Why Can't We Stop Worrying?

About ten years ago, a woman who happened to have survived the Holocaust as a child had a leak in the roof of her house.  Being older, all her family was gone.  She had to take care of the large, two and half story balloon framed house all by herself--she didn’t want to sell because it was full of so many good memories.  So, she called in a contractor to fix the leak. 

But when the contractor went to repair the roof, he discovered water damage running down all her walls.  The open framing of her older house had allowed water to leak between the studs in her walls right through to the basement.  In order to fix the damage, the contractor was forced to tear apart every wall in her house.  This poor woman, who already had been through so much in her life, could only watch helplessly as workers were forced to destroy her beloved house, room by room.    

Although the contractor would normally be ecstatic with all the extra work, even he was heartbroken.   He cringed every time he found more water damage and had to inform this poor woman he had to rip open another wall.  But he couldn’t help noticing how calm she was through the whole ordeal.  Even as he brought her more and more bad news, even as she was forced to watch her house being destroyed room by room, she remained completely unrattled.  It utterly perplexed him.  So finally, he asked her point blank: “Ma’am, I feel terrible about your house.  I can’t imagine how awful it would be to be in your situation.  But how can you be so calm about it?” 

She answered by gently explaining how her experience in life had taught her not to sweat the small stuff.  And then she added: After having survived the Holocaust, it’s all small stuff!  For this woman, the experience of surviving the Holocaust had relativized everything else she faced in life.  As a result of this experience, it all appeared to be small stuff.

Don’t sweat the small stuff—it’s all small stuff!

The problem is that we face many things in life that aren’t, or at least don’t seem to us like small stuff.   When we contemplate the future, our minds often take us to dark places because we do face things that can crush or destroy us.  There are things that could alter our lives forever—and not in a good way.  There are things that pose a real threat to our peace.  Our security.  Our happiness.  There is a real possibility that our worst fears might come true.  That’s why we can’t help imagining the worst.  That’s why our minds spin out of control.  That’s why we can’t stop worrying. 

Worry is driven by the very real fear that we won’t be OK.  That some future occurrence will permanently mark us.  Will hurt or harm or wound us or set us back so badly that we will never be able to recover from it.  Will make it so we can never be as free, as happy, as well off ever again.  Will sweep the carpet of our comfortable lives out from underneath our feet. 

The only way our greatest fears can appear—and actually be!—small stuff, is if we have an experience  that utterly and completely relativizes them--even more than surviving something like the Holocaust could.  An experience that assures us that even if our greatest fears do come true, even if the worst we can imagine becomes our reality, we will ultimately be OK.  Or better yet, way more than OK.  An experience that assures us we are destined for life on high where perfect love casts out all fear and that nothing can stand in the way of that.  Nothing!  Then, and only then, will there be nothing left to worry about. 

The one and only experience that can do this, at least in such a complete and total way that eliminates every fear, every worry, is an encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus.  When you encounter Him, you see that the Author of Life, the One who holds the power over life and death, died for you.  You see that the Power that controls the Universe loves you unconditionally.  In light of this experience, the experience of His absolute power and His perfect love, everything else appears to be small stuff.  Everything else literally is small stuff.  It is only in the light of His love that we can have the perfect assurance that we will be Ok--way better than Ok.  It is only in light of Who He is that we can stop worrying.  A profound, personal encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus is the only true and final antidote to worry.  

If, like so many of us, you already believe this with your head but are having trouble getting it to make the long, arduous journey to your heart; if you already believe but still struggle with worry, might I suggest something that will help you immensely in making this journey from head to heart--worship.  All the spiritual practices—prayer, meditating on Scripture, fellowshipping with other believers, etc.—are effective in this regard.  This is the wisdom of the Church in retaining and recommending them—they are the means of grace to experience the Presence of the Risen Lord in our lives, the way we deepen our encounter with Him, the way He unleashes His Power and Grace in our lives. 

But the spiritual practice that is probably most effective in eliminating worry is worship.  It is ontologically impossible to worship and worry at the same time.  Worship is all about acknowledging the “worth” of God.  Not that God needs to be acknowledged in this way, not that His ego is so fragile, He needs us to affirm His greatness.  Rather, it is that we need it.  We need to remind ourselves how great He is.  And that gets us out of our own heads.  It makes it impossible for us to focus on our problems, our worries.  When we focus single-mindedly and wholeheartedly on how awesome God is, and in particular how amazing His love for us in Christ is, we enter into an experience of ecstasy.  We, literally, stand outside ourselves.  Besides ourselves.  With joy.  Focusing on Him, we can’t focus on ourselves or on our problems.  Focusing on His infinite grandeur, we have the perfect assurance that nothing can separate us from His love.  Focusing on His amazing grace, we feel completely safe and secure.    

Developing this single-minded, wholehearted focus on God through worship may take some time and effort.  As a spiritual practice, it does involve some “practice”.   But take it from me; take it from someone who, for many years, found going to church mind-numbingly boring, but who now routinely experiences it as being on the “edge of Heaven”, that if you cultivate this practice, if you stick with it, that profound peace of His that passes all understanding will permeate your life.  It will flood your heart and mind.  It will relativize everything else.  It will make everything appear to be small stuff.  It will drive all your worries away.     

Do you struggle with worry?  What keeps you from being able to stop worrying?  Do you think worship can?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Go to the “Contact E. J.” Page of the Raising Jesus website and leave your comments there.  I look forward to hearing from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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