By Rodney Marsh —
Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today….. I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing? (Jesus) …. Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything. (St Paul)
I work at a school and it is exam time! A season of increased anxiety. Worry time, usually. Exams and tests are designed to allow teachers to collect evidence of achievement and make “on-balance judgements” of a student’s level of achievement – “below, at or above the standard”. But they cause stress.
Exams make students vulnerable because they submit themselves to others’ judgements to decide whether we are “below, at or above the standard”. Wow! No wonder students feel anxious. Fear, stress and worry are natural responses to being judged as ‘adequate ‘or ‘inadequate’ or ‘more than adequate’. The result: pride and joy if students reach or exceed their own, or others’ expectations; or distress, feelings of inferiority when students fall short of their own or others’ expectations.
First, Jesus’ advice is don’t worry about the future. Worry is wasted emotion. Worry cannot change a future outcome. Jesus’ advice, “Don’t worry about tomorrow”. Corrie ten Boom elaborates what Jesus said, “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” So, I tell my students, in exam week, don’t waste your energy on worry. Your mental energy is needed for other tasks.
Second, trust in your own value. Then you won’t worry. Jesus told his listeners “Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear” or housing, work, health, a job, the future, the flu, Trump….. or exams. Why not? These things very real and relevant concerns. Jesus answer: You are loved, cared for, valued INDEPENDENT of the value judgements of success/failure, wealth/poverty, approval/disapproval, ability/disability fears/dreams etc. You are loved, valued, accepted, no matter what. Ultimately, Jesus was referring to trusting God’s love, but we all need the physical and emotional support and acceptance that comes from loving friends and family. When we have that we don’t need to worry.
Third, love and prayer are the best antidotes to anxiety, says St Paul. Not prayers like “HELP! I haven’t prepared at all for this judgement. Rescue me. NOW!” God answers such prayers by allowing the natural consequences of our action/inaction to ensue. However, when we understand prayer as entering into the presence of God and allowing ourselves to experience the self-acceptance that love brings, then worries fade. Our worries (fear of future failure, shame or catastrophe) will always fade when we accept we are OK as we are, where we are.
Both Paul and Jesus use a word for “worry” that describes distraction, fragmentation and disintegration. When we worry too much, we, literally, “fall apart”. Love and prayer are the ways we can protect the centre and be put back together in a season of worry. Only individuals can pray (for prayer is internal and a matter of the heart) but the context of love and practical concern for a friend or family member under pressure, can support the worrier to not fall apart in a ‘season of worry’. Perhaps it is no accident that the word for ‘worry’ that both Jesus and Paul used can also be used mean ‘to scatter, distribute’. With this meaning the word for ‘worry’ is also used to describe showing concern, compassion and care for others. So, to turn our worries into concern for others going through a similar trail (it’s called ‘loving your neighbour’), is the partner of prayer in helping the worry factor fade in our own and others’ lives.
What are some ways you are reading life differently this season without worry? An anti-morbid rumination practise you may want to try:
Sit still. Relax your body. Take three gentle, deep breaths and say, with each breath. “My heart is open. My life is filled with tenderness.” You do not have to believe. Just say it.