Sunday, February 27, 2011

What, Me Worry?

The VIII Sunday after the Epiphany 

We have a lot more things to worry about than the people in Jesus’ day did.  Food, clothing, and lions, as one of my parishioners said.  At times in my life I have been ranked among the world’s great worriers; especially at three o’clock in the morning, when I wake from a sound sleep to tackle the troubles of the day.   I have been known to think and worry and analyze things until the alarm goes off.  Many times some elegant solution comes to me in my state of sleep-drunken analysis that seems so perfect—I get enamored with it and continue to lay awake thinking about the solution, which is probably some other kind of “insomniac-sin.” 

Recently I have discovered that if I wake up in one of these worry modes I can fight it off by occupying my mind with something more pleasurable.  I chose golf.  I play a round of golf in my head, tee-ing up a shot on my favorite course, taking a few practice swings, imagining the shot I want to make, and then in my mind hitting that perfect shot.  Sometimes I will play two or three holes before finally dosing off into dreamland.

Dream-golf may be fun, but the solution to this habit of late-night-worrying that we all fall into is to get at the source of our worries and put them to rest.  Most of us worry about finances, or relationships, or our families.  Sometimes we get specific and worry about certain people, our health, or things that are about to happen like visits to the doctor or banker.  No matter what we worry about we know we cannot affect the outcome one iota by worrying about it.

I remember the story of a businessman who had a payment due on his bank note the next day.  He did not have the money so he worried and fretted over it. At night he would lay awake pondering what he would do.  Finally his wife picked up the phone and called the banker.  She told him her husband didn’t have the money to make the note payment.  The husband was outranged!

“Why did you do that?” he shouted.
“Well, you keep worrying and worrying about it and you couldn’t sleep—so now it’s his problem and you can go to sleep,” she said.

The kernel of a solution to our worrying lies in this little story—if we continue to worry nothing will change.  We need to do something differently.  We need to give our problems away.  We need to let someone else handle them.

The thing that makes our worrying so destructive is how it isolates us.  As we worry we fall into a deeper sense of aloneness and isolation.  We feel like no one can possibly understand our problems—no one can appreciate our sense of abandonment.  We face our troubles alone and we suffer the negative judgment of our family, our friends, and our community; in our minds even the nation and world view us as failures, unable to cope.  We feel that if we cannot glean a solution out of the air of our worry, no one can help us.  No one can understand.

It becomes even more complex—a deeper problem than this.  Worrying leads to new and troubling emotions.  As we explore the depths of our troubles and worry about the choices we have to make to address our problems, we are led into the sin of judgment.  We compare our plight to those of others and judge them for their luck or good fortune.  We compare how a decision here or an opportunity there would have changed everything for us—made us more successful, accepted, and spared us from our worries.  As we judge others we fence off, separate, and isolate ourselves.  Judging brings division and aloneness.  A steady diet of worry, judgment, separation, isolation, and aloneness brings depression and the paralysis of self-pity.

What is this power that worry holds over us?  Why are we so easily drawn into a cycle of worry?  More importantly, how can we extract ourselves from worry’s grip? 

This is not easy to do, but Jesus admonishes us to not worry.

We are drawn into a state of worry and fearfulness by many things; personal troubles and threats to our family—even our political leaders can draw us into feelings of fear and worry.  (This is a long-used strategy to garner support for their policies—making us fearful of the future or of the policies of their adversary.)

The bottom line however is always the same.  Worry starts by a feeling of scarcity.  Our attitudes change—we hoard, we protect, and we worry.

William Blaine-Wallace said, “We have squandered Jewish wisdom about death.  Our culture’s disposition towards death as that, which ends and empties life, permeates the institutions that shape our lives. Our body politic is one of scarcity, irrespective of the immense abundance we enjoy.  The aim and attitude of government, corporations, religious bodies, and families reflect a fear of death by striving to persevere and prosper against the uncertainties and diminishments of life.  The greater our abundance the more heightened is our sensitivity to scarcity.  Logic suggests that those who have the most might hoard the least; those who have the least might hoard the most.  The logic is lost on us. [1]

We may not see it but we live in a world of abundance.  To appreciate what God has given us we need to look around and see how God is working in the world and in our lives.  When we face our troubles alone we have dialed God out of the equation—we prevent his work from having a life-changing impact on our lives.

We live in a world of abundance.  We need not worry about possessions, property, or comfort.  Strive for God’s Kingdom and all the things we need will be given to us.  Concentrate on God’s Kingdom—how we treat others—love of our neighbor—the love of God—trust in the only one in whom we truly can trust.

When we replace the love of our treasure on earth with love for God we begin to change our habits concerning worry.  As our need for “something” diminishes, our need to worry about “something” also fades. 

It helps if we no longer place ourselves at the center of our existence.  We suffer from “center-of-the-universe syndrome.”  But that can change.  If we stop thinking about our needs and desires first, we can begin to heal our propensity to worry and we can fill that empty space with God.

This change begins when we answer the request which Jesus makes of us to show God our treasure.
How do we go about doing that?  Do we open up our safe-deposit box at the bank and pull out our stock certificates?  Do we dig up the chest full of jewels which is buried in the back yard?  Do we drive our car past God’s house, wave and honk the horn?  Do we open up our check register and let God browse around?

“For where your treasure is . . . there also is your heart.”

I think we worry because we know God sees our treasure.  He sees what we have worked so hard for and worried so incessantly for and He laughs.  He laughs until He cries.

A rich man was about to die and he was visited by an angel.

 “You are about to die,” the angel said. “I’ve come to walk with you.”

 “I know,” the man replied.  “Before I die, I need to know if I can bring something with me to Heaven.”

 “Not allowed!” the angel said.  “You know the rules.”

 “But this is very important.  You know I have never asked for anything like this before,” the man begged.

“You are right,” the angel agreed.  “You have lived a good life.  You have helped others with your wealth but you need to learn one last lesson.  I will let you bring one suitcase into heaven.”

 A few days later, the rich man died.  He arrived at the Gates of Heaven dragging a very heavy and large suitcase.

“Whoa! You cannot bring that in here,” said St. Peter.

 “But I was told I could bring one suitcase,” the man replied.

 “That was you?” said St. Peter.  “Okay, but you have to go through security first.”

 The rich man put the suitcase on a table to be examined by the angel.  Suddenly, there was laughter from all the angels who saw the case’s contents.

“What is this?” they asked in mock wonderment.

 “It’s my gold,” the rich man replied. 

 “I know its gold,” said St. Peter.  “What we want to know is why you brought PAVEMENT with you!”

We are God’s Children and we are living in the midst of the Kingdom which Jesus has won for us.  In this new world—and new economy—things have a different value than they did in the old world.  God waits for us to adjust our accounting principles for this new age.  Our bank accounts do not have the same value in this world.  We need to learn what has true value—love.

Love is the commodity for which all other commodities will be exchanged.  Love is the new gold standard.  Love is the Euro and the dollar and all other currencies combined—and then some.

But we have trouble trusting God in these matters.  We cannot trust because we do not fully understand God’s Kingdom—we tend to over or under estimate the significance of the facts of God’s Kingdom.  We make it harder than it needs to be.

We cannot trust because we cannot let go of the things which we believe have value to us—our treasure which moth and rust consume.

We cannot trust because we do not understand how to put a deposit into God’s accounting system.  We do not know how to store up treasure in Heaven.  We cling to what we know. 

But Israel said, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me."  The Lord answered; “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these women  may forget, yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you as well.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

[1] Blaine-Wallace, William.  Water In the Wastelands.  Cambridge, MA: Cowley. 1989.