Worry and anxiety are routine parts of life. Sometimes they can shift from a momentary feeling into a debilitating and painful frame of mind that prevents our ongoing growth, health, and wellbeing. They can play an active role in interrupting our relationship with God. It’s a bit like a loud electrical buzzing that limits our hearing, or a fog settling in, that then limits our sight.
What makes navigating worry and anxiety so tenuous, is that they stem from a place of good intention. They are a natural response to our desire to protect and secure that which we cherish and need; to do the right and responsible thing; to choose the best path. There is a shadow side to these good intentions, and that is a desire to control our lives and futures. Yet control, when we really stop and sit with it, is an allusion. The real choice lies underneath: Will we choose to live in the present or linger in the past or future?
This may be why we see Jesus address the worry and anxiety of his followers so many times in the gospels. Each and every time offering them an alternative way of living in the present. And it all begins in today’s passage.
Mary and Joseph were anxious for the safety of their child. This anxiety stems from their deep yearning to protect and preserve their child, so he might have a long, prosperous, and happy life. Every caregiver can relate to this desire. When children are little, we worry about keeping them safe from harm. When children grow up, we are anxious for their well being. The older our children get, the less we are able to prevent them from experiencing pain, danger, or harm. Caregiving is a journey of loving one’s child more and more, while simultaneously needing to let go and let them live their lives.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are nearing this moment when everything will shift in their relationship. As much as they want to keep Jesus safe from harm, we know, as they do deep down, that this is an impossible desire. Their child will live one of the most profoundly beautiful and transformative lives in human history, and it will include pain, danger, and harm.
Yet here in this moment, in today’s passage, they finally find their twelve year old child sitting with the teachers in the temple. When they confront him, he asks- where else would I possibly have been but in God’s house? Maybe a question asked in sincere innocence, or maybe a snarky and moody commentary on his parent’s protectiveness.
Either way, this moment foreshadows much…
This passage, along with several others in the gospels, address our human capacity to live in a state of worry, anxiety, and fear. Mary and Joseph are parents worried about their child’s safety. While we know this is in part responsible parenting, there is also an element of wanting to guarantee the outcome. In later years, Jesus routinely teaches that to find our life, we must lose it. We must lose our lives by letting go of our desire for guarantees. We must release our worries, anxieties, and fears so we can be present, listen, learn, grow, and embody our faith in action.
Later in Jesus' ministry, we witness the rich young man, eager to embrace the Jesus movement.* When he asks what he must do, Jesus tells him to sell all of his possessions. The rich young man could not bear the thought of this. For this young man, like many of us, our property and wealth provide a sense of safety, security, and a near guarantee that we will do well in this life. But to depend on our property and wealth for our well being, is to turn them into a golden calf and worship false gods. Jesus is inviting us to find our safety, security, and fearlessness living the Way of Love.
Not everyone finds their safety and security in belongings, money, or status. For some, we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of doing, seeking to do the most possible good with what time we have in this life. On the surface, this too, is a good intention.
Remember the sisters, Mary and Martha.**. When Jesus comes to their home, Martha gets caught up in all the important work of providing quality hospitality. To the point that she gets annoyed with her sister Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and neglecting to help. When Martha names this concern to Jesus, he addresses her, saying her name not once, but twice. By saying her name two times, Jesus communicates both his love and care for Martha, while also waking her up, to slow down and be present enough to hear what he had to say.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Being present was the greater good, in spite of all the good intentions of Martha’s list of tasks.
Twelve year old Jesus pushed back at his mother’s anxiety, while a thirty-something Jesus pushed at his disciples to let go of the worries, anxieties, and fears that drove them off course, and to instead be present in this moment, in this place, in this hour.
This is a message we need to hear on a continual loop. Because there is so much to worry about, or grow anxious over, or to fear:
If we wanted to, we could curate a very lengthy list of worries, anxieties, and fears. And, if you find yourself in the midst of a storm of anxious thoughts- I would invite you to do just that. Put pen to paper and write every single worry, anxiety, fear, and doubt down until you can come up with nothing else. It will take away some of the power behind those thoughts, and quiet your heart and mind. Because when we consciously choose to release ourselves of a particular worry or anxiety, we find new space within us, giving us a bit more inner freedom. An inner freedom to be present. To be present to God and to one another.
Worry and anxiety are a routine part of life. Yet by choosing to be followers of Christ on the Way of Love, we are saying yes to living in the present. It requires a decent amount of self-awareness and reflection. Asking ourselves each and everyday:
As we begin a new year, I invite us to strive to live more and more in the here and now, entrusting our past and our future into the loving hands of our creator. Amen.
* Matthew 19:20-22
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