John Horan SDB advises people to try to become aware of the ingrained habits of mind which may turn life into a constant source of worry. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. (John Milton) A certain amount of worry is normal and […]
John Horan SDB advises people to try to become aware of the ingrained habits of mind which may turn life into a constant source of worry.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.(John Milton)
A certain amount of worry is normal and natural. Everybody, unless they are in a state of denial or some kind of comatose existence, worries from time to time. The responsibilities of self, family and work bring a certain amount of worry, which can become quite intense at times.
Worry is a preoccupation with harmful things that may happen to us or those close to us. We may worry that we’ll be embarrassed, inconvenienced, suffer pain or experience loss. Worry may even manifest itself as a vague, seemingly unending fear that something terrible is going to happen. We worry because we are vulnerable, fragile and mortal, and because death is always a possibility.
Reality test Worry has a myriad of faces and, if we are not mindful, it can take over our lives. Imagination tinged with fear can litter our internal landscape with endless dire possibilities. That is why it is important to talk with somebody about our worries, to do a reality test with a friend. They can help us see our erroneous thinking patterns and discern what is fact from what is a product of our imaginations. Otherwise we risk allowing worry to gnaw away at our peace of mind or dictate our actions. It is important also to learn to let go of situations over which we have no control. Otherwise we worry without any hope of resolution. As an old adage says:It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains. But some of us keep our “worry umbrellas” open all the time. We think that if we obsess about a problem that we are dealing with it. But worry affects practically every system in our bodies. It elevates stress levels which can, among other things, alter blood pressure, trigger increased stomach acid, affect eating patterns, cause muscle tension, headaches and backaches.
If anxiety preoccupies a goodly part of our thinking it is time to take stock and examine our worry patterns. Anxiety is defined as a restless, uneasy feeling, often in relation to some indefinite but anticipated difficulty. Thus if worry is chronic, becomes obsessive, turns into anxiety or panic, we may need professional help to deal with it. As human beings we are very complex and it is not easy to get to the root of some of our deeper mental and emotional patterns on our own.
However, most of our worrying may simply be due to ingrained habits and a lack of awareness as to what is going on in our minds. At times simply becoming aware that we are worrying, even without doing anything to alter it, may be enough to interrupt the automatic cycle of repetitive thoughts. Prayer and Rosary can also help to break the worry chain by changing the focus of our attention.
Need to controlWorrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.(Author unknown)
Our ego likes to be in control. But one of the most obvious things about life is that we do not have absolute control. Life is messy. Events and people sometimes shatter our tidy kingdoms or bless us with outrageous good fortune. Those who love us love us freely, while others may not love us at all, no matter what we do. We cannot control the gift. Whether we are healthy or not probably depends to a large extent on our genes. Our monetary investments depend on world markets. If the stock markets collapse we could become paupers overnight. If we had control over these things, there would be no need to worry. Yet paradoxically, it is letting go of our need to control that eases our worries.
Most of the time when we worry, we are living in the future, constantly preoccupied by the “what ifs” of life. Yet as Winston Churchill, who was quite a worrier, said: ‘When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his death bed that he had a lot of troubles in his life, most of which had never happened’.
We also worry about past events and actions, things done, things not done, whether by us or by others. Our looking back can become a habit that keeps us caught up in guilt or shame. Our scruples about being less than perfect can lead to obsessive worry about sin, the brokenness of our nature, and a ‘tyrant God’ created by our worrisome human mind.
Looking ahead or looking back in and of itself is not what is in question. Examination of our past can lead to insight and change. Visualising the future can lead to our dreams becoming realities. But worry prevents us from risking and therefore from fulfilling the great potential which lies dormant within us. Psychologists tell us ninety percent of our potential lies dormant, capped, to a large extent, by our fear and “what ifs”. Once our imaginations run riot, what we fear grows into gigantic proportions and starts to control us. Thus when we get stuck in the past or constantly greet the future with dread, worry is eating away at our ability to enjoy life in the present.Do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has trouble enough of its own.(Mt 6:34)
A gospel perspective Jesus is continually trying to help us see the world and life differently from our accepted human wisdom. He points to the futility of most of our worry and anxiety. Life is a risk and there are no guarantees. We have only to look at our newspapers to see that terrible and unsuspected things do happen. Even taking into account the marvellous developments in modern medicine, the possibility of death still hovers around us simply because we are, by nature, mortal and fragile. Worry will not change any of this.And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his span of life? If the smallest things are outside your control, why worry about the rest?(Lk 12:25-26)
Jesus seems often to equate worry with lack of faith. Not faith in dogmas, but faith in his presence and providence in whatever happens to us, good or bad. Jesus stresses in the gospel that if Our Heavenly Father looks after the birds of the air, the flowers and grass of the field, will he not much more look after us? He asks the disciples in the boat who woke him during the storm:Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?(Mk 4:40) He seems to be saying that his presence is sufficient and that he will always be there even when we, like they, feel lost or abandoned.
Presence and peace of God How then do we interpret this presence/providence of God which is the antidote to fear and gives us the peace of Godwhich is so much greater than our understanding?(Ph. 4:6-7) It certainly does not mean that we will always escape the ‘givens’ or hardships of the human condition.
The scriptures never deny the harsh realities of human existence, the tragedies, illnesses, loss, grieving, and the seemingly meaningless pain. Not even Jesus avoided them. If he had worried too much about what would happen to him, or if he had been too attached to possessions, people, or his reputation, he would never have preached the Gospel of love and forgiveness, which led to the cross. Jesus’ life and death show how selfless love and detachment can co-exist together in harmony leading to true freedom.
The resurrection of Jesus shows that his Father was with him all the time, even in his suffering and death. Likewise he is with us in our darkest hours, so there is nothing we need to fear.
It is not that we will avoid ‘dark hours’ – for that is to wish we were other than human. Rather as John Macmurray SJ aptly puts it:The maxim of illusory religion runs: ‘Fear not; trust in God and God will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you’; that of real religion, on the contrary, is: ‘Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of’.
Even if some things we worry about do happen, this does not have to be as unbearable as our imagination paints it, if we can remember that this God, who has carved our names in the palms of his hands, is still with us. This loving, mysterious, yet personal God, who is beyond, within and among us and who can bring good out of evil, desires to give us his peace.Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.(Jn 14:27) He asks us to place our trust in his promise.
This article first appeared in theSalesian Bulletin(Jan.-March,2003), a publication of the Irish Salesian.