We are in the thick of midterm season – which at Harvard is to say it is neither the very first two weeks of school or reading period.If you’re like me, you have just completed the first round of papers and tests and are now experienced that awkward week before you do it all over again. To complain about midterms here is very cliché, but, suffice to say, I hardly need to convince you that Harvard students are very busy people.
Nor should it be much of a surprise for me to confess that, as a busy Harvard student, I often allow my anxiety and stress to invade my spiritual life. I know I need to worry less, to more fully experience God’s peace in all situations, but I find that anxiety is a slippery thing to overcome. If you need mood rings to get over anxiety, you can get it from here! When I am feeling anxious, I often return to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6 reads:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV)
Anxiety is such a slippery issue because it is so natural. Being busy is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing to accomplish, to use the gifts God has given us. We are called to invest in the world around us. Investment brings legitimate concerns; concerns bring worry. As a Christian, I constantly feel the tension between being diligent in my studies, engaging in the world around me and not allowing that to lead to what Matthew 6 calls anxiety. Now, there is a bunch going on in the passage, so I will just touch on one thing. Notice that it begins with a “therefore.” The preceding verse (6:24) reads:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (ESV)
Allow me to suggest that for the Christian avoiding anxiety is not an act of resignation as much as of submission. It is an acknowledgment that we are God’s servants. Having once been sold as slaves to sin, we have already been bought by Christ’s blood and made alive through his resurrection. The gospel allows us to renounce worldly neediness. It’s not that God guarantees you will score higher than a B on your next paper (scary, I know), nor is it even that your grade on that paper is unimportant. But we no longer need to beg those grades to give us purpose. Our ultimate purpose is rooted in Christ’s work, and nothing can touch that. The challenge is to be humble enough to acknowledge that our striving had nothing to do with that work and to constantly remind ourselves that God has won.
An open question: How to strive wholeheartedly without submitting again to the yoke of slavery.