One Day at a Time
In the 23rd of Fr. Tom Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living, he offers what we might mistake is just another common adage: to live “one day at a time“. While this may seem like a simplistic teaching, it is actually more complex than it seems and if we are honest, much more of a problem for us then we usually admit. The nature of this advice implies that we live more than one day at a time. Obviously, we cannot be living more than one day at a time, and what it really implies is that our focus often moves backwards with regret, but much more often forward in worry. If I had to pick the most common bad habit that has spread the widest among people today and hurts the deepest, it would be worry. So when Jesus Himself say “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34), it’s time to pause and think about how much of our days are spent focusing not on the day He has given us, but on other days, mired in regret and worry.
In this week’s article focusing one of Fr. Tom’s Maxims, we hear from Pope Shenouda III, Who was the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria for 40 years before he passed away in 2012 (yes, like the Romans, they call their Patriarch’s “Pope” which simply means “Father”). He was a saintly man who blessed me when I heard him speak in 1997. Make time to take in his powerful words. It will be some of the best 10 minutes you spend this week, and will bring relief to the other thousands of other minutes this week, and the perhaps tens of millions of minutes of a lifetime.
Do Not Worry About Tomorrow
by His Holiness, Pope SHENOUDA III.
These words are repeated thrice in one paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount in (Mt 6: 25- 34). The Lord says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on …” “Do not worry about tomorrow …” “Do not worry about tomorrow … Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6: 25- 34).
Here scripture reminds us not to worry about material things, but concerning spiritual matters, we should worry. The Lord gives us the parable of arranging for building a tower or for making war, to indicate that we ought to care about our eternal life. He says, “Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest … all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with then thousand to meet who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else … he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.” (Lk 14: 28- 32)
He also commended the unjust steward, who said within himself, “What shall I do? … that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.” (Lk 16: 3, 4) The Lord commented on this behavior, saying, “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Lk 16: 9)
The Holy Scripture focuses on eternal life, and on how we should worry about it, but concerning food and drink and clothing He said, “Do not worry.” The Lord’s command is clear that we ought not to worry about the present worldly matters, or about the future. A student has to care about his studies that he might attain success and distinction, without being worried. Worrying may on the contrary lead to confusion and anxiety and lead away from the goal of success.
A parent likewise has to do his best to rule his own house well (1 Tim 3: 4), but without worrying, lest he fall in trouble and lose the necessary wisdom by which he can rule his house well, thus becoming a bad example for them and a source of distress. Worrying about everything is an evidence of lack of trust in God that He provides us with everything and manages our lives. That is why the Lord says in the same chapter, “For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” (Mt 6: 32) Since He knows, He will, in His love, satisfy all our needs before we ask. Before He created man, He had arranged for him what he would eat and drink. He left him lacking nothing of the works of His hospitality, as we say in the Liturgy of St. Gregory.
Worrying is an evidence of lack of trust that God takes care of us, whereas the Scripture in many parts presents God as the Good Shepherd. He said about Himself, “I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down. I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick.” (Ezek 34: 15, 16) David likewise said about Him, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Ps 23: 1- 3)
The Scripture teaches us not to worry about food and drink.
- David the Prophet says, “I have been young, and now am old; I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.” (Ps 37: 25)
- Elijah the Prophet is a clear example of God’s care. He provided for him during the famine, while he was hiding by the Brook Cherith, and in the house of the widow of Zarephath, and while fleeing from Jezebel (1 Kgs 17, 19).
- The biographies of the hermits and anchorites, like Abba Paula and Abba Nophr the Hermits, are a good example of how God provides food and drink even in distant wilderness without any human support.
- The Holy Scripture tells about the people in the wilderness, and how God provided them with manna and quails to eat, and with water to drink from the rock! He also led them by a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13: 21; 16, 17).
