(a sermon by Mark Parent)
(delivered at the Pereaux United Baptist Church)
(27 February 2011 – Matthew 6:24-34)
For most of my life I have been an incurable worrier. I blame this on the fact that I was mistreated during the first months of my life by neglectful foster parents, in it more for the money than anything else.
Psychologist Erick Erickson who coined the term “identity crisis,” claims that there are seven stages we navigate through life with the first being learning to trust or mistrust our environment. I learnt to mistrust in those formative months after birth and so I worry and fret about almost everything. In fact, I worry so much at times that I even worry about the fact that I worry. Surely, I reason to myself, something must be desperately wrong with me if I worry so much.
Now, to be fair, I am getting better. I have made great progress in dealing with this part of my character. Nonetheless, there is a little song which describes me well. It goes like this – “I worry on Sunday, worry on Monday, worry on Tuesday too. I worry on Wednesday, worry on Thursday. I worry the whole week through.”
That is why I was glad, in a perverse sort of way, to read about a study done in the country of Germany. In that country of industry, hard work, and economic success, the predominant attitude of the average German citizen was not one of confidence, hope, or tranquility, but rather one of worry.
How can we stop from worrying so much? How can we learn to trust God? How can we achieve that attitude which Jesus had, as exemplified by his lovely statement, “look at the birds of the air, they toil not neither do they spin. Yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
The first step in answering such questions may seem like a surprising one. Because, to begin to deal with the worries and anxieties which plague not only Germans but also, I suspect, Canadians as well, we need to acknowledge that life is difficult. The Bible never tries to pretend that everything is okay. It never tries to whitewash the problems of life. It is realistic about life’s troubles and sorrows, about life’s heartaches.
Some time ago a school of thought arose that was identified with a man named Norman Vincent Peale. Norman Vincent Peale taught something, which is called the power of positive thinking. At its best, this school of thought counseled its adherents to look at the positive elements of life not just the negative; but in the hands of some of Peale’s followers, the message became a reductionistic one that claimed that life had no problems, that life’s problems were all in our head and that if we changed our thinking, they would all magically disappear.
It’s not true. All life’s problems are not just in our heads; they exist out there as well. That is why I love that story about a United States senator who attended one of Norman Vincent Peale’s prayer breakfasts. After the breakfast the senator was asked what he thought about Peale’s message and he replied, “I find the Apostle Paul appealing, and the apostle Peale appalling.”
One of my greatest frustrations in counseling is that often a family or couple will refuse to admit that there are any problems. They will pretend that they have no problems, that everything is just fine. That is they will refuse to admit that there are any problems until the problems become so large that they seem insurmountable.
In the film Ordinary People, a dysfunctional family sits around the dinner table. It is not a dysfunctional family in the sense that anyone is yelling at anyone else. There is no feuding going on, family members are studiously polite to one another. But it becomes clear as one watches the film that this family is dysfunctional precisely because they will not own up to their problems, because they will not admit they exist, much less discuss what they are. And so they sit eating their supper, a model family in some ways, until the silence tears them apart.
Sin has entered this world, the tragic is part of life, and not admitting this fact doesn’t’ make worrying go away it just makes things worse rather than better. C. S. Lewis makes a comment somewhere that there are two types of people in this world. There are those who think that this world should be a five star hotel while there are those who think that it is a prison. Those who think of life as a prison cannot get over what a lovely prison it is, notes Lewis, while those who think that life should be like a five star hotel are always grumbling about the room service.
After admitting that life does have some very real problems, the next step in dealing with worry is to stop opting for simple, facile solutions to life’s problems. Family sitcoms on television are much better than the mindless violence, which so often dominates our television screens, but in some ways, family sitcoms have done us all a big disservice. All the problems are life are solved in a mere twenty minutes with a minimum of fuss and bother and the truth that simplistic, facile answers only serve to make life’s problem worse instead of better.
A woman in a small town in Indiana called the police station to report that a skunk was in her cellar. The policeman who was busy with more serious things put the woman off by telling her to make a trail of breadcrumbs from the basement to the yard and wait for the skunk to follow it outside. A little while later the woman called back and said, “I did what you told me. Now I’ve got two skunks in my cellar!”
To deal with the worries, the anxieties that bedevil us, we must recognize that life is not easy and that there are many problems in this world. We must avoid easy, facile solutions, which often make things worse instead of better.
I can hear many at this point, “Jeppers Mark, you haven’t helped me with my worrying yet, you’ve just made me feel bad about life.”
But I am just clearing the ground as it were, for having admitted that life has some very serious problems, having recognized the futility of our simplistic solutions, it is then that we are ready to turn to the only One who can deal with the worries and anxieties of life; we are ready to turn to God.
My late wife, Cathy had a favorite Bible verse which came out of her camping experiences at a Baptist Church Camp in Ontario. Taken from Psalm 46 it goes like this, “be still and know that I am God,” or as the Revised English Bible puts it, “let be then, learn that I am God.”
The only effective way to deal with worry is to turn to God. To be still, to let it be and to know that in spite of everything God is in control. To understand deep within, as the Psalmist did, that though nations may rage and nations may totter, the final word belongs to God who holds all things, in this life and in the life which is to come, safely in His loving hands.
I realize it’s not easy trusting God. We are an activistic people who find it hard to stop, to reflect, to meditate, and to allow deep to speak to deep. We prefer to run around, doing this and doing that, anything but turning to the One alone who can help quiet our anxieties and banish our worries. And, as a consequence, our worries pile up, and our anxieties increase. The poet writes:
As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God,
Because He was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him
In peace, to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
In ways that were my own.
Finally I took them back and said,
“Dear God, why are you so slow?”
“My child,” He said, “what could I do?
You never did let go.”
It’s not easy, but when we let go and let God it is then that we find the peace that Jesus promised when he told his disciples, “peace I leave with, my peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
A widow who had successfully raised a very large family was being interviewed by a reporter. In addition to six children of her own, she had adopted 12 other youngsters, and through it all she had maintained stability and an air of confidence.
When asked the secret of her outstanding accomplishment, her answer to the newsman was quite surprising. She said, “I managed so well because I’m in a partnership!” “What do you mean?” he inquired. The woman replied, “Many years ago I said, ‘God, I’ll do the work and You do the worrying.’”
In 1939, at the start of the Second World War when there was much to worry about, King George VI gave a Christmas radio broadcast to the British people. It has become a classic in spite of the fact that the King was not a great public speaker, as those of you who have seen the recent film “The King’s Speech” know. And, it has become a radio classic because he concluded with this short poem which speaks to the heart of all those of us who tend to worry and forget to trust.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’
And he replied:. Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand Of God.That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way’
As the hymn writer put it:
I don’t know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day.
don’t borrow from its sunshine, For its clouds may turn to gray.
I don’t worry about the future, For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him; For he knows what is ahead.
Many things about tomorrow. I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow, And I know who holds my hand.