Sunday, August 4, 2013
Worry is a WASTE (18.C)
Today’s message is for almost everyone in the congregation: because it is about worry, and almost everyone worries.
Our first reading teaches us that worry is not only a waste of time but a source of pain. Jesus teaches us that we can deal with worry in the wrong way, by looking for security from what we own. And then the Apostle Paul gives us the Christian’s antidote to worry.
Before we talk about the Scriptures, let’s fast-forward a couple of thousand years, and ask whether worry is all that bad. Someone told me not to worry when I was working in the Chancery Office many years ago. I replied that worrying was in my job description.
Today is my sixth anniversary as pastor of Christ the Redeemer Parish. As I look back on the day I arrived here, the only thing I regret is the time I wasted worrying.
No-one likes worrying, so I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say worrying is a waste of time and energy. But deep down, many folks think they need to worry. After all, what would happen to you family if you didn’t worry about them? What would happen to your job if you didn’t worry about it?
Let me answer: nothing. Worrying doesn’t change a thing about your job or your family or your exams or your investments. You think things will go wrong without worry, but that’s simply not true. Jesus says all the worrying in the world can’t add an hour to our life or a foot to our height; worrying changes nothing.
Or I should say, worrying changes nothing for the better. It can change us for the worse. Modern research has confirmed this time and time again. It’s been more than fifty years since researchers identified a link between anxiety and heart disease, and more confirmation of the harmful effects of worry arrives almost daily.
In fact, only this week I discovered that people who are more worried about losing their memory are more likely to have a protein related to Alzheimer’s disease in their brains. Now that doesn’t prove anything, but it points once again to the waste of worrying and its potential harmful effects.These people are sometimes called "the worried well."
In a magazine article, I read about a brain scientist who believes we can hold off memory loss by remaining in the present, rather than by wallowing and worrying about the past and catastrophizing the future.”
Modern medicine tells us the same thing as the Book of Ecclesiastes: life is hardly worth living if we are consumed with worry: our days are long and our nights are longer. And in the end, as the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you.
Today’s Gospel is even more up to date, since Jesus describes something we know very well in our affluent society. Financial security provides temporary relief from worry. Half-way through the parable, the rich man is happy, satisfied and secure. He’s found the answer to his worries. But in an instant his security crumbles.
These ancient writings are completely up-to-date. Which of us hasn’t put faith in material security, at least from time to time? Which of us hasn’t put more time and energy to retirement planning than to our spiritual life?
And as I said at the beginning, don’t we all think that worry is a reasonable activity that no smart person can be without?
Actually, there’s an interesting point there. Andy Andrew’s clever book The Noticer reminds us that smart people are more likely to be tripped up by worry than dumb people, precisely because they are more creative and imaginative. Jones, the hero of the book, tells a worrier that “Worry... fear... is just a misuse of the creative imagination that has been placed in each of us. Because we are smart and creative, we imagine all the things that could happen, that might happen, that will happen if this or that happens.”
But Jones invites the worrier to use his smarts to defeat those thoughts with logic. We can do the same thing: “Forty percent of the things you worry about will never occur anyway.
“Thirty percent of the things you worry about have already happened...” and all the worry in the world can’t change them.
Twelve per cent are needless imaginings about our health; ten are “petty-little-nothing” worries about what other people think. And as the folksy but wise Jones says, “we can’t do nothin’ about what people think.”
When you do the math, only eight percent of our worries are worth thinking about. These are the things we can do something about—if we avoid using up all our energy worrying about the things we can’t change.
In The Noticer, Jones tells a troubled man to count his blessings before he lists his worries. Gratitude is an excellent antidote to worry and sadness.
In today’s second reading, the Word of God gives us even better advice. St. Paul tells us to shift our focus from what is temporary to what is permanent, to lift our minds from the uncertainties of this world to the certain promise of the next. This is the best of all antidotes to worry: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth...”
Faith not only puts our worries in their proper place—even the worst of them is a passing trouble and shrinks as soon as we recall the God is in charge and that our only real concern is to get to heaven.
Seen with the eyes of faith, some of our biggest worries may even be blessings. Many a soul has been saved by ill health or financial failure since, as St. Paul teaches, all things work for the good of those who love God, and no earthly misfortune can separate us from his love.
Today’s readings offer us a practical program for a happier and even longer life. Use your head to recognize that worry’s a waste and even harmful to our health. And see your problems through the eyes of faith, just as St. Teresa of Avila did when she wrote this poem:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Let me close by turning to St. Paul’s words about sexual morality in the second reading. Today is the day of the Gay Pride Parade. A parishioner who lives chastely with same sex attraction wrote me an email early this morning. With permission, I share these words with you:
“If I am not at Mass today I want to assure you that I am not at the Parade, despite not being ashamed of who I am. The best Parade of Pride is knowing the Beauty of the Trinity, and the real “Parade” of our congregation in procession to the Altar for Holy Communion to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, and my feeling of real “Pride” knowing I was so blessed to be chosen to hear the words of the Son of God.”
As are we all.