The days are beginning to lengthen, the birds are singing louder in the mornings, the daily average temperatures are more likely to be above freezing, and there are hundreds of students worried about impending midterms. As much as I would love to identify as a bird excited for spring, the reality is that I am one of those very worried students. At this time in the semester any moment of rest I typically enjoy is spent with intrusive thoughts of how I would be better off studying or doing something productive. And it is at times like this that I rely most on scripture to snap me out of the toxic mindset that my grades determine my self worth. Specifically, I turn to the book of Matthew, which is in the Christian New Testament.
25 “‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’” – Matthew 6:25-27
The passage goes on for longer as Matthew, guided by God, wrote why there is no reason to worry (Matt, 6:25-34). He writes that we should take after the nature that God has made. Birds do not worry about their next meal and flowers do not worry about being beautiful — yet their needs are met. Worrying takes our minds away from truly embracing every moment as its own. The fear that guides our worrying is fear that God will not provide for us. Logically, this does not make sense as the fact that we are still living is evidence enough that we have been cared for before and will most likely be cared for in the future. In the last verse Matthew writes, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And if we are still concerned, then we should seek out God and pray.
I do not believe that God intended these verses to justify being lazy, which can oftentimes be the immediate reaction to this passage. Instead, I believe that it means that we should not become overly fixated on human ideals to the extent where we overexert ourselves and anxiously spiral into burnout. Choosing to recognize, in a student context, that an exam or assignment is not worth wasting your life on can be incredibly difficult when family, friends, roommates, and the internet seem to obsess over creating “the most secure (and often wealthiest) future”. If I have learned anything over the past few years, it is that our future is anything but secure. We do not know when the next outbreak of disease will be, we do not know the exact timeline or severity of the impacts of climate change, and we do not know if the next world war is right around the corner. The learning curve on coping with the unpredictability of the future is steep and everyone approaches it in different ways.
For me, I cope by planning for my basic needs (checking the weather, buying groceries, etc) and by giving myself time to reflect on anything unexpected via prayer or enjoy that time by doing something that brings me joy. I choose to thrive in the unknown and break away from the negative conversations by asking: What if everything goes well? And if everything goes well then how much of my life did I waste on worrying? Most importantly: was the outcome worth the time I spent worrying?
So the next time my friends or roommate question why I do not feel guilty watching a movie instead of studying excessively for an exam or why I do not feel guilty going to bed at a reasonable time, I will remember what Matthew wrote and comfort them by telling them not to worry.