Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 24:36–44
On the first day of my junior year of college, I sat stunned as I heard my professor say, “In this class, I will never tell you when you are going to have a test.” I was outraged. How cruel, I thought. How will I ever know when I need to study? In light of this information, I had two choices. I could be diligent and prepared should our professor give us a test. Or, I could waste precious study time by worrying, reading into my teacher’s words, and guessing when the test would be. I chose the latter. Consequently, I spent the entire semester in a state of unknowing anxiety and got Cs on most of the tests. I passed the class but failed the professor’s lesson in maturity: Be ready.
This lesson that my professor tried to instill into a bunch of immature college students is the same lesson that the Church seeks to instill in us over the coming weeks of Advent. While the hustle and bustle of the holidays in every store, event, and website inundates us, the Church invites us into a time of expectant preparation. Over these next few weeks, God calls us to make ourselves ready to behold the mystery of Christ’s coming at Christmas and at the end of time.
In this Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks to His followers about His second coming. He explains that no one, not even He, knows when He will return. That knowledge is for the Father and the Father alone. Jesus then describes the second coming. He says He will come back to a world that is going about its ordinary business. People will be eating, drinking, and marrying—just like they were in the days of Noah before the flood came. And in the days of Noah, most people had no idea that the flood was coming until it was too late. Jesus ends this teaching with a clear message: Be ready.
As we read Jesus’ words, we have the same choice I had the day I learned about the unannounced tests. We can work ourselves up into a frenzy of anxiety and speculation. We can spend time guessing the time and details of the world’s end. Or we can respond to Christ’s words in obedience and do what is necessary to be ready at all times.
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey distilled these two choices into the concept of the circle of concern and the circle of influence. Covey explained, “We each have a wide range of concerns—our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war.” In many things, such as the national debt and nuclear war, we have no control and should withhold our energy from those things.
However, within our circles of concern, there are things over which we do have control. We can control our behavior, which in turn influences outcomes in our health, relationships with our children, mood, and situations at work. Covey claims that when people focus their time and energy on their circle of influence, “the nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their circle of influence to increase.”
The problem is that most of us like to live in our circles of concern. We worry about things over which we have no control rather than interacting in our circle of influence. Why? Because worrying is easier than changing our behavior. Worrying makes us feel like we are serious and loving. It makes us feel like we care about a situation when we are doing nothing to solve it.
But the Lord wants to set us free from unnecessary worry and focus us on doing what actually matters. So what does our Lord want us to take away from His words? He wants us to be confident in what we know and not worry about what we don’t know.
So what do we know?
And so, if you often find yourself spiraling into a vortex of worry and speculation about your life, this is the perfect gospel reading for you as you enter Advent. Let the Lord lead you out of the chaos of obsessing and speculating over things you can’t control and into the peace of obedience. Don’t worry, but be ready.
Food for thought or journaling…
What action can you take over the next few weeks of Advent to prepare your heart to receive Christ at Christmas and in His second coming?
I often find myself worrying and speculating about situations I can’t control. I recognize that this not only keeps me from acting in obedience to You, it also blinds me to what You are doing with my life in the present moment. Please give me the grace to give my energy to what You have given me influence over in my life and to trust that You will take care of the rest. In this I know that You will prepare me to receive You at any moment. Amen
 Steven F. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster,1989), 34.
 Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 36.