Rev. Don Beyers
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I don’t know about you, but I’m a worrier. Even when all appears to be fine, I still have a propensity to be anxious. Much to my partner’s amusement — or perhaps dismay — I pay attention to every detail in life so as to avoid any trouble. For example, if we are to travel, I will have us leave an hour earlier than necessary.
In my mind I know worrying about things beyond our control is a useless endeavour. And sometimes, our anxious concern for matters beyond our control can actually have a negative effect upon our wellbeing and our family life. There are simply certain things we cannot control or manage. Rather, we learn to embrace uncertainty and remain steadfast in hope.
For many of us, the pandemic we’ve experienced these many months has forced us to come to terms with uncertainty. Initially, many of us did all we could to prepare ourselves for the pandemic, despite the fact that we had little idea of what was going to happen. We believed, perhaps naively, that our preparations would help us quickly overcome the virus in a short period of time. I remember even some suggesting that we would be back to normal by Easter of 2020. Yet, we are only now beginning to see a light of hope as millions are vaccinated.
Although the pandemic has cast a dark shadow over these past months and tragically taken the lives of millions of people, it has also caused us to consider our values and what is important to us in life. I hear people talking more about the value of spending time with their families and loved ones. Others are beginning to question the way we did things before the pandemic, acknowledging the injustices caused by a society consumed by consumerism. These past few months have opened our eyes to racial inequalities and the lack of care for the most vulnerable of our communities, such as seniors and homeless persons. More importantly, there’s been a renewed interest in faith and spirituality, wth religious leaders from across denominations and religious traditions noting higher levels of engagement than ever before.
Fundamentally, I believe, the pandemic has reminded us the importance of love and that no human person can survive without love.
St. Paul speaks to both our anxieties and our desire to be loved in his second letter to the church at Corinth, particularly the passage we read today. Transformed and and renewed by his encounter with Jesus, Paul urges his fellow disciples to renew their trust and hope in Christ. Remember, he tells the community and us, that Jesus has overcome sin, despair, and death by his cross and resurrection. Jesus has won for us our salvation and the promised hope of new life. We are no longer bound to the ways of this world, but we have been made anew by Jesus’ unsurpassable love for us. “See,” Paul says, “everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Over and over in his letter Paul uses the word confidence: “we are always confident” for “the love of Christ urges us on.” (2 Cor. 5:6,14) Paul feels deep in his heart and soul the tremendous love of God. He knows God’s love and knows the power of God’s love to transform and save us. Paul yearns for his fellow believers, and for disciples in the ages to come, to know the power of God’s love and to ground themselves in God’s love.
Ultimately, Paul wants us to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God and that we are to put our trust in God alone, for God is our help and salvation. (Rom. 8:38 & Ps. 27:1)
Do you know God loves you and that you can put your trust in God?
I believe Paul’s message is important for us today, particularly in this time of great uncertainty. His words are a reminder that fundamentally God is the one who sustains us, not we ourselves. All too often, however, when times become unfamiliar and uncertain, we humans have a strange habit of not only worrying about things, but also a tendency to exert control over things, even in matters in which we may have little say or control over. This is particularly true in the life of the church. I see it as a priest; as soon as people feel disorientated and fearful in life, they come to the church in hope of finding absolute answers or clear direction. Yet, Jesus never assures us things will be clear or certain. Nor does he promise our lives will be free from every trouble. In fact, he tells us just the opposite: “take up your cross and come and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24)
Instead, Jesus invites us to enter into times of uncertainty and ambiguity with trust, trust that God will provide for us what we need in our time of trouble. Jesus speaks powerfully of God’s providence and care for us. Matthew relates to us Jesus’ words of comfort to those of us who are weary and anxious. Although it is a lengthy passage, I think it is good for us to hear as we sit in a liminal and strange time. Jesus tells his disciples:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall 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 one cubit to his span of life? And why 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 is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men 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 all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. (Mt. 6:25-34)
Jesus invites us to place our trust in him, to lay our cares upon his shoulders, and to rest in him. While I know this may sound quite trite, it really is a maxim of life. Despite our illusions that we can control the world and manage everything in life, the truth is, we really can’t. We simply have to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty and trust that God is with us.
Paul urges us to have this confidence and trust. He points to what God has done for us in Christ and what God promises to do for us through Christ. He reminds us that the things of this world will fade away, but God will remain. Why exert your energy on things that fade, Paul says, rather than on that which we know will remain forever faithful to us? (1 Cor. 10:13)
Although I still wrestle with worry and fear, I’ve begun to learn a few practices to help me not be consumed by my anxieties. I share these exercises with you in the hope that they may help you grow in confidence of God’s love for you and to experience the freedom that comes with faith in Christ. So here are a few thoughts:
First: I learn to accept the things I can and cannot do. While we are called to put our hope and trust in God, God still expects us to use the gifts he has given us. Christian faith has a certain practicality to it: we neither resign from the world nor do we become fully immersed in the world. Rather, we acknowledge and do the things that God has entrusted us with and do the best we can given the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.
Second: I repeatedly entrust myself to the grace of Christ. Every morning I take time to give God thanks and praise for what God has done for us and for our salvation and I ask God for the grace to do as he wishes me to do. I repeat that prayer numerous times throughout the day. I pray God grant me the knowledge and understanding to do as God would like me to do.
Third: I acknowledge my limitations and hand over to God those things which I am unable to handle or manage. To be honest, this is a difficult step, because God’s response isn’t always obvious. I can’t always tell if God is helping or not, I simply let it go and trust God is at work even in the most difficult of situations.
Fourth: I name and give thanks for what God has done. To do this, I reflect on various chapters of my life. As I do, I can often see God’s presence in my life, even during times that I felt God was distant. This is a particularly helpful exercise as I often realize in retrospect that God was likely more present to me than I knew during the time. Perhaps God manifested himself in a friend or a small blessing received during the time. No matter how terrible a loss or suffering I endured in the past, I can always see years later God’s abiding presence in those times.
Fifth and Finally: I will often say two prayers either once or many times over the course of my day. The first was one I learned many years ago and is well-known by those involved in the Twelve Step Movement. Believed to have been written by Reinhold Niebuhr, the prayer goes as follows:
“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.”
The second prayer I learned while in university. Written by St. Thomas Aquinas, the prayer is often recited before one begins their day or a task ahead:
“Grant, O merciful God, that I may ardently desire, prudently examine, truthfully acknowledge, and perfectly accomplish that which is pleasing to thee for the praise and glory of thy name. Amen.”
I’ve found both of these prayers to help me not only acknowledge what I can and cannot change, they give me a certain sense of comfort that God is the one ultimately in control, not me. The prayers grant me a certain confidence that God will do what God will do and that God’s love is eternal for me and for all God’s people. Amen.