Worry is very much in the air these days. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on anti-anxiety drugs and tranquilizers each year. Our time has even been called the Age of Anxiety.
But why is that so? We are not in exile, like refugees from war in Syria and violence in Somalia. We don’t live in a harsh dictatorship, like North Korea. We aren’t starving or homeless. We have political freedom, and enough to eat, and clothes to wear. What do we have to worry about?
Well, how many times this past month have we worried about the drought? When rain is forecast, we worry about mudslides. Ninety-eight percent of the reporting on TV amounts to worry about some issue large or small. Then there is the existential threat of climate change. So, when you think about it, there are legitimate reasons for us to worry.
If you look back some 2,000 years to the time of Jesus, you’ll notice that there was a lot to worry then as well. The Jews of that time lived in an occupied country and had no political power. They had to toil long hours to provide food, clothes and homes for themselves and their families, while also paying tribute to the Romans. They came to Jesus with all those worries.
Jesus’ response to them was to say: “I tell you not to worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing.” He goes on to tell them to look at the birds in the sky and the flowers in the field, and they will see that God takes care of all these. He observes that God values humans even more than those other creatures. So it follows that God will do so much more for them. Then Jesus said: “Stop worrying, because God knows everything you need,” and “seek first the reign of God and God’s justice, and all these things will be given to you besides.”
Fast forward 2,000 years back to our time and consider whether those words can apply to us and our worries. But how do we just stop worrying when we’re all caught up in cares and concerns? And, if the answer really is seek the reign of God, how do we do that?
We have a clue from Jesus who said: “No one can serve two masters …. You will either hate one and love the other, or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
I used to believe that mammon was the devil — an evil force out in the world that tempted us to sin. God was the good force out in the world that wanted us to be good.
I’ve come to discard that way of thinking. Here’s what I’ve come to believe. What if both God and mammon are forces that are within me? You could call those two forces: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Me. There are a lot of times when I have a hard time getting in touch with the Kingdom of God because I’m so wrapped up in the cares and concerns of the Kingdom of Me. For example:
» I worry about my list of tasks to be accomplished today.
» I worry about troublesome relationships.
» I worry about drought and climate change and nuclear weapons.
» The list goes on and on.
It’s exhausting, and what’s really the problem is that all those worries make it impossible to spend much time living in the Kingdom of God.
Could it be that the first step in changing this situation would be to notice just how much time I spend in the Kingdom of Me? Could it be that, if I consciously took a break from my worries every single day by meditating or praying or being in nature, those worries might loosen their grip on my time and energy?
Could it be that taking just 20 minutes to sit in silence each day would ease me into giving myself over to God’s will more — and my will less? Could it be?
And if I began to live — day by day — more consciously, might I learn to place my worries and cares in God’s care? Could it be that eventually everything that passes through my mind and heart and nervous system will also pass through God’s divine presence — consciously and purposefully? Could it be that is how we seek the Kingdom of God — one thought, one feeling, one worry, one decision at a time? Could it be that God will then say to us, “Don’t worry. I know everything you need”?
— Mary Becker is a member and homilist at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are those of the author.