Worry captures and holds onto us so that we can’t seem to shake it. The advice, “Don’t worry” seems simplistic when facing a life threatening disease, loss of a job or a breakup of our family. But the call to not worry rests on whom we place our trust in and where we find our identity.
My parishioners here at our church in Magadan, Russia, are amazing because although they have an uncertain future, a burdened past and daily struggles, very few actually worry. In fact they have taught me so many times by saying, “Father, be patient, wait, don’t worry.”
If you struggle with worry, consider a few truths that my parishioners have taught me, as well as some insights I’ve gleaned along the way.
The English word “worry” comes from the Old English word meaning “choke” or “suppress.” This is exactly what anxiety and worry does. It chokes our happiness and suppresses our ability to simply live a normal productive day.
In our endeavor to overcome worry we might consider the great prayer offered in every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It is called the serenity prayer: ”God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
To worry about the things I can’t change, like the weather, is useless. To worry about the things I can change is really foolish. Worry finally does not work. It cannot change the past. It cannot control the future. It only makes us unhappy today. Worry never really solves our problems. In fact it often makes situations worse.
We are the only creatures in God’s creation that worry and yet we are not born worriers, we have to learn it from someone. Nonetheless, we can also unlearn to worry. It may not be easy but it is possible.
We start by surrendering our life to God — every area — again and again. Surrender is a bowing towards God with our life, our family, our future and our past and affirming that God is in control.
We must also put our identity in the infinite God. When we build our identity on something finite it can be taken from us and that is when anxiety sets in. But when we place our identity in the infinite God our identity cannot be taken from us. We can rest in who we are even in the most troubling times.
This idea is expressed in the second half of the serenity prayer: “Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”
Time spent worrying is better spent in prayer. A heart cannot be satisfied with anxiety but only with the most precious gift of Christ’s peace.
Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians offers these words: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”(Phil. 4:6-7 — New Living Translation)
The writer is a missionary priest of the Anchorage Archdiocese who is serving as pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.