Summary: If we can turn loose of the worry it will help us to take life as it comes and in so doing our anxiety levels will go down.
The 95-year-old woman at the nursing home received a visitor one day. It was one of her fellow church members, someone who thought very highly of the elderly lady.
“How are you feeling?” the visitor asked.
“Oh,” said the lady, “I’m worried sick!”
“What are you worried about, dear?” her friend asked. “You look like you are in good health. They are taking care of you, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are taking very good care of me.”
“Well, what are you worried about?” her friend asked again.
The lady leaned back in her rocking chair and slowly explained her major worry. “Every close friend I ever had has already died and gone on to heaven. I’m afraid they’re all wondering where I went.”
I am going to preface this morning’s message by telling you that this morning’s sermon is aimed at no one any more than it is aimed at me. I preach to myself at least as much as I preach to any of you. I always hope I get something from the message as I am going about my research. But, from when I first started planning this new sermon series, I knew today’s message would be one I needed to listen to at least as much as any of you need to listen to it.
Why? Well, I am a worrier. I get anxious over many things. Cindy can go to bed and the second her head hits the pillow she can turn off her brain and go to sleep. Most of the time, I just lay there. Sometimes I will lay there for hours with all kinds of ridiculous thoughts running through my brain. As often as not, I am getting anxious about something. And, way too much of the time I am worrying needlessly. Whatever it is that I am worried about never seems to come to pass.
I know I am not alone. There are many people in the world who are just like me. My friend Steve is also a worrier. One night he and his wife and Cindy and I went out to dinner together. He started talking about being a big worrier. Cindy said she rarely worries about much of anything. Steve’s response was interesting. I am not sure of his exact words but the following statement comes pretty close to the spirit of what Steve said even if it isn’t a direct quote. “That worries me that you don’t worry.” I told Steve I would be quoting him in a sermon. His response, “It isn’t that I don’t trust God, it is that sometimes I worry about God’s decision making process.”
While Steve was joking, at least to a degree, it would seem that many of us are that way. There are many, many people in the world that just aren’t happy if they aren’t worrying about something. And, while I am a worrier, I am not one who gets anxious constantly. I am not a toxic worrier. Toxic worriers are people who constantly obsess over everything that could possibly go wrong in life – to the point of paralysis. Research shows people with this level of anxiousness are 2 ½ times more likely to suffer heart attacks than less anxious people.
From Adam and Even in the Garden, through Moses leading the Israelites in the Exodus, down to the latest Stephen King thriller, there is one sure-fire way to get people “excited” about a situation. If you want to stop them in their tracks invoke fear, anxiousness, and worry.
Adam felt shame (and fear) and hid from God in the Garden. At the Red Sea, the Israelites, hearing the distant approach of Egyptian chariots and hoof beats, were extremely anxious and worried until the waters parted and they had a way to make their escape. Crossing on dry land eased their worries, to be sure, but despite the great miracles they had seen in the preceding days – surviving the plagues, taking spoils from their masters and moving to freedom – they were all but paralyzed with fear at the prospect of heading into the unknown. To put it quite bluntly, they were worried. They were anxious. They were toxic worriers.
If you think such paralyzing fear only strikes a few of us, take a good look in the mirror: Nearly half the American people are consumed with some form of worry or anxiety says Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. He even wrote a book on the subject, Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition, published in 1998 by Ballantine Books.
“Good worry is worry that leads to constructive action,” he told People magazine that same year. In other words, good worry works. “Toxic worry,” Hallowell goes on to say, “does just the opposite. It paralyzes you. You brood, you ruminate, you wake up in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, you don’t take action.” (People, October 26, 1998, 145ff).