Not to Worry

Thanksgiving Sunday: Matthew 6:25-34
By Hugh Farquhar

Many years ago, my family and I moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, where I was a post-graduate student at King’s College. During our time there we became familiar with a phrase people often used: “not to worry.” It was their response whenever a person expressed concern about anything. If I said, “I’m feeling nervous about my exams next week,” they would respond “not to worry.”

We hadn’t lived there very long before we found ourselves saying it to people as well. Even yet, all these years later, I catch myself using the phrase every now and then.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus counselled people not to worry. The verb “worry” appears six times in nine verses: “Do not worry about your life . . . can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life . . . why do you worry . . .  do not keep worrying.”

We don’t know the context in which he was speaking but he must have sensed some preoccupation with worrying on the part of his audience or else why would he have focused on that subject.

I’m willing to bet that most of us are pretty good at worrying! Worry is a common human activity. Many of us worry a bit. A few of us worry a lot. Some of us worry a whole lot.

The dictionary defines worry as “a troubled state of mind arising from the frets and cares of life.” The operative phrase there is “a troubled state of mind.”

Jesus wasn’t talking about low level worry.  – as a matter of fact, the word translated “worry” here is a specific word in Greek that denotes “anxious worry.” Jesus was human and acquainted with what causes human beings to worry.  But by and large such worry didn’t seem to be prominent in his make-up, and he made it clear in his teaching that worrying too much isn’t good for anybody.

It’s a useless activity because in and of itself it cannot and does not change the course of events. Worry takes up energy and occupies the space where productive thoughts could enter, and Jesus emphasized that unmitigated worry disconnects us from the spiritual resources available to all of us to meet the challenges that come our way.

One of the lessons embedded in this teaching is to live in the present and be less focused on tomorrow and what it might bring. “Do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus said, “today’s trouble is enough for today.” There’s plenty in any one day to keep us occupied without fussing about tomorrow. It’s wasted energy. That was Jesus’ point when he asked if by worrying you can add a single hour to your span of life.

The invitation is to cultivate the art of living one day at a time.  Beyond responsible planning for the future, life is meant to be lived that way. Whatever is going on in your lives right now: a day at a time, and hear my Scottish friends say, “Not to worry!”

Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB. and teaches Biblical Studies at Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, NS.


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