice and relationship with these people.
When the Allied Forces entered the city of Cologne toward the end of World War II, soldiers did what they always do: they made a house-by-house search, looking for any remaining Nazi soldiers. As they searched, they were greeted with joy and relief by the residents of the city, many of whom had been living under the floorboards or in the root cellars of their homes. In one particular house they discovered that people had been living in the basement because of the continuous bombing raids on the city prior to its liberation by the Allies. On one of the basement walls, they found these words scrawled in chalk:
“I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining;
I believe in love
even when I do not feel it;
I believe in God
even when he is silent.”
This is not some kind of “Don’t worry, be happy” attitude and there is not even a hint that this family believed they would be kept safe. The only reality for them was an abiding trust in God, that in God alone lay their hope, no matter what the future held. I don’t know what became of the family who wrote those words—perhaps they survived, and perhaps they did not. Either way, we can surmise that their positive trust in God allowed them to find the courage to keep going, even in fearful times.
Someone much more clever than myself said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” That is what Jesus is telling us today when he reminds us not to worry about things beyond our control. Jesus doesn’t say that if we believe, the bad things in life will pass us by. These things do happen. But worrying about them doesn’t contribute anything of value or benefit. If we look back on the past year and try to recall all the things we have spent time worrying about, which one of those things was resolved to our benefit because of the worrying??
What does bring something of value is believing that no matter what, God will use whatever happens to us into God’s grand design for building the Reign of God. This is what rescues us from the fear that life is meaningless. Whatever else we might say about Jesus, he believed that life has meaning. Jesus invites us to opt for meaning–and to stop worrying!