We worry too much. We grow anxious over so many things: our personal needs, our children, our health, our future. Even the pettiest concerns can preoccupy our thoughts for hours, like, What will I wear to this event? What should I eat for supper? What will we do this weekend? The Lord is well aware of our tendency to worry, and the basic message of today’s readings is, Stop it! Stop worrying!
How can we stop worrying? We may be able to relax about certain insignificant matters. We know that some things do not really matter anyway. But some things are very important to us, like our need for security, and the welfare of our loved ones. How can we simply stop worrying? The Lord Jesus is not telling us to be irrational or to ignore important matters. He is not handing us a bumper sticker with a smiley emoticon and an empty slogan, Don’t Worry – Be Happy. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out that true freedom from worry is based on a very solid foundation: faith in the goodness of our Father in heaven. Unbelievers may have a justification for worrying; they do not yet know that Someone is caring for them. But we should know better! The more we worry, the more we show that our faith is weak.
Our faith grows stronger as we ponder the word of God. Today’s beautiful first reading invites us to reflect on the love of a mother for her child. On a natural level, this is the strongest emotional bond that we know. Can a mother forget her own baby? Unthinkable! Sadly, we have to acknowledge that human mothers sometimes do forget. Sometimes they neglect their children or reject the very idea that they are mothers. However, Isaiah is not focused on such human limitations. His message is: think of the greatest love you can possibly imagine, and then realize that God’s love for you is greater than that. We have no reason to give in to worry, because God tells us: Even if a mother should forget her own baby, I will never forget you!
In his Sermon, Jesus uses a different approach to make the same point. In trying to free us from the trap of serving the god of money, he points to the simple evidence of birds and wild flowers. They do not worry about anything, yet they are well fed and well clothed. This should be enough to show us that we have no reason to worry, for we are much more important to our Father than they are! If he provides for them, will he not provide much more for us? Of course he will!
To learn this lesson from the book of nature, however, we need to read it with eyes of faith. Nowadays we can learn all the facts about plants and animals better than ever before. We can see their wonders explored on television every day. But if we see them merely as the fruit of impersonal evolutionary processes, we can miss the whole lesson. Unbelievers look at the beauty of nature, yet they do not conclude that God has a personal interest in the birds and the flowers. The birds in the sky take care of themselves, or else they die. Therefore, the unbelievers say, there is no God taking care of us either; we have to take care of everything ourselves. No wonder there is so much worry in our times. In spite of our great advances in knowledge, we have not yet learned to trust the Lord who created it all. People from earlier times and simpler cultures were actually much wiser than we are, and they worried less than we do.
In the second reading, Paul speaks about himself in such a way that we can see him as a good example of freedom from worry. He reveals to us how liberating it is to live by faith. He tells the Corinthians that he is not concerned in the least about something that is one of our biggest worries: what other people think of us. How can he be so indifferent to the judgment of others? Does he have no fear of rejection? His secret is that he places himself interiorly before the judgment of God. He does not have to prove himself before anyone else. In his conscience, Paul is free. No one can judge or condemn him; he does not even judge himself. He knows the love of the Father. He knows that Jesus Christ has saved him from the deepest root of worry, fear of death. With the immeasurable security this knowledge gives him, Paul can face any opponent. His confidence is not based on his own innocence or goodness, but on the love of God. Indeed, he knows that “all things work for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28).
These readings challenge us to put all our trust in the providence of God. God is in charge of everything, including all the things we are so concerned about. He sees, he knows, he cares, and he has everything under control, whether we understand what he is doing or not. If we do not trust him, it is an insult to his goodness, and it also locks us in a cage of worry. With childlike abandonment to our Father, who takes care of our smallest needs, let us put into practice Jesus’ teaching today. Let us seek first his kingship over us, his way of holiness, and stop worrying about tomorrow.
What do I tend to worry about the most? What do I gain from worrying? Can I see signs of the providence of God in the beauty and wonders of nature? In the tender love of a mother for her baby? Do I live in confidence that my heavenly Father knows all I need?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.