One Day on the Mount

Jul 21, 2018

Do not worry.

I get it. You’re trying to be gentle and reassuring and I appreciate that. I do. But you realize I have anxiety/depression, right? Runs in the family. Fairly mild, and I’m managing it in all the proper ways. Yes, including with prayer, etc., as you know. I suppose I could pray more—one can always pray more. Still, worry is kind of a baseline, the white noise of my life. So just telling me not to isn’t all that helpful.

about what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Yeah, that’s not really the issue. I suppose your original audience was a bunch of peasants, hard-scrabble folk who struggled for their basic needs. And I wonder: did they take offense a little when you told them, Hey, chill out and make like the birds and flowers? I don’t think you’re supposed to say that kind of thing to poor people. Anyway, I’m an affluent white American. Clothes and food are not my issue. I have much more sweeping, large-scale worries. Not for myself so much. I gratefully acknowledge that my circumstances are pretty cushy apart from ordinary worries about my adult kids, the future of various institutions I’m connected with, little career vanities. But amid all your advice about clothes and food, I notice you’re saying absolutely nothing about government corruption and malpractice, ongoing racial hatred, mass incarceration, resurgent misogyny, torqued-up geopolitical tensions. What about young girls, herded together and kidnapped by gangs of rapist thugs in Nigeria? What about drug lords in Honduras? What about the worldwide refugee crisis? And climate change. What’s going to happen to those birds and lilies as temperatures rise?

they do not sow or reap or store away in barns

True, but they flit about constantly. Many birds eat half their body weight every day! Maybe they don’t worry about it, but they work at it. Some of them do store seeds, by the way. In any case, if humans don’t sow and reap and store, we don’t survive. So I don’t really get the bird comparison.

They do not labor or spin.

Sure, and they’re beautiful. Thank you for flowers. Yay for flowers. But this is a ridiculous analogy. Human beings can’t just sit around and soak up sun and wave in the wind. We are busy fulfilling the cultural mandate and valuing our work as vocation. Doing everything heartily, as to the Lord. And once again, what about people’s real problems when it comes to laboring and spinning? Collapsed economies encrusted with organized crime and government thuggery. Unemployment, underemployment, the decline in real wages since the 1970s, accelerating wealth disparity, lack of access to health care, exploitation of cheap labor overseas and of undocumented workers at home. Apathy about these things only makes them worse. We have to do something!   

the pagans run after all these things

Surely you have noticed the #churchtoo movement. Surely you have noticed the shameful hypocrisy and sycophancy of many Christian leaders, the collusion with corruption. Christian witness in America being what it is these days, I am pretty tempted to go run with the pagans.

your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

That’s helpful. Good to know that you’re paying attention, because sometimes, frankly, it doesn’t feel like it. But let me tell you what I need right now. When I wake up in the middle of the night, anxious and sweating about my kids, my country, the world, about all the things I can’t control—I need to know that you’re there. I need a real sense of your presence. I can’t muster that on my own, you know. When I cry out to you, I am completely at your mercy.

Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Well, THAT’S FOR SURE. Have you seen the news this week? Every blasted day it’s something new and disgusting and frightening. It goes on and on. It’s exhausting.

Seek first the kingdom

Right. I do. I have tried to do this all my life. You know I have. Of course: keeping busy with good activities is a healthy way to deal with worry. I go to worship, and I do feel more at peace. I try to take constructive action about the things I believe, to the best of my limited wisdom, are wrong. I try to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. All that jazz. I know I fail a lot. I know I haven’t done enough. I know I’m not very courageous. I’m a “ye of little faith,” that’s for sure. So maybe try harder? Is that what you’re suggesting? Really strive for that kingdom? Shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone. Maybe if I worked harder at this kingdom stuff, more things would go right? So, are you waiting on me? Because honestly, I do not have the expertise or position to solve a lot of the stuff going on.

Seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness.

Wait. You mean, look for? You mean, seek out the ways that you are already working? Look for the signs and bear witness to them? So, like the newly brokered peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Like the people all over the world—from scientists to rural poor people—working to repair and prevent human degradation of land, water, and air. Like the immigration attorney driving all over West Michigan to provide trustworthy legal assistance to vulnerable workers. Like the journalists holding up under enormous pressures, working long hours to sort out the truth from the lies. Like people who run their businesses with grace and integrity. Like the group of young pastors who gathered at my house during RCA Synod, people who love the church despite everything and have the faith and humor and integrity to last the long haul. Like the gorgeous new babies born to several of our friends this year. Like every blessed rose-pink sunset over the steel-gray, shimmering lake. Like the churches who seek peace with one another. Like the congregations who meet every week to hear the Word faithfully proclaimed and to receive provision, grace in the wine and bread.

Hmm. I guess you are working. I guess it’s not all down to me and how hard I try or worry. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the Sabbath. Tell you what. I will go to worship and hand you all my worries, and then I will gather with brothers and sisters around the table and hold out my empty hands and wait.

I have published books on motherhood, Christian spirituality, and language in worship. I write regularly about all sorts of topics for The Twelve, and I teach literature and writing at Calvin College, where I have served on the faculty since 1996.

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