Sunday, February 26, 2017

Worry — Can We Help It?

Today’s lectionary gospel passage touches on several themes (Matt. 6: 24-34). Perhaps the most dominant theme is worry. It contains phrases like “do not worry about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink” (25).

It continues with the advice that God can provide all these things if one seeks after God, with lovely images of birds and flowers. Yet, I find it a profoundly disturbing passage.

As I am writing this I am sat in a comfortable chair, I have just eaten my breakfast, I will shortly shower and then have the luxury of the choice of what clothes to wear. So, I can read this passage about not worrying about these things lightly.

But that is not the case for many, many people. I work with a population who often struggle with hunger and barely adequate clothing.

Here are some figures from 2015 from the Talk Poverty organisation. These figures are for the USA:

Overall Poverty Rate 13.5% (43.1 million people)

This is further broken down,

Children 19.7% (14.5 million children)
African American 24.1% (10 million people)
Hispanic 21.4% (12.1 million people)
Native American 26.6% (700,000 people)
White 9.1% (17.8 million people)
People with disabilities 28.5% (4.4 million people)

The figures present a dismal picture. Not only about the number of people living in poverty but about the racial biases seen therein. If poverty figures are viewed on a global level they are even higher.

A 2014 Pew Research Centre survey showed that 70.6% of the population of the U.S. identified themselves as Christian. I am sure that some of that percentage are also living in poverty.

How must it feel to read, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink” (25) if one does not have enough food to give children their breakfast, knowing they are already hungry. How easy would it be to not worry? I can’t imagine.

Of course, there are many commendable organisations, often faith-based, which try to alleviate poverty, feed and clothe hungry and cold people. Many individuals support these out of their own income. Together, all do a marvelous job ensuring basic needs are met. But it does not change the stark facts of how many people are in this position. I’m sure many of them constantly worry about it. I have added all these figures to raise the awareness of this huge problem in society. I don’t want to simply resort to trust God and all will be solved. I don’t think that is either realistic or helpful.

So, what is worry? I read an article in Pyschology Today to see the good and bad side of worry,

Worrying is obviously not a pleasant emotion, but it is actually an essential, normal, and instinctive emotion that has been hard-wired into humans to help us survive since we rose out of the primordial muck. We worry about something because we perceive it as a threat to our existence and worry causes us to focus on it and protect ourselves from that threat. 
The article goes on to say that unhealthy worry is harmful. One can become obsessed with worry and become absorbed by it rather than it being an emotion that helps one survive.

I think examples of healthy worry are all around us. I see it in a colleague whose baby is sick so she takes it to the hospital, a trip which possibly saves the baby’s life. I see it when people are worried about the ice on the road so drive cautiously to arrive home safely.

So back to the gospel passage. It leaves me with a number of uncomfortable questions.

Is it healthy to worry about what one eats and drinks?
Is that a normal part of living, loving and caring?
Is it really showing a lack of faith and trust if one doesn’t have enough to eat or no coat or shoes?
Is the gospel only for the middle classes?

I leave the questions as some food for thought for this week.

(Photo: Ithaca Falls, February 2016)