Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Good Worrying?

I was half-listening to the radio while driving yesterday when an author of a book on "worrying" was interviewed. I didn't catch his name or the title of his book. I just caught the last part of the interview.

My ears perked up when he said, "There are three categories of things we worry about: (1) things we have no control over, (2) things we have control over, and (3) things we have influence but don't have total control over."

He went on to say that worrying over #1 is futile, while worrying over #2 and #3 might spur us to take positive action. In other words, there is a type of worrying that has benefits.

All of us have experienced the futility of worrying over things we can't control: the weather, airplane delays, the outcome of a game we're watching, and so on. Worrying about these things only increases our anxiety and wastes time and energy.

However, if worrying about something we do have control over (even limited control) motivates us to take action to alleviate our worries, then this is "good" worrying. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus echoed this idea. In Matthew 6:25-34 he admonishes his disciples to not worry about the mundane things of life--what to eat, drink or wear. Instead, he encourages them to strive first for the "kingdom of God and its righteousness."

To paraphrase Jesus, striving for a right relationship with God will diminish our worries and keep us focused on what's truly important. Good worrying can point us to reorder our priorities and to let go of the futility of worrying about things we can't change.

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