Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Worry

TITLE: WORRY
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 28 Apr 2010

My Church recently ended the 'Sermon on the Mount ' sermon series with a reminder to build our house on the rock, and not on sand. This week, after the service, I had my usual morning coffee in church, followed by a discussion with a group of keen adults, wanting to explore more on the Sermon on the Mount, and reflecting on the morning message. I kicked off the meeting with a question:

"Of all the teachings of Jesus, recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, which was the most difficult or challenging?"

I guide the group through Matthew 5, 6, and 7, and highlight key points so as to jiggle all of our memories. One say that listening is a challenge itself. Another say that loving enemies is tough. Still another say that putting into practice any of them is tough. A brave soul manages to squeeze in a statement saying that ALL of Jesus' teachings are tough. One said with a heavy heart that it is worry that is hard. Finally, the group spends a substantial amount of time on the 'worry' theme in Matthew 6:25-34.

Is it alright to worry? The stately man calmly shares that he worries a lot. While the specifics are not revealed, I know that most of the worries come about because people care. It is when we care for a friend or a loved one, that we worry about their well-being. A Church member recently asked me to pray for someone strickened with cancer. With cancer comes fear. With fear comes anxiety. With anxiety comes depression. The emotions are hard to handle. When we hear of a loved one getting a terminal disease, how are we not to worry?

A) When the Darts of Worry Hits Close to the Heart
It is a tough question. In fact, struggling with these hard issues, especially when it hits close to our relationships, can be nerve wrecking. It can test our faith. It can push our resolve. It can stretch our financial and emotional resources. I think of my father, who has suffered a stroke. It is hard for him to have to depend on others to feed him, and to assist him in nearly everything. From morning to night, from one meal to another, from physical movement to bowel movement, nothing can be done on his own, unless assisted by another person. I thank God that my mum and a domestic helper are able to be there for him. Sometimes, with a worried frame of mind, I start to think,

  • "How is my father doing? He must be feeling really lonely and helpless."
  • "How is my mum coping? She must be really exhausted from all these caregiving duties."
  • "How are my family finances? Will they be able to manage from month to month?"

Honestly, these things trouble me. That is why I can empathize and appreciate when people in my church share about their struggles over worries. I cast my cares on God through prayer. I encourage my mum with occasional financial help. She knows I do not earn much. She does not expect much from me financially.

B) What Can we do about Worry?
Firstly, we need to acknowledge that worry in itself is not a sin. It is part of being human. Even if we do not claim to be worriers, that does not erase the fact that we are sinners, and can sin terribly anytime. If we were to claim that worry is a sin, then we will be bogged down by sin always. Note that it is not the worry per se that is sin, but the preceding idolatry behind the worrying facade. Just before Jesus tells his disciples not to worry in Matthew 6:25, look at the preceding verse.
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Matthew 6:24)

Idolatry is sin, manifested in worry. In other words, when we worry, it is because we try to solve things on our own intelligence, do things on our own abilities, and trusting in our own strengths. Any attempt to trust anything other than God is idolatry. We can make idols out of our own self. Worry, if it is a result of idolatry becomes fodder for sin. Worry is the root of many evils.

Secondly, when we worry, take heart, for it is often because, we-worry-because-we-care-deeply. Rather than to condemn another person for his anxiety, why not acknowledge that he cares. Like a mother who worries over her sick child, or a father who worries over his missing daughter. It can also be a boss who worried for his colleagues' safety at a foreign country, when he heard about riots there. It could be a pastor worried about his flock's spiritual needs. Many of these 'legitimate concerns' can appear in the form of worry and anxious moments. So, worry if it is due to a heart that cares, is alright. The problem is when we allow this state to continue without end. Such worry becomes sin, when we attempt to carry them all by ourselves. Instead of casting our cares upon Jesus, we carry our cares on our own back. When this happens, are we serving God, or serving idols?

Thirdly, look at one of Jesus's prescriptions for worry.

"Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more than they?" (Matthew 6:26)
Hello? Did Jesus make a mistake? Is Jesus telling us to look at birds?

C) BIRD-WATCHING: An antidote for the self-absorbed

I like to take walks in my neighbourhood. Often I see squirrels running around looking for nuts. A familiar black squirrel is frequently seen rummaging around a garbage bin. They are pleasant, and sometimes humourous to look at. Above them are birds chirping away. As I observe these flying creatures' gift of flight, and their freedom from the cares of this world, I cannot help but be amazed at the privilege of simply being a bird. Their biggest treasure appears to be the freedom from worry.


What is Jesus teaching us when he recommended bird-watching? I can only guess. An immediate benefit is actually the shift of focus from self to outside of ourselves. When we start to look outward, we stop looking in. When we worry, we tend to become inward-conscious, and lose our sensitivity to external concerns. Self-absorption is usually one of the first steps down the ladder of depression. The moment we step out of our individualistic coccoons, we see things with a fresh perspective.

I remember a time when I was struggling with my Hebrew language. After many torturous hours of memorizing and practicing, I still find it mysterious and perplexing. When I lock myself in my room to study Hebrew, I can get depressed and discouraged. The moment I step out of my room, and start venturing into the library, or take a walk along the corridors of my college,  I see a distinct shift inside me. I see that there are many students, just like me. I realize I am not alone in this Hebrew nightmare. Imagine my utter astonishment, to realize that there are other students who are in worse shape than I am!

Bird watching does work wonders. In this tough economic times, this can translate into savings as well, as we avoid buying expensive prescription drugs to calm our nerves. Go watch a movie with a friend. Take a walk. Spend time talking with a loved one. Drink a cappucino. Take a break. Photograph a bird. Read a good book. There is a Swedish proverb that is worth pondering on.
"Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow."
How very true. We often let the small little things in our life to worry us to death with their long shadows. Cast our cares (and our worries) upon Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. I like these words from the song 'He Is My Peace.'

"Cast all your cares on Him, for he cares for you;
He is your Peace, He is your peace."

Worries are part and parcel of being human. While it is not a sin to worry, allowing ourselves to wallow in self-pity is not only unhelpful, but can easily lead us down the path of sin. Worry may not in itself be a sin, but it can dangerously lead us down the path of sin. Remember, if we are not trusting God, we are trusting idols. There is no middle ground.


Thought: "That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent." (Chinese Proverb)


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