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!