By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
February 27, 2011
Read: Isaiah 49:8-16a & Matthew 6:24-34
Someone once wrote a simple three word poem about how long anxieties have plagued the human race. And he wrote: “Adam had ’em.”
The author was rightly suggesting that worry has been present in the world since the beginning of human life. And far from abating, the reasons for worry seem to multiply.
We do not all worry about the same things, nor to the same extent, but at one time or another all of us wrestle with the demon of worry. It starts when we are very young. Irma Bombeck wrote about the anxieties experienced by a child entering school for the first time.
My name is Donald and I don’t know anything. I have new underwear, a new sweater, a loose tooth and I didn’t sleep last night; I am worried.
What if the school bus jerks after I get on and I lose my balance and my pants rip and everyone laughs? What if a bell rings and everyone goes in a door and a man yells, ‘Where do you belong?’ and I don’t know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are too tall for me to reach? What if the thermos lid on my soup is too tight and when I try to open it, it breaks? What if my loose tooth wants to come out when we’re supposed to have our head down and be quiet? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one will know who I am? What if they send us out to play and all the swings are taken? What if I spend the whole day without a friend? What if the windows in the bus steam up and I won’t be able to tell when I get to my stop?” It goes on like this, but you get the point. Even a six year old has anxieties when sent off to a new adventure with parents saying “You have nothing to worry about.”
And the sad part is that as we get older the worries mount. We worry about finances. We worry about our children and our absent loved ones. We worry about our health, about our job, about the future, about old age, about death. We worry about the opinions others have of us and about the decisions we made last year. Some of these should be subjects of our legitimate concern, and we may be led to take constructive action.
However, there are times when our legitimate and correct concerns get out of hand and we are filled with anxious care which robs us of sleep, appetite, enjoyment of life, social relationships, and peace of mind. For some, worry can be so severe that they will need psychotherapy to discover its source and to promote healing. For many of us, our worries may not be that disabling, but they certainly may rob us of the fullness of life.
To people caught up in the real insecurities of daily life, Jesus says “Do not worry….” It’s a nice thought, but can we live up to it? In the light of our frailty and sense of vulnerability, I don’t know if we can overcome worry altogether, at least not all at once, but perhaps we can bring our worries down to a size where we can cope with them.
One way we can reduce anxiety is by learning to live one day at a time. That means we have to stop living in the past. There is a great temptation for us to use up our powers reliving the past and regretting old mistakes, shortcomings, and decisions. Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Too often we burden ourselves with yesterday’s decisions. “If only I had made a different decision my life would be better now,” “If I had married some other person, or followed a different line of work, or settled in some other city….” In fact, we don’t know anything about the road not taken. In our imagination we think of that other road as being smoother and straighter and leading to our heart’s desire, but we can’t be sure. There could have been great heartbreak down that other road that we didn’t take. I know of a man who dwells in the past. Most of his life he has been looking backward and saying that if he had done this or that differently his life would be far better now, but because he concentrates on the past he never takes responsibility for doing anything about the present.
As we learn to live one day at a time, we also need to stop focusing on the future. “Don’t worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will bring worries of its own,” said Jesus. That doesn’t mean, “Don’t look ahead and plan for contingencies.” Jesus is not saying, “don’t plan.” Jesus is warning about the destructive habit of anticipating troubles and tragedies, most of which never take place anyway. One woman, who realized that her fears were ruining her life, made herself a “worry table”. In tabulating her worries, she discovered these figures: 40% will never happen, they are the result of a tired mind; 30% were about old decisions which she could not alter; 12% were related to other people’s criticisms of her, most of which were untrue; 10% were about her health, which only got worse as she worried; and 8% were legitimate, because life does have some real problems to meet.
I heard about one man who seemed to have succeeded in narrowing the scope of his worries. “I only worry about two things,” he bragged, “whether I’m sick or well. If I’m well I’ve got nothing to worry about. And if I’m sick I’ve only got two things to worry about – whether I get better, or whether I die. If I die, I’ve only got two things to worry about – whether I go to heaven or whether I go to hell. If I go to heaven, I’ve got nothing to worry about. And if I go to hell, I’ll be so busy greeting my friends I won’t have time to worry! so why worry?” I don’t know if we can narrow the scope of our worries that drastically, but we certainly do trouble ourselves about a lot of things that never happen.
What we need to do then, is to focus more of our attention on the present. The scriptures reminds us: “As your days (are), so is your strength.” (Deuteronomy 33:25) The promise is not for sustenance weeks or months or years in advance, but day by day. And Jesus reminds us that when we pray, it is to be for present need: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Mathew 6:11) Victory in anything depends upon a series of victories which we must win one by one.
A book is read one page at a time. An education is gotten one lesson at a time. A golf match is won one hole at a time. What our Lord seems to be saying is, “ If you want to succeed in life, do not try to live your whole life all at once. Live one day at a time, and live it well. Put all you have into each day’s opportunities and duties; past and the future are not under your control.”
You may have heard this before: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift from God. That’s why they call it the present.” And hear the words from Isaiah this morning: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” God loves us completely and is so intimately connected to us that we are on the palm of God’s hands. Amen.
(This sermon based on one by Dr. David Rogne)
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