Worry List

Luke 16.1-13

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

Last summer, I was attending the Saturday luncheon at a boating club near my home in the Berkshires. For some reason, we were talking around the table about worrying, and a young woman at the table, who is a local executive and mother of three, told an amusing story on herself.

The woman’s husband was in charge of a manufacturing plant in her town. One day, she was out shopping in town and she heard someone say that there had been a serious accident at the plant.

She immediately phoned her husband’s office. But in the few seconds while she was waiting for someone to answer her call, an odd string of thoughts raced through her mind.

First, she thought that her husband might have been hurt in the accident. Then she imagined he might have been killed. Then she thought how she might have to raise her children alone, and all the things she would have to do differently. She thought to herself: “I’ll have to date again. But,” she said to herself, “that means I’ll have to go on a diet!”

Happily, the accident at the plant wasn’t serious and in fact her husband wasn’t involved—so the woman could afford to laugh at her train of thought and the way her worries moved from accident to dieting. But her funny story indicates a serious truth about how our minds work.

We all worry about things—that’s obvious. Most of us worry so much that we have familiar subjects that we fret about. We might even have informal “worry lists” of concerns that keep going around in our heads: family, friends, health, job, money, pets, and chores – the mundane worries can be numerous. Or we spend time pondering more philosophical subjects: self-esteem, popularity, meaning, purpose, success.
Such concerns are natural and they can have the useful function of spurring us on to use our time wisely so that we can do the work God has given us to do.

However, as the woman’s experience shows, we don’t naturally sort out the various problems that come to mind. Unimportant worries get mixed up with important ones, so that the trivial crowds out the serious.

The result is that we waste so much time thinking about minor issues that we neglect problems that we ought to worry about.

And there is indeed a big difference between minor and major problems. As Jesus tells his disciples in today’s Gospel, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

So if you keep agonizing about how long you’ll be stuck in traffic or what you’re going to wear, you’ll neglect the work you ought to do or the relationship that needs repairing.

“No one can serve two masters.” Christ’s words are as true today as they were when he said them. For Jesus was referring in particular to the conflict between serving God and serving wealth—a problem that is manifest in our own time in the scandals in the financial industry and in the individuals who indulge themselves and pay for their pleasures by going into debt.

But the more general point is also appropriate for people in every age. We can’t spiritually serve two masters—our spirits can’t do it!

I sometimes witness such conflicting priorities when I am counseling married couples who have difficulties in their relationships. These difficulties often aren’t deep problems like abuse or infidelity but, rather, what look like small conflicts that could easily be fixed.

The husband might be spending a lot of time visiting his parents, and the wife feels left out. Or both husband and wife might be working such long hours in their respective jobs that they hardly see each other, and they begin to grow apart.

The problems can be resolved if the couples remember that their wedding vows commit them to “ordering their common life.” If they give more time to their relationship, their marriage will improve.

Such ordering isn’t rocket science: the couple can go out more by themselves, they can draw boundaries that limit interference with their extended families, and so on. But it’s amazing how many intelligent couples fail to do this!
For example, I have never known anyone who actually left a high-paying job for a lower-paying position in order to free up more time for his or her marriage. Even those politicians who leave office in order “to spend more time with their families” appear really to be leaving because they are afraid they won’t be re-elected!

Granted, it can be hard to give up a job you’ve worked years to get, as it can be painful to say no to an aged parent. Yet if the husband and wife are spiritually committed to their life together, and their family is their priority before God, they need to make changes in their lives so that their relationship can deepen. To gain control over their marriage, they have to choose the master they will serve.

So if you’re having trouble sorting out your priorities, here’s a little spiritual project for you. Take a few minutes and jot down your own worry list. (If you don’t have any worries to write down, then give thanks to God–and go off and see a movie!)

If you do make a list, see whether your list has some items that are much less important than others. And note if some of these little headaches crowd out issues that you really ought to worry about. Maybe you need to set some priorities.

Since we are about to renew our baptismal vows in preparation for the baptism of young Catie, we can think of the priorities that should be ours as Christians. We can look at the concerns we have and ask: where is God in all of this? Who is the true master of our souls? How many of our worries help us to serve God and God’s people?

In this process of self-examination, we may also discover that setting priorities isn’t just a mind-clearing project. It relieves us from the trivial issues that sap our energy. As a result, we become free to follow Christ and to enjoy the abundant life he brings.

Amen.


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