I am a worrier.
I worry about whether I handled something from some time ago well. Was I right? Was I wrong? Could I have said it better? Should I have said it differently?
I worry about whether my kids get home safely. I worry that someone will get COVID (all but 2 of us did!). I worry that we will run out of money. I worry that I don't have the right clothes. I worry that I should have established a better exercise regimen years ago, and should I start now?
I worry about the climate, about what is happening in Ukraine, about the starving children in Africa, about nuclear wastewater in Japan, about polar bears in the Arctic and penguins in Antarctica and glaciers in Greenland, and about whether American democracy will survive.
Give me a topic and I will find a way to worry about it.
But today I am working on not worrying, because it does ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD!
I have a friend who is very interested in politics. We were having a conversation about the state of US politics, and I said that I just needed to turn off the news for a while. He said something about burying one's head in the sand, implying that I really needed to be paying careful attention to the news. I've been thinking about that friend recently - what he sees as burying my head in the sand is, to me, protecting my mental health so I will live to vote another day.
And that is what I am doing. That, and pondering Matthew 6:25-34, when Jesus tells us not to worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)
I've often struggled with this passage. If I don't "worry," I risk becoming a drain on society. If I don't plan for the future, I may be dependent on someone else, and in my case that would mean I squandered the means that I have. I recognize that our systems are stacked against many people. I am fortunate to not be one of them - and I recognize that this passage would mean something very different to someone who has nothing, or not enough. I come at it from a fear of loss. Many people come at it with nothing to lose and see this passage, I think, as a promise.
Jesus goes on to tell us to look at the birds, lilies and grass and how they don't work or worry, and am I/we not more valuable than they?
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life?[l] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ (Matthew 6:26-31)
Setting aside the inherent value in everything created by God - including but not limited to birds, lilies, and grass - if I act like a bird, I am likely to smash into a window. Lilies only bloom for a short time, and grass? Well at my house it is being eaten by alpacas. But if I really do stop to consider, there is much more going on beneath the surface - birds are reseeding plants by dropping seeds, keeping rodents down by eating them - and they are beautiful to look at. I love birds! Lilies are growing beneath the soil, even though they only bloom for about a month, which brings beauty and a lovely scent to our world. Grass feeds many creatures, including alpacas, some of which we humans depend upon.
Anyway - as I ponder this, I realize that worrying and planning are two very different things. If I plan, I will have the clothing I need - though my closet will never have one item of haute couture in it. I do think about meals for the rest of the week so that I don't have to go to the grocery store every day. Jay and I have planned or our retirement so that we should have enough money to live comfortably.
One way to avoid worry is to plan, but we can't plan for every eventuality, and some things are just flat out beyond our control. If my children have an accident on the way home, it wasn't because I didn't worry enough, or pray enough. It just happened, and now we must deal with it. Worrying was a waste of the good energy that I had. Someday I might be widowed, but worrying about that now will only diminish my happiness while Jay is here (and I might die first in which case I won't be widowed). In my world, voting only happens once every two years or so, and for the big elections, not that frequently. I live in an area where more people vote the other way, so my vote is counted but never makes a difference. I don't have the wealth, knowledge, influence, education, or stamina to change the way our elected officials behave. So I worry, which changes nothing.
I've decided that I am going to live just for today - well, OK, I did buy groceries to get us through Friday (today is Tuesday), but I'm not worrying about them. Today, RIGHT NOW, I am in my heated home. My family is healthy. My dog is napping. The alpacas are doing their alpaca thing. RIGHT NOW is good. If, in the next 5 minutes, everything falls apart, at least I have RIGHT NOW.
This is fairly easy for me to say, RIGHT NOW, because things are good in my house, and the sun is shining. I know that not everyone can say that. The people in Ukraine are cold and frightened. People in China are ill and grieving. Mothers is some countries are desperate to feed their children. What will my worrying do to help them? Nothing. There are things I can do to help - I contribute to UNICEF. I research and donate to other charitable organizations that are working on issues that are dear to me - clean water is one of them. Yours might be different, and that is OK. I write letters to my elected officials. I hope they read them. I vote. I do read the newspaper and watch the news, but when it gets to be too much, I turn it off. These are things that will help. Worrying will not, unless it moves me to action.
