With the end of the Mayan calendar fast approaching it would seem we all have just a few weeks left before the end is upon us. With growing turmoil in the Middle East and Africa, instability in Europe, an economy teetering on a razor’s edge, and the demise of the Twinkie, it seems like more and more keeps piling up to confirm this (smile if you catch the Zombieland reference). The various news and media outlets around the country have us all sitting on the edges of our seats worrying about what the next upcoming disaster will be. We listen to the various proposed solutions to these problems and pick out which ones we think make more sense. We argue over who we think will be able to lead us out of these perceived messes. We stress and sweat and pine over all the problems in the world.
I suppose worrying is a natural part of being human, but most worrying shares a common denominator: uncertainty. The idea that some things are just out of our control and beyond prediction sends us into a frenzy. We like to make our plans and carry them out and think that everything will work out the way we think it should. This past Sunday I heard a reading from the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. This is the ending of it, on which I found to be worth reflecting:
Luke 21: 32-35: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Now we have probably all seen or read some sort of media which references this and other biblical quotes, especially quotes from Revelation, while creating some sort of gripping apocalyptic tale. Some people even obsess over trying to “decipher” the messages in the Bible so they can know when the world will end. But what if this message is not about some global or universal event? I think this message is much more personal, and I believe the most important part of this message is the end: “For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” The whole point is that nobody knows when they will have to face judgment, so we must always be prepared.
Let’s say I go outside tomorrow morning and by some spectacular freak accident an airplane falls out of the sky right on my head, killing me instantly. Now, as far as I am concerned, that is my apocalypse. I am going to have to face judgment right then, about sixty years sooner than I was planning on it. Now, if I had followed Jesus’s plain and simple advice in the aforementioned verses, I would realize that I am not guaranteed those next sixty years, and I could, in fact, die right this instant.
Death is not the only issue here either; I am bound to get my fair share of trials and tribulations like everyone else. We all will have our own “days of judgment,” no apocalypse necessary. Assuming I realized this, the next logical step would be to start living every minute like it were my last one. Some people take that and run with it, using it as an excuse to live entirely in the moment, epicurean style. You only live once after all! But I seriously doubt that is the message we are meant to take from these words. Living every moment like it is your last doesn’t mean living without thinking of the future or planning ahead or being responsible. What it does mean is trying to live every moment in such a way that you would not be ashamed if you were asked to give an account of that moment. This means setting aside distractions such “drunkenness and carousing,” the meaning of which I believe is pretty clear. These things cloud and warp our minds in one way or another and cause us to do things of which we are ashamed.
However, the verse also explicitly indicates setting aside “the anxieties of life.” This is the one I am focusing in on because, in my personal experience, it can be more difficult to identify anxiety as a distraction. Sometimes worrying about the world around us seems like the responsible thing to do, but it can very well become a distraction as well. We have many worries. Some of them I discussed in the opening paragraph, but there are others I did not touch upon, worries that are much closer to home. Worries about school and setting yourself up for a future, worries about paying bills, taking care of family members and keeping your job, worries about children and worries about their worries, worries about grandchildren… the worries never stop coming. These kinds of worries, if overindulged, can cloud and warp our minds as badly as the aforementioned “drunkenness and carousing” by causing us to worry too much about problems, especially those that are exaggerated in importance or even simply imagined, and not enough about how we are living our lives in this moment.
It is sometimes very difficult to learn how to draw the line between healthy concern and unhealthy anxiety. Lord knows I still can’t strike a good balance between the two; I get worked up over writing a simple a blog post and let perfectionist tendencies hold me back for fear of writing something less than commendable, and don’t even mention the part about living every moment in a way that I can be proud of. It takes a conscious effort, in the beginning, to tell yourself, “Okay, I am going to give my all and do my best right this moment regardless of how it turns out,” but it quickly becomes a habit. It takes a conscious decision to set aside concerns you have about the world around you and just keep doing your own best. It can be even more difficult to set aside the anxiety in your personal life caused by relationships and responsibilities and just do your best right here and right now regardless of what others are doing. Before long, though, these little moments add up and you begin to feel much more comfortable with yourself and with God, and regardless of how badly things turn out it’s not quite as bad as it could have been.
You will have your own trials and tribulations, and as any survivalist knows the key to surviving any situation is preparedness. Prepare yourself by living each moment to the fullest extent possible, not by cramming in as many goodies as you think you can get away with, but by trying to fill each moment with a little bit of something to be proud of, be it as simple as being kind to somebody who needs a smile or wiping off a counter that someone else dirtied. The worries and problems in the world around us will roll along and, good or bad, the only thing we can control is how we handle ourselves day to day. So while others are talking about how to stock up on supplies for the apocalypse, I recommend reading the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Sure, it might be nearly two thousand years old, but it pretty much covers all bases.Tags » apocalypse, Gospel, life, Luke, reflections