Daily Office Readings – Gospel ( Matthew 6:25-34 )
Thirty six and a half million people unemployed as of today, May 14, 2020. And three million of that number were added just this past week.
People are stressed out, looking at the shrinking savings (if they had any) and wondering how quickly they may be able to return to work. Some are willing to risk their own lives to return to work, because the fear of being unable to pay mortgages, rents, or other loan payments, or worse, being unable to buy food for the family outweighs their fear of contracting Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2).
So in this current pandemic, the words of Jesus telling us not to worry about what we will eat or wear or drink seem to be a little tone-deaf. Millions of people in the United States alone are worrying about what they will eat or drink. Let alone having to worry if they will contract this new disease. Worry is the name of the game.
I’ve been fortunate enough to keep my job during this time, and am allowed to work from home, but I’ve experienced extended periods of unemployment or under-employement and I understand a bit of what people are experiencing right now. At one point, this period of minimal to no employment lasted for just about 2 years. It would be a lie to say that during this time I wasn’t worried about being unable to pay bills or have enough to eat.
When I lived in Washington, the church I pastored barely brought enough in to pay the rent on the facility, let alone pay their pastor. To make ends meet, I worked two minimum wage jobs, and took as many web programming gigs as I could find; since this was at the height of the recession, there weren’t many. Almost every month I was concerned about how to pay rent, and found myself distracted from my duties as a pastor by trying to figure out how to raise the money I needed to remain under a roof. Often I had to choose between grocery shopping and paying rent. Sometimes I had to choose between paying the rent on the church and paying rent on my apartment.
After shutting down that church, I remained un- or under-employed for another year before finally finding full time work again. During that time I was constantly focused on making the ends meet when it came time to pay the bills. I tried all sorts of things, from selling old theology books from seminary, to buying junk, restoring it, and reselling it for a profit, to doing landscaping and construction day jobs. Every minor victory brought with it a moment of peace until the next bill came due, and then the cycle started all over again.
One of the things that irritated the hell out of me was when people would tell me “God will provide,” and use this passage about the birds to tell me I should quit worrying and be happy. Instead of me no longer worrying – it had the effect of me now worrying about how not to smack people upside the head when I saw them again. Because just telling someone to quit worrying is no help at all.
Also, if you think about it, God doesn’t always feed the birds. Some die of starvation or get eaten by bigger birds after all. Some have their eggs stolen out of their nests by mammals with four fingers and opposable thumbs. Some are hunted by those same mammals for sport.
It’s just that the birds don’t worry about all that, I guess.
Which I suppose is kind of the point.
What finally ended up working for me were to follow the advice at the end of this passage: to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” For me, that meant that I started to just sit and meditate on a verse of scripture – even if my mind couldn’t concentrate on it. Then, i would pray for others that were in more dire straits than I was. Finally, I would just try to sit in the present moment and thank God for what I was experiencing: thank you for the sun on my face, this fantastic cup of coffee, the singing of the birds in the distance, the warm fire in front of me.
Did I quit worrying?
But what it did was allow me a respite from my fear of tomorrow. Even if it was just 10 minutes, or an hour. During that time, I had no cares. I had only peace.
And the more at peace I was, the more likely I was to see God’s hand in all aspects of my life, and realize that perhaps I truly shouldn’t be worrying as much as I was. Just like those silly little birds. Looking back on it all, I realize that even though those times in Washington were extremely difficult, I never once lost the apartment, I never once went hungry, because God always seemed to provide at the right moment. An anonymous gift paid my rent more than once, and one of the Roman Catholic priests at a local parish often gave me food when I needed it most. And back in Arizona – after shutting down the church – additional day jobs always seemed to appear right when extra bills came due.
Again, no. Not entirely.
But I notice I can much more quickly jump into that moment of peace, and at least take a momentary respite from the troubles of tomorrow.
Of course, I recognize that this time I’m coming at this scripture from the opposite side of worry, still having my job during this pandemic – at least for now. So I am using my situation to help out those in my immediate circle as best I can, which I hope drops their level of worry just a bit. Hopefully we’ll all end up on the other side of this still able to thank God for the great tasting coffee and the birds singing in the distance.