by Linda Ryan
When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened. — Winston Churchill
I’ve been told many times throughout my life not to worry. Worrying was a waste of time, and with worry came frowning, which left indelible tracks on my forehead. All the advice to the contrary, I still found myself a pretty addicted worrier. If it were a sunny day, I’d worry about rain, even in places where rain was a relatively rare occurrence. Honest to Pete, if there were even the remotest possibility that there was something that could/would go wrong, no matter how insignificant the thing or remote the possibility, I would work up a good worry about it. Sometimes the concern paid off, which is probably why I continued to do it for so long. Still, usually, whatever it was either didn’t become the disaster I’d imagined or was not, as Mama would say, worth the powder to blow it to heck (ok, she said another word, but Mama was often a very plain speaker).
It seems like worries multiply as we grow up. There doesn’t seem to be a worry that doesn’t seem to resolve itself. Where should I go to college? What job should I try to find that fits our interests and desired lifestyle? Where should I buy a house? How are the schools around where I want to live? Prices are going up; what if I get laid off or fired? Do I have enough savings to get me through retirement? Do I have enough insurance? How about Medicare? How much are my medications and possible hospitalizations going to cost? Who will pay my funeral costs? What kind of funeral do I want? Where do I want my final resting place to be? The list could go on forever.
Like Churchill recounted, many of our worries will never happen. Our bills get paid every month; the house doesn’t need significant repairs. All the appliances work satisfactorily. The car is good for a few more years yet, the kids are grown and settled, and our health is reasonably good for our age. Still, we will worry that it will rain on the day of our outdoor barbecue (or palace garden party). The government will cut Social Security. The party currently in power will pass some lame bill that will trespass on our particular religious, political views, or desires, and the country will go to he** in a handbasket. Sound familiar?
Currently, we worry (or maybe not) about abortion rights, rising inflation, increasing shortages of necessary goods, racial or cultural issues and perceptions, where does one religion’s rights begin, and where does an opposing group’s rights end.
We worry about our safety, whether from neighborhood gangs, radical groups, foreign disputes that could escalate to wars that involve more than just two opposing sides, and so on. Not watching the news on TV or immersing myself in talk radio or media does help keep the worries somewhat at bay. Still, there are things I (and others) really need to know about, so where does that info come from? The church? The neighbors? The local news or TV station? What I overhear in passing at the mall, water cooler, or grocery checkout line?
For me, avoiding the news has helped, restricting myself to a few resources I find online. Another thing is using the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”) is vital. Remembering what I can do something about, like voting, supporting causes I believe in, or being a bit pickier about what I share with others. I read books (generally lovely British cozies, mysteries, or occasionally religious books that challenge my thinking), knit a lot (with prayers woven into the piece I’m making), and try to anticipate what my fur babies will yell at me about next. I’m careful where I put my feet (remembering breaking an ankle twice by stepping off the doorstep and onto a stray tennis ball), promptly wiping up messes on the floor, and taking my medications on time. I often sit in my chair and rock, which I find soothing and worry-releasing. Even when the wind blows, I can enjoy the sound of my wind chimes. It’s all part of de-stressing and unpacking worries from my mind.
I remember Jesus’s words about not worrying because if God takes care of the sparrow, God will surely take care of me. I may still break a hip, or something else may go wrong. Still, if I try to live as if I were the only living example of God’s presence on earth, I would want to be believable. I don’t worry about whether I will go to heaven (or the other direction) or pass my final Christianity exam. I simply trust that Jesus told the truth about God’s watchfulness.
Life is a lot easier without worrying about a lot of things. I trust in God, do my best, and try to work for freedom, justice, and equality for all. That’s what Jesus would do.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.
Image: Anxiety, Edvard Munch (1894). Found at Wikimedia Commons.