The Waste of Worry, and What to Do Instead (Repost)

Note from Rachel: This is a repost from my series on the Sermon on the Mount, soon to be included in my upcoming (and still untitled) book about the same. As I worked my way through revisions, I was struck by how pertinent Jesus’s message about worry is during our present moment in history. I hope this reflection on his words encourages you as much as it did me!


Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying?

Jesus begins teaching about money by telling us not to collect stuff: lay up treasure in heaven instead. It lasts and it’s better, and you never have to worry that someone’s going to break in and carry it off.

That’s the way of invisible, intangible treasures: like air, they give life abundantly, without fear.

He shifts quickly to talk about worry, and it’s here he spends the longest time.

Because we DO. We worry. We worry incessantly, mostly about things we can’t control anyway.

Like the birds, we get up in the morning and go to do our work, but unlike the birds, we worry that maybe even so, provision won’t be there this time.

God’s love, the value he places us on our lives, won’t be enough.

Cubits and Realities

Because that’s the rationale Jesus offers for our right to live carefree: “Aren’t you worth more than birds? Isn’t your life more than food? Isn’t your body more than clothing? Won’t God do more for you than he does for grass—oh you of little faith?”

BUT, I reply back.

But, somewhere in this world, someone is starving. For somebody, God, you are falling down on the job. Someone’s clothes are full of holes, or are basically just holes with a few threads attaching them here and there.

Someone is going to die today.

Okay, true enough. In this world where sin and death are realities, so too are poverty and lack.

Should we therefore worry?

Jesus gives us a linchpin for his whole argument, an aha that sets us free, in verse 27: “Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying?”

A cubit was a measure of length, taken from elbow to fingertip on a grown man. So not exact, but likely about eighteen inches. Some people had bigger cubits than others.

Worry, you see, makes us feel like we’re being responsible. If we meditate on all that could go wrong, if we stew in fear, if we remind everyone at all times that we can’t expect everything to go well, we feel like we are being grown-ups.

Realistic. Careful.

Trouble being that worry accomplishes nothing, and stops a lot of things.

There are, in life, whole swaths of things that are out of our control. We can’t make ourselves grow eighteen inches. We can’t pull the sun closer to the earth, or push it further away. (This is a good thing.) We can’t even make our own hearts beat. They just go on doing it, until they don’t.

Worry THINKS about all these things we can’t control. It MEDITATES upon them. It EXALTS them.

And in doing so it drains our energy. Our drains our hope, our optimism. It steals creativity and life. It zeroes in on scarcity and ignores the abundance all around us.

Because we can’t make ourselves grow eighteen inches, but we can learn to breathe more deeply and expand our lungs. If we act (not if we worry), we can lose weight, add muscle, become more flexible.

If We …

If we act (not worry), we can combat poverty, lift up the downtrodden, change laws, enable commerce, dignify the homeless, mentor kids.

If we act (not worry), we can grow more into Christlikeness, we can serve God with all our whole hearts, we can store up treasure in heaven.

Worry just saps and drains all of that, spending our energy on things we can’t control and so sabotaging things we CAN.

Or, to draw a fine point, sabotaging things we can influence. I believe human beings have staggeringly powerful influence; I don’t believe we have control.

Every step out, every attempt to DO, requires that God meet us in the middle. He is generally and generously willing to do so.

Who among you can cause a meal to materialize on your table? But who among you can work a good day for it?

Who among you can force God to meet with you? But who among you can invite him?

Who among you can harry and worry and badger a seed into growing? But who among you can water it, feed it, wait?

Freedom from anxiety comes from these truths:

That more fundamental than need is love, and God proclaims that we are valued more highly than anything else in creation.

That God has created a world of abundance, where in order to receive we are mostly just responsible to show up.

That we control nothing but influence everything, and so we can and do live in a world of tremendous grace and of tremendous responsibility too—and God blesses and graces our attempts to take that responsibility.

Ours Is Now

A little later Jesus wraps it all up with a Zen moment of sagacity: “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

That it does. Leave the worrying to the day itself, then. Ours is this moment to act. To pray. To trust. To put off worrying for one more day that turns into forever.

In the meantime, what we will have accomplished without worry is enough.

(This is Part 74 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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2 responses to “The Waste of Worry, and What to Do Instead (Repost)”

  1. Rachael Avatar

    And so it has become clear why you have come into our lives at just the right moment. The lesson is very valid to us right now and has given us focus on what we need to reflect on right now. Thank you for all you share.

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Wow, thanks, Rachael! That means a lot! So glad it spoke to you.

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