Five Myths about Worry
What are you worried about? Notice, my question assumes you are worried about something. Maybe it’s something big and important. Or maybe it’s something small and insignificant. Maybe you worry a lot. Or perhaps you worry hardly at all, yet you still have this uneasy feeling about something…
Some of the things I say today, I’m basing on The Little Book of Letting Go by Hugh Prather. In this book Prather calls worry “mental debris” or (even stronger) “a mental pollutant.” Worry is a “useless item” we accumulate that clutters our life. I would add that Jesus told his disciples on more than one occasion, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Wasn’t he telling them (and us) not to worry so much? Let’s look at five myths about worry that might help us to deal with worry more effectively.
Myth #1: Worry is natural. Some people justify their worrying by saying that worry is natural. Prather agrees that worry is natural in the sense that it is universal. But, he says, so are tooth decay, accidents, and jealousy—but that doesn’t mean worry is useful or beneficial. Prather goes so far as to say that worry “fragments the mind, shatters focus, distorts perspective, and destroys inner peace.” Just because we might have a tendency to worry, doesn’t mean we have to feed or nourish that tendency.
Myth #2: Failure to worry is risky and dangerous. From early childhood we are sometimes taught to worry. We hear things like: “Watch out… Go slow… Use your head… Trust no one… Watch your step… Watch your back… Be careful… Think Twice.” The underlying message, says Prather, is this: “We are more alert and better armed when we are anxious.” But that’s not true. “The opposite of a worried mind is not a foolish mind, but a still mind.” A still mind is capable of “steady awareness simply because it is less scattered and distracted.” A still mind can assess a situation more accurately than an anxious mind and is therefore less likely to overlook a present danger.
Myth #3: Worrying is a sign of intelligence. Some might defend their worrying by saying it is a sign of intelligence. “I know so much more than you. That’s why I worry so much!” These individuals sometimes say that inner peace is naive and unrealistic. If you’re not worrying, it is a sign that you are oblivious to the very real dangers lurking everywhere. So-called “investigative reporting” feeds this myth. It is constantly revealing dangers in places we never suspected: a common food we eat, the bridges we drive over every day, the use of our credit cards. I remember one newscaster saying in a very serious tone: “How safe is your toaster? New at 11: Exploding toasters—more common than you think!” We have a choice here: to worry about all the bad things that could happen to us in the future. Or we can focus on where we are in the present and (in Prather’s words) “relax with the situation at hand.” I am fond of saying that the secret of a healthy spirituality is to live primarily in the present—because that is where God is!
Myth #4: Worrying is a sign of compassion. Sometimes we may think that those who worry are more empathetic or compassionate than those who don’t. But a worried mind is often a fearful mind. And fear tends to make us withdraw and turn in on ourselves. Worrying about something is not the same as reaching out to others in love. I’ve always liked this quote: “Worry is often a substitute for action.” It’s easier to worry about something than do something about it.
Myth #5: When things go well, you’d better start worrying. Sometimes you hear people say, “Be careful what you wish for—you just might get it!” Think of the implications of that statement: the advantages you may have in life—decent health, financial security, good friends, a good education—are untrustworthy! And the things you hope and
pray for are even more untrustworthy! If we have this attitude, then when things are going our way we have no joy. Worrying about the future robs us of enjoying life’s blessings and pleasures in the present.
As Christians we have a perspective on life that should help lessen our worry and anxiety. After all, we believe we are created and loved by God. We believe this God became incarnate on earth in the person of Jesus. And Jesus taught us how to live and love and trust and forgive and hope. He also showed us how to deal with pain and sorrow and even death. And he promised us that ultimately hate will be overcome by love, evil by goodness, and death by life everlasting. Why then do we worry so much?
The video I chose for this week is entitled “Do Not Worry.” It is not a song. Instead it is a reflection on Jesus’ own words found in Mt. 6:25-34. Using piano and beautiful pictures, the video reminds us of what Jesus himself said about worry.
Are you a worrier or not?
Do you buy into any of the five myths about worry?
What helps you to trust in God more?
PS: Thank you for your prayers for the day I led for care-givers in Camp Hill, PA last Friday. I really enjoyed my time with the hospital chaplains, pastoral care-givers, nurses, and everyone else who attended the day. Special thanks to Sister Margaret Washington and her staff for organizing everything—from the beautiful prayer service to the do-it-yourself ice-cream sundaes!
Perfect meditation for me. It is the last week of the semester and things can get quite hectic. Good reminder to leave it all in God’s hands.
Great reflection, Sister Melannie!
I thought I would share another quote I recently heard about worrying, that I find thought-provoking:
“Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.”
