And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin… -Jesus (Matthew 6:28, NRSV)
Here’s another angle on Jesus’ words about worry: What if Jesus’ question why do you worry? isn’t a purely rhetorical question? What if it’s an actual invitation to ask ourselves: why do we worry?
Many of us have likely learned to hear this question as something akin to, stop that worrying right now, y’all. You shouldn’t be worrying. Or even, maybe, it’s unfaithful to worry. Faith-filled people don’t worry. Jesus tells us not to worry. So we shouldn’t worry. End of story.
I wonder, though, how it would change the narratives we tell ourselves (and hear, and tell others) if we took Jesus’ question at face value. Maybe he really is asking what it sounds like he’s asking. Maybe his question—why do you worry?—isn’t an exhortation to beat ourselves up for worrying, but, rather, a real invitation to explore the reasons why we worry.
We might follow Jesus’ lead and ask ourselves: what kinds of things do we tend to worry about—and why? What are we worried about right now, and why?
What is going on in our souls when we worry? In our minds, hearts, bodies, spirits? In our relationships, our work, our community?
We might ask ourselves, what are some of the fears behind our worries? What do we fear losing? What do these fears reveal about us—about what or whom we love and value, what or whom we care about deeply?
Who knows—maybe some of these questions can help unearth passions, steering us toward the next faithful step in our lives. Maybe they can help us become more aware of what’s going on in our souls—maybe a need for rest, or alone time, or reaching out to a friend.
We can share our worries with trusted people in our lives and perhaps find some healing or solace in the sharing. And as we dig deeper into all the things that lie behind our worries, we might find ourselves able to share more of ourselves and our journeys. We can better articulate where we’re at, what’s important to us, what we need.
As we explore these kinds of questions, we might even find insight into what might actually help us worry less. (Hint: it isn’t pretending the worry isn’t there.) Maybe we realize we need to ask someone for help with something. (For many of us, this is truly revolutionary.) Maybe we realize we want someone to text us when they get where they’re going, so we know they’re okay. Maybe we realize that we’re worried about money but we also aren’t very aware of where our money is going, and it might help to sit down and make a budget or revisit an existing budgeting process.
These kinds of questions can also operate on a bigger picture level. Why do we worry—not just about ourselves and our own circles, but also about others beyond these circles, about our communities, about our world?
Every time we look at the news, there are more things to worry about. There is so much to be anxious about—and legitimately so.
At the same time, we all experience and process these things in our own unique ways. We might find ourselves worrying more, or less, about different things. Maybe the things we are most anxious about are also a hint toward the good we could do, the things we deeply want to make better, the things to dig into and see if we might be able to make a difference—even if that difference feels like a very small one.
Perhaps the question why do we worry? is an opportunity to reflect on our worries, to bring them to God in prayer, to share them with trusted friends and community members. To look them in the face. To be aware of them. To experience freedom from the shame we might feel about them. To accept them—that they are something we carry, and that is okay. It’s part of being human in a world where there is so much to be anxious about.
Maybe it’s not so much worry in general that we want to avoid, but unexamined, ignored worry. Worry shoved under the rug, stuffed and forgotten—but not really—on a tall shelf, hidden in a closet. It’s this kind of anxiety—the unacknowledged, unprocessed kind—that eats away at us. And this is what I think Jesus wants to free us from.
In taking a closer look at our worries, we may find a kind of freedom. It might not be the kind of freedom where we never worry again. But maybe there’s another kind of freedom—the kind where our worries are aired in the open, given breathing room, acknowledged, accepted, understood, held together in community.
How does it change things to take why do you worry? as an honest question from Jesus—as an invitation to reflection rather than a chastisement? Holler with your thoughts!