If you don’t worry

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
–Matthew 6:25-27

For the last two weeks, I had been lounging in the middle of nowhere, at our place in middle Tennessee. I always pine for that place in the woods, no pun intended. And yet, I found that this time, it took me quite a while to just relax and “be.” I was thinking about all the things I had on the calendar coming up– boys going back to school, my daughter going away to college, dog training classes, writing deadlines, book edits, projects unfolding and developing. I felt paralyzed, as though life was back in Chicago, continuing while I sat on my couch in Tennessee and stared at my phone as it tried in vain to load just one funny cat video.

We have terrible WiFi there.

And today as I think about this, that seems pertinent. For two weeks I kept trying to get those pages to load. I kept trying to keep up with the news and the posts on Facebook and Twitter. Sure, I read and walked and prayed and saw old friends but mostly I felt paralyzed, waiting in a kind of limbo. The social media wasn’t the trouble. It’s not an addiction to Facebook, but rather a symptom of something else. These are troubling times, friends. Funny cat videos are all that stand between us and total annihilation.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it feels true at the moment.

Maybe it feels true, that cat videos or “liking” a friend’s status about what they’re eating, drinking, reading, wearing or buying is going to help to dispel some deep angst I’m harboring at this moment, but that doesn’t mean it is true. Not really. I always tell my kids that we need to be careful with our feelings. We need to pay attention to them, of course. We need to talk about them, but I remind my kids that feelings are not always the best indicator of truth. Sometimes what we feel doesn’t reflect what is happening. We can have old reactions to new situations. We can be sad in the middle of an incredibly happy event. We can feel worried in the best of times.

Oh, yeah, worry. That’s my jam.

I do worry, all the time, about mostly everything. I try not to. I try to stave it off, and I like to think I’m getting better as I age. But then, I start to worry about aging and that messes with my progress. Go figure. I blame my grandmother for this. I was raised with her adage in my head, “if you don’t worry about something, it will happen to you.” Think about that for a minute. If you don’t worry about it, it will happen.

So, being the A+ student I am, I have followed that advice to a “t.” And I have a good imagination, so in fact, not only do I think about all the bad things that can happen, I can visualize it in my head. I got lengthy storylines that run around upstairs all the time. This is why I write fiction now, true story. If I don’t get those storylines out of my head, it drives me batty. I have to find ways to dispel the worry, to disarm it, to disavow it.

Of course, The Jesus Prayer is my first stop. It’s easy; it comes naturally to me now, but it’s not magic, and I find that often even in the course of prayer I am distracted, and I am still worried. I imagine worry as something I carry around with me, like a weighted vest I wear. I know I can take off the vest. I know I can put it down. Wearing it around is a choice. That’s a significant realization. That’s the part I need to have on a plaque mounted on my wall or all my walls, and in my car and scrolling across my computer screen. I choose to worry.

What does that say about me? That I choose to worry…instead of, what? What would I do with all the time and energy I spend on worrying. I could write the great American novel with all that time and energy. I could serve the poor with all that time and energy. Think of savings in what I spend on therapy and Tums alone!

And yet, I pick up that vest first thing in the morning, and I buckle it up. Putting it down seems like a risk. If I don’t worry, then something bad will happen. Worry begins to feel like action. Worrying is “doing something” when perhaps there is nothing I can actually “do” at all. But that’s not the truth, even if it feels true.

Care is action. Love is action. Peace is action. Talking about it is action. Prayer is action.

Worry is just a stand in for any of those true actions. Worry isn’t care or love or peace or talking or prayer. Imagine if I had a vest made of care instead? Or love? Or prayer? What sort of material would it be, I wonder? Soft like knitted wool, warm as a blanket in winter, cool as night, strong like Goretex for the soul.

The other potential sticky point about my lovely worry vest is that it can feel somehow, as though it makes me stronger to wear it. I have told myself that carrying all the weight as I run from place to place living out my life is a kind of spiritual body building. This is the source of my super strength!

Then why am I so tired and worn down?

Because I don’t have super strength, that’s why. Ordinary life is stressful already. Being worried about it doesn’t make me stronger, it just makes me exhausted, and exhaustion leads to injury and then next thing you know all I want to do is sit around in the middle of the woods with terrible WiFi trying to get that damn cat video to load. I am desperate for that cat video. Desperate.

And it is here, that I see that worry vest for what it is, an ugly article of clothing that I have mistaken for something else, something beautiful and flattering on my figure– care, love, prayer. It is here that I recognize a small willingness to put down that weighted worry vest, to make a conscious effort to unbuckle that sucker even when the calendar is packed with transition and responsibility and parenting and deadlines and edits and dog training. It’s a glimmer of hope, a sliver of super strength. It’s a risk.

6 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness Angela, my grandmother said the same thing. She worried all the time, as does her daughter (my mother). I need to not worry as much as I do. As a friend recently told me “let God and go to sleep”.

  2. Wow, felt like you were me in this writing….I find too, that the Jesus prayer helps…and I worry so much and think yep, if i just enjoy and don’t worry something bad will happen…it’s so hard….I will keep the last part of your article about choosing to wear that vest of worry close in my mind and try to stop the worry. Thank you for writing this, so needed it.

  3. I completely get what you are saying because I was awake have the night worrying about my finances and feel completely drained this morning as I sit in front of my computer. I have sleeping pills both over the counter and prescribed which don’t seem to be effective when I am like this. Relaxing is so hard for me.

  4. A lot of worry comes to us from the tragedies of the world of the first half of the 1900s. Our grandparents went through the great depression, two world wars, and other shocks. Kurt Vonnegut wrote (a few times) that the worst thing to ever happen to Americans was the Great Depression, because all that want created a mass neurotic set of coping mechanisms that didn’t really help (hoarding things, for starters). Most of us were raised by those people, or their children, so their worries became some of the background music on the soundtracks of OUR lives.

    Some great people tried to make it so these things wouldn’t happen again, such as FDR and Eisenhower. But, as is often the case, twerps got into power and undid most of their great work.

    So, we’ve faced more war and more deep economic distress, so we worry.

    But the passage posted at the start of this wonderful post really is true. For all we have to surmount, plan, and accomplish – most of us do so. Things turn out. Sometimes tragedy still visits, but we still dress the kids and send them to school with a lunch we’ll hope they’ll eat. Stories are still read at bedtime. Mom makes that dinner that’s everyone’s favorite. Dad tickles you until you beg for mercy. (Or vice-versa.)

    The sun continues to rise (almost kept what I typed the first time “the son continues to rise”).

    Posts like this are the breezes and the smiles that lift us over the sorrow. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for these words. I actually went on Ancient Faith to find some peace and read this post first- it’s exactly what I needed.

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