The Collect read in church on September 24
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
The anxiety with which we all contend is nothing new. Epictetus, first century Stoic philosopher said: Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems. Around the same time, Jesus spoke about anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
It sounds like Jesus was referring to the earthly things in the collect we heard yesterday in church (see above). To address anxiety, he tells disciples to change their perspective, to look up:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
He continues with another example of anxiety-free living:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
Jesus invites disciples to a heavenward perspective. He says:
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
How have you handled anxiety, in yourself or others? I have found that the least effective way for me to address someone else’s anxiety is to tell them not to be anxious. I have found that the least effective way for me to address my own anxiety (along with my own resentment and envy) is to try to power through it, to will it away. In my experience, the only way that anxiety has been lifted is by grace, a gift from a power greater than myself, by divine intervention. It’s led me to pray the prayer from Psalm 51, offered on Ash Wednesday among other times. The prayer? Create in me a clean heart.
No doubt about it. There’s plenty about which we might reasonably be anxious, on a global scale and in our own lives, as we look at the church, as we pray for friends and family members, as we project our own future, as we raise kids. We certainly can focus on those things. Wherever anxiety comes from, whether real or imagined concerns, our faith tells us that its relief comes by looking beyond the anxiety, or maybe more to the point, looking above the anxiety. That can involve trust. That can involve gratitude. That can happen in worship.
C. S. Lewis, who wrote a good deal about a heavenly perspective, put it this way: If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next…Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.
Add to that a word from preacher C. H. Spurgeon: Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths. And a final invitation to do our best to take ourselves lightly, offered by Rabbi Ed Friedman: A major criterion for judging the anxiety level of any society is the loss of its capacity to be playful.
How will you respond to anxiety this week?