One of my daughters recently reunited with college roommates on the opposite coast. It was her first airplane flight since COVID-19, and the first time she would be away, overnight, from her almost 2-year-old daughter. She was nervous.
The 2-year-old? Not so much.
“How’s the baby doing?” I asked my son-in-law. “Is she worried about where Mom is?”
“She seems pretty happy,” he said. Her older sister was playing with her, and she loved having Daddy’s attention.
And when she would ask about Mom, they would both say, “She’ll be back tomorrow,” and that seemed to be enough.
I laughed, because of course my granddaughter has no concept of what tomorrow means. There were a series of tomorrows involved in this trip, but each “tomorrow” sounded reassuring. She trusted them.
Sometimes, when we hear Jesus say we must be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3), we might find it beneath us to be so infantilized. He doesn’t mean me, does He? We fancy ourselves to be intellectuals, mature, capable of adult understanding.
I think Jesus is speaking to our human tendency to worry, sometimes ceaselessly, about tomorrow, about yesterday, about the far-off future and the long-dead past. Regrets can nag us from one direction, fear from the other. They squeeze out the once-in-a-lifetime moment that is this day.
A friend of mine who is a financial advisor deals with many retirees. A number of them, he said, have a tendency to worry that they won’t have “enough.”
“Some of my richest clients have this constant worry,” he said. And yet, the message of Jesus was the opposite. Look at the lilies of the field, He reminds us. They don’t have any bank accounts and they don’t keep their eyes on the stock market.
My granddaughter worries about the immediate present. If cookies suddenly appear, she demands one. If her sister is getting generous parental attention, she wants to be right in the middle of the hug.
But she doesn’t spend one minute of her time wondering what tomorrow brings, or even what tomorrow is. And she pays no attention to what happened yesterday, whatever that word means.
“Do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
Some translations of this text have the last line reading, “Each day has trouble enough of its own.”
And while both translations are beautiful and true, it’s important to also realize that if we pay attention to each day, we find that most of them have great goodness and joy enough of their own as well.
The writer Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I think that’s what Jesus meant, too, when He pointed at little kids as models. We all look to the past at times, and we all plan for the future. We put money away for retirement, and we get the roof fixed so it doesn’t leak “tomorrow.”
But Jesus reminds us that we can be overcome by these concerns to the extent that we don’t enjoy today or make it productive.
These are troubled times, and anxiety about climate change, politics and war can plague us. So we do our part, then put it in God’s hands, as a child relies on a trusted parent. Then we can focus on this great gift, this one irreplaceable day.
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.”