“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Matthew 6:25 (NRSV)
“Don’t worry, be happy!” This saying, widely attributed to Sufi spiritual master Meher Baba, was made famous in the lyrics of musician Bobby McFerrin’s song by the same name, the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (1988). Perhaps, however, we should look to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in this week’s lectionary selection from Matthew’s gospel for an earlier–and more complete–version of this idea.
“Don’t worry” is good advice; I don’t think anyone would dispute this fact, but to “be happy” requires some amplification. “Happy” doesn’t just happen for most folks, although the word’s etymology reflects the idea of “luck.” Like most things in life, happiness is most often a byproduct of dedicated focus and effort. All too often, we humans search for happiness in all the wrong places. We consume to excess, we buy, we eat and drink, and we even try to drug ourselves into a state of contentment. All too often we end up empty-handed wondering why happiness has slipped through our fingers like grains of sand from a day at the beach.
Jesus understood our human need to fill the empty places in our life, and he knew that in our brokenness we would invariably look in many of the wrong places on our quest. “You cannot serve God and wealth,” he says in the first verse of this week’s gospel passage.
So then why do we keep trying to serve two masters? Why do we keep on worrying about keeping up with the Joneses? Why do we obsess about having possessions? God knows what we need, Jesus tells us, yet we keep on trying to outthink and outperform the Divine One. “It can’t be as simple as Jesus says it is,” we think. We’d much rather consider Zoloft or a new sports car as the effective remedy for the anxiety and stress that pervades our culture. It seems so much easier to fill our hours and Blackberries with seemingly relevant activities and to-do lists.
My cousin recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia, after serving for more than 20 years as a missionary in Honduras. One of the things she’s been most alarmed by is our culture’s need to rush and scurry, to be on the go. She noted that her days were full in Central America, but not filled with hours of trying to get from point A to point B. One of the greatest challenges in her present ministry is simply finding people at home.
These verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount convict me every time I read them. What a comfort to hear how much God values me! God knows my every need and desires to provide for me. I know in my heart that all my fretting, fuming, and fixating won’t add a day to my life. And yes, I fully realize that tomorrow will bring its own worries because I’ve spent way too many hours trying to outwit and plan around potential problems of the future. Guess where it’s gotten me? Yep. Not a step farther than I would have gone, and probably the acquisition of several more gray hairs and a few frown lines.
My solution? Slow down. Listen more. Try really hard, as Seneca said, to “count each day a separate life.” I’ll be the one you pass on the interstate today, the one who’s driving 55 on the highway. Not only will I be a good steward of resources and money, I’ll be a good steward of my life, feeling the road under my tires, watching the brilliant northern plains sky show on the horizon, and trying to live into my own version of McFerrin’s catchy little tune–Don’t worry, be faithful. God will take care of the rest.
1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesÃ¦lig, which has become silly. O.E. bliÃ°e “happy” survives as blithe. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.” Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour “early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.
Copyright (c) 2008, The Rev. Sharron Lucas, all rights reserved. Used by permission.