This Sunday: Don’t Serve the God of Worry

In this Sunday’s Gospel (the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A) — and the upcoming season of Lent — the Church calls us to simplify our lives and focus them more on God.

Jesus calls the Christian to a radical simplicity:

“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 clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”

We are far from this vision of simplicity.

The American Psychological Association says 70% of Americans report physical consequences of stress – and another 70% report emotional consequences. About 30% suffer from chronic stress; 42% of us lay awake at night unable to sleep because of stress.

What are we worried about? The study breaks down the causes of stress this way: 69% say it is money; 65% say it’s work; and 61% say it’s the economy.

In other words, we worry about the very issues Jesus says not to worry about: reaping, sowing, spending.

“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” he asks — and statistics show that, quite the contrary, stress is killing us.

Stress causes headaches and muscle tension and leads to overeating and substance abuse. Apart from the physical toll, it kills many people more directly: suicide caught up with car accidents as the leading cause of death for several populations recently, and shows no signs of slowing down.

In other words, our worry has reached epidemic proportions.

Today’s readings teach a better way: Trust.

“Can a mother forget her infant?” God asks in Isaiah. “Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

“God is my safety and my glory,” says the Psalm. “Trust in him at all times, O my people!”

How is that level of trust possible?

It can be hard to trust God. We think the universe is set up to go on its way without paying much mind to us. Our job is to grab whatever we can.

But Jesus gives the key advice when he says: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

When we think we are providing for ourselves, we aren’t really. We have just switched allegiances from  trusting that God will provide for our needs to trusting money – Mammon – to do so.

Jesus’ two-step plan is to first stop serving money and, second, start serving God.

To stop serving money is not easy. It requires cutting back on habits of spending and rethinking the lifestyle choices we have been making. To stop serving mammon will mean budgeting our money such that it serves our interests as Christians rather than money demanding that we serve it.

Lent, which begins this Wednesday, is the perfect time to enact the plan. For Lent, we should focus on prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving. Why not take on the family budget for your Lenten penance?

Budget your time to prayer; budget your money to live more simply and to give more generously.

Now  is a perfect time to start establishing better habits in each – and exchange modern anxiety for enduring hope and trust.

Photo: Michael R. P. Ragazzon, Flickr Creative Commons

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.