Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Ash Wednesday was on Valentine’s Day this year, and on a date celebrating both love and penance, the Deacon at the Lenten commencement service advised the flock to figure out what is standing between each of us and God. It’s a good Lenten message and the congregation is uplifted and motivated, left meditating “what is standing between me and God?”
I’m embarrassed when an answer presents itself immediately and with insistent clarity. What’s standing between me and God is worry, and more specifically self-absorbed worry about earthly goals, having security, and being in control. I haven’t been heeding the words of Matthew, and worried obsession is taking up too much head space. There is not enough heart space left over for God and others. It’s a humbling project for the next 40 days. How does one go about giving up worry?
Several years ago, the Dalai Lama spoke at the University of Texas in Austin. As he entered the stage at Bass Concert Hall, he settled himself into a big white easy chair, crossed his legs underneath himself, adjusted his yellow robe, settled more comfortably again into the chair, and then looked out across the assembly with a smile so peaceful and impish that the audience was spellbound before he said a word. And then his words were simple and profound.
“The secret to a happy life is to seek a still and quiet heart. And if you can do that, and only if you can do that, then seek to have compassion for others.”
His words echo those of Jesus who said pretty much the same thing when the Pharisees tried to trip him up by asking him which is the greatest of all the commandments. Jesus replied that first you must love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength. That’s a big all-encompassing endeavor. And on top of that he said you must love your neighbors as yourself. If we spent enough effort following just these two commandments, it’s pretty clear there would be little time left over for worry.
I’ve heard this message many times, in many versions. Years ago, Father Alan Oakes, in one of life’s best-ever sermons, said that the key to a peaceful spirit is to be quiet, let go, and serve others.
Be Quiet. Let Go. Serve Others. It’s a good prescription for do not worry.
I go to the beach in winter specifically to be quiet. Not the be-quiet of close your mouth and stop speaking, but the be-quiet of slow down, sit still, and listen. It’s an annual pilgrimage of solitude to let heal the wounds of a too-busy life. Listening to the waves and the air and the birds clears the static in my head. In quiet rest, you can hear God’s whisper. Listen.
Letting go is a little harder. An exasperated friend, working on her own obsession with being in control, once said in a moment of inspired brilliance, “I must let go of the vanity of assuming that everything is my responsibility!” Another friend, a Sufi, once told me his teacher regularly admonishes him “we start from here.” Let go of the past and start now at this one precious moment you have here at hand. Trust.
While at the beach my sister made breakfast for us all week. Beautiful green anti-oxidant bowls designed to calm and cleanse our bodies. It was a gentle service of nourishment. I cleaned the dishes, recognizing that service doesn’t have to be grandiose. No act of small kindness or service is ever wasted. Make a difference to one person. Be kind.
What is standing between you and God? Easter was on April Fool’s Day this year, and on a date celebrating both resurrection and playfulness, I’m glad God has a sense of humor. Forty days later I’m worrying less about worrying too much. But I’m also working on it, seeking that still and quiet heart filled with love and adoration, and seeking along the journey to have compassion for my neighbors.
Do not worry about anything, turn over your worries to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart.
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Susie Duffy Buehler is an Austin based writer regularly seeking to see people through God’s eyes. Sometimes the challenge is harder than others but there is no shortage of practice opportunities.