“Anxiety is an inevitable part of life,” so wrote a minster friend who left us much too early. He also challenged me to rethink the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Do not be anxious...” (or worried).
Surely some on that Galilean hillside were anxious. At any rate, I know some today who are anxious, even afraid. As I write this today, May 15, North Carolina reports the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases, not to mention the increase in deaths. That’s prescription for anxiety.
Reading Jesus’ words today we may be inclined to say, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Birds and wild flowers don’t worry about life. They don’t have medical problems or mortgages to pay. Unlike thousands in the midst of this virus outbreak, they don’t wonder about where their next meal will come from.
On the surface, I’m not too comfortable with Jesus’ words, not to worry or be anxious. As my friend observed, if you have heart problems or blood pressure concerns or are wrestling with cancer or some other “underlying problem,” such as diabetes or being over 65 you are likely to have some anxious moments. I know, I am in the “underlying problem” category, as are some who will read this.
So what can we say to the dictum, “Do not worry or be afraid?”
First, we can listen to psychologists who say that at times it is normal to be anxious. Such can put us in touch with concerns within us and around us, alerting us to be thoughtful and cautious. In two weeks a friend from college days will go to Emory University for a fairly rare kind of treatment for cancer. He said, “I’m a bit anxious.” Another friend wrote this week saying, “I’m more frightened by this coronavirus than I was when I thought I would be drafted to fight in Vietnam. Given my underlying condition my chances of dying are three times greater than had I gone to southeast Asia. I’m afraid.”
Second, let us remember that Jesus warns against anticipating a whole week’s worth of trouble in one day. Thus his call to live one day at a time. Charlie Brown of “Peanuts” column fame was in discussion with a friend who said, “Life is difficult, isn’t it Charlie Brown?” “Yes, it is,” said Charlie, “but I’ve developed a new philosophy: I DREAD only one day at a time.” This need not be our response, but we can insert the word anticipation. We can anticipate one day at a time, facing both the challenges and opportunities.
Third, we can meet this day by affirming with the Psalmist (46:1) “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” Surely, these days qualify as times of trouble. Moreover, we can reach out to a friend or professional to help with words of wisdom or medication, if needed.
Fourth, we can express gratitude for some things we have this day. As the old hymn says, we can name them one by one and be surprised at what the Lord has done. Then we can show gratitude and compassion to others, among them those who are anxious and afraid.
My friend was right, anxiety is an inevitable part of life. But it never hurts to take a fresh look at an ancient word, even those Jesus uttered. Careful inquiry into “be not anxious” may tell us more than meets the eye, or ear! And give us hope to lean on.
Marion D. Lark is a Henderson resident and retired Baptist minister.