Children have an amazing ability to anticipate.
They’ll count down to their birthday months ahead of time. Or from the backseat of the van, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Or if you tell them you might bake some cookies, you sure better. They won’t let you forget.
With all that anticipation, though, they don’t really plan well. They get distracted by whatever’s happening at the moment. They forget where they’re going.
…because they love what’s happening now.
In fact, we often say that a person’s ability to persist through distractions is a measure of their maturity. The ability to focus on the future is what separates adults from kids.
I’d like to bring those back together, though, see if we can un-separate them. I love seeing anticipation in the eyes of little children. I’m thinking maybe you and I could copy some of that instead of planning so much.
On planning ahead
Remember when God provided for the (ahem) children of Israel in the desert by sending them manna? God sent flakes of bread from the sky each morning with instructions for everyone to collect enough for one day only. Some of the people of course disobeyed and learned the hard way that manna spoils overnight.
What’s up with that?
I mean, why did God send them bread that would spoil so quickly? Surely He could have sent something that lasted at least a few days, right? Like on Fridays, right before the Sabbath day of rest, God told them to gather enough for two days, and – what do you know! – the manna didn’t spoil then.
No, God knew what He was doing. The manna spoiled on purpose. God wanted the Israelites to learn to trust Him each day, a lesson Jesus echoed hundreds of years later:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” -Matthew 6:34
What a liberating lesson! And Jesus did more than preach it…
- When children wanted to climb onto Jesus’s lap, the disciples told them to scram. Why don’t we let Jesus rest so He can share more later? But Jesus wasn’t about that.
- When Mary wanted to sit and listen to Jesus, Martha wanted to hurry about, preparing the meal. Why don’t we cook now so the food will be ready in time? Jesus wasn’t about that at all.
- When the woman wanted to dump expensive oil all over Jesus’s feet, everyone wanted her to save it. Why don’t we sell it and give the profit to the poor? Jesus wasn’t about that either.
It’s not that Jesus hated planning. It’s that He loved being present. He wanted to interact with whatever was happening at the moment. Plans can wait. Now can’t.
Jesus enjoyed now. He wasn’t worried about later. Just like a child.
We’re not like that, not usually.
Why we worry
Worry is a result of uncertainty, bad uncertainty. Like those scary movies. The scary parts are when you don’t know what’s going to happen, the suspense, little Miss Whoever in the dark hallway. We get anxious when there’s a chance it could be bad.
That’s what the future is: uncertainty, a type of suspense. When we look into the future, or try to, we end up worrying because it’s unknown to us.
We think we’re being cautious. We think we’re being responsible. But it’s mostly a disguise for our desire to control things. Why do you plan ahead? Why do you prepare? Why do you worry? Isn’t it so you can control the outcome?
Kids know they can’t do much about what happens next. Their parents will feed them, clothe them, and probably even tuck them into bed. Children, young ones anyway, accept that.
As we get older, though, we don’t accept what happens. We want to control it. That’s how the worry creeps in. Because a) we’re not trusting God, and b) we’re not appreciating what we have.
How to stop worrying
The simple answer is to start living now. Children get that. Problem is, you and I don’t know how to live now. Try it even for a second – you’ll see what I mean.
- Take a moment to try to think of nothing else except what you’re feeling right now. How does it feel to sit where you’re sitting? Where are your hands resting? What happens if you close your eyes? What do you hear?
- Don’t let your thoughts wonder to any other part of the day: not the past, not the future.
- Don’t let your thoughts wonder to any other place either. Sometimes, instead of thinking about what did or will happen, your mind will try to think about what’s currently happening somewhere else. Are those cookies burning?
Frankly, the first thing that comes to mind when I try this is some Tibetan monk on a mat in front of a window, meditating. I think, I can’t do this. This isn’t me. I’m not even a Buddhist.
In other words, just focusing hard enough doesn’t it do it for me. Instead, I dig the Philippians 4:6 Approach…
The Philippians 4:6 Approach to anxiety
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…” -Philippians 4:6
Let’s break this down:
- “Be anxious for nothing”: In case it wasn’t clear enough, it’s spelled out here. How much is nothing?
- “But in everything by prayer and supplication”: God wants us talking with Him, constantly. When we’re aligned with His personality, we can’t worry… because He doesn’t. The more we understand Him, the more we trust Him.
- “With thanksgiving”: Talk about being present. Instead of thinking ahead or even looking back, consider what you’re grateful for right now. What can you appreciate?
- “Let your requests be made known to God”: With that mindset of appreciation and desire for communication, tell God what you want.
And look at the promise:
“…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:7
The Bible doesn’t say God will give us what we want, but it does say He’ll give us the peace we need.
That’s why we can have child-like anticipation. The God of the universe, the God who got Himself killed for you, is certainly going to take care of your tomorrow.
“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” -Matthew 5:26
So don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t be anxious about the future. Be ridiculously thankful. Appreciate everything. Enjoy now.
(1) Value what’s happening now more than what’s happening later. The opportunities to put this into practice are almost endless. For example, when you’re talking with someone, listen to what they’re saying instead of planning how you’ll respond. Or if someone asks you to do something for them, do it now instead of continuing with your pre-made agenda.
(2) How do you value what’s happening now? By being thankful. I linked to a post about this up above, but in case you didn’t check it out, here it is again. Start appreciating things.
(2) Some things that grab your attention are distractions. That’s what worries everyone about “not planning.” Don’t confuse those distractions, though, with what’s important. You’re not preparing as much, but that’s not so you can waste time on trivial stuff. Do what’s important for right now… right now. Just spend less time planning it.