Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43 • Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 and Psalm 49:1-12 • Colossians 3:1-11 • Luke 12:13-21
This week's story from Luke begins with someone asking Jesus to tell his brother to share the inheritance from their parents. Putting his request aside, Jesus tells another story involving a rich man with the problem of a big harvest: where to put it all? He thinks it through, deciding to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to create more storage space. Next, God shows up – an unusual occurrence in Jesus' stories – calling the man a fool and telling him that his life would be ending that very day. Jesus ends with a warning that this is how life goes for those who think only of themselves. In the following passage, the very next verse (Luke 12:22) begins with a warning about worry.
For a model in managing worry, there is nothing like a day with a three-year-old. Recently, my grandson and I were getting ready to spend the day together, a complicated day involving a train ride, a museum, a merry-go-round, and his grandfather, whom he adores, but who was going to show up at an undetermined time. I was trying to explain the day and the various ways it might go, using a simplified vocabulary. He kept asking questions, listening carefully. Finally, he turned his little hands palms up, gave a big shrug, smiled, and said, "We don't know what's going to happen!"
We don't know what's going to happen. For a three-year-old, the joy of not knowing, of watching the day unfold with curiosity at every step, is perfectly natural. For adults, though, it's more complicated. We don't know whether we will have enough money to get us through our old age, or whether a family member struggling with cancer is going to live. The longer list of things we don't know, from climate change to whether people approve of us to the potential for nuclear war to the best way to drive home in heavy traffic, is endless. Some unknown is always available as a focus for worry.
Worry is often a thinly disguised expression of another emotion: fear. Going back to the rich man with the big harvest, the joy of the harvest did not last long before fears began to creep in. Where would he put it all? How would he manage to hold on to it? What could go wrong? In these worries, it does not occur to him to reach out to others for their ideas. If anything, he sees them as a threat to him and his stuff. His mind, completely focused on himself and his fears, does not see that solutions might be found in his family or larger community. Others might have space in their barns, or other ideas about storage, or somehow see the problem differently. Others might need some of the grain. A feast might be in order. But the rich man, in his fear, has lost the capacity to connect with others.
The rich man has also lost the capacity to relax, eat, drink and be merry. Even though he tells himself that finally he has enough, if he were to live longer, it would not be long before other worries (are the locks on my barns strong enough?) would interfere with his relaxation. Thus, the joy of living has been continually beyond his reach, throughout his life. The more he focused on his fears, the less he could see how to manage them in relationships with others. Managing fears with others would not mean handing his worries off for others to take over for him; but instead, in a spirit of cooperation, to look for solutions along with others, mindful of one's responsibilities to one another. When a person is participating fully in family and community, the burdens are spread. When people work together, amazing things can result: We don't know what's going to happen!
Morning: What am I afraid of today? How might my fears run (and ruin) my day? Where will my responsibilities for myself and to others come up? How can I be clearer with others without passing my anxiety off to others?
Evening: Where did fear take hold? Would it be possible to notice it sooner?