“How can I not worry?” my friend said. She has three inactive grown children, a health scare for one of them, trouble with her in-laws, and a sudden move required by a reversal in her finances.
Yes, life piles it on, sometimes. If you’re like me, you occasionally get up from praying and realize you forgot one of your catastrophes because there are too many to keep track of!
And so we stew. We lie awake. We pray. We research. We ask for advice. We whine. We feel sorry for ourselves. There’s never a shortage of reactions to life’s challenges. And this includes the world’s news, politics, and commotion as well.
But we are not to live like this. Worry is not a built-in part of mortality. I envy my husband, Bob, who has always been able to recognize what he can do and what he can’t. And, when he can’t, he doesn’t fret about it.
This is the model that can save the rest of us who tend to worry. Take the action you can, and then stop. Be realistic and turn it over to God. Stop being a fixer when it’s out of your control. You cannot rely upon your powers of prediction, your miracle-working intentions, or your influence over others. This is because, like me, you don’t really have those skills.
There’s a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver, about those of us who tend to worry when it won’t do any good:
by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
This poem reminds us that we’re missing a whole lot of singing by allowing our days to get eaten up with useless worry.
Yes, there are challenges we can’t ignore. That’s why we must do what we can. But after you’ve exhausted all your energy, it’s time to exert faith. If your desire is righteous, God will have His eye on it, and will untangle it in His own due time.
If there’s a world problem you can actually help with, do it. Run for office. Donate to great candidates. Spread the word and educate others. But know your limits and accept them. Worry won’t help.
I can honestly say I pray much more often, now, for greater faith, rather than for specific rescues I’d like.
Do you recall the scene when Jesus met with His disciples for the very last time? He knew his crucifixion lay just ahead, yet he told them, “…Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27). Wow. What amazing advice, even in the face of tragedy.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of this when he said, “I submit to you, that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart.”
The Lord doesn’t want us to be wringing our hands with panic and hopelessness. He wants us to have joy, confidence in the future, and confidence in Him! After all we can do, we can turn our trials over to God, and allow peace to fill those tender spots.
Renowned pastor Rick Warren once said, “Worry is really just a form of atheism.” It shows no faith, right? But when we exert all the faith we can muster, we feel serene and peaceful again. We know that God will help the situation, or have an even better one in mind for us.
Let’s return to my friend. She can resolve not to scold her adult children, but to show them love as they grapple with their beliefs. She can know that God is absolutely aware of them. She can do all that is humanly possible for the health scare, including research, tests, experts, whatever could possibly help. And then turn it over to God, the ultimate healer.
She can encourage dialog or set boundaries or apologize or whatever is needed with the in-laws, and then stop brooding about it. And she can explore the Church’s amazing self-reliance program about finances, employment, and education, to put her mind at ease as she moves and plans her future. Being proactive empowers us and gives us a sense of control over the situation. We just need to realize when it’s out of our hands.
And when we come to the end of our ideas and efforts, we need to let go of the strain and agonizing. We really do need to look to our Father in Heaven to step in and help. When we can have that much faith, we’ll feel a surge of happiness and comfort. I know, because I’ve done it. And I continue to do it whenever my faith flags a bit. I am not leaving a chair at the table for Worry. It’s already taken by Faith.
Hilton teaches Seminary. She is also an award-winning playwright, and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.