Holy Everything: We are not bound to a life of worry
Jesus believes in our ability and willingness to redirect worry. Early on in his public ministry, he gathers a few of his first disciples together on a mountain. During an extended teaching session, he incorporates a lesson on worry. Jesus says to his new friends who had just given up everything to follow him, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”
Worry is apparently timeless; it has been a long-standing reality for people for a long time. Some of the specific content of our worries has changed over time, but humans have spent unnecessarily large amounts of their days fixating to the point of emotional exhaustion for ages.
In our modern world, we live in the midst of a culture and landscape that actually thrives on our worry, discomfort and inability to live with uncertainty. That’s a lot of what worry is about. It’s about what our mind does to resist the unknown.
Worry is a way we try to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty, however, can’t be avoided. It’s a natural and inevitable part life. There will always be things we don’t know and can’t predict.
But, when we’re uncomfortable with uncertainty, our brains start to worry. Worry mimics control. It’s a way to satiate that desire to prepare for what’s next even though worry doesn’t relieve uncertainty in any way, shape or form. It does, however, temporarily make us feel like we have some control.
We’re in this together
And what sorts of things do we do when we’re worried? We spend money. We watch TV. We internalize and blame ourselves for everything. We eat and drink to excess. We compare our lives to other people’s lives. We turn inward. We get sucked into a social media vortex. We obsess over the news. We judge. We do all the things that people do when they are uncomfortable with uncertainty.
This is not something to feel ashamed about; it’s all of us. We’re in this together. Worry was real for those first disciples that Jesus called, and worry and its implications are real for us, too.
It’s not just an individual matter. We can also think about this topic collectively. Over the last few millennia, what do groups of people do when they’re worried and anxious? What do churches do when they’re worried? What do countries do? We fight. We find an enemy. We blame. We take advantage. We become irrationally nostalgic. We turn inward. We disregard the planet.
Strangely, as uncomfortable as worry and our responses feel, the system we’re living in doesn’t weaken with our worry. It grows. We feed the beasts of consumerism and individualism. The cycle continues. Worry sits at the center of it all.
When Jesus invites his followers to let go of worry, he’s doing more than offering an inspirational quote. It’s more than content for a Facebook post or an embroidered wall hanging. When Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus is empowering us to disrupt an entire economic and social system that feeds on our collective anxiety. Releasing worry isn’t just some feel-good concept. It’s revolutionary.
The reality that Jesus mentions worry to his disciples so early on is a strong signal that he recognizes just how toxic worry is to the proclamation of the gospel and the ushering in of the coming of God’s kingdom as a place where justice, peace and love prevail.
Antidote to worry
So if we’re not supposed to anxiously think about the uncertainties and discomforts of this earthly life, what are we supposed to do? What’s an alternative? Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Strive as it’s used in this instance means to seek, to crave, and to look out for.
The antidote for worry? Being on the lookout for God’s kingdom and watching for it constantly. And what’s God’s kingdom? It’s love, compassion, justice, equity, forgiveness and peacemaking. When we spend our lives watching for the kingdom and working for it and experiencing it, Jesus says we won’t need to worry.
The kingdom of God also comes into our lives every time we sit with uncertainty and acknowledge it. Uncertainty is a real thing for all of us. It’s real for our families and churches and communities. We don’t have to try to avoid uncertainty. We can, instead, learn to look at it and sit with. When followers of Jesus learn to do this, imagine what’s possible! It opens up so much space in our hearts and minds.
Thanks be to God that we are not bound to a life of worry.