Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? – Matthew 6:25
It is scary to live into this very simple teaching of Jesus’. I am afraid that trusting in God to take care of me is unbelievably naïve. One day, I worry, I will wake up and all my good luck will have evaporated. How do I dare to believe I am looked after? How do I presume to suggest to others that they follow this same path? It is crazy! Isn’t it? Would God really act to keep us fed and clothed?
Our cultural understanding speaks so clearly against this idea. We are taught that making a decent salary, getting good medical coverage and saving for retirement are basic, fundamental priorities. And we really stand by the notion that these endeavors depend entirely upon our own planning, our initiative. But on the other hand, the need for a decent income often runs counter to our deep longing for meaningful work. So many times over the years I have heard clients and friends lament that they cannot do what they most love because “nobody can make a living doing that” or because “it would mean having to sell the house” or because “I would be letting my family down.” For my own part, it has taken me years to let go and risk being a writer and an artist. I have been so afraid that if I did that I would wind up a bag lady.
It’s so ironic. The U.S. is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, a real “land of the free.” By global standards every one of us with the exception of the very poor lives like royalty. We have indoor toilets, cars, homes, heated running water, furnaces to keep us warm, ranges on which to cook, electricity. And yet we can become so chained to lives that do not nourish our hearts because we are afraid to lose our little kingdoms. This is true even though we know, absolutely, that it is our way of living that is heating up the atmosphere, causing the ice caps to melt and accounting for the extinction of thousands of species.
At one level, we are right to be afraid. If we trust in God to take care of us, we will not bypass life’s unpleasantness. No, we will find ourselves right in the midst of it. There is a psychological death that goes hand in hand with Jesus’ invitation not to worry. In order to really do as he asks, we have to let go of the outcome and trust in God to take care of us in the ways God has in mind. We cannot keep ourselves safe.
Jesus’ early followers undoubtedly missed more than a few meals, got rained on and got sick. They couldn’t keep themselves out of jail, or from being shipwrecked, or from getting beat up. There were probably days when they looked with green envy at those with homes and steady “day jobs”. Their retirements were usually pretty awful, and they all, without exception, died. Nevertheless, they lived rich lives of deep gladness. They lived in right relationship with God.
Living like queens and kings is not what brings us humans joy. Nor, when it comes right down to it, does it keep us safe or alive – all illusions to the contrary. Instead it binds us tighter and tighter into fretting and fear. Letting life deal its blows while going where we are pointed by the compass of our holy yearnings, that’s more the ticket. Doing that we can find the spring of happiness inside that bubbles with living water. We really can trust in God. God will take care of us. God will take care of all our needs.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.