Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Matthew 6:25-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[b] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[c] and his[d] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
It goes without saying that a lot of people are feeling a lot of anxiety right now. There are so many reasons to feel anxious—for yourself, your loved ones, for our community, our nation, and our world—and how we are going to get through this time.
It also goes without saying that anxiety is just a part of being human in normal times. So much of life is beyond our control and when the illusions of control are shattered, we become anxious. This is certainly such a time.
In an excellent TED Talk interview that was posted a few weeks into the pandemic, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, when asked if she felt anxiety, said, “I think you would have to be either a sociopath or totally enlightened not to be feeling anxiety at a moment like this.”
She goes on to elaborate on this aspect of our human condition:
There is no species on earth more anxious than humans. It’s a hallmark of our species, because we have the ability/curse to imagine a future. And also, once you’ve lived on earth for a little while, you have the experience to recognize this terrifying piece of information, which is that literally anything can happen at literally any moment to literally any person. And because we have these vast, rich, colorful imaginations, we can see all sorts of terrifying movies in our heads about all of the possibilities and all of the scariest things that could occur. And actually, one of the scariest things that could occur is occurring. It’s something that people have imagined in fiction and imagined in science, and it’s actually happening right now, so that’s quite terrifying. The paradox is that, in that level, we’re very bad, emotionally, at fear and anxiety, because we stir ourselves up to a very heated degree because of our imaginations about how horrible it can get, and it get can get very horrible, but we can imagine it even worse. [TED Talk Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, April 5, 2020]
Her description of our human experience rings true to me. Doesn’t it ring true for you? I can’t help but think of the advice my late brother told me: don’t make movies. He told me that we tend to make movies about the future and too often those movies are horror films. So…don’t make movies.
Good advice. But, what if your movie-making rises to the level of an award-winning filmmaker? What do you do about that?
So, we turn to scripture what does Jesus have to say about anxiety? “Don’t worry about your life.” (Matthew 6:25) Is that possible? It seems like he might as well say, “Don’t be human.” After all, psychologists tell us that anxiety is central to human existence. In fact, anxiety can lead us to growing where we need to grow, to changing where we need to change, and ultimately to greater maturity.
So, what does Jesus mean? When we look at the Greek word translated “worry” here in the text, it connotes something more than just day-to-day worries. The Greek word used here, merimnáō, means “to worry” or “to be anxious.” It is used five times in this passage alone, all in a negative manner. The root of the word is another Greek verb, merízō, which means “to divide; to separate into parts; to cut into pieces; to divide into parties, i.e. be split into factions.” The anxiety Jesus is talking about is the kind of anxiety that cuts us to pieces, that is destructive of the trust and hope we have in our dependable, gracious God.
You could say that what Jesus is talking about is toxic worry.
Jesus asks a rhetorical question: “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?” That question is as timely today as when Jesus posed it 2,000 years ago. Does worrying do us any good? Someone has said, “Worry is like a rocking chair–it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Another old saying reminds us that “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
Does worrying do us any good? It would be good to know that, because we are like Mark Twain, who said near the end of his life, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Most of us have spent huge amounts of time and energy worrying about all sorts of things that might happen and 90% of them never happened.
In all that worrying, have we, as Jesus asked, added even a single moment to our lives? No. In fact, some studies suggest that worrying shortens our lives.
So, how do we live? How do we let go of worry?
- Love yourself. Be compassionate to yourself. Give yourself some mercy and compassion.
- Recognize that God has given us what we need. Not only are our imaginations wired for anxiety, we’re also capable of imagining something new, of being adaptable in the face of change, and of getting through very difficult times. Just as God has gifted the birds of the air and the lilies of the field in particular ways, so God has gifted humanity in particular ways.
- Be Present. Live in the present moment. Live one day at a time the only day we can live: Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” You and I aren’t God. We don’t know the future. We may be worrying about something that will never happen. We may be worrying about something that will resolve itself. We need to focus on today.
- The psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Hallowell, writing about worry a few years ago for Psychology Today magazine, offered several suggestions for dealing with excessive worry, but finally he said this: “Talk to God when you feel worried…. Brain scans and EEG monitors show beneficial changes in the brain during meditation and prayer. The changes correlate with most of our measures of improved health, including longevity and reduced incidence of illness.” Hallowell calls himself a “practicing Christian” and said that he often advised patients to develop a spiritual life because spirituality is a “very powerful part of the mind.” He concluded, “In my case, a relationship with God is another source of connection. And ultimately, it makes sense of my life in ways that nothing else can.” [Hallowell, Edward H. “Fighting life’s ‘What ifs.’” Psychology Today, November-December 1997 and “Weaving a web of life: A talk with Edward Hallowell, M.D.” Psychology Today, November-December 1997]
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:6-7] We’ll be talking about prayer in a couple of weeks.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster