Don’t Worry, Be Happy

When I was growing up, we didn’t have, as they say, a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.  My mom tried for the most part, but didn’t make much money and not having my dad around meant that there was little to go around.  In our house, the doors were falling off their hinges, there were holes in the walls, and even a gaping hole in the kitchen floor that was a one-way ticket to the dirt-floored basement below.  Down in the basement there was a wall dug out and since there was a bank behind our house, I thought more than one person must have tried digging in to the bank vault.

Needless to say, I made a vow with myself never to be poor.  So, when I was 12, I started working for my grandfather greasing the zerks on his excavating equipment, measuring grade with the laser, and driving the pickup to job sites while he drove the grader or the turnapole.  Unfortunately, he died that same year, so I began bussing tables and occasionally waiting at the local restaurant.  It was in Ripley’s Believe it or Not for being the only restaurant in the world completely surrounded by railroad tracks.  It burned down when I was 16 and by then I had wheels so I tried the obligatory two week stint working at Mickey-D’s, but I wasn’t really into that.  So, by my senior year, I was working third shift at a truck stop.  I would go to my grandma’s in the morning after work for breakfast and then head up the street to school.  I would get out at 3, do my extracurriculars, meet my girlfriend for a bit, do my homework, and get about 3 hours of sleep before I had to get up and make the 10 mile drive to work.

When I moved to Japan, I had no idea about “brand” goods. Wally World was always good enough for me.  I noticed how other kids would be wearing Gap and Eddie Bauer clothes, but it didn’t get to me too much.  But when I got to Japan, my mother-in-law would buy me Ralph Lauren, Fendi, Coach, Brooks Brothers, and boy was I hooked!  There was no such thing as mediocrity, I had to have the best!  I went to law school, got my MBA, started businesses and started making as much as I could.  Of course when it came time to buy a car, it had to be a Cadillac.  I didn’t so much as allow anyone to sneeze in that car!  But for some reason, I never was happy.  I knew in the back of my mind as I had since I was about 17 that I was supposed to be heading for ministry, but I wanted to make money instead.  Boy, is life different now!

You know how sometimes a goofy thought gets in your head that makes you laugh?  I have this vision of a great way to teach my kids about money and anxiety.  If they assume that the person with the nice Jaguar has no worries, I want to tell them, “Watch this” as I walk up to the car at the gas station holding my key up and tell the driver, “I want to show my kids something.  Don’t worry, I won’t scratch too deep.  I just want to show them that there is a nice thick coat of paint under this top one”  And watch the driver either go ballistic or faint!

As I look back on who I was back then, I can’t help but laugh.  I always thought the more I had, the less worrying I would do because I would want for nothing.  But it wasn’t true.

The more money we get, the less compassionate we are, for the most part.  I recently heard on NPR that the richer people get, the less they donate as a percentage of their income.  People get removed from the lives of the poor.  They hang out with other rich people and live in communities for the rich where they never have to see poor people.  They develop an “us and them” mentality and forget about what it was like when they didn’t have so much.  All compassion is lost, and they become self-absorbed and only concerned with maintaing their wealth.  I’m not saying that the love of money is the root of all evil or any of that kind of misquoted and inaccurate scripture babble.  No, I’m saying that Jesus was teaching a valuable lesson here.  The more stuff we have, the more money we need to maintain it, and therefore the more anxiety that comes as we worry if we are going to have that much money.  We create anxiety when we chase the person whom we aren’t and were never meant to be.

Many times when we come across this passage, we see it as Jesus telling that God will always take care of us and that we should never worry.  Some who preach this text even go as far as to say that it is sinful to worry and not trust God for anything.  Apparently those folks have never lost a child to leukemia or a husband to a drunk driver.  Is Jesus telling us that everything will be hunky dory so don’t fret?  No!  It would have been hypocritical to tell us not to worry about anything.  After all, he is the one who eventually said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  We only have to look around us to see suffering.  It’s everywhere.  There will be worries.  There will be anxiety.  Jesus is just telling us in this passage that we don’t have to create any more worry than we already have.  Like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, just be.  Be satisfied.  Be you.  Don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself without adding more to be worried about.

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