Do not be anxious about your life

Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day."

Jesus, who has the advantage of viewing our lives here on earth as though looking into a room from the other side of a see-through mirror. He views our doings here with what must sometimes be amusement at our foolish antics, sometimes parental joy as He sees progress, sometimes disappointment, even disgust. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us insight into the divine view of things: life on this earth is not our final purpose: the next life matters more.

A Japanese professor of sociology once asked me why Catholics have more children than others, and immediately answered his own question: because they believe in heaven, and want to give children a chance to get there. On another occasion, not in Japan, an observer asked why Catholics are not as aggressive competitively as others. Fewer Catholics win out competition for professorships, fewer become millionaires, fewer own their own airplanes, and so forth. He responded that Catholics are more leisurely about winning competitions because they don't view success in this life as an ultimate need. A great life awaits us hereafter. Leave the cut-throat competition to more ambitious people. Of course, this is an overstatement, but maybe some of the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount has, by and large, rubbed off more on Catholics than on others.

Note that Jesus did not tell us to live like birds and to stop working to gain our daily bread. As Saint John Chrysostom observes. Jesus did not tell us to stp working but to stop being anxious Sermon 22 on Matthew, see Logos CD, the Church Fathers). He said not to be anxious, not to do it alone without God. God is there to help us, so we ought to turn to Him often and always. By prayer we ask God to accompany us through daily duties and when making life decisions. After having told us that we cannot serve God and mammon, to choose either one or the other, He obviously intends that we choose God. Having chosen Him, we ought to put our hands into His, and look up to Him for all the help we need. We should not be over-anxious, because God wants to help us.

Chrysostom asks, shall we not become anxious because what we need is so very necessary? Quite to the contrary, he responds, because it is necessary therefore we should not be anxious. God knows too that it is necessary and we can look to Him. "For what kind of father is he, who can endure to fail in supplying to his children even necessaries? So that for this cause again God will most surely bestow them.... Let us not therefore be anxious, for we shall gain nothing by it, but tormenting ourselves... What dost thou gain by thy anxiety, but to exact of thyself a superfluous penalty? Since one on the point of going to a plentiful feast, will not surely permit himself to take thought for food; nor is he that is walking to a fountain anxious about drink" (Sermon 22).

We admire the manner in which hunter-gatherers of Tierra del Fuego habitually turn to God to accompany them through daily life. For example, when boarding a canoe for a dangerous day of work, they may pray: "My Father, if you are kind to me today, wonderful. Then I will return." Or: "My Father, please, be good to me today!" Ancient wisdom tells us to "Pray as though all depends on God; then work as though all depends on you."

Before we ask God for gifts, however, it is wise, cautions Chrysostom, to be on good terms with Him. And that means praying: "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." Then ask, not as petty beggars but with big hearts. God finds pleasure in giving in a grand manner:

But if we change a little, even but so much as to know that we have sinned, He gushes out beyond the fountains, He is poured forth beyond the ocean; and the more thou receivest, so much the more doth He rejoice; and in this way is stirred up again to give us more. For indeed He accounts it as His own wealth, that we should be saved, and that He should give munificently to them that ask. And this, it may seem, Paul was declaring when He said, that He is "rich unto all and over all that call upon Him." Because when we pray not, then He is wroth; when we pray not, then doth He turn away from us. For this cause "He became poor, that He might make us rich;" for this cause He underwent all those sufferings, that He might incite us to ask.

The birds of the air and the flowers of the field

The words of this passage of Scripture are of surpassing beauty. Who taught Jesus to observe the birds of the air? I think it was Saint Joseph, when walking hand in hand with Jesus as a toddler on leisurely Sabbath days. Who made Him appreciate the elegance of common lilies in the field grass? Maybe Mary did with her smile and nod, when Jesus held one of them up to her for her admiration.

Wherefore did God make these things so beautiful, asks Chrysostom: "That He might display His own wisdom and the excellency of His power; that from everything we might learn His glory. For not "the Heavens only declare the glory of God," but the earth too; and this David declared when he said, "Praise the Lord, ye fruitful trees, and all cedars." For some by their fruits, some by their greatness, some by their beauty, send up praise to Him who made them: this too being a sign of great excellency of wisdom..." If God so lavishly adorned the lilies, "not for need, but for munificence, how much more will He honor thee, the most honorable of all things, in matters which are of necessity."

Divine Providence and the number of children in a family

Although I come from a bustling family of ten children and wish the same joy to all, we are aware that what is splendid for some may not be splendid for all. Does God, then, look with approval on parents who plan the number of children for their families?

"That must be left to Divine Providence" insisted my companion who was helping me with the editing of the book: Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way. "Never should man calculate how many children God wants to bring into the family." In consequence he argued that the book should state that natural planning should be a rare practice, quite exceptional, not a normal way of life for normal families. I disagreed entirely. So we went together to consult the episcopal advisor for our project of that book. That was in Rome at the Vatican, in 1980.

"Families may plan" was the immediate response of the archbishop. God gave us a brain to work with Him intelligently, to assist Him with works of Divine Providence. If you "leave things to God" you might then also be inclined to blame God if things do not work out well. The book therefore favors making natural family planning a normal way of life for ordinary families.

In 1981, the very next year, Pope John Paul II advised the Catholic world that every married couple and all young people preparing for marriage, should be given the opportunity to learn natural family planning:

But the necessary conditions also include knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body's rhythms of fertility. Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts. Knowledge must then lead to education in self-control: hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it (Familiaris Consortio 33).

Pediatrician Herbert Ratner used to say that the baby prefers to have a full time mother, all for himself or herself. But by the time a toddler is two years old he is more ready for independence. If the mother calls, he may even run the other way. By that time the toddler is ready for another sibling, and the mother may be ready also. He was all in favor of breast-feeding but wanted couples to learn nfp in addition to that.

Our narrow secularist society today has largely traded off motherhood for mammon. Her value is calculated on the market place, not in the home. Christ has told us that we cannot serve God and mammon. In this matter we tip toward mammon, and so away from God. And after we tipped too far, we toppled over into the trap of contraception, abortion, sterilization - instead of choosing nature's beautiful art of natural family planning.

But God's ways are always more noble, more harmonious, more enriching than are the counterfeit ways of man. The lilies of the field surpass in beauty the splendor of the robes of Solomon; and natural family planning surpasses in nobility the inglorious ways of contraception, abortion, and sterilization. The words of Jesus are wise: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given you besides." If those words were not wise, Jesus would not have uttered them.