Wow, this was perfect for me this week. Your reflection really hit home and put things into perspective. The video is from one of my favorite bible verses as well. Thank you so much!
The video and words written here are beautiful! I am very much a non-worrier; I spent too much of life watching the harm that constant worry brought to those closest to me. This is a true blessing and has cleared my mind and heart for fuller trust in God. Thank you, Sr. Melannie. Have a wonderful week.
Thank you, Sr. Melannie. This is perfect timing for me as I was recently offered a Retirement Package so I have a lot of future concerns to consider and most definitely will place this all in God’s Hands.
Thanks, Sister Melanie, from a “professional” worrier. Have saved it as a reference.
As Saint/Father Pio said: “Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
Great topic Sister!
I agree that worry destroys inner peace. And so much that we “worry” about we have no control over. A sometimes overused phrase is “let go and let God”, but I believe everything is in God’s hands. I give Him the worry and keep my peace.
I’ve been a reader for a long time but never left a comment before. Because tomorrow is “Thank a Nun Day”, I am writing for the first time to thank you for your posts in general and today’s in particular. Worry has always been a problem for me but I am learning to place all in God’s hands. Thank you again for all the inspiration you provide and for the work of all sisters religious!
Living in the present because that is where God is . . .
It has taken me a lifetime to understand that statement.
Recently I have read excerpts from He Leadeth Me by Father Walter Ciszek whose story is about trusting that what unfolds in each moment of today is your encounter with God’s Will.
Your writing, Sister Melannie, helps me to see those moments more clearly.
And to Rose who is thinking about retirement: I was in your shoes two years ago, very uncertain about my future as a retiree. It has helped me to think of retirement in terms of “who can I be now?”. Time is the gift of retirement. Time to try new things, time to behold life at a slower pace, time to notice the little things, time to read and pray, time to see the world anew through my grandchildren’s eyes.
Read somewhere a long time ago that Worry was an insult to God and that thought has helped me. No one wants to really insult our God. Thank you for your weekly Sunflower Seeds – always look forward to them.
I remember my mom always saying, “I worry about you because I love you.” Worry was a virtue to her. Now that I’m older and a mom, I understand the premise, but I watched how her fears got the best of her. I don’t think worry = love.
I think worry = fear.
Dear Sr. Melanie,
Each myth hit home especially if your a little too sensitive and want to take control but not sure of your place and how to go about it…..so what is left, but to worry. Age has helped because we look back and see God’s Plan and not ours….so the key is to Trust and of course, Pray. Thank you for your beautiful messages and lessons; I look forward to them every week.
God bless you and all the nuns who have helped with the foundation of our Church and our Faith. We couldn’t have made it without you.
Dear Sister Melannie,
I don’t think I am a worrier, but I especially liked your reminder:
“But a worried mind is often a fearful mind. And fear tends to make us withdraw and turn in on ourselves.” I found the fear of that line scary enough to keep me surrendering my worries to our good and gracious God.
And to Cathy who questioned, like me, who she would be in retirement, her answer, of time as a gift from God, touched me deeply.
Thank you. Joanne
I like the quote about the rocking chair and have shared it with others. I try to remember the Serenity Prayer when I am struggling with something.
Thank you, Sister Melannie. My mom spent much of her life worrying about things that never happened. There were often times she did not enjoy the present moment because she was consumed with worry. Now, she is no longer with us. I pray that her constant worries have stopped and she is enjoying God’s Kingdom, free from pain and stress.
I was once told by someone that I seem to think my worrying had magical power. That if I worried enough about something I could control the outcome! That really put things in perspective for me. So now when I start to worry about something excessively I remind myself that my worrying cannot change how things turn out. I also try to change my worry into prayer and to give my worry over to God.
Sister Melanie –
Live in the present because that is where God is…. that really resonates with me and something I am so trying to meditate on. My endless need to plan out every step to “be prepared” for all the possible scenarios is enough to drive me (and my husband!) crazy! I was recently reminded that I would be best to let go and give God a chance to “get a word in edgewise!” all 5 myths are so pervasive in our world – Love the “How safe is your toaster? New at 11: Exploding toasters—more common than you think!” we can get so sucked into worrying about things we didn’t know we had to worry about! Thanks for this great reflection and reminder! Peace, L
Really enjoyed your thoughts on worry, Sister Melannie. Thank you for always the uplift! My mother never worried much; she also said she grew up under the shadow of her mother’s worry. I think I inherited my grandmother’s genes, so I have relied often on these words of Jesus.
Thanks Sister Melannie for the Meditation. God takes care of the birds & lilies of the field–HE will surely take care of us…