Christians know that Jesus told us not to worry. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:25-26, NIV)
Some Christians treat these words of Jesus as the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not worry. They remind each other that Jesus told us not to worry. They try to hide from themselves the fact that they sometimes worry, or else they feel guilty and confess that they have been worried. This worrying turns into a vicious spiral: first one is worried about something, then one worries about worrying, and soon one worries about worrying about worrying.
For Christians afflicted with anxiety, this vicious cycle occurs far too easily. Reminding an anxious person that Jesus says “Don’t worry” only adds to the anxiety—there’s one more thing I’m doing wrong. Telling an anxious Christian to “pray about their problems and trust God” only adds to the guilt and anxiety. As long as the words of Jesus are treated as commands, our efforts not to worry are likely to drive us deeper into anxiety and despair.
Jesus did not mean to be understood in this way. He meant his words to be a promise, not a warning. He told us not to worry because we do not need to worry. God has already solved all our problems. God is taking care of us, whether we can see his care or not. God will not abandon us to our problems, even if we do worry or do break his commands. The forgiveness of Jesus overcomes all our disobedience and all our shortcomings.
Consider this analogy: a man and woman have been married for a year or two. They both work, and they take turns fixing dinner. On the morning of his birthday, knowing that it is his wife’s turn to make dinner, he asks her, “What dinner have you planned for tonight?” She replies, “Don’t worry about it.” Do you think that she means those words as a threat? If somehow she finds out that he has been worrying about dinner, is she going to refuse to serve him dinner? Of course not. When she says “Don’t worry about it,” she is promising that she has all things under control. She will have a dinner ready for him. If she says “Don’t worry about it” instead of describing what she has planned, she probably wants to surprise him with a special dinner on his birthday.
In the same way, when Jesus says “Don’t worry,” he is not warning to punish any person he finds worrying. Of course we cannot make our lives longer by worrying; worrying probably shortens our lives. At the very least, it reduces the quality of our lives. However, worrying about worrying gets us nowhere. Jesus does not want anyone to worry about worrying. He wants us to approach life with confidence, knowing that he is in control and he will not let us down. Even if we struggle with worries and anxiety, Jesus does not give up on us. When we fall, he picks us up and puts us back on our feet. When we do wrong, he forgives us because of what Jesus has done for us. When we worry—and everybody sometimes worries—he says, “You don’t need to worry.” We can stop worrying about our worrying, because Jesus really doesn’t have a problem with our worries.
“Cast your cares on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). Again, this is a promise, not a command. God does care about each of us. He is big enough to handle all our worries, even all our anxiety. The last thing Jesus wants any of us to do is to worry about our worries.