From the Minister ... Do not worry about tomorrow
‘At the time of writing.’ I was probably going to say it at some point in this article, so this month I thought I would open with this phrase instead. These five words sum up the demands we’ve all faced over the last year. By the time you read these words, Boris Johnson will have announced to the country plans for a potential roadmap out of lockdown, details of when schools, non-essential retails and pubs can reopen, not to mention places of worship. I could make an informed guess at what he’ll say but can’t be fully certain what proposals will be unveiled.
Of course, this is a minor frustration in the context of the massive and un-precedented upheaval of recent months. However, it does encapsulate one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic, namely, the challenge of making any kinds of plans for the future.
When can we book a holiday and where can we go?
When will we be able to see distant relatives or friends again?
When can we next meet in church and will singing be allowed?
One of the effects of this has been to limit how far ahead any of us now looks. This time last year, Emma and I were beginning to think about how we might mark the Silver Wedding anniversary which we’ll celebrate a few days after Easter. Slowly but surely, the dreams we had of bringing together friends from all over the country gave way to a dawning realisation that there was to be no big party in the Spring of 2021. For now, we hope for a celebration next year but with the tentative caution that we’ve all learned to accept.
Many of these limitations are frustrating and yet I’ve also noticed a change in my perspective as I’ve learned to live with them. The day-to-day encounters which I once took for granted, like randomly meeting a friend when out for a walk, now feel like precious gifts. Seeing someone face to face, sharing a coffee or stroll in the open air is a meeting keenly anticipated. Pleasures which were once small and incidental now feel like blessings to be savoured. My relationships with my neighbours have deepened and taken on more importance for me, and I’m taking more time to pick up the phone and call my friends.
Time and again, some words of Jesus I’ve returned to in recent months are those found in Matthew 6:34:
‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’
As someone whose tendency has invariably been to plan ahead, I’ve often struggled to apply this teaching of Jesus to my life. Now the short-termism which Covid has imposed upon us gives me no choice but to live in the day-to-day.
How might this familiar teaching of Jesus be a help and comfort to us as we face the likely prospect of at least a few more months of restrictions?
It’s important to remember the wider context of this section of Matthew 6, where Jesus reminds us of how loved we are by God. The one who ensures that the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are provided for will not forget us. We are watched over by our ‘heavenly Father’ who knows what we need and who will make sure to provide for us.
We should also note that there is wise counsel as well as comfort in what Jesus says. He warns us not to be like pagans who are preoccupied with food and drink, ‘running after all these things’, and blind to the reality that what we long for and need most is found in God alone. Jesus calls his followers to re-order their priorities:
‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (v33).
At the time of writing, the successful rollout of vaccines and potential easing of restrictions suggest that we may be over the worst of the pandemic. Could it be that this present season of Lent and the final months of living with lockdown and all its associated restrictions (our limited scope to plan ahead, to travel or buy things which aren’t essential) offer us one last opportunity to reassess our values and priorities?
Might God be calling us to live with a greater simplicity, more quietly and with less stuff, all the while discovering that these limited horizons are helping us see things more clearly and drawing us into deeper dependence on him?
When our busyness, planning and shopping is pared back, my hope and prayer is that a silent space will be created for each one of us. And into this silence may we hear our heavenly Father speaking to us, a whisper that says: ‘You don’t need to run after things and you don’t need to worry. I am here and I love you, I know what you need and I will give it to you, it will be enough, and I will be enough for you.’
Wishing you God’s grace and peace