Have you ever accidentally overheard a segment of a conversation which sounded important and, upon inquiry, been told “not to worry about it”? If you’re like me, the first thing you’re going to do is completely disregard their command. How can you not worry about something that’s obviously being kept from you for a reason?
Worrying comes as naturally to many of us as sleeping and eating. As a matter of fact, there are seasons when worrying comes much more naturally than sleeping or eating! My sisters know to watch for me to stop eating. I’ve heard that lots of people “stress eat,” but I stress starve. It’s not a conscious decision, but when I’m anxious, I lose my appetite. If the stress lasts too long, I go long periods of time with very little food, and the longer it goes, the less I feel like eating. It takes a while to work my way back up to a regular diet when I realize what is happening. Thankfully, I am now aware of the issue enough that at the first sign of stress, I can sometimes make a conscious decision to keep eating regular meals!
When I was thirteen years old, my life changed drastically. I went from being the third of four to the third of eight (now nine!). I am in my twenties now and still not officially a mother, but I believe many of my maternal instincts kicked in that summer my siblings came home from Haiti. My nature tells me to love them unconditionally, teach them all that I know, protect them from evil and hardship, defend them (sometimes fervently) and, last but not least, worry about them.
I am walking in the footprints of a long line of highly dedicated matriarchs. My mother and grandmothers were all stay-at-home moms as much as finances allowed and always put their families first. As a matter of fact, they put their families way ahead of all else, barring no sacrifice. I believe this dedication is much to thank for our solid family line. In short, the women who have gone before me have beautifully exemplified this passage in Philippians:
“Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.”
The question is, where is the line drawn between looking to the interests of others and worrying about them? Because, contrary to what my nature might tell me, love does not equal anxiety. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us love is patient, kind and humble, but never anxious. Jesus actually taught us to be “anxious for nothing.” I always thought that wording could be taken two ways: don’t be anxious about anything, or be anxious even though it will be for nothing! After Paul wrote to the Philippians about “securing the interests” of their neighbors, he went on to describe Jesus as the perfect example of selflessness, humility and love. If Jesus was the example of these things, even “pouring Himself out,” it says, then He can be our “line.” His example can keep us from confusing “concern” for others with the sinful alternative of “fretting.”
Jesus looked after His family and friends. He visited them, healed them, mourned with them, gave money to the poor, made sure his mother would be cared for when He was gone and even stepped in when his friend’s wedding reception was jeopardized! He is truly a faithful friend. But He did not sit at home fretting. I can say this with confidence, because that would’ve been sinful. He wasn’t Pollyanna, but He wasn’t Mrs. Snow either. He slept. As a matter of fact, He slept on a boat…during a frightening storm! He ate. And He didn’t worry about what His friends’ reputations would do to His own. He fasted, but not as often as the Pharisees or John’s disciples and He didn’t freak out when His disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating, or nibbled on a piece of grain on the Sabbath. He sat down and spent quality time with people. When His dear friend Martha was fretting and rushing around trying to get the house Pinterest-perfect for Him, He told her to stop and sit down.
It is very tempting to use our love for our families as an excuse for the sin of fretting, but in Jesus we have a blameless example of love without fear. He loved us more than we could ever love our families, even to death, but He never sinned. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ love is perfect and “perfect love expels fear.” I Corinthians goes on to say that “love trusts and hopes.”
We are right to love others sacrificially as Jesus did, but we must also accept the love of God in a way that casts out our fear and cultivates trust and hope. Love for others is not a reason to break the commandment we read in scripture over and over again to “fear not.” Jesus told us, “Don’t reduce your life to the pursuit of food and drink; don’t let your mind be filled with anxiety. People of the world who don’t know God pursue these things, but you have a Father caring for you, a Father who knows all your needs.” (Luke 12:29-30.) We may feel loving when we stay up all night worrying about loved ones who have lost their way, fallen ill or traveled to a faraway country. We may feel loving when we are so anxious for a struggling friend that we can’t eat. We may feel loving when we are constantly stressed out by caring for others, but we aren’t commanded to feel loving. We are commanded to live loved.
“But don’t misunderstand: you don’t really need to be afraid of God, because God cares for every little sparrow. How much is a sparrow worth—don’t five of them sell for a few cents? Since you are so much more precious to God than a thousand flocks of sparrows, and since God knows you in every detail—down to the number of hairs on your head at this moment—you can be secure and unafraid of any person, and you have nothing to fear from God either.” Luke 12: 6-7
And He asks you not to worry. He has the whole world in His hands, including your unruly teenagers and cranky toddlers, persnickety grandmothers, and faraway friends. Let love give you the strength to trust and hope, not worry and fear. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go eat dinner!