I wonder if worrying should be considered a national pastime. We certainly spend a lot of time doing it, often without realizing it.
When Jesus told His followers to leave off worrying, in his famous “Consider the lilies…” passage (Mt 6:25-33), his audience had a lot more reason to worry than we do. Most of them were poor, and they were living in an occupied country, under Pontius Pilate, who had shown little respect for them or their lives. Yet He said to them, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’"
Most of us in the West don’t have to worry about what we're going to eat or wear, as we are not faced with the likelihood of going without food or clothing. We often worry about things far less basic to survival. We worry about being liked, paying for all that we think we need or want, our reputation—which in turn causes us to worry about not looking good enough, saying the wrong thing, etc.
We also worry about more important things, of course, but things we have no control over: the economy, the safety of our loved ones or of our country, etc.
But worrying over anything, even the most justifiable in worldly terms (e.g., our own life), Jesus says is a waste of time: “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” Rather, He teaches us that being a child of God means trusting that our heavenly Father will care for us.
Actually, worrying is something of an insult to God; it shows a lack of confidence in His love for us. Rather, I should entrust the things that worry me to God. I should build my trust by recalling what He has done for me in the past when I gave my concerns to Him.
Instead of worrying, Christ urges us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Doing that automatically kicks me out of center stage, and puts God there, where He belongs. Seeking God's Kingdom also gives us His perspective and helps us get our priorities straight.
After all, what is life about? Isn't about getting to heaven and bringing others with us? I need to spend my energy more on working with the Holy Spirit to sanctify my soul and to be a channel of God’s love to the souls around me. Everything else is temporary.
And seeking God's Kingdom and righteousness before all else yields the opposite of anxiety: peace and joy. When I stop fooling myself in thinking I can have it both ways—serve God and seek my own interest—only then will I have peace. Otherwise I become anxious to get my way and greedy to keep it, whether it is a little thing, like a little pleasure or reward I anticipate for myself, or achieving my five-year plan. When I let go of all these things—when I become like St. Paul who was content to feast or do without—only then I have peace in God’s will, only then I can “rejoice at all times.”
“Seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” means seeking His will, attaching myself to His will, not my own. And when I do that, I can know joy because I’m aware that whatever happens, happens according to His will. (Everything happens at least according to His permissive will if not His perfect will, for He uses even the sins of others against us for our good and the good of the Kingdom). He reassured us of this: “I know my plans for you, and they are for good, and not for evil” (Jer 29:11). And “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
There’s really only one thing to worry about: am I pleasing God?