Morning Meditation (3/20): On Anxiety
Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And what are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today’s alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)
On the one hand, you might say it’s perfectly natural to feel anxious in the middle of a pandemic. Wondering how long this will last. Wondering if the food stocks at the markets will go out. Worried about how long it will be before life “goes back to normal.” Worried if this isn’t some kind of “new normal.”
But what do we give up when we give ourselves over to worry?
First, we give away the very thing we seek to preserve. Jesus says, Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to you life? The Bible’s broader teaching is that our days are fixed, that God has set even the number of hours in our lifespan (see Job 14:5). You cannot change that through worry. But a life given over to anxiety is a kind of living death, a death before death. Anxiety will steal the joy of the life that you have.
The second thing we give up is our life’s true meaning. Because of their fear, the “Gentiles” (in this context, unbelievers) seek after food and clothes and material possessions (see Matthew 6:19-24). They are driven by their anxiety to make these things their purpose in life, their primary focus. But it doesn’t take much to see how little meaning can be found in a life lived in pursuit of stuff, or even raw survival. In order for human beings to truly live, life has to be about more than being alive. And the only thing big enough to give our lives true meaning is the kingdom of God.
Third, when we give ourselves over to worry, we take on more than what God asks of us. Each day has trouble that must be faced; it cannot be ignored. But, as Jesus says, there’s enough to worry about today without adding to it tomorrow's. God’s rhythm for us in one day at a time.
In sum, when you give yourself over to anxiety, you’re giving up parts your humanity.
C.S. Lewis was acquainted with things to worry about. He lived through both world wars, and the invention of the atomic bomb. After the second war, he encountered many people who were anxious about the threat of nuclear war. Here’s what he said:
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. … It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays
Faith is the opposite of worry. We cannot know the troubles of our days beforehand, and few of us will know the day of our death. But we can trust in Jesus who died so that we could live. Our God knows what we need before we even ask it. And he will provide. But we must trust him.
O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps us wealth and does not know who will gather!
And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.