In his classic novel, Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis depicts Screwtape, a master devil writing a series of notes to an apprentice. Here’s a frightening bit about how the devil tries to keep us busy fretting. Screwtape writes:
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
In our world today, there is no shortage of anxiety. Unfortunately, the anxiety about potential problems often becomes a problem itself. For example, my body occasionally informs me that I am stressed out and worried with a shooting pain from a canker sore. But there are more serious ailments linked to anxiety from ulcers to sleepwalking to eating disorders, panic attacks, and some forms of depression.
At the national level, we also witness self-inflicted injuries such as the decline of marriage and the shrinking of families to a point so low that only immigration is keeping our population from declining. The country’s gnawing and coinciding decline in morality have bled off considerable manpower. Yet this decline in the family will only create more problems…and these will not lighten the nation’s mood or lessen her interest in distractions.
The devil, as Screwtape describes wants to distract us in conflicting images so that we clutch at them – images that turn us inward towards material things, or angrily towards conflicts that seem to be frothing up all over. These all tend ultimately to that soul-drowning drink of despair offered by Screwtape’s boss, Satan himself. However, even should a mother forget her child, the LORD will never forget us. We find clear reason to hope and trust in the words of Jesus today. Our Heavenly Father knows each of us better than we know ourselves – and He knows our needs and cares for each of us. If we seek the Kingdom of God, He will clothe us not with the surpassing splendor of the Lilies, but with the garb of eternal glory.
Recognizing that Christ wants us to loosen our grip on the things of the world, we cannot serve God and mammon (or earthly wealth). When we focus on earthly wealth or even earthly necessities by themselves, we do damage to ourselves. But, Screwtape’s apprentice might whisper in our ear: anxiety can be such a strong motivator towards getting things done. I find this a tempting thought. I procrastinate like the Dickens, until the worrying finally gets me in motion. But this is not how Christ envisions us to live our lives. “Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Christ’s wisdom should be the turning point. Sufficient for the day is its own evil.
Let us cast our anxiety out and fear nothing but the Lord. Whoa there. Why fear Him? Because, fear of the Lord is not what it sounds like. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as in a gift from the Father and it does not impel us to cower in doubt of our goodness, but rather it moves us to recognize that we belong to Him as His children. Out of this relationship of love, we only fear offending Him – that we might sin and leave His side – as we have so often before. Realizing that Our Father is the Rock and foundation of all the universe, of all reality, and yet knows the number of the hairs on your head – should leave us speechless in awe – and loving reverence.
Jesus is not telling us we have a license for laziness – nor does He want us to forget our own necessities for food and clothing, as if that were possible for most of us. But the tail should not wag the dog. We are should think of food in other terms. St. Augustine exhorts us: therefore eat that we may preach the Gospel. The world is starving for this news — the news that we believe is a Gospel of hope, hope that is nailed to the Cross and yet lives. We been entrusted with the hope for what the world cannot offer – despite all its glimmer and gimmick, but what our souls thirst for — unending communion with Love, with the Father, and the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Christ desires us to be released from the snares of stress and bother over the ever-changing, and always fleeting – from all the trappings of Satan, the fixation with death…. that He might fill us with grace, that He might cast out our emptiness and become our True longing. As we approach the Eucharist, we pray:
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin, and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.