And so these words which come to us this Thanksgiving aren’t first about giving thanks, are they? No, they seem to get at gratitude’s opposite — or at least that which keeps us from being grateful, namely worry.
It was a few years ago when I went to call on a member of our congregation.
She wasn’t in worship much — it seemed that anxiety was part of her every day and it had intensified since her husband’s death several years before. We sat and talked a while that afternoon. I prayed with her. I don’t know whether it helped with her worries or not, but either way I still didn’t see her much after that.
It was some time later when a call came saying she was in the emergency room. By the time I arrived they had determined she had a mass on her brain. Pretty soon she was sent by ambulance to another hospital where she would undergo surgery to attempt to remove the tumor.
Not long after that I stopped in to visit her at a nearby rehabilitation facility. I went late in the day, between her rehab and dinner. When I walked into her room, she pulled herself to her feet, leaning on her walker. She spread out her arms in greeting and she said, struggling to speak, “Pastor! I’m not worried anymore! It’s all gone!”
Now. If it were me and I had just been through what she had just been through and if I had facing me what she had facing her, I would have been plenty worried. In fact, these several years later, I can’t say I really know what happened. It could be that the mass on her brain was pressing on that part which would have made her more anxious, and once it was removed so was her worry. It could be that the trauma of the experience had put everything else in perspective. It could be that something broke through and she could see the protecting hand of God in a very difficult time and that wiped away all of her worries. I only know that for the time she had left her countenance was different. She really did not seem to worry as she once had.
In all truth, I am a worrier. This is nothing new. I carried my anxiety so deep that at the age of six I had nearly developed an ulcer and my folks had me going to a therapist (in a time when that was still pretty unusual) — with whom I never did honestly share the fears that troubled my little girl’s heart. As recently as this morning I could not focus on the yoga poses in my class as I was worrying over what had become of my cell phone. It was not where I had put it the night before. I’m on call at the hospital this week. I’m on call at the church all the time and that is the only sure way anyone can reach me. All through my class I would stretch and try to put it out of my mind and it just kept coming back. (I found it after I got home — it had somehow just slipped off the ledge it was sitting on.) Even now I’m worrying over a tough funeral I have on Friday, about when I’ll finally get the last of the leaves raked, about when I will fit in a series of much needed new member classes and how it is exactly that we’ll be receiving our stewardship commitment cards on Sunday. As I list these here I realize how minor they really are. Just imagine how tied up in knots I would be if I really had something serious to worry about!
Without a doubt, my worries are small and even when they aren’t they don’t seem to paralyze me as they do some and as they surely seemed to bind up the woman whose story I shared above. Still, even my small worries get in the way of my living in the moment God has prepared for me. They take away from my fully experiencing and appreciating what is right in front of me.
Jesus knew this, of course. No doubt this is part of why he so beautifully urges his disciples and all of us to pick up our heads and look around. It is why he points us to the vastness of God’s gifts and pushes us to remember that God takes care of all that and if that is so, how could he, in fact, forget all of us? Poetic words like those in our Gospel lesson point us to this understanding… but God also makes this point in the midst of our lives. Somehow, sometimes, God does use the really terrible things that do happen to many of us to remind us of what is worth worrying about and what isn’t. Only in Jesus’ words today? Nothing actually is worth worrying about, not even the worst tragedies and struggles that are ours, for it is all in God’s hands. The big things, absolutely. And the small ones, too: like still to be raked leaves and liturgical directions for bringing forward commitment cards in worship. Not that God will make sure my leaves are raked (although it was a blessed surprise to discover that some still anonymous friends had raked most of them to the curb a few weeks back) or that God will write the tough funeral sermon that is before me (although, I’ve learned, over time, that the words always come — so even in that I’ve learned to rest some…) No it won’t happen by my ignoring it, but even the certainty, borne to me now by years of experience, that God will give me what I need is usually more than enough. It’s another way of picking up my head and looking at those lilies of the field. When I pay attention to what I have, in fact, experienced my whole life long, I learn again the same lesson.
So yes, Jesus’ sending us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air for examples of how we are also to be does just what it needs to do. It points me to what God has already done in the world and in my life. It reminds me that for all of time as we trust in God, somehow it always works out. The challenge, though, for me again today, is not only hearing these words but also to step into and embrace the blessing they are meant to bring. Maybe, in the end, all I need to do as Jesus said. Perhaps I only need to step outside and gaze at the sky, the still green grass, the now empty fall trees, and the occasional summer flower which somehow survived the first frost — to be reminded of the gift Jesus offers now in pointing to God’s tender care for all that is.
And so these words are ours this Thanksgiving — urging us to let go of the worry — and to entrust whatever it is that would rob our lives of peace and joy — urging us to finally give it all back to God who gives us all of that for which we give thanks in the first place.
How do you hear Jesus’ poetic words about the lilies of the field and his urging you not to worry?
Besides lilies and birds, what else might you point to that would carry the same lesson?
- What does worry do to you? How do you manage to let it go?
- How do you think worry and gratitude are connected? Why this Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving?