Jerry Sittser and his book ‘The Will of God as a Way of Life,’ continuing from posts on * Fear:

Worry is different from fear. If fear is like a raging fever, worry is like a low-grade temperature. It nags at us, simmers in our souls, hovers in the back of our minds like a faint memory. We may fear certain realities like death; we worry about vague possibilities. Worry distracts us more than paralyzes us. It’s like a leaky faucet we never get around to fixing.

Not all worry is bad. Worry can make us wise, cautious, and conservative about serious matters. For example, I worry about my kids. Whenever Catherine gets in the driver‘s seat, I tell  her to buckle up, observe the speed limit and drive defensively. I warn my children about strangers, dangers, and evils in the world. I caution them about the insidious influence of TV, rock music, the Internet and movies.

My two teenagers think my worry betrays paranoia about the world and lack of confidence in them. They are forever telling me to “relax,” “chill out,” or “get a life.” But I always respond the same way. “Worry is the parental job description.” I remind them that the world is a dangerous place, and worry is an expression of parental vigilance.

Nevertheless, worry can cause problems, of which three come to mind. First, worry is rooted in unreality. When we worry about the future, we worry about something that does not yet exist. It could happen, but then again, it might not. What if we get fired from our job? What if we never get married? What if our kids get into trouble. We worry about unforeseen and undesirable circumstances we could face.

Such worry is literally about nothing. We have no idea about what will happen in our future. We can speculate and imagine, but we cannot not know. Worry makes the imagination run wild as we turn remote possibilities into raging realities. It erodes the spirit, distracts the mind, dulls our creativity, and wastes our energy. It prevents us from fully living in the present, devoting our energy to the job we haven’t yet lost, to the single life we are presently living, to the children remaining at home, still safe and secure.

Second, worry leads to indecision. That we have to make big decisions is unavoidable—which college to attend (if we attend one), which major to study, which career to pursue after we graduate, and which job to take when we enter the workforce. We have to decide where to live, whom to marry (if we do), and what to do with our time and money.

Worry is different from fear. If fear is like a raging fever, worry is like a low-grade temperature. It nags at us, simmers in our souls, hovers in the back of our minds like a faint memory. We may fear certain realities like death; we worry about vague possibilities. Worry distracts us more than paralyzes us. It’s like a leaky faucet we never get around to fixing.

Not all worry is bad. Worry can make us wise, cautious, and conservative about serious matters. For example, I worry about my kids. Whenever Catherine gets in the driver‘s seat, I tell  her to buckle up, observe the speed limit and drive defensively. I warn my children about strangers, dangers, and evils in the world. I caution them about the insidious influence of TV, rock music, the Internet and movies.

My two teenagers think my worry betrays paranoia about the world and lack of confidence in them. They are forever telling me to “relax,” “chill out,” or “get a life.” But I always respond the same way. “Worry is the parental job description.” I remind them that the world is a dangerous place, and worry is an expression of parental vigilance.

Nevertheless, worry can cause problems, of which three come to mind. First, worry is rooted in unreality. When we worry about the future, we worry about something that does not yet exist. It could happen, but then again, it might not. What if we get fired from our job? What if we never get married? What if our kids get into trouble. We worry about unforeseen and undesirable circumstances we could face.

Such worry is literally about nothing. We have no idea about what will happen in our future. We can speculate and imagine, but we cannot not know. Worry makes the imagination run wild as we turn remote possibilities into raging realities. It erodes the spirit, distracts the mind, dulls our creativity, and wastes our energy. It prevents us from fully living in the present, devoting our energy to the job we haven’t yet lost, to the single life we are presently living, to the children remaining at home, still safe and secure.

Second, worry leads to indecision. That we have to make big decisions is unavoidable—which college to attend (if we attend one), which major to study, which career to pursue after we graduate, and which job to take when we enter the workforce. We have to decide where to live, whom to marry (if we do), and what to do with our time and money.

It is easy to become frozen in indecision, like a deer blinded by the headlights of a car. We ponder which of the many options before us represents God’s will, and we fret because we do not know which option is the correct one. What if there is no clear direction? What if all the options are good ones, though we can only choose one? What if we make a wrong choice?

So we weigh the options. We sigh because there seems to be no way of knowing which is the right or best choice, and we end up deciding nothing. François Fénelon, a mystic and spiritual writer living in France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, thus advised: “Don’t worry about the future—worry quenches the work of grace within you. The future belongs to God. He is in charge of all things. Never second guess him.”9

Indecision helps no one. We must realize one indisputable fact—we cannot control our future. It will continue to loom before us, forever out of reach. Whatever we decide—a trade school or community college? accountant or teacher? marriage or singleness?—there will always be surprises along the way. Worrying about our future will not change it, nor will it help us make good choices.

Finally, worry causes distraction, which keeps us from giving our time and energy to what matters most—the present. As finite creatures, we only have so much time, energy and ability. Worry divides us against ourselves. When we worry about what is beyond our control, we devote less of ourselves to what we can control. Ironically, worry keeps us from exercising the one power we do have over our future—the power to prepare for it by how we live in the future—the power to prepare for it by how we live in the present.

If students worry about final exams, they will be less likely to prepare for them. Anxiety about poor performance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Likewise, if parents worry about raising teenagers, it will keep them form being attentive when their children are still young, thus contributing to the very problems they dread. Jesus said: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”10 Paul advises us to make good use of our time as a way of combating evil, and he warns against worrying because it leads to lack of peace and fear.11 ~Jerry Sittser, the Will of God as a Way of Life (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, 2000, 2004). 135-37

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