Worried about Worrying

Scripture Reflection for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Recently, I was visiting with a friend facing significantly challenging times unlike any I have faced in the past, and I shared with him my glib wisdom for not worrying, which went something like “We are limited in our ability to control the outcome of tomorrow.  Worrying about situations and people we have no control over is a waste of our energy.”

“Why don’t you just pat me on the head and offer me a Coke?” he asked drily.  It was apparent he felt patronized by my good news, but he made a good point about how easily I can tell someone to not worry when I have not walked in their shoes.  I thought of how often I circulate well-intentioned, inspirational messages through social media with messages like “Worrying never changes the outcome,” or “No amount of worry can solve any problem.”  Just don’t worry…here, have a Coke!

Even though I need to continually tell myself precisely these words tcoke-cliparto prevent my own worry, and even though I believe they hold true for everyone, it was unhelpful for me to tell someone facing the loss of their home (in so many words) “Don’t worry, be happy.”  In the same way, it would be insensitive to tell someone unable to feed their family, “Just don’t worry! Everything works out in the end.”  It would be condescending to tell someone awaiting results for a medical test, “Worry about that when the times comes.”   The human experience can be filled with joy, love, and hope, but can also be messy with complex challenges, and personally working on accepting this fact helps enable me to keep the worry at bay.

Interestingly, a research study published in the December 2016 edition of Biological Psychology suggests some “normal” worrying can serve a useful purpose in our lives insofar as normal worry can help us to solve problems connected to daily living, to help improve our mood, and to help us avoid catastrophe.  For example, “I am worried because I want my presentation to go well, so I will carefully prepare and arrive well in advance of the start time to review my material.”  Being attentive to the matter and working to resolve it helps to reduce my worry.

However, the authors of the study stated worry can take on a more damaging form, presenting a serious challenge to many of us feeling excessive anxiety over what tomorrow will bring.  I have mentioned in another reflection that the term “worry” is derived from the Old English “wyrgan,” meaning “to strangle.”  Strangle is exactly what worry does to us if left unattended to grow out of control.  Humans tend to worry when presented with uncertainty, but does this mean we have failed as Christians because we worried against Jesus’ advice?  No, there are times in life when worry wins over and mires us down, and it seems the only thing to do is pray, and because a prayer petition is far better than a Coke (for most of us), here is a version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” you may be less familiar with:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Trevor Droesbeck
Office of Youth Faith Development

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