For years I taught four- and five-year olds in Sunday school. I find something magical about children that age. They are open to wonder, to expanding what they know about the world, to learning about how to be part of a group.
Children that age also are mastering the art of tattling. I knew that on most Sunday mornings I would hear: “Ms. Kathryn, Alex took my scissors” or “Ms. Kathryn, tell April not to sit in my place” or . . . well, you get the picture.
Children didn’t have to be in our class long before they could anticipate a pattern of give and take. They would tattle, and I would ask: “Whom do you need to worry about?” With a somewhat defeated tone, they would answer: “Me.”
I can be a world-class worrier. Sometimes when that worrying runs amuck—and seems to circle the globe before landing back in my lap—I stop and ask myself: Whom do you need to worry about?
More recently I’ve begun to reframe that question. In part, that’s because I’m not sure how helpful worrying is—even when I limit it to myself.
But I’ve also been working with several groups as they try to imagine how the next months or even year might look in their collectives lives. How do they plan for a future that is uncertain? How do they begin to refine their reality?
As I’ve met with these groups via Zoom—which is part of that redefined reality—I’ve asked them my new version of “whom do you need to worry about?” The new question is: “What is your work . . . and what’s not your work?”
It seems to me that out of a desire to return to the old normal or find some new sense of normal, we take on work that doesn’t belong to us. Just as with worry, our attempts to take on work can run amuck. We try to come up with solutions to every problem that may exist. We jump ahead to planning for how to provide those solutions—even when there may not be a real need or we may not be the right providers.
And, if we’re honest, sometimes we take on work that ultimately belongs to God.
In my sermon this past Sunday, I explored the parable from Matthew’s gospel in which someone sneaks into a farmer’s field and plants weeds alongside the wheat the farmer had planted.
When the field hands discover the weeds, they offer to pull them up. But the farmer tells them to wait. He’ll take care of dividing the weeds from the wheat at the right time.
I asked the congregation to think about the damage that’s been done through the centuries by people who are sure they know God’s mind and try to weed out those they judge to be wrong or evil. Today extremists around the world still seem to believe they have a divine mandate to destroy those they label as enemies—both of themselves and of God.
We also know what it’s like to live in a world that’s weedy and not the way it’s supposed to be. Sometimes we feel like there’s nothing we can do to set things right. But at other times we’d like to volunteer to go out and rip up all that’s wrong by the roots.
Those are times—along so many other times—that we need to stop and ask: “What is our work . . . and what’s not our work?”
No matter how badly we want to redefine our reality, all of that work is not ours. Or, at least, not ours alone.
The farmer in the parable had a plan that was more ultimate than immediate. I have a sense that God may have a similar plan.
That doesn’t mean simply sitting around and waiting for the plan to drop from the heavens. Instead, I think it does mean we can take on the work that belongs to us without worrying that everything about the future depends on us.
What is our work . . . and what’s not our work? It’s a question I plan to continue asking myself.