Worry is the uninvited invasion of the present by the past or the future. The past invades by regrets. What if I just hadn’t said that or done that or what if she hadn’t said that to me or he hadn’t done that to me? If those bad things hadn’t happened then, I could be happy now. Since they did, I can’t. We go over the past like a dog gnaws a bone. There is no meat there but that doesn’t keep us from chewing.
The future’s army crosses our borders with less definition. What if I lose my job? What if I can’t lose this weight? What if her tests come out badly? What if the Lymes Disease doesn’t respond to medication?
Both the past and the future can invade the country of the present, occupy and colonize it and refuse to let it go out by day or by night. Especially at night, worry likes to have its way with us. Those that don’t invade our conscious life show up in our unconscious and nag.
The most acute kind of worry is when we get down on ourselves for worrying. We not only worry, we worry about how much we worry. “I know I shouldn’t worry but I do.” We jump into the well of worry and spiral down. Here I help you to own your own land, to live on the corner of here and now and to free yourself from foreign occupation. I help you to climb out of the well one rung on the ladder up and out at a time. Think of it this devotional as a Boston tea party, a revolution by the forces of the present, in the present, overthrowing the wicked spirits with the good ones. We get off the saucer and into the cup of life.
Spirit is the Power
If will power was going to work to evict worry from warting you, it would already have worked. If playing “Don’t worry, Be Happy,” over and over every day was going to help worry from wasting you, you’d be living in the here and now already. If the famous poster “What me Worry?” was going to humor you into worry free living, you’d not be reading this far.
The rungs on the ladder out of the well of worry are spiritual. They don’t fix the worries so much as climb above them. The Great sociologist Robert Bellah said that religion is nothing more or less than the imagination of another reality. When we learn to let worry go, we do so because we want another reality to come in. We want to live in what Canadian Theologian Douglas John Hall calls the good news, which he defines as “the permission and the commandment to enter difficulty with hope.” Permission. Commandment. Enter. Difficulty. With hope. That is the spiritual power that comes from a dimension deeper and wider than the deviltry of difficulty. Spiritual power is above and within and deeper. It occupies another level in the now.
Things said or done have injured many people. Abuse, large and small, is real. So is injury. Many people have good reason to worry about the continuation of their job or good health. Fear, large and small, is real. When we borrow the power of the spirit to live in the present, we do so trusting that its power is larger than the big stuff we do worry. We imagine ourselves as agents and actors in our lives as opposed to victims. We become the subjects not the objects of our own sentences. We may not be able to control the Lymes Disease but we can control our attitude towards it. We can, you say? Wondering if Pollyanna is speaking? Yes, we can. Si, se puede. The power of Spirit is larger than the power of any injury.
The Power of the Practical
Perhaps you need more hope than you have. Perhaps you only hear the murmur of an invitation to enter your trouble with hope. Perhaps you are way down deep in the well, below the ladder and need help to even get to the first rung.
Permit me to give you the practical reasons not to worry. It doesn't help. It wastes time. It blocks positive energy. It goes quickly to sounding off, which is the opposite of the high art of complaining. In a complaint, we hope and intend a positive outcome. In whining and sounding off, we are just hearing ourselves talk. Worry that leads to complaint can be justified; worry that expresses despair leads to more despair and is impractical. Even if you can’t get to the first rung on the ladder, right now, you sure don’t want to go down deeper. Plus, nobody ever climbed a mountain thinking they couldn’t do it.
Like most people, I have plenty of excuses for worrying. I can’t remember my passwords. I was on hold with a bank that charged me $59.00 for an annual fee on a card I don’t have. My offspring may have to live through a changed climate, after all that money I spent on braces. My hollyhocks have a disease. These are perfectly good reasons to worry, and I hope you will join me in legitimating them.
Worrying, however, will do nothing about a single one of these things. As the old songs says, “Worry gets us nowhere, absolutely no where, worry gets us no where at all.”
Some of us work in business where the word “results” rings in our ears all day long. If you look at the track record of worry, you discover something very quickly. It brings only negative results. Firing worry from your team will bring results in peace, power and energy. Keeping worry on your team will do the opposite.
When we Stop Worrying about Worrying
What does it look like to be worry free? We symbolically toss all the enemy’s tea into the spiritual sea. We don’t cooperate with our persecutor. We take one rung on the ladder at a time, as our energy permits. We don’t give ourselves more to do in any given moment than we can. We do piece work and we do it well. I clean my whole house this way, one corner a day.
Most of all, we are living in the present. The past and the future are no longer our masters.
Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper is Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City and, most recently, the author of Grace At Table: Small Spiritual Solutions to Large Material Problems.