I think - and I know this is easy for me to say - I think that if I were sick, caring for a loved one, or surviving a crisis of some other kind, I could try not to worry. To take a deep breath, and say, RIGHT NOW, things are OK. RIGHT NOW, I am coping. RIGHT NOW, my beloveds are right here. RIGHT NOW, I am alive. I may have pain, I may be exhausted, I may be cold or hungry or afraid or any number of other awful things, but if I identify what it is then I don't need to worry. I need to address what needs to be addressed.
I think this is what Jesus means when he says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:34) Except I would rather turn it around to say, "Today has joy and things to be grateful for. Tomorrow is another day. Don't ruin today by worrying about tomorrow." Jesus meant for us to deal with what was ours to address, today, because tomorrow is another day.
I want to be very clear. I don't ever, ever, ever want this space to become one of sunshine Christianity. You know the kind - the Christianity that says that if you just believe in Jesus, you'll have JOY in your SOUL, and they imply that if something bad happens, you aren't doing it right. If you are grieving - well, your loved one is in a better place! Never mind that you miss that person horribly. If you get sick - let the love of Jesus heal you! In an abusive relationship - love that abuse right out of your abuser! Nope, nope, nope. Not here. Jesus experienced joy and laughter and love, surely, but he also experienced grief (John 11:35), anger (Matthew 21:12), and pain - of betrayal, torture, and ultimately, crucifixion. We tend to paint all the ugly stuff out of our stories and images, but Jesus suffered unspeakably. And I think he saw it all coming, and was still able to say, "Do not worry." Let me say this as loudly as my typed words will allow: BAD STUFF HAPPENS AND IT USUALLY ISN'T OUR FAULT! Faithful people suffer. Jesus suffered, and he was the son of God (reminder: I am coming at this from a Christian perspective. If you aren't Christian, can you at least accept that Jesus was a wise man who was important to God?)
Here's what I'm thinking - I don't know if I'm correct or just kidding myself but I am going to practice naming what my worry is. If I am worried about my health, what is that worry? Pain? Nausea? Fever? If I am worried about money, am I afraid of running out? If I am worried about my children, what is really bothering me - grief at the fact that they are grown and out of the house? Are they giving me reason to believe that they aren't making good choices (to Jeff and Julia: NO)? Is it guilt because I think I failed? Is it a lack of control because things happen? If I am worried about feeding my family, is it really fear that I don't know where I will find the money for food - or the food itself?
Once I name the worry, and identify what it really is, then I can begin to plan - and as I said above, planning is not worrying. If I am worried about my health, can I take a pain reliever? Go to the doctor? Get vaccinated? If it is money, the first thing I should do is check my bank balances. That might be enough. Preparing a budget or reining in spending might be helpful. My kids? Call them. Look at photos of happy times. Grief I will just need to sit with and acknowledge my loss. It will come and go, I know. If I have shame or guilt, do I need to apologize? Do I need to forgive myself? Do I need to forgive someone else? (You can read my 4-step Forgiveness Plan here) Do I know someone who will listen, or do I need counselling?
This is what I am going to practice. I need to practice because it doesn't come naturally to me, but with time it should get easier. I am going to take deep breaths and think of what is real, and what I can control, and let the rest go.
As the song says, "Don't worry, be happy!" Not worrying might not make us happy, but worrying can surely make us unhappy. Today, RIGHT NOW, all is well in my world. Except I have a headache. I think a glass of water will help.
Image. https://tse2.mm.bing.net/th?id=OIP.A6Ax0-gGeb-8fBX3ObuMbAHaLH&pid=Api&P=0. Accessed Jan 25, 2023.