Weaning from Worry
Psalm 131 and Matthew 6: 24-34
I work with students so I know about worry. Many folks think that students don’t have much to worry about and there are many ways in which that’s true. Most students don’t yet have mortgages, car payments, or dependants. Most students can make decisions without consulting anyone else – no spouses, no children, no dependant family members to consider as students decide how late to stay out or what to spend money on.
But the students I know –carefree as they may seem to those who don’t know them – are intimately acquainted with worry and stress. They fret over whether they have picked the right major and career path, particularly when parents and other advisors question them. They hear the news about this slow economy and wonder how they will ever find a job and afford a place on their own. They worry about the loans that will come due just a few months after they graduate. I know students who had not yet turned 21 but were worried about all the things they needed to get done by the time they turned 30 or else it will be “too late.”
And, of course, students worry about all the things the rest of us worry about. Did I feed the dog this morning? Is the mail still in the mailbox from yesterday? What in the world will I make for dinner tonight? Will I ever be able to lose that weight?… Am I lovable? Is there someone our there for me to love? Am I on the right track? How do I fit in and contribute to my family and community? What do I have to offer? How do I cope when the people I love are sick and dying? If God is calling me, why is it so hard to hear the voice?
As it turns out, we are all experts at worry. We worry about what we can change and what will never change. We worry about what will happen by the time we’re 30 or when we finally retire. We love to borrow worry from the future. I knew a youngest child once who as a grade school kid suddenly realized her parents were quite a bit older than the other parents. So she started calculating. When I’m 20, they’ll be…And before her worrisome mind finally stopped, she had calculated herself all the way into adulthood when, she predicted, she’d be the only one left alive in her family. And then she started worrying about that!
We are experts at worry. Have you ever been in the midst of an absolutely wonderful moment – Christmas, Thanksgiving, just an ordinary but splendid evening with friends – and suddenly you let your mind wander, and find yourself thinking, sadly, about all the moments that aren’t as good as that one? Or you jump ahead to tomorrow and how sad it will be to go back to work or school and you wish – while it is still happening right there all around you – that it could last forever? We have some serious addiction to worry.
Apparently Jesus noticed this tendency we humans have to worry, and especially to worry over what may come to pass. Don’t worry about your life, about what you’ll eat or drink or wear. Look at the birds. They don’t sow or reap and yet them find everything they need right out there in the open. Don’t you think God loves you as much as those birds? And look at the lilies of the field, growing with abandon and absolutely glorious. They don’t toil or spin but they are clothed as beautifully as Solomon. Don’t you think that if God takes that much care with grasses in the field, God will also make sure that you are clothed? Make your focus God. Strive for the kingdom of God instead and you’ll have what you need. Don’t worry about tomorrow – there will be plenty to worry about then, too. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6: 25-34).
Just a few verses back Jesus also said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6: 21). I doubt many of us would say we “treasure” our worrying and fretting and hand wringing. But our priorities are communicated loudly by how we love and live and buy and spend. By how we use our money, by what we pray for, by who we spend time with.
Our hearts always follow in the direction of our priorities, what we treasure. You know how it is when you think you can keep the car straight and in the lane, then you take your eyes off the road for just 3 seconds to look out the side window and when you look back the car has veered off in the same direction? That’s what our hearts are like, veering off in the direction of our treasures, our priorities, our deepest commitments. Just like the car going off in the direction of our gaze, our hearts simply and clearly show us what we’ve been “looking at” lately.
Maybe this is why the Psalms are so hopeful and helpful. The Psalms are a prayer guidebook and permission to be fully human. Here’s a challenge: think of a human emotion – good, bad, ugly – and try to find evidence of it in the Psalms. It’s all in there. Greed, praise, vengeance, love, adoration, awe, rivalry, sorrow…Trust me, any book that has a prayer asking God to bash the enemy’s babies against a rock (Ps. 137) and that also has today’s prayer is a book worth spending time with. This is a book of songs and prayers that our people have prayed to God over many thousands of years. And as distasteful as some of the individual prayers might be, it gives us assurance that God is listening. Even when we are at our absolute worst, God receives our prayers.
Today’s prayer is just three verses long. It’s a quiet prayer and it’s ok if you aren’t in that mood today or if you’ve never been that quiet and humble and ready for God. But know that it can be your prayer, too. It can be your prayer, asking for God to help you become as humble and quiet and satisfied as the psalmist who wrote this.
The image is striking: I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me (Ps. 131: 2).
Nursing mothers know what it’s like to feel somewhat enslaved to their babies, unable to leave them for very long, unable to have their bodies to themselves. And though weaning can be a difficult transition, it is a happy occasion for both the mother and the child. The mother has some of her freedom and privacy back. The child is becoming capable of more than merely subsisting.
So what’s it like to calm and quiet our souls, so that they become like weaned children? Weaned children still need their mothers. Weaned children still need food. But weaned children can – at least at times – wait, without crying, while it’s being prepared.
How are our souls like this? What is it like to come into God’s presence with a soul quieted like a weaned child? What is it like to be weaned from worry and anxiety and to just be with ourselves and with God?
It’s interesting that the psalmist says “I have calmed and quieted my soul…” (v. 2). This prayer is not about asking God to help quiet us down; it’s about coming into God’s presence already calm and ready to listen. We don’t know what was unquiet or uncalm before this prayer. We don’t know what the psalmist might have been worried sick about before weaning his or her soul. I wonder if this Psalm is about weaning ourselves from worry and setting our heart again the direction of what we really treasure.
Worry is a robber. And it seems there is one in every neighborhood these days, casing the houses while we are trying to go to work and make it through the day. If you caught even a glimpse of the news in the past few weeks, you have been confronted with political protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. At home Wisconsin is protesting. We are still at war and the so-called recovering economy still feels wobbly to most of us. Today’s troubles are enough for today. Maybe more than enough some days.
There was also an earthquake last week. My husband was emailing with a colleague in New Zealand following the earthquake in Christchurch. The colleague was in one of the buildings that started coming down around him and he had to run out to safety. He wrote to say that he made it and was safe. He said, “We’re all OK and homeless.”
We’re all OK and homeless. I was struck by that description. I would have expected something like, “We’re all OK but it will take a while to get out of the Red Cross shelter.” But there was no qualification. Seemingly no worry. Completely on a par with one another: OK and homeless.
It seems that often we think we know what the answer to our prayers should be. And those answers usually mean “how I want it to be.” But prayer is a commitment to our relationship with God – not to one result I have in mind in the first place. And we have some responsibility for what we treasure, where our hearts spend their time. We can wean our souls from worry. We’re all OK and homeless. Today’s worries are enough for today.
Thanks be to God!
© Deborah E. Lewis 2011
27 February 2011