Today’s troubles are enough for today

Published 8:25 am Friday, December 4, 2009

Some of you may have read a book when you were little called “Gulliver’s Travels.” It’s about an Englishman named Lemuel Gulliver, who decided to take a sea voyage after he went bankrupt. He was shipwrecked on an island full of tiny midgets no bigger than your fingers. The midgets were called Lilliputians. They watched Gulliver after he washed ashore. While he was sleeping, they came and tied him up. Since they were so small they didn’t have a rope that was large enough to immobilize him. So they brought their ladders over to him, and then they climbed up and threw thousands of tiny threads (heavy ropes to them!)  over his body. When he woke up, he was completely pinned to the ground by all of these tiny ropes. He couldn’t move at all.

We can get as stuck by our worries as Gulliver was stuck by those tiny ropes. One little worry isn’t that bad-but one is usually followed by another, then another. Say that we’re worried about someone because they’re late. First, we worry that dinner will be ruined-then, that they had to stay late because they lost their job and had to pack up their office-then, that they were in a car accident-then that turns into “What if they’re in the hospital right now?” Which can even become “What if they’ve died?” It sound foolish in the light of day, but on a dark and snowy night, while we’re alone waiting for someone to get home on an icy road, it all seems possible. And we’re stuck in darkness.

Worry is so dangerous because our minds and our bodies are deeply connected. A psychologist did a study once where he asked people imagine a ripe, juicy lemon. Then he told them to imagine smelling the lemon, then peeling it. Finally, he had them imagine biting into the lemon. Their mouths filled with saliva, jut as it would have if they had actually bitten into the sour fruit, and their lips puckered. Our bodies physically react to our thoughts — they can’t tell the difference between our thoughts and reality. Imagining that something terrible has happen has the same effect on our bodies as actually living through whatever we’re imagining.

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So, we jeopardize our health when we worry.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. … Today’s trouble is enough for today. … Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.””

We don’t want to worry — we knew that before we started reading this article — but how do we get there? Worries seem to fizzle up within our minds sometimes like bubbles in a glass of pop. Worrying about the past leaves part of us always looking back. … worrying about the future leaves us so far-sighted that we can’t see what’s clearly in front of us. But if we have one foot in the past-or one in the future-we’re stuck, like Gulliver. We’re stuck in the kingdom of regrets and fear-not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is here, now.

I saw someone who lives in the Kingdom of God last Sunday. I went to a nursing home to visit a lovely woman who would be embarrassed if I printed her name. As I drove to see her, I was living partly in the past, and partly in the future. Someone had done something that saddened and hurt me that morning, and they did it because they still haven’t forgiven me for an old grudge. Someone else had threatened to do something that would sadden and hurt himself, the church and me. I was thinking of these two men when I walked in to see my parishioner, who was lying down. We talked for a while, and then she saw me yawn. Worrying tires me out. I tried to hide the yawn, but she noticed.

“Here,” she said. “Climb up in bed with me. That’s what my daughter does when she comes to visit me. She says it’s just like old times when she does that.”

I told her no thanks — although the bed looked good. She was quiet for a minute, and then she said, “The time goes by so fast. So many good memories. And God is so good. Our heavenly father is always with us, and always looks after us. He’s such a good God. I’m ready to go to be with him whenever he wants me. He always takes care of me all of the time.”

I’ve spent enough times in nursing homes to know that it’s a challenging place in which to have an outlook like hers. But last Sunday, she was filled — oddly, some might think, as she lay in a bed that gave her a constant backache — with gratitude. Gratitude is the opposite of worry. It’s looking back on the best of the past, not the hurts and conflicts. It’s expecting the best in the future, not the worst. She must have bad days — we all do — days when life looks dark. But last Sunday she wasn’t looking at her life, so much as she was looking at what God has done in her life.

Are you stuck in worry? Worry and anger are like the traps that hunters used to set for wolves. The hunters buried a sharp knife in a pile of frozen, bloody meat. The wolves would come and lick it, and soon they’d be licking their own blood while their mouths were torn to ribbons. The wolves thought the blood tasted good, but they were really taking their own lives. That’s what worry does.

Don’t live in the past or the future, no matter how good they taste. Live today, here, now, with God, in God’s kingdom. Pray to find gratitude. And trust Jesus. He promises in this reading — yes, he promises — that the God who clothes the grass and feeds the birds loves you more than those, and that you will be given what you need.