Reflection: What Gets in the Way ~ Worry August 19, 2018
Matthew 6:19-34; Psalm 51:6-9
As I was saying last week, I spend quite a bit of time on Facebook. This week I decided to do a rough poll among my Facebook friends on the subject of money worries. I had some guesses as to what they’d say, and those guesses were confirmed.
• Both younger and older people were worried about their retirement: young people were especially worried if they had jobs that didn’t include a pension, and whether their money would run out before their lives did! Even some of us who have pensions worry about that. One fellow even said he hopes assisted suicide is an option if he runs out of money for proper care!
• One was worried about making the wrong choices when it came to a choice between enjoying life now and have a more secure future.
• A couple of friends living in countries that don’t have universal health care are very worried that they may face bankruptcy due to illness, and many people my age said they will have to work until they die because they have no pension.
• One teenager is worried about tuition and rent costs. Parents are worried about the same things for their children.
• Several worry about having to make tough choices between rent or groceries or utilities or savings.
• One person who lives off disability is worried because in her country there is no guarantee that payments will continue until she dies.
• Older folk who are near or in retirement worried about outliving their savings, about being a financial burden to their children, or about being able to help their children and grandchildren if need arose.
• Some who are nearing retirement are concerned about paying down all debt before they retire.
• And if they lived in cities, which most of them do, they were worried about the cost of living and whether they could meet their expenses week by week.
• Only one person, predictably a minister, expressed concern that they could not give as much as they wanted to the church and to other charitable organizations.
• One said she is trusting the universe and her children, and another says she worries more about living her values, and living with gusto, than about money.
It seems like there’s a lot to worry about, though, isn’t there? It doesn’t help when financial planners will tell you that you need a million dollars in savings to retire comfortably. Maybe some of you might have a house that’s worth that in this crazy market, but I’m not sure how many people my age are looking at that kind of retirement! I don’t know if it’s just that I wasn’t paying attention earlier, but since the 90s I’ve noticed an increasing obsession with financial planning and investments. I don’t remember hourly market reports when I was younger, and now there are radio stations that broadcast them every 10 minutes!
All of this provides quite a contrast to this collection of teachings from Matthew’s Gospel. “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth”; “do not worry about your life”: “let the day’s troubles be sufficient for the day”. One wonders if the people who heard Jesus’ words when they were first spoken met them with as much, “Yes, but Jesus…!” as we do today? Many of them would have been living a subsistence level life-style, while a few might have been wealthier. I’m sure wondering what they should eat or drink or wear was a very real issue for them, never mind education or retirement or any of our First World money problems. Yet this is the man who told well-off people to sell their possessions and give them away, if they got in the way of following him!
These are tough passages we’re looking at the next few weeks – really challenging for us 21st century North American Christians, and for many others around the world. But what suddenly struck me this week is that I’ve always heard these words as words of judgment – commanding one behaviour because the other behaviour is wrong. for, after all, you cannot serve both money and God. In other words, the way I’ve always heard this is, “Worrying about money is bad; you’re too attached and your priorities are all wrong and you’re just a bad person for even thinking about this stuff.” But maybe instead these are words of reassurance?! Maybe this is a “don’t worry” that comes from a place of compassion – an understanding of how deeply this stuff can trouble us, how it can keep us awake at night and eat away at us and keep us from enjoying the life we have. Worry about money can rob us of so much joy!
So when the Lectionary pairs a psalm of confession and a plea for God’s mercy with this passage about worrying, perhaps we are being invited to enter into the gracious concern of God for the way money has a hold of us – not because it’s an unnatural hold but because it’s entirely natural for us to worry about our present and our futures, and God wants to offer us some relief from it all! God wants us to be free of the stranglehold of guilt and worry our money can have on us and instead invites us to hold it all much more lightly. One day’s troubles is enough – why borrow more?
We cannot be grass or lilies or birds – we are conscious beings who are aware of our lives and the lives of those around us, and we have much longer lives to sustain than the fleeting ones of these beautiful pieces of the natural world. But contemplating these short-lived beauties can take us out of the worry, for a time; it can help us stop, and breathe, and notice, and rediscover the joy in life that is God’s gift to us. Rediscovering that joy is a powerful antitode to worry. It takes worry out of the way, at least for a while, and replaces it with gratitude and wonder.
This week, I invite you to consider the lilies – or the blackberries, or the crows, or the geese, or the dandelions~ and consider how they grow. Don’t just look at them in passing: CONTEMPLATE them! Sit or stand or lie down upon the grass, and breathe deeply. Pay attention to their shape, their sweetness, their cleverness, their endurance, and how they adapt and thrive in their unique situations with their unique gifts. Watch the light as it fades in the evening and the stars come out, or the sun in the morning as it paints the sky with colour. Look up at the sky through a lattice work or trees and leaves, or let your eyes wander out over the horizon of the ocean. Gaze at the face of the newest baby in your family, or of your oldest friend, if only in a photograph. What can you learn from them about life and God, your present and your future? Contemplate, and find again the joy that frees us from worry.
This is the invitation I hear in the Scripture readings today, and it is really good news, for people like you, and people like I. Amen.