And can any of you, by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? ~ Matthew 6:27
This past summer and fall, our son Ro spent a lot of time in the La Plata Mountains exploring and climbing peaks. He would leave Jennifer and me phone messages from the top of distant peaks to let us know his whereabouts and which mountain he was climbing next. Ian’s disappearance this past summer in Owen’s Basin on a trail that I hiked frequently rattled me.
My fears and worries did not subside when Ro traversed ridgelines with names like The Knife Edge, a half-mile-long scramble across a slice of stone with spectacular views, perilous vertical drops, and no way to bail out. Unconsciously I think Ro was on a vision quest, and Mom and Dad were on a worry fest. Will he make it back home safely? What if he slips? What if a rock gives out?
How anxious are we? How often do we worry? We will always have worries, but do they ever consume our lives?
Many nights Jennifer and I stay up late worrying about our adult children? Will our kids find employment they enjoy? Will they be able to negotiate difficult relationships? Will they have a spiritual life? Will they find a spouse or a significant other who will love them? Will they be happy? “For many of us, stress and worry rule the day,” writes Jan Bruce in an article in Forbes.
My mom shared a story with me that I find strangely comforting. Mom worried incessantly and Dad refused to worry. “I couldn’t get him to be upset with me,” Mom told me. “He got me so mad when he wouldn’t worry with me.”
I have a theory. Dad grew up on a dryland wheat farm and his family’s livelihood depended completely on the wheat harvest. If there was a drought, there would not be a harvest. A summer hailstorm could wipe out the wheat in less than thirty minutes. Rain could flood the fields and stop the harvest. There was plenty to worry about.
I remember my dad and I went back to the family farm in Central Kansas to help my Uncle Bill with the harvest one summer. We drove the trucks loaded with wheat to the grain elevator and Uncle Bill and my cousin Mark ran the combines. A summer storm rolled in, and the heavy rain threatened the remaining crops. Everything could be lost.
We made it back to Uncle Bill’s house, and he fixed himself a big bowl of chocolate ice cream and turned on the Kansas City Royals baseball game. Bill absolutely loved ice cream and baseball. I said, “Bill, aren’t you worried about the wheat?” He took a big bite of ice cream, looked out the window at the heavy rain, and said, “Ain’t nothing I can do about it.” And he got up from his recliner and got some more chocolate ice cream. Uncle Bill and my dad were cut from the same cloth. They knew what they could control and what they could not control.
Mom told me that one time Dad got very upset with her for non-stop worrying about me and my sister. Dad said, “Sue, this is what we are going to do. On Monday night, we are going to worry about Craig. Everything that could possibly go wrong with Craig we’ll talk about, and we will worry all night long. And on Tuesday night, we’ll worry about Becky all night long. We’ll just worry and worry about everything that could go wrong. And then on Wednesday night, could we have some peace?”
Mom said, “Well what about the rest of the nights, Bob?” Dad yelled, “That’s not the point, Sue. This worrying is killing us.”
“Anxiety and worrying, like all tensions, eats at us at various levels. We worry about many things,” says Father Ron Rolheiser. Our worries color nearly everything we do.
How can we worry less? Arthur Brooks says, “A good place to start is simply by writing down what’s bothering us.” And we can nurture more faith and trust in God’s goodness.
I love the story of the disciples caught in a tremendous windstorm at sea. They are full of worry, fear, and anxiety, and they yell at Jesus who is sleeping in the stern of the boat. “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” We’re going to die out here! Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind and says, “Peace, be still!” And there is a dead calm. Jesus says, “Why are you afraid?” Why do you worry? Why do you have so much anxiety? “Do you have no faith?” (see Mark 4:38-40).
What is faith? “Faith doesn’t have us believe that we will have no worries, or that we will not make mistakes (or our children and friends!). Faith does not ensure that we or our loved ones will not fall victim to accidents, sickness, or misfortune,” writes Ronald Rolheiser. “What faith gives us is the assurance that God is good, that God can be trusted, that God will not forget us.” Peace be still.
Julian of Norwich said it well, “In the end all will be well, and every manner of being will be well.” Or as Bob Marley sang (I don’t know if he read Julian of Norwich, but Marley got it), “Don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is gunna to be alright.” Peace be still.
When we find ourselves in the storms of worry and anxiety (and we will be there many times), may we give that fear to God, trust Christ, and be not be afraid. Amen.
Blessings and peace,