For some people, worry itself can almost be classified as an excessity — as a Gotta Have It! behavior — because of how quickly they default to a worry position. For them, a state of worry is a state of familiarity. Perhaps for you, worry allows you to prepare for any possible eventuality — and because there’s no real need to prepare for something positive, the eventualities you prepare for always range from bad to worse.
Because you are so familiar with and so good at the worry game, your range is broad and all encompassing:
A negative comment from your boss today means you’re going to be fired tomorrow. A stomachache today means an ulcer tomorrow. A headache is a brain aneurysm. A gained pound is obesity. And on and on it goes. When anything’s possible, there’s no limit to the possible calamity. In some ways, worry is like watching a movie — except it’s your own private disaster film. That internal viewing can be so compelling, you’re blinded to the reality. The what-ifs crowd out the what-is. Worry is a real scene-stealer, and the scenes being stolen are bits of your life.
When worry is your default setting, you will often turn to excessities in order to provide just a little white noise to drown out worry’s drumbeat. Often, the excessity is food. I have known people who could eat to their feelings of worry the same as someone mindlessly munches popcorn at the movie theater or a bag of chips while watching television. Eating and worry go hand in hand, like drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.
Worry, with its constant “on” switch, negatively impacts health. Every week it seems, we are inundated by another study showing the deleterious effects of worry and stress on our lives. Generally, these are followed up by advertisements touting the latest thing to magically ease our worries and make all that stress melt away. But if any of these things actually worked in the long term, our collective worry would be decreasing, not increasing, along with our need for the latest deworrier.
One of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to help explain to us the way things really are. Remember what Jesus said about worry:
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 important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the bids of the air; they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are y0u not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splender was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you? O you of little faith. So do not worry saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~Matt. 6:25-34
Every time I read this passage, I am struck by the types of things Jesus says not to wory about. He says not to worry about what you’ll eat, what you’ll drink, or what you’ll wear. These are definite needs; they are even identified as such. Yet Jesus says you’re not to worry about them. That would seem like a flippant, “just don’t'” kind of response to a very real concern if it weren’t for the reason Jesus gives. He says you’re not to worry about them because God already knows you need them. Worry, it appears, takes far too much time and energy away from more important things, like seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness.
Worry is like an illustration I remember seeing of the levee system in New Orleans during Hurrican Katrina.
On the top of the water, the concrete walls of the levee looked so massive and strong. However, under the water the relentless wave action of the water was gradually eating away at the earthen berm upon which the concrete wall stood. Wave by wave, a little more of the earth was gouged out and exposed to the corrosive power of the water. Eventually, the foundation upon which the levee wall stood was completely undermined — and it failed, allowing the water to rush in and flood the area.
I think worry is like that. Wave by wave, gradually over time, worry eats away at the foundation of our lives, at our emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual foundations. Jesus says the answer to worry is to choose not to and instead put your efforts and time into concentrating on the things of God. This activity, by its very nature, will shore up and strengthen your foundations.