I am a born worrier.
It’s in my nature, it’s how I am programmed.
If worrying was a competitive sport I would be a regional champion. Think of any possible misfortune and the chances are I have worried about it at some point.
As a teenager I really lacked confidence so I mostly worried about what people thought of me. At uni I worried about being single. Then I got a boyfriend and started worrying about our relationship. Then that turned out fine so I worried about my health, and that we wouldn’t be able to have kids. Then we had kids and I worried about all the terrible things that could happen to them. The kids are fine so currently my biggest worries tend to be about being in some sort of accident whilst travelling.
Sometimes I tell myself that worrying makes me more cautious, which means bad things are less likely to happen. This might be true, occasionally. But for the vast majority of the time, worrying has been an utterly pointless exercise which has often stopped me from actually living my life.
Jesus knew that worrying gets in the way of living. For obvious reasons, this is one of my favourite bits in the whole Bible:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 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 valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
(Matthew 6:25-27, 34)
Life is short, and I have already wasted too many of my days worrying about things that could, but probably won’t, happen. Worries often still buzz around my head, but I am learning to swat them away before they land – they are not worth the time and attention.
Living in the Now
When I catch myself worrying about something, I remind myself of this and it really helps. There is absolutely no point living in an imaginary future, or in the past; the only thing we have any control over is this moment right here. Now.
This is what the Buddhist practice of ‘mindfulness’ is all about – awakening our senses and becoming fully aware of the world around us. It’s become so popular recently because lots of people are realising the power of learning to live in the present moment.
I have had a fantastic life so far, nothing really awful has ever happened to me. So every time I have felt low, my mind has been somewhere other than the present. Either dwelling on something that already happened (that seemed far more serious than it was) or worrying about an imaginary future.
The very happiest times in my life all take place when I am fully in the moment, soaking up and enjoying life as it unfolds.
Feeling awestruck by a night sky or a sunset over the sea; eating a meal so delicious I can still taste it now; laughing so hard and for so long that I forgot what was funny in the first place… these things all happened when I was fully present and fully alive. And since I have learnt to stop my mind dragging me away from the ‘now’, these moments have become a lot more frequent.
Children are experts at living in the present moment.
I don’t often catch my two-year-old daughter fretting over what someone said at playgroup, or worrying about what’s happening tomorrow. When something bad happens she cries, but then it’s very quickly forgotten and she is once again fully immersed in whatever she is doing. She chases Daddy round the garden or Grandma pushes her on the swing and she is utterly delighted. Her whole face lights up and her world is full to the brim with joy. I am slowly learning to be more like her.
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God belonged to little children, and that anyone who wants to enter it would have to become like a child.
I wonder if this is what he was talking about.
If you’d like to discuss with me any issues raised in my blog posts but would prefer not to write a public comment, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.