In Matthew 6:27, Jesus asks, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Presumably this is a rhetorical question. In our heads we know we can’t add hours to our lives by worrying. If we could, many of us would increase our lifespan by several years because we spend so much time fretting.
However, not only can we not add hours to our lives, we can actually subtract life from our hours when we worry. I’m not going to quote statistics in this regard. I’m just going to speak from observation and experience.
Think of the student who diligently studied for a big test. He takes the test and anxiously awaits the results. He knows it will be at least two days until he finds out how he did.
In those two days he could spend time doing things he likes – hanging out with friends, going to the movies, playing his favorite sport, or riding his bike.
However, this particular student is a worrier. So, rather than all that fun stuff he could be doing, he spends the next two days worrying about his test results. He’s not adding hours to his life. He’s subtracting life from his hours.
Here’s another example. Plenty of times in my life I’ve put pieces of mail in the mail slot at the post office or in one of those big blue mail boxes outside. Upon exiting the post office or driving away from the blue box I have caught myself worrying that the bill or letter somehow didn’t make its way into the slot/box.
Knowing full well that I inserted it, I still worry that somehow (grew legs and learned how to walk?) it escaped. If we play this scenario out with credible reasoning, like if I dropped the piece rather than inserting it, the bill/letter would most likely be either laying on the floor of the PO lobby or on the pavement or sidewalk beside the box.
If that were the case I could easily check it to make sure I’d addressed and stamped it (another common worry for me).
But it never is laying there — because I’ve always inserted it in the slot/box. Therefore, I can rest assured that it’s been mailed and is on its way to its intended destination.
So, if we get really technical, my second worry (can’t double check postage because piece has already been inserted in slot/box) actually cancels out my first worry (has the piece been mailed?).
Sounds like a victory in the worrywart’s life! But it’s not — if we revisit Jesus’ words I mentioned earlier.
He asked, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Reviewing this whole mailbox conundrum in my mind has not added hours to my life. If anything it has subtracted life from my hours.
I mean, seriously, who really gets a kick out of analyzing whether or not their letter/bills make it to the inside of the mailbox/slot? By the time I’ve rehearsed this scenario in my head a few times, I’ve wasted valuable minutes that I could have spent doing something productive!
And isn’t that Jesus’ point? Worrying is not productive. Now, we could berate ourselves for doing something that Jesus considers unproductive and then probably worry about that too (because worriers are known to worry about worrying!).
Or we could actually engage in something productive.
Later in Matthew (6:33-34), after reminding us that our Heavenly Father knows what we need, Jesus says this, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
What if, rather than worrying, we really would seek His kingdom? What if we really did cast all of our cares on Him because we know He cares for us – like I Peter 5:7 tells us to do?
Unfortunately many of us have gotten so deeply into the habit of worrying that we need a specific strategy and concrete plan to overcome that habit. At our church’s annual conference this past June, I remember our bishop reminding us that we have no need to fear because God Almighty is with us.
So, after conference, I made this my mantra: “There’s no need to fear! God Almighty is here!”
Anytime I find myself on the verge of worrying or being afraid, I remember this catchy phrase – and the truth of it.
This may not literally add hours to my life, but it helps me be well on my way to adding life to my hours.
Joni Manson is Pastor of Sabina United Methodist Church.