“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?…Be dressed, ready for service and keep your lamps burning…”
from Luke 12:21:-48 (NIV)
This current viral pandemic is quite concerning, as we hear about what has happened elsewhere in the world, and we wait and wonder what will come to be here – and when it will come to be. We take precautions, stock up on food (and – inexplicably – toilet paper), and wash and wash our hands. We’re unable to gather together physically to pray, worship and encourage each other, but we check in with people whom we are concerned about. We pray. All good things.
Jesus in this twelfth chapter of Luke says clearly to us: “Do not fear”. “Do not be afraid”, “Fear not”, and the like are frequent messages to us throughout the Scriptures. Yet anxiety is definitely hard to manage at times, even for those of us who don’t regularly struggle with it. We cannot simply command our emotions to calm, as Jesus did the storm (Luke 8:22-25). Telling ourselves that we need to trust God is good; we sometimes do this briefly, but then quickly find ourselves worrying again.
Why do we worry? When we are faced with a situation over which we have little to no control, worrying feels like we’re “doing something”. If we manage to put the situation out of our minds for a while, we might even feel almost negligent, as though we’re diminishing the seriousness of the situation. And, unbidden, the worry returns, and we’re “on alert” once again.
Yet we do believe that God is present to our situation, knowing all things, loving us perfectly, working His will in even the worst of circumstances (we are people of the Resurection, after all…). We do believe that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”, and “What can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?” (see Romans 8:31, 38-39). Why is that belief not effective against our anxiety and worry? Why doesn’t that work?
It’s clear the answer is that we have trust issues; not belief issues.
Trust is a “spiritual muscle” that must be exercised in order to grow stronger and more reliability available for us when we are in a crisis. Just as an athlete trains for a long time, developing skills so that that he or she is ready for the competition or the crucial game, so we too need to train. The athlete attempts to become so strong and agile, relying on those hours and hours of training, that sheer “muscle memory” will serve him well when it counts, and needed skills will be automatic under pressure.
So how do we exercise this “trust muscle”?
Several years ago, I encountered the word “entrust”, and that discovery has revolutionized my way of dealing with worry. Why? When we think, read, or hear that we need to “trust God”, we agree, but somehow that sounds like a state of being, and if we aren’t actually able to be and stay in that state of being, we feel as if we’ve failed.
“Entrust”, on the other hand, is a verb, an action. It means we’re doing something, and that something is the actual definition of “entrust”: “To hand over for safekeeping“. How often does one need to do this? Over and over, as long as it takes to work. This is the exercise, the training our trust muscle needs. And God is patient with us, His children (and so must we be with ourselves!), because our attempts please Him, for He sees that we are trying.
Our worried minds are like unruly toddlers who need constant redirecting and teaching, not criticism or harshness. When we recognize that we are worrying, we can pray: “Jesus, I entrust this situation, this person, this problem, this worry to you. I hand it over to you for safekeeping.”
I can exercise my will. I can pray for the grace to choose, over and over, to let go and give it to Him, for He is trustworthy. He will take care of me. He has promised. And, “He who has promised is faithful”(Hebrews 10:23).
We can grow in trust, be “off duty” in our minds, and rest in the love and goodness of God. It just takes practice.