The hiking path meandered through the forested moutainside. My companion and I kept pushing up the hill. It was a steady incline and my legs were beginning to feel the burn of my effort.
We'd been talking along the way, mostly about the frustrations and foibles of life. My friend, Jesus, asked me what it was that seemed to consume my time and energy, what it was that was keeping me from praying and trusting and moving forward. I thought carefully before I spoke -- which also gave me the opportunity to catch my breath.
"It's, I don't know, life!" I blurted. I stopped walking, held my arms out and palms up in a gesture of questioning. Or maybe surrender.
He didn't seem too satisfied with my answer, so I tried to fine-tune my thinking. "I have a job. A partner. Grown children and grandchildren. I worry about them all. I worry about making ends meet. I seem to live month to month, paycheck to paycheck. I want to feel more secure, that we will have everything we need when we need it. I worry about my car and all the major and minor repairs it entails. I worry about my health, my family's health. Their safety. Their happiness. It's one thing after another. Sometimes, Jesus, it's more than I can take."
He spoke gently, but the words burned. "I tell you not to worry about your life. Don't worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn't life more than food or clothing?" [Matthew 6:25]
"Well, sure it is! But that just means there's more to worry about than those things!" I kicked a pebble with my boot, a gesture of frustration. "I don't know, Jesus. You make it sound so simple. It's just a nice platitude, 'don't worry.' Just be happy. La de da. Put on a happy face. But it just doesn't work that way," I declared.
Jesus turned his gaze to the sky. Just then, a cardinal flew overhead. Both of us followed its flight until it landed on a tree limb just ahead of us. "Look at the birds in the sky! They don't plant or harvest. They don't even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth more than birds?" [Matthew 6:26]
"Yes, I guess I am. At least I hope I am." I kept looking at the robin. Was that its nest in the crook of the tree? I couldn't quite make it out. We started walking forward on the path, and as we drew closer to the tree I saw the robin feeding a nest-full of its young.
Jesus broke my reverie. "Can worry make you live longer?" [Matthew 6:27]
"No," I answered smartly. "In fact, they say worrying too much causes illness. Hurts your immune system. Shortens your life. But then, so would not having enough clothes to wear. I'd catch a cold!"
"Why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow," Jesus said. We stopped and looked along the side of our path, which had come to a broad, level place. It was open to the sky and the bright sun fell liberally around us. The ground was triumphant with tiny fall wildflowers of purple and red and yellow. The breeze gently caressed them, creating a colorful natural confetti, a bright celebration.
Jesus continued: "They don't work hard to make their clothes. But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn't as well clothed as one of them." [Matthew 6:28-29]
I looked at my expensive jacket, filled with the latest technologically advanced waterproof warming agent, adorned with a high-priced label. I looked at the hiking boots that covered my feet. Oh, I had purchased them on sale, but they were not cheap. Then I realized Jesus was still enjoying the little floral party going on at our feet.
"God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow." Then he turned to me, and put his arm around my shoulder. "He will surely do even more for you!" I smiled at the thought.
But then Jesus surprised me by asking, "Why do you have such little faith?" [Matthew 6:30]
Good question, I thought. We turned back to the path and resumed our hike. But Jesus wasn't finished yet. "Don't worry and ask yourself, 'Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?' Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things." He turned back around to me and added, "Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these." [Matthew 6:31-32]
It seemed so simple hearing Jesus explain it. But then the thought struck me: If I don't spend my time worrying about life's necessities, life's realities, what will I do with myself? It seemed like it was my job to worry about such things, for myself and my family.
But once again Jesus answered my question as though anticipating it: "But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well." [Matthew 6:33]
Ah. Priorities. Just do what I'm supposed to be doing, and God will take care of everything else. Today. Tomorrow. The next day.
"Don't worry about tomorrow," Jesus said with a smile. "It will take care of itself."
Just then we reached a steep stretch on the path, and Jesus clambered up swiftly, yelling back to me with laughter in his voice, "You have enough to worry about today!" [Matthew 6:34]
I started laughing so hard I could hardly pull myself up the path.