“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…..” — Jesus, in Matthew 6:25
I read this opening line in the Gospel passage for today as I sat in Trinity’s chapel, having just watched our truck being hoisted onto a tow truck to be hauled off to the repair shop. And while suddenly and unexpectedly needing to have one’s vehicle repaired would surely not make the top 10 list of bad things that could happen in life, as I was en route to the chapel for my morning prayer, I must admit that there was an anxious thought very much at the top of my mind: the bill that will be coming to get the truck up and going again.
And so, as I sat in the midst of this anxious thought, here came Jesus, saying “Do not be anxious about your life.” My response to Jesus was simple: I think this falls under the category of easier said than done.
This particular teaching of Jesus is one that has always both comforted and irritated me. On the one hand, I am comforted by the freedom that can come when one lets go of one’s anxiety. After all, living anxiously isn’t much fun, and anxiety can creep into the cracks and crevices of one’s heart, mind and soul and take over everything else if we allow it to. On the other hand, I am irritated by the fact that the way Jesus presents this teaching makes it sound like it’s easy to let that anxiety go. In my experience, getting to that place of freedom by letting go of anxiety is not an easy journey.
The only way we can get there, I think, is through a conscious application of spiritual practice, and a conscious shifting of perspective. The spiritual practice involves, for me, a quiet centering of myself consciously in the presence and embrace of God. This centering practice helps to connect me with the source of life, and reminds me that my true life and my true self are to be found in God. For me, this centering involves a consciousness of breath and an invocation of the Name of Christ. And when I experience myself in God’s presence and embrace, I know that whatever it is that is making me anxious ultimately cannot touch the heart of who I am. And that realization leads to a shifting of perspective, and helps me to place the anxiety-producing event in a larger context. In terms of my own life, this is one moment and one challenge that will pass. In terms of the larger life of the world and the challenges that others are facing, this event is really not such a terrible thing. And that, in turn, leads me to a place of gratitude, to the appreciation of the blessings that are a part of my life but that anxiety can mask and hide. All of this helps me to release the anxiety, and return to a place of peace and freedom in God.
So, Jesus is right, of course. Being anxious about life doesn’t change anything or help us, but rather obscures our sense of connectedness to God and to the larger world, and to all of the things that we have to be thankful for. If we can pray our way back to a connection with God, then we can see things as they are, deal with things from a better perspective, and not allow the anxieties of our lives to overwhelm us.
This is not always easy, and we likely won’t stay in that place of freedom and peace permanently. We’ll have to get our way back to it again and again. But if we keep making that prayerful journey, the path to that place will become more familiar, and we’ll find that we can get back to it more easily and more quickly over time.