Exchanging Peace for Anxiety
Recently I have noticed many people struggling with anxiety about the future. It is election season in America, and that is enough to drain any peace we may have left after being bombarded at work all day. It seems like all anyone wants to accomplish, is for us to lose our peace of mind. Then, they hope, we will vote for them to regain our peace. It never happens the way they promise. It never happens the way we expect. Little by little we exchange peace for anxiety.
At that time, while Jesus was teaching, one of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.”Luke 12:13-15, 22-31
Today’s Gospel lesson couldn’t have come at a better time. First, let me say that being anxious about the future isn’t exactly a sin. It is a waste of energy at best. It is a waste of hope at worst. To be anxious if you will have enough resources to survive the future isn’t exactly a sin, if it keeps you working to provide food, clothing, and shelter for your family.
This passage can be confusing. On the one hand Christ says don’t be anxious about food clothing etc. He turns our attention to birds. They are completely at God’s mercy for food and shelter. If they find berries and bugs (the diet most birds) they survive. If they find enough material to build their nest, they sleep safely, away from predators. They aren’t anxious, but they never stop working. They wake up and immediately go in search of berries, bugs, and material to repair their nests.
Here is the point that we must embrace. They don’t wait for God to bring them their food. They go out and work for it. They don’t look ahead to next week. They focus on today. That does not mean God doesn’t want us planning for our ‘old-age’ and retirement. Planning for our retirement, in the world in which we live, is a necessity.
We no longer live in a society in which we work until we can no longer work. We no longer live in a society in which multiple generations are living under the same roof, helping each other with tasks. In many cases, generations don’t even live in the same city any longer. Planning for our ‘old-age’ isn’t about anxiety. It is proper planning.
The trick is to live today as if it is our last when it comes to our soul, and as if we have many more years when it comes to our bodies. That means, we must work hard for today AND for tomorrow without ignoring the reality we may never see tomorrow. Planning for the future doesn’t require anxiety. It requires a thoughtful and peaceful state of mind.
Planning for the future requires that we understand the difference between having enough and wanting more. When you store up ‘too much’ it goes to waste. Think about how many nuts a squirrel wastes each year. After storing so many, the typical squirrel can’t even remember where all the nuts are stored. They go unused as food, and instead new trees sprout.
So, where does that leave us? Don’t stop planning for your ‘old-age’ by thinking God will ‘magically’ provide what you need. On the other hand, don’t stop repenting today by thinking you have more time to repent. The balance God desires is basic. Plan without anxiety for the future you may or may not live. One thing is for certain. You WILL die and stand in front of the Judgment Seat of God, some day. It won’t matter how many bank accounts you have if you haven’t prepared your soul.