There are days when things go so well that I kind of look around and say, “Okay, what’s going to happen now?” I don’t know, maybe everybody has days like that, but I know my really great days don’t happen all that often and more and more of my days seem to be the kind that has at least one disaster, sometimes very small, sometimes very large, for me to get beyond. I had several this week, and it’s enough to make me a little bit itchy.
I had one day where if I could drop something, lose something, break, tear, or forget to do something necessary, it happened. It may not be a huge thing to lose a bit for my electric screwdriver, that is unless I want to use that particular bit to tighten up screws on a piece of furniture that I sit on somewhat regularly. It’s a little more aggravating to try and lift a bag of used cat litter from the back of my truck and stuff it into a neck-high dumpster while holding up the lid with my other hand, only to have the kitty litter bag break halfway between the two. That was enough by itself to make me wonder what else could happen, and create a little bit of worry about what that could be.
Jesus definitely spoke about worry in the passage from Matthew for today. He compared people worrying about receiving daily necessities and more to the birds of the air and flowers of the fields, which have an entirely different perspective. It’s enough to take care of this minute, rather than trying to anticipate what’s going to happen after this. It’s a way of saying take today as it is and go with it. Don’t worry about tomorrow before the next sunrise.
I wonder if flowers worry when they start to droop for lack of water. Probably not, since we don’t consider them sentient beings any more than we believe rocks to have self-knowledge and be capable of feeling pain. As for trees, we may have some feeling of them having a kind of self-knowledge that we can’t understand, but do they worry, do they scream in pain when an ax or chainsaw cuts into their bark and limbs? I hope not, but you know, I’m not sure, and I’m not certain that that is something I should worry about, as much as I love trees. The same goes for the ocean or any body of water, sacred spaces, or maybe a house in which I have happy memories.
Just reading the news even very briefly is enough to give a body cause for worry, at least in my case, it does. I can only take so much news unless it’s about the royal family, a hero, either human or animal or some other kind of uplifting story — those things I can handle. I can’t worry about whether we’re going to get bombed by somebody, or we’re going to attack somebody, not to mention tear families apart with no plan as to how to reunite them. I feel helpless because it seems there’s nothing I can do to prevent it. I can vote and encourage others to do the same, but ultimately I have only one vote that can be counted, so I guess I would just have to leave that part of life to God and go on with the rest of my existence.
Jesus said in Matthew, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today (6:34) .” I wish I could say it’s an easy thing to do, but when the checking account doesn’t cover next week’s groceries, or the heating element in the oven burns up, or some other situation arises where I have little or no control, it’s hard not to worry. If I stay in that moment, I will still end up worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow? Well, what can I do about it now? What possible thing could I do to change tomorrow when I don’t know what’s coming?
The 12-step programs have a common prayer, part of which members recite at every group meeting that covers pretty much what Jesus was telling us to do in that verse in Matthew:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr
That prayer has been my mantra for many years. It’s the one I say just before I go to sleep, and it comes to mind in times of stress, because of having repeated it so often, I have learned to let it take my worries and rid me of them at least for the moment. If I can’t change something, it reminds me that the serenity and calmness are what I need rather than struggling against inevitability. I’ve learned patience from that prayer. I’ve learned not just to accept things I can’t change but also the guidance to find a way to change what I can, namely myself. The third thing is the wisdom to know the difference, to stop trying to climb mountains that are only small hills or purposefully listening to a friend rather than trying to solve their difficulties through my suggestions of how it should be done.
Today I will work to not worry about things that Jesus and Reinhold Niebuhr warned me about. I will also use the verse from Matthew and the serenity prayer together to stop being fearful of the future and concentrate on living in the present. It sounds like a pretty good plan to me, and it does work. I know that from experience.
Image: Evening Melancholy (1891). Artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), from the Munch Museum collection. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.