“Pray, and let God worry.”
I found this quotation on the internet. You’d think it might be an inspirational saying cross-stitched onto a pillow or a poster in a Christian college girl’s dorm room but I found it while I was digging around for a good Martin Luther quote. Luther had a lot of zingers, this being one of them.
At first glance it seems to be glib and slightly sentimental but as you study it more you realize it’s wildly and beautifully theological. In other words, it tells you a little bit about God’s character, and that’s what makes it so different from the usually “Hang in there, baby!” posters that place so much of life’s burdens on you. You’re familiar with the well-meaning advice, how something as simple as positive thoughts or eating more yogurt or using a neti-pot will make everything better.
This tidy little Luther quote is both hard and good news, pretty much the same way these gospel-ey, God things always are. Because when I read this, I realize I don’t let go of my worry very easily and I know a gob of people in the same boat. On one level, worrying takes a lot of time and energy making prayer tough to fit into a busy fretter’s agenda. Ask any pro-worrier; you’re tuckered all the time.
But, worry also gives you the false illusion that somehow you’re in control, because if you worry enough, if you could just ‘fix’ this or that maybe you’re going to lick this thing, which implicitly suggests that God is not in the picture. It’s completely understandable; you’re beat, you’ve had something rotten happen to you, a terrible break-up, you’re diagnosed with some crummy disease, everything around you is falling apart and worrying at least feels like you’re ‘doing’ something, whereas God seems awfully low-key about the whole thing.
Being a worrier sneaks up on you slowly. At first you’re pretty good at praying, timely, consistent, even cheerful. Not only are you praying, you’re doing other important things: you watch your posture and project positive energy every which way into the universe and you feel terribly patient as you wait for things to turn around.
But. God is as silent as the stars. You start to believe God’s silence feels a lot like God’s absence and you begin to worry that maybe in fact, it is up you, and your worry, at least, seems to fill the void. Then soon enough, worry moves to panic, the same way you would feel if someone handed you a 50-lb bag of sand when you’re in roller blades at the top of a concrete stairwell. The bottom line is you need help.
The strange gospel help in all this is that God is the ultimate worrier, and God is good at it. Just a quick skim of the bible will tell you all about it. In Genesis 3, God is walking around the garden looking for Adam and Eve when they’re hiding, heartsick about what’s going on. Think how God fusses over the Israelites and their Egyptian situation, or remember the prophets and how they gushed endlessly about God’s concern for justice and also for love.
It gets even worse when you get to Jesus. He worries not only about the least of these but takes on worrying about the whole of Jerusalem. In the Matthew, Mark and Luke he’s a wreck in the garden and in John’s gospel he prattles endlessly about the Holy Spirit taking over as Comforter to those who follow him. Paul does his best not to take on too much worry but you know he’s had his share of sleepless nights. He writes to his churches that they need to simmer down and remember Christ and his cross are at the center of things.
Which is exactly right. One could argue fairly cogently that the big question of why God became human was because God was worried. In fact, God loves to fuss over you; it is God’s habit and greatest joy to take on your worries and concerns. God’s answer does not come as you might imagine but is revealed again and again to you in the cross, once and for all things. Here, in the cross, Christ takes on all your worries, all your concerns, all your sin, all your tiny, awful failures and deaths and there, they die with him. In return, you are given forgiveness, freedom, new life.
Christ worries so you don’t have to. He just likes to hear from you, so feel free to pray. Of course, it’s not going to stop you or me from worrying from time to time; after all, we’re always tempted to take over the controls.
But, sometimes we can sit down, drop our heavy sacks and simply remember: it’s all been done.
It’s not dependent on you — never was, never will be — for Christ loves to carry the worries of the whole world.