I was half-listening to a Tim Keller sermon the other day while getting ready for work when I heard him call worry “prideful.” I stopped what I was doing and thought: “Really? Am I being proud when I worry about the future?”
Recently I was telling a friend about how neurotic I will probably be if I ever start dating again. I’ll want to ask him all the questions and know how he will handle ten thousand different scenarios. What it would be like if? What he would say when? What would the future hold? “I don’t like surprises,” I concluded. My friend looked skeptical. I tried to think about what I meant. Because I like when someone surprises me with food. I like getting a book I didn’t order in the mail. I like good surprises. So I had to be honest: “I guess what I mean is, I don’t like being surprised by pain.”
Fear still wells up inside me every few months and tries to take the place of joy. You’d think that surviving the loss of my marriage, my person, the one I used to say to God about: “Thank you for giving me him so I can get through this” would be enough to permanently dispel my fears. Instead, I look at the way God took my hand and guided me through that valley as something true, but distant. The way the Israelites seemed to think about that day at the Red Sea. It happened. It was miraculous. God proved Himself. But, the future is a question mark.
As I was reading 1st Peter today, I noticed that immediately after calling servants, elders, and wives to clothe themselves in humility (5:5), Peter called them to cast their anxieties on God (5:7). Humility and trust do seem to belong together. Noticing this made me wonder again about the connection between pride and worry.
I like to think of my own worry as humble. My worrying says: “I do not expect the best because that would be presumptuous.” It assumes the worst could happen. Leaves room for it. Considers it. Over and over and over again. And on top of that, worry has always given me the satisfaction of doing something. Sometimes I even fool myself into thinking of my worrying as sacrifice. I spend time worrying about someone’s safety because I care about them. In the 1995 version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Alan Rickman’s character (Colonel Brandon) sees Kate Winslet (Marianne) ill in bed, being bled, and begs: “Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad.” When I think about the future and God says “wait” sometimes I feel like I will run mad if I can’t do something. So instead of waiting, I worry.
I bustle around the kitchen like Martha, doing things. Sometimes Jesus stops me and says: you are “anxious and troubled about many things,” and He points to Mary sitting silently at His feet. “But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:41). I look at Mary and wonder, bitterly, “Why does she get to be carefree while I cook? Why does she get to have long talks with Jesus while I worry about people who are hungry and alone? Why does Mary seem so at peace while I suffer from the panic-attack that is tomorrow?” Jesus nods at a spot beside Him, next to Mary, where I can sit if I choose. But something is burning in the oven.
After I told him why I don’t like surprises, my friend told me about a man on a country road who drove straight through an ammonia cloud. Apparently a pipeline had been leaking and when the man drove through it, he died. “Why in the world are you telling me this?” I asked. He just laughed. Then he explained that his response to the future, to leaky pipelines and pain and death, is that those things can happen. They’ve happened to both of us (not ammonia clouds, but other expected tragedies). He reminded me that knowing the future is God’s territory. Our job as Christians, here on earth, is not fortune-telling but faithfulness.
So I return again to my worry, wondering if it really could be categorized as “pride.” Wondering if I excuse it more easily because worrying seems less offensive than pride. What am I really saying when I worry? If I am honest, I’m saying…
My worrying accomplishes something.
I need to worry in order to prepare myself for the future.
God’s faithfulness is not enough to prepare me for the future.
Surrender is not safe.
My worry says that I am needed where Scripture points to the power and glory of God.
Surrender is certainly not safe. But I notice that Peter doesn’t call us to simply surrender. He calls us to throw our worries on the back of a God who cares deeply for us. (5:7) To rest at His feet. Doing this means I must sit down, stop looking at my watch, out the window, and in the oven and be content to gaze into the face of Christ, no matter what tomorrow brings.
Eugene Peterson writes: “Before this day is over I may have to deal with death, pain, loss, rejection. I don’t know what the future holds for me, for those I love, for my nation, for this world. Still, despite my ignorance…I say that God will accomplish his will, and I cheerfully persist in living in the hope that nothing will separate me from Christ’s love.”
When I think about the future, which might be full of pain, I can “cheerfully persist” in hope. When past pain makes me panic, I can preach to my heart: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And God’s peace, “which transcends all understanding,” will guard my heart and my mind (Phil. 4:6-7). I can humble myself and admit that I know nothing but this: that I can “put my trust in You.” (Ps. 56:3)