When so many things go right each day, why get anxious over the ones that don't?
I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things. In the same way humankind came into existence.
—2 Maccabees 7:28
If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?
Several years ago, a good priest came to me with a serious concern. “I trust God, I really do, but sometimes I’m still afraid. Don’t you get scared?”
With the uncertainty of the life I lead—really of any life, but particularly the itinerant evangelist kind—I certainly ought to be afraid quite frequently. But I thought about it and answered truthfully: “No, not really.”
I looked at his shocked face and continued.
“I don’t get scared, I get angry.”
And it’s true. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, I’m not afraid that everything will be a disaster. I’ve seen God work too many times not to realize that somehow it will be okay. So I’m not scared that I might have to sleep in my car or quit my ministry to care for a sick relative or live sad and alone forever. Maybe all those things will happen. Somehow it will still be okay.
I know he’ll work it all out, so when things go wrong I’m not scared. I’m mad. Because he’s not doing what I want. He’s not letting me rule my own life. I write him a blank check with my life and then rage at him when anything goes wrong. “A red light?? Why, God, WHY????”
It’s rather ridiculous to be furious at God for minor inconveniences like pink eye and traffic jams considering how much he does for me. And I’m not just talking life and family and faith and all. It’s the little things, too—maybe more than anything.
My spiritual director is fond of reminding me that on any given day a trillion things go right and only about six go wrong. It’s not just God’s constant care that I need to be reminded of, though, it’s the incredible amount of gratitude I owe him. Sure, I may have gotten a parking ticket. But every cell in my body is dividing as it should. Maybe my heart is broken, but the atmosphere continues to protect the earth from ultraviolet radiation. So I lost my job. At least my body is capable of processing food.
A sinkhole didn’t open up underneath me. The water cycle exists. My shoe didn’t break. Gravity.
There are so, so many things that went right today, so many tiny things that were totally beyond my control. Why on earth would I be anxious about the rest? Sometimes it doesn’t take divinity to know what Christ knows. Sometimes it’s just a solid dose of perspective. “Why are you anxious?” Why am I angry or afraid? Because I’ve forgotten the trillion things. I’ve forgotten to be grateful.
The mother speaking in Maccabees isn’t talking to a child throwing a tantrum over the wrong cup or an insensitive Facebook comment or a broken friendship. This man—her little boy—is about to be scalped and have his tongue cut out and his hands and feet cut off. Then he’ll be burned alive as his mother looks on. But she doesn’t catalog the suffering she’s experiencing, not even after watching her first six sons suffer the same torture.
“Look around you,” she says, “and see who God is.” See his power, see the tender care he takes for his creation. See the truth that nothing comes from nothing and know that this world has been designed. Then look at your life, your life in which a trillion things have gone right, and see: there is nothing to be anxious about. The God whom you serve is already taking care of you.
I know that often those six things gone wrong are so enormous that the other trillion seem to pale in comparison. But most days, those six are pretty minor. They only loom large in our minds because we haven’t begun to number his blessings.
Maybe our response to uncertainty, to fear and anger, just needs to be this: an awareness that God has done immeasurably more for us today than we could list if we had the rest of our lives to do it. Maybe gratitude and perspective could give me the trust in God that the Maccabean mother has. If nothing else, counting my blessings—even the tiny ones—might calm me down enough to remember: he is God and I am not. He deals with the microscopic and the gargantuan all over the cosmos all at once. The evidence suggests that he’s taking care of me.