The Nature of Worry

When Jesus tells his disciples not to worry, is he asking the impossible? Or is he giving us a clue about the state of our souls?

The Scripture

Matthew 6:25-33
told by Deborah

Jesus said, “That’s why I tell you: don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither plant nor harvest nor stow into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are your lives less precious than theirs? And can worrying add another hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about what you wear? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither work nor weave, but I assure you: King Solomon in all his finery wasn’t dressed as gloriously.

“And if that’s how God clothes the grain and grasses — which last for only a season, won’t he do much more to clothe you, you of little faith?

“So don’t worry, endlessly fretting: ‘What will we eat?’ ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ Those are worldly lures that distract you from ultimate matters; and it’s not as if God doesn’t know that you need all of these things.

“But set your focus on the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and the rest will fall into place, as well.”

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
November 19, 2018

No longer Xmas, but Excess

“Don’t worry about your life, or what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear.”

This is the suggested Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day: Don’t worry about stuff. Don’t get caught up in the culture of getting and spending, as if that’s all that matters, when, ultimately, it doesn’t matter at all.

contemporary manger sceneGenerally, ordinarily, that sounds like good advice — especially on the cusp of the Season of Excess when the air will be filled with the siren song, “show your love” — with things. Throughout the days to come the Masters of Merchandising will endlessly tempt us to buy into the belief in a connection between how much we spend and how much we love.

That, of course, is the most awful rubbish, but the commercial culture drums it into our psyches, night and day. It’s sadly ironic that $tuff has taken the place of the Baby in the Manger.

A Different Situation?

And yet, we do need food and drink and clothing and a warm and dry place to live. It’s easy to go all “Stuff is as nothing; it’s unimportant, don’t worry about it,” when we have those things in abundance. The man in his heavy coat isn’t concerned about the cold, the woman wearing rainboots doesn’t mind the puddles, the family with a cupboard filled with groceries has a choice of what’s for dinner.

It’s easy to forget the blessings that we unthinkingly enjoy; it’s easy to take our many riches for granted.

This truth has been vividly demonstrated in the results of terrible fires raging within California. We see firefighters sifting through the ruins of homes very much like our own. Tearless and silent, the survivors are too devastated to have “worries about tomorrow;” they have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their livestock, their possessions, their neighborhoods — and, in some cases, their neighbors, who have died in the fire. People and pets are lost or missing; their whereabouts unknown.

ashes after fire

We witness these events and remember our often-forgotten blessings: the unmade beds, the pile of dirty laundry, the left-overs in the refrigerator, the cat demanding to be fed. As if suddenly awakened, we look around us and realize how many and great are the riches that we ordinarily take for granted. And — hopefully — we give thanks.

A Consuming Culture

But — again, ordinarily, we don’t. Ordinarily we’re blind moles; we don’t notice, we don’t appreciate, we don’t give thanks for the goodness and glories that surround us. Instead, we fuss and complain and spend our hours looking for things that are wrong; digging through the dirt, sniffing out faults and failings.

the enemyWe’ve gone from a consumer culture to a consuming one; one that seeks to devour our souls, setting us out on an endless search-and-destroy mission: “us” against “them.” We finger-point and scowl, criticize and condemn, choosing to believe the worst about others, oblivious to the harm and hurt that we, ourselves, inflict.

Unappreciative, unhappy, thankless, and grim, we skulk through our days with faces that would turn milk sour. We shut down communication, narrow our vision, and harden our hearts. We become lonely and sad without knowing why.

The deeper we sink into our perceived misery the farther our distance from the Light. We are blind to the blessings all around us; we no longer see the hopeful, the beautiful, and the good. Our lives become small and shallow.

What’s Missing

Oddly, the lectionary text omits what is surely an essential part of Jesus’ lesson to his disciples. The passage, part of a lengthy teaching, begins:

"No one can serve two masters; for a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

wizard

Did they leave this portion off because the statement is so obvious? We humans are bicameral thinkers; embracing duality readily, almost spontaneously, often unthinkingly, as if it is a proven mathematical formula. IF this, THEN not that: good/bad, up/down, Ford/Chevy, north/south, male/female, black/white, Apple/PC, us/them. It’s a reflex that marketing wizards routinely use to their advantage, creating brand loyalty, repeat purchasers, and unquestioning allegiance.

Or perhaps Jesus’ words were omitted because their challenge is so far-reaching. Certainly we need to be mindful of the temptation to worship the god of Stuff (“Mammon”), but, equally, we are to be wary of any entity — be it creature or created, person or product — that demands our unwavering loyalty and blind, reflexive faith.

Idolatry is not limited to the unreasoning, desperate love of wealth or grandeur or luxurious living. It is not only what we buy, or the items we possess, but what we buy into; what ideas and concepts possess us.

The Ultimate Question

Jesus’ warning against idolatry — against setting any person, place, or thing above our call to love and serve the Lord God — challenges our value system. It insists that we ask ourselves what it is that we think about, work for, pray for, dream of, and seek after above all else.

Where is your attention focused? Perhaps a better question is: what do you worry about? What causes you concern? What is your heart set on? What matters to you more than anything else?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
    ~ Matthew 6:21

A Great Danger

MolochPerhaps the greatest threat to our souls isn’t our familiar foe Mammon, bedecked in bright sparkling holiday garb — but Moloch, the sower of discord and division: the destroyer who demands human sacrifice. This god of negation draws us in as we gaze into the abyss; a bleak, vast emptiness endlessly echoing horror and despair. We are dazzled, disoriented; our souls grow cold, our hearts grow brittle, we delight in demeaning and denying the humanity of “our enemies.”

Entranced by evil we are blind to goodness. Obsessed with fear and worry we forget how to rejoice, we forget to be kind, we forget what it means to love and be loved. Enthralled by Moloch, we forget our Lord, we forget our souls, we forget what ultimately matters.

An Enlivening Spirit

What shall we believe? Whom shall we trust? Where shall we find a refuge for our souls?

If we close our ears to Mammon’s hollow promises and Moloch’s hate-fueled chants, we may hear a soft, sweet hymn of gentleness and grace. Embedded in our hearts, Spirit patiently awaits the day when we seek Its wise and caring voice. It is there, not in advertising jingles, nor in bright baubles or raised fists or angry demands, but in the desire for peace and understanding. It speaks to us in the recognition that we are all beloved children of our God, it calls us to a life of compassion and mercy. It breathes new life into our weary, withering souls.

We will know this Presence by the serenity it brings to our spirits and the relief it gives to our bodies. We will feel better, inside and out; from our head to our toes. We will start to see what is good and beautiful and life-giving, our hearts will be comforted, and our souls will be infused with joy.

Choices

The choice is ours: whom shall we serve: Mammon or Moloch or the Source of Life? We can be consumers whose lives revolve around things, or be among those consumed by rage and resentment, or we can follow the Way of love and compassion that leads to the Kingdom of God.

But the Way of the Lord is not the easiest path, in fact, it is the hardest. It asks that we keep faith in God’s goodness and mercy even now — even as firefighters are risking their lives battling the flames, even in the midst of terrible losses and great suffering, even when our hearts are breaking for all who suffer. The Way of the Lord requires both compassion and hopeful imagination; it requires strength to endure troubling times and the courage to carry on, in fervent belief that we can be part of a community built on love.

Rejoicing and giving grateful praise to the Beloved for the radiant gift of you!

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Excercises

Describe yourself in five words. Who do you say you are, first and foremost; what aspect lead all the rest?

What do you worry about?