Crazy Busy. What a great title for a book. Shame Kevin DeYoung got there first!
That aside, listen to this which he writes in the context of the parable in Mark 4:1-20 about the seed falling among thorns which strangle the life of the plant which sprouts:
For most of us, it isn’t heresy or rank apostasy that will derail our profession of faith. It’s all the worries of life. You’ve got car repairs. Then the water heater goes out. The kids need to see a doctor. You haven’t done your taxes yet. Your checkbook isn’t balanced. You’re behind on thank you notes. You promised your mother you’d come over and fix a faucet. You’re behind on wedding planning. Your boards are coming up. You have more applications to send out. Your dissertation is due. Your refrigerator is empty. Your lawn needs mowing. Your curtains don’t look right. Your washing machine keeps rattling. This is life for most of us, and it’s choking out spiritual life.
A second thorn is related to the first. Jesus says the work of the Word is swallowed up by the desire for other things. It’s not that possessions themselves are to blame. The problem is with everything we do to take care of them and everything we do to get more of them… Once you own it you need to keep it clean, keep it working, and keep up with the latest improvements. If the worries of life don’t swamp us, the upkeep will.
This has been rattling around my mind lately. Because this is the experience of all of us in the West, right? Sure, the exact things we get hung up on vary from person to person, family to family, but I would suggest that no matter how minimalistic your approach to possessions, you still have cares of life. Even if you are largely free from the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things – and perhaps you genuinely are, but I’m not! – you will still be besieged by the cares of life.
In the last two days alone, my cares of life have included: my e-mail not working as it should; my online tax ID locking me out for no reason; a now-urgent need to plan tomorrow’s church gathering; an ever-increasing pile of e-mails to clear; and all the day-to-day chores. And I’m meant to be on holiday! Term time is far worse…
The problem with these cares of life is that they tend to displace my devotion to Jesus. It’s easier to put the development of my relationship with him to the back of the queue when I know that these other tasks have deadlines on them. And when I do prioritise time in prayer and reading the Bible, my mind and heart are still crowded by the mental stress of these cares. Jesus was right in Mark 4:18-19. His life in me starts to get choked. So what do we do about this pressing issue?
We can be alert to the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things and seek to minimise our attachment to the things we have and to the idea of the things we don’t have. Of course we can.
But that’s probably not going to be enough.
At least some of the cares of life will yet remain for all of us. We will live amongst them. So what matters is how we deal with them.
Jesus tells us how in Matthew 6. Don’t worry, he says. Hmm, yeah, have you even met me, Jesus? But then I read on: Don’t worry – for the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
The Father knows that I need these things. He knows that I need my e-mail access sorting out at some point. He knows that I need access to the HMRC online portal or my tax isn’t going to get paid. He knows that Sunday’s coming really soon now and I’m responsible for getting some content together. He knows what my Outlook inbox looks like in this moment.
The Father knows that I need these things. He feeds the birds and dresses the flowers. Are you not more valuable than they?, Jesus asks. Will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?
You of little faith. That’s the point, isn’t it? When I worry – when the cares of life begin to choke out his life in me – I am demonstrating my lack of faith. It’s not that he’s going to take away the cares of life, that I’m going to be raised up above the reality of the quotidian, gliding through life a few feet above the ground. No, the cares of life are going to be right there, trying to crowd out my seed. The cares of life are going to be right there and, in him, I still have the freedom to live a life which is prophetic in its refusal to be choked by them.
That’s what I want. To be able to see the cares of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things and look away again. To break their thrall by turning my face in faith to the Father who knows what I need. To trust that I am valuable to him and that he will therefore disentangle me from the thorns which are my cares, that he will give me what I need without me needing to worry. And that if he doesn’t give it to me then it really wasn’t that important in the first place.
As I’ve begun to live that a little more consciously this week, I’ve realised that most things which consume my thoughts fall into this category. They are cares of life. It’s not that I have suddenly become lazy in fixing those things which are within my power. I’ve sorted the tax thing and today I shall be wading through e-mails and planning tomorrow’s church gathering. I’m doing what I can but every time I’m tempted to agitate about the things I can’t solve, I ask myself this one question: is this a care of life?
And when I realise that it is, I remind myself that my Father knows what I need and has undertaken for it all.