Beauty As An Antidote For Worry

Listening to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount is always a challenge for me! His words, while simple, eloquent and revelatory, get right to the heart of things. Often I think to myself, I get what he’s saying but I’m not sure I can do what he’s asking.

That’s what happens to me when I read Matthew 6:25-34. Read it yourself. Jesus says six times not to worry, rather trust God like you see the birds of the air or the flowers of the field do. Our heavenly father takes care of them, are we not of more value? Won’t God care for us as he does the birds and flowers?

I parsed the Greek word “anxiousness” or “worry.” I looked up the English definitions too. The word worry basically says the same thing in both languages. Worry is un-rest in the soul; a disturbance within the soul that aggravates the conscious and the unconscious dynamics of human existence.

I think most of us already know that! In fact, if honest, most of us would even say we are intimately acquainted with worry. I’m tempted to say its epidemic in our culture today. But, considering the word and the condition more thoroughly in light of Jesus’ “don’t worry” imperatives I think it’s safe to say worry is probably more normative in the human experience than epidemic

So instead of defining worry in words, I took a look at how worry is pictured in Google images.

beth-pixFrom these, I think we’d agree it looks like worry makes it residence in the head (mind). Worry can look like mental processing or disguised as creative thinking yet it goes nowhere, just hovers. For me, I somehow think that if I worry enough it will eventually lead to something productive. But in truth, the more I worry, the more confused I get. Worry can even become painful. Ever had a stress headache?

Let me say a few words on worry:

Worry confines us…

  • to defensive strategies in order to survive
  • it trusts the illusion that we can control outcomes

Worry narrows…

  • the imagination to the domain of what we can think of or conceive
  • it looks constantly and only at what is already known in order to make sure nothing has changed or moved

Worry captivates…

  • the mind in the endless rehearsal of all the possible scenarios in order to be prepared to react to whatever life throws at us. A great human fear is to be caught off guard which comes from our desire always and in everything to be in control

IN THESE WAYS WORRY IMPRISIONS THE MIND… leaving us impoverished in ways that are both dehumanizing and destructive, forcing us to live meagerly, in survivor mode.

But…life, as God intended, is more than surviving.

Since Jesus’ six imperatives are situated in the Sermon on the Mount, the context suggests that Jesus presents to his disciples and others listening, a re-configuration of our understanding of life as we’ve always known and experienced it. Jesus births an imagination for life as God intended for us, as we come to live in the richness of the father’s goodness, companionship and blessing. Jesus invites us to exit our old ways of living and enter the kingdom of God. In this way, Jesus becomes our new Exodus!

This is why I would suggest that worry is more a symptom than a problem. It seems that Jesus is pointing to something below worry in the mind. Throughout the discourse, Jesus invites us to check our fundamental trust in God and his benevolent care of creation.

I’m going to borrow a phrase from the English poet, Samuel Coleridge and use it for my definition of trust in God. Trust in the heart of God looks likes the “willing suspension of unbelief.”

Jesus asks really good questions in this passage, questions worth wrestling with. It seems to me that we’re going to have to come to terms with a few things in three primary areas of our life:

  • Regarding food and clothing (or provision) – we’ll have to confront our relationship to work, to our bodies, and how we are defining “the good life” – is life more than the body and work? Or is this all there is?
  • Regarding life span – we’ll have to come to terms with our own morality, the limits of our own strength, and aging or illness.
  • Regarding the future – we’ll have to face our fears about the unknowns and find ways to hold the tensions of having dreams and expectations for future things while at the same time loosening our grip on everything…it’s been said the humble loosen their grip!
  • Regarding our true value – we’ll have to determine our value on earth and learn how to experience that value in relationships, occupations, and within obvious successes and failures.

Candidly, I don’t do well when someone just says to me “don’t worry.” I often feel as if I’m not understood or it sometimes comes off as a dismissive of the things that truly challenge me or that I care about. However, when Jesus says “don’t worry” he gives me a redirect by inviting me to “look at the birds and the flowers” pointing to the teachings of beauty in creation. This helps me. I have found generative help whenever I expose my mind and heart to beauty, in all its various forms.

A visitation of beauty is God’s exquisite provision that moves our lives from mere pragmatic survival or consumer-producer modes to something richer, more sustaining and ultimately more human.