Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Today has enough troubles of its own. (Mt. 6:34)
I know I’ve read this verse no fewer than a few dozen times. I’ve preached it, exegeted it, and read it again and again. It’s one of my top 5 favorites, just dangling there at the end of chapter 6 in Matthew, tacked onto that whole passage about not worrying, that God feeds the birds of the fields and makes the lilies look far more spectacular than even Solomon in all his royal finery. Up until recently, that’s all it was – a part of that greater whole passage. Then I started thinking about anxiety itself, and I realized this verse says so much more than merely, “Don’t worry.”
Back in May, I was diagnosed with anxiety, and not being a huge fan of pharmaceuticals as a first line of attack, I resolved to try non-pharma treatments: Counseling, yoga, and meditation/mindfulness. It’s gone well. Really well. Not only are these treatments working fabulously, but I also have a new tribe at church that’s walking this journey with me. In fact, this is the first Advent season in many where I have been calm and settled in my spirit, heart, and mind.
A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the very nature of anxiety. It’s not like depression or schizophrenia which have distinct physiological etiologies. Anxiety truly is all in the mind. Or, rather, it’s caused by how we think. Even people who don’t have anxiety feel anxious from time to time. We always feel anxious about what’s going to happen, about some future event. We almost never feel anxious about anything going on in the present, nor do we feel anxious about what happened in the past. Nope, it’s always the future, because the future is a great unknown. We can work ourselves into a right fine state fretting about something down the road.
Earlier this month, I had my big holiday selling event, and I needed sales to be good. At nearly zero hour, I found out that the coordinator had made some changes out of her benevolence that felt threatening to this goal I had. My anxiety shot straight up. In fact, I woke up during the night before the show worrying about the show. Then, when I arrived at the venue, still fretting some, all that anxiety disappeared. The event was in that moment; it was no longer a future event. At that point, my focus was on setting up.
Part of the treatment for anxiety is exercising mindfulness, being in the moment. Whether it’s while actively meditating, practicing yoga, or doing some mundane chore, being present to the moment reduces anxiety. Why? It is in those moments where we are existing. We aren’t present in the worry-causing moment two weeks from now or that paycheck from now, we’re present in this “now.”
Finally, Matthew 6:34 made perfectly good sense from a very practical standpoint. This verse is nestled in the Sermon on the Mount, which is an excellent treatise on living the Kingdom life daily. As part of that theme, Jesus is saying, “Be mindfully in this moment.” We cannot deal with the whole rest of Kingdom living if we’re stressing about something that hasn’t even happened, yet. Having the full life Jesus desires for us means not allowing anxiety to suck the joy from it. It also means not worrying about what will happen tomorrow or next week or next month when there is Kingdom work that has to happen today, even if that just looks like having a simply good day of showing love and compassion to one other person.
Sometimes it’s really hard being a Christian with undiagnosed anxiety. Well-meaning people will say, “Just pray about it more. Oh. You still have it? Pray harder or with more faith.” Who are they to judge another’s faith? Others will say, “Take it to the cross and leave it there.” Where is that in the Bible? And do they think I want to take all that inner turmoil back with me after my time “at the cross”? Heck no! It just followed me like one of the neighborhood cats tends to. People want to judge those who are struggling, because they don’t know how to be present, so instead of helping ease the burden of dealing with psychological issues, they heap on an unhealthy load of judgment and guilt. My husband and I found a small group at church who are safe, non-judgmental, and vulnerable themselves. This has made being a Christian with anxiety much easier to handle, because I have a tribe who loves and supports me.
Having anxiety is especially tough during Advent with all there is to do. Besides the decorating and the work-work, there is everything else with the expectation it needs to be perfect. The cookies should look just so. The house should be cleaned up nicely. The cards need to go out at just the right time. Oh yeah. And in addition to all this, there are children to teach, parties to attend or chauffeur said children to, caroling, and spending time together as a family. (Time? What time??? Don’t they know I still have so much to do? These cards won’t address and mail themselves!)
Something different happened this year as I reflected on today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, whose theme is Peace. For the past many years, peace was something I wished I could have during Advent. It didn’t matter what sorts of good things I had going on or how blessed I was/am, I felt stressed, frazzled, and overwhelmed trying to get everything done. My anthem was Amy Grant’s “I Need a Silent Night,” and Christmas Eve service was my attempt at grabbing an hour of peace – surrounded by getting the family fed and everyone out the door on the front end and playing Santa on the back end. The only thing I was looking forward to about Christmas was having it behind me, which was a totally horrid way of feeling about it, because Christmas was such a beautiful, special part of my life growing up. I think it was last year, I compared Advent to planning a wedding – a whole lot of work and stress that’s over in mere hours.
Ironically, because of the pastor-friend who first named what was possibly causing the tic in my facial muscles, we won’t be worshiping at her church tomorrow night for Christmas Eve service. I don’t need to go to church to find that hour of peace; I have found it all month long. With it came its close companions of the Advent season – Hope, Joy, Love, and Anticipation. In fact, I’m so loving being in this place that I wish Advent could last just a little bit longer, to drag out that expectation just a wee bit more.
What did my Advent Love look like? It looked like longer hugs shared with friends and stockists. It looked like money in Salvation Army buckets. It looked like text messages, emails, and verbal exchanges where I check in on people and also tell them how much they mean to me.
My Advent Peace has been in yoga. It’s been in walks at sunset. It’s been in walks around the beautifully decorated town square. It’s been in this moment of baking, this moment of looking at decorations, this moment of playing on NORAD, this moment of watching mushy, romantic Christmas movies with my daughters, and it’s been in this quiet moment under the couple’s cocoon of coziness with a cat curled up against my back.
My Advent Joy has bubbled all month long. At my last counseling appointment, my counselor said, “You look calm.” I laughed and said, “I don’t feel calm. I feel effervescent, excited, eager.” That joy reached its zenith (so far) on the day of the Winter Solstice. It was unseasonably warm, nice enough to tolerate being barefoot for a bit. I went outside in a tee-shirt and lounging pants to do some grounding. As I stood in tadasana, bare feet feeling the cool, damp earth, I looked up at the gorgeous blue sky and a laugh just bubbled out. I haven’t felt this type of spontaneous joy during Advent in probably sixteen years or more.
And my Advent Hope? That this feeling will last. I nearly cried with joy while singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” at my friend’s church. It was a Lovefeast service, which harkened back to Christmas Eve traditions and warm memories in the city where we used to live. Tears of joy are something new for me for Advent. This feeling simply must last, because once the tree is down and the decorations are stored away in the garage, the real Christmas Kingdom work begins, and I really don’t have time for anxiety to steal my joy, my energy, or my focus.
Merry Christmas, from our family to yours!