Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan? Matt 6:27
Are you in a critical situation? That must mean it’s… time to worry and fret! That’s how it seems to work. Although we seldom worry about things that (we think) are totally under our control… we figure that smart, resolute action will suffice to bring about the desired, or at least best possible, results.
The parallel passage in Luke’s gospel reads: And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?
Jesus frames these questions by calling attention to the way that creatures, even little birds, in nature, are amply cared for, assuring us that the God who cares for such birds surely will care for us. And if worry is unproductive in terms of adding minutes to your life (something of great interest, but not extremely substantive), then – arguing from the lesser to the greater – how much more important is it to trust God with all of our life, our life considered in its totality? If it is futile to worry about small matters we cannot control, it is even more futile to worry about the larger matters that lie even farther beyond our control.
What do you “go to” when you are stressed, when you’re uncertain about how to proceed, or uncertain about how you have been proceeding is actually going to play out? It might, as in this text, be “worry” – though it could be any number of other “things.” And why do we “go to” such “security blankets” when we are agitated? Is it because we think they will accomplish something? Perhaps, if we are sufficiently superstitious we might actually think that we can “magically” manipulate outcomes. But mostly, isn’t it just to soothe our minds, by taking our attention away from the undeniable fact that a lot of our lives are – despite our best efforts to the contrary – absolutely out of our control?
Even though we know it “doesn’t accomplish anything,” it seems so natural to worry. The bigger the challenge, the greater the temptation to worry and fret… and the greater the intensity of that worry when we indulge it.
Jesus deconstructs the idea that we must be greatly “concerned” about the “big issues” of life. If we recognize that we can NOT change the tiny thing, then why even BOTHER to try to direct the course of the river of life? Instead, we should recognize that there is a PERSON behind this… not some principle of karma or retribution… Instead of trying to “fix the game” or bend the spokes of the wheel of destiny (or resign ourselves to fate), should we not get to know this Person – to know the character, personality, disposition of the Eternal… and how could we know? Even if it seems a long shot, this is a far more productive endeavor – both spiritually and practically!
Though, in this case, his questions are close to being rhetorical, they still indicate a productive approach to engaging people as they struggle along life’s bumpy by-ways. They challenge us to uncover any “precautions” that we take, “insurance policies” that we take out in order to ameliorate the risks of life.
So what, then, might be a more “productive” approach? If control is outside our grasp, does that mean there is no control – that all is chaos and confusion? Though it seems this way, Jesus directs attention to the world of nature. There does seem to be some sort of principle of “providence” at play. Might not aligning ourselves with something – or some One – who HAS control be better than grasping at control that will always elude us? Do these act as obstacles to trusting fully in God? He takes care of even the smallest, seemingly insignificant or (in the case of Luke’s “ravens”) distasteful, elements of his creation. So of course He cares for YOU. And if you can’t change the smallest aspect of your life – REALLY change it – by fretting, then why be anxious about the big picture?
Being convinced that the “answer” is to “just trust in God,” we can choose to just preach at people – which seldom works in the best of circumstances – or we can ask questions of people to help them identify the things that disturb and comfort them… Then, with God’s help, help them to frame new questions that can give rise to fresh insights into how to gain alignment, even in life’s uncertainties, with something a bit more dependable than crossing our fingers.