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Worry, worry, worry

November 23, 2005

Through journaling and counseling I have come to the conclusion that I worry waaaay too much. It’s a trait in my clan line, going back through my mother and her mother as well as my father and his family. A bunch of worry warts we are.

A friend recently told me that the two words that appear together in scripture the most often are “fear not.” He said they appear together 366 times, once for every day of the leap year. I have not done the BibleWorks thing to verify this, but it is pretty cool. And if it is true I am totally guilty of breaking scripture’s most frequent commandment on a very frequent basis.

I worry about everything. I worry about hitting a deer in my car, about whether the Iraq war will ever end or if it is even winnable, whether there is some essential piece of paperwork I’ve ignored, whether my kids are really doing alright in school, and just about anything else I can think of. The MMPI 2 that I took as part of the candidacy process also revealed that I worry myself to the point of ineffectiveness. It’s easy to slip into the process of excess worry, but once I do it is extrememly hard on me. I worried myself sick about charge conference and it turned out to be no big deal.

Psychologically, worry can be self-reinforcing. The physical contrast between extreme tension and release feels kind of good. If you’ve ever tried “progressive muscle relaxation” you know what I mean. And if you’ve ever experienced success after worry, it is easy to attribute that success to the worry when the two are not really linked.

So when we are reminded over and over in scripture not to worry or fear, it is natural to wonder what is really meant. “Fear not” is imperative language like that of a command. But is it a commandment or is it something else? Is it encouragement? Is it a reflection of God’s intention for our lives? All of the above?

Personally, if I view it is a commandment then I am left with the psychologically unhealthy effect of shame, which can be equally paralyzing as fear and worry. Instead, I view it as a powerful reminder of God’s message that “you are safe.” (Hmmm… assurance. Where would I have learned that, Mr. Wesley?) I guess that has something to do with my central theological understanding of commandments. I don’t see God as some sort of drill sargeant barking orders at us but as a divine, loving guardian encouraging us and calling us toward the good for the good of us all.

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