The word worry comes from the old English word wyrgan, which meant “to strangle,” or “to choke,” or “to harass by tearing or biting—especially tearing or biting at the throat.”
How accurate that is! Worry has the tendency to strangle the life out of us, to choke the energy from us, and to harass us by tearing and biting at our peace and well-being.
Rosalind Ryan describes the effect of worry upon us: “Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes heavier and you may sweat more. You may also become pale as the blood moves away from the skin towards the muscles to help them prepare for the ‘fight or flight’ situation your worry has created.
“The ‘fight or flight’ response is your body’s instinctive reaction to danger. Unconsciously your body prepares itself to either run away from danger or becomes very alert in order to fight predators….
“Because your body has tensed ready to respond to the threat you are feeling, this muscle tension can turn into aches and pains causing headaches, back pain, weak legs and trembling. This tension can also affect your digestive system triggering bouts of constipation or diarrhea.
“You may also become more prone to infections. It is widely accepted that stress and anxiety can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to picking up colds or more serious illnesses. With excessive worry, our immune systems have little time to recover so you become even more tired and lethargic.”
In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus tells us, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
As a defense against the ravages of worry, Jesus tells us to focus our attention and energy on pursuing God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. God’s kingdom is where God reigns. That means that we are to keep seeking to be in the presence or company of God while continually seeking His reign in our lives. God’s righteousness is similar. Righteousness has to do with right relationship with God and with living rightly in the ways of God.
How does right relationship with God defend us from the ravages of worry?
When you know how thoroughly God loves you, you have grounds for finding rest and hope in God’s care for you. In his book What’s So Amazing about Grace Philip Yancey explains, “Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?”
He adds, “Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, ‘You must be very close to God.’ The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, ‘Yes, He’s very fond of me.’”
This is the great defense against worry: The more we come to know how thoroughly we are loved by God, the more we grow in confidence that God will see us through.
And when you seek the reign of God and seek to live rightly in the ways of God, you put yourself in a place where worry over self-interests gets dwarfed by love for others (for love for others is at the center of God’s reign and God’s ways). Albert Schweitzer points out, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” You could add to that, Constant kindness (or continual care for others) causes worry to evaporate! ■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.