- God’s care does not go to man only, but extends to the whole creation. He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them … Consider the lilies of the field … even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Mt 6: 26- 29) Then He rebukes us, saying, “Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Mt 6: 30)
Our worry then is an evidence of lack of faith. The Lord said to His disciples, “When I sent you without money bag, sack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” and they said “Nothing” (Lk 22: 35). Therefore, unless a believer trusts that God will support him in a certain way, it is better for him not to walk in it.
Our contemporary history contains stories of faith when establishing churches. We started ministry in Africa with no moneybag or sack, and without any financial assistance, but God provided everything for the ministry, and spread it. With the same faith, we started ministry in Milan and Rome in Italy, without any financial support, but the Lord did everything. He provides for the ministry, establishes churches, and arranges for everything. The same happened in the Bishopric of Social Services. It began from minus zero, with no premises or money, yet it was built, grew, and spread, and many sought shade under its branches.
The same applies to the ministry in Birmingham, Ireland, Scotland, and Brazil, with nothing but faith that God will do everything, for He says, ‘Do not worry, God knows that you need all this.’ With the same faith, monasteries and churches were built. Behind every church abroad there is a story of faith supporting its establishment. We would like to collect these stories and publish them lest we forget them. It is good then that the Lord says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Mt 6: 33) Suffice that we express to God our love for His Kingdom and our wish to edify it, then He will say, ‘Do not worry. I will do everything for you.’
Worrying is of no use, but rather hinders work. Truly said in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” (Eccl 11: 4) A sailor who fears the waves and the wind will never sail, for fear paralyzes the movement and hinders work. Do not fear then, but trust that God will work for you and take part with you in work. David the Prophet says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you.” “The Lord thinks upon me.” (Ps 55: 22; 40: 17) If you have troubles and the burden is heavy, listen to the words of the Lord: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11: 28). Your worrying or concern will not remove away the burden or give your rest, but seeking God and laying your trust in His intervention will give you rest. If you put the troubles before your eyes, they will make you unable to see God’s work for you. Rather put God between you and the troubles, and He will carry them instead of you and give you rest and peace of heart, because your troubles have reached faithful hands and compassionate heart.
Anxiety and concern make you lose your peace of heart. The apostle says, “The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4: 5- 7) Who worries about the future and imagines troubles might happen will live in fear and pessimism, because he does not put God before him. He becomes subject to terrifying images of imagination, and this worry may turn into physical diseases, nerves diseases, high blood pressure and heart attacks.
In case worry was due to enemy plotting, let us trust in the Lord. Many verses from the Psalms teach us, “Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this I will be confident.” “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27: 3, 1) “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in.” (Ps 121: 7) “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive … Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Ps 124)
Moses the Prophet was not worried when standing before the Red Sea, with Pharaoh behind pursuing him with his chariots, but the people in their weak faith were worried. Moses therefore calmed them down, saying, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today … The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex 14: 13, 14)
Remember also Peter in the prison, and Herod intending to kill him. Peter was fast asleep, bound with two chains, with no fear or worry about what was going to happen in the morrow, to the extent that the angel of the Lord struck him on the side to raise him up (Acts 12: 6, 7)!
The sin of worrying and concern implies and leads to many other sins. It involves anxiety, fear, and lack in faith of God’s work. It leads to a pessimistic view, uneasiness, and troubled thoughts and mood. It also may cause sleeplessness, physical and psychic diseases. This reminds us of the words of the poet: “Like a feather carried by the wind, finding no place to rest.”
Worrying may also lead to wrong and hasty solutions, and to relying on human arm. It may lead one to consult a medium or a spiritist, as King Saul did (1 Sam 28: 5-7). When the sin of Israel increased in the Old Testament, God delivered them to troubles. He handed them over to trouble (Jer 15: 4; 24: 9), and made them troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth (Deut 28: 25). May the Lord grant us the life of faith by which we may trust that He works for us and with us, and not worry about the future, but rather leave it in His hands to manage it according to His wisdom, love, and goodness!