“And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?” (Matthew 6:27).
It starts early and it never has to stop. Getting accepted at school. Making the grade in class. Getting picked at kickball. Surviving middle school. Being liked by at least someone of the opposite gender. Making the sports team. Making it to college. Finding a spouse. Having children. Everything your children go through and will go through. And that just starts the process. Then there is terrorism. Economic uncertainty. Left-wingers. Right-wingers. Healthcare. Unemployment. Natural disasters. Artificial disasters. The ups and downs of the stock market. Suffering. Illness. Death. There seems to be no end to the things regarding which we worry. Hours upon hours are lost as humans agonize over these– and many other– experiences and challenges.
It feels quite natural to worry and to be anxious in life. In the end, it is not a bad thing to have some concern about oneself and how one lives life. We need to be concerned about whether our lives are pleasing to God and how we can improve ourselves in various aspects of life. Nevertheless, humans take worry and anxiety to unhealthy levels. If we humans do not stop and think about our lives for a moment, it is easy to get lost in a perpetual stormy sea of fears, anxieties, doubts, and worry.
Jesus encourages us to take that step back and consider our lives. He asks an excellent question. Who is the person who lived any longer because he had great concern and worry over his existence? A variant to this reading asks if a man can add a single cubit to his stature– the point is the same. No one has ever lived a moment longer or grown any taller because of worry or anxiety. The opposite, in fact, is quite true– people send themselves to an early grave because of the high stress brought upon by worry and anxiety.
But what are we supposed to do? As Jesus indicates throughout this entire instruction, we do better if we seek God first and trust in Him (Matthew 6:25-34). While it seems trite and oversimplified, it is true. Again, if we just stopped to think about it for a moment, we would recognize all that God has done for us. He has provided the creation, having made all things so that life could continue (Genesis 1). As the Creator, He has all power and authority, and knows His creation (cf. Matthew 28:18, Luke 10:28-30). Furthermore, He has provided us with the opportunity for reconciliation with Him through the blood of Jesus His Son and promises us every spiritual blessing in Christ (Romans 5:5-11, Ephesians 1:3). Paul indicates that if God did not spare His own Son, He will surely give us “all things” (Romans 8:32). If God has gone to all of this trouble, can He also not see us through our causes of concern and worry?
We do not want to seem sanctimonious or unfeeling: we understand that there are plenty of reasons for worry, concern, anxiety, and fear these days. When you or a loved one has lost a job, or has been diagnosed with a terrible illness, or have suffered the results of a natural disaster or an accident or any number of difficulties, life is difficult. You may not know how you are going to pay all the bills, or get food on the table, or a roof over your head. You may not see a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and do not know how you will provide for your family. But God is greater than all of those challenges. The life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ proves to all of us what is really important– that our soul is in a right relationship with God, and that through days of plenty or want, ease or distress, it is well with our souls (cf. Philippians 4:12-13). Our time on this planet is too short to be lost in worries and fears– we need to redeem our time, and make the best use of it for God and His purposes (Ephesians 5:15-17).
The “serenity prayer” has guided many a soul through difficult and anxious times:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
We should show some concern to do the best we can in those areas of life over which we have some true measure of control. But for that which is beyond our control– which, in large part, includes all of what has been done in the past and what will be in the future– we do best to entrust to our faithful Creator. Being anxious and worrying about them will do us no good and much harm!
Yes, we live in dark and difficult times. But no matter what is going on in life– no matter how well-off or poor we are, how sick or healthy, how fortunate or seemingly cursed– there are always plenty of opportunities for worry and anxiety. Yet, in the end, worry and anxiety are entirely unproductive. Instead, we do well to seek the will of God, and trust Him, for He is wonderful in power and we are but dust. Let us seek His Kingdom and righteousness, cast our cares upon Him, be saved, and live lives of greater peace and tranquility!
Ethan R. Longhenry