I’m a worrier by nature. But I don’t have to live that way. There’s more on this below.
What’s with the splinters from the cross? Read this post from last Friday to catch up. This is my little attempt at keeping Fridays a bit more solemn in Lent. Last week’s post dealt with anger. This week, it’s worry.
Splinter from the Cross
Little headaches, little heartaches
Little griefs of every day.
Little trials and vexations,
How they throng around our way!
One great cross, immense and heavy,
so it seems to our weak will,
Might be borne with resignation,
But these many small ones kill.
Yet all life is formed of small things,
Little leaves, make up the trees,
Many tiny drops of water
Blending, make the mighty seas.
Let us not then by impatience
Mar the beauty of the whole,
But for love of Jesus bear all
In the silence of our soul.
Asking Him for grace sufficient
To sustain us through each loss,
And to treasure each small offering
As a splinter from His Cross.
– Author Unknown –
Everyone worries sometimes, but some of us get caught up in it more than others.
For lack of a better way to describe myself, I have a outward side and an inward one, thanks to a choleric-melancholic temperament. That probably sounds a bit fake. It’s not being two-faced, or false in front of others, as much as its about having a strong persona that is capable of carrying on in the face of challenges and adversity. That take charge thing has a tendency to take charge, and protect the meeker spirit within. It’s like the British myth of keeping a still upper lip. But when stuff on the inside is churning, I am capable of waiting until I’m alone, or with someone I hold very dear, to come apart. I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, as the cliché goes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an intensely passionate and sensitive side. I’m am all of those things all at once. Sensitive and spiritual, while dealing with a strategic pragmatism that wants to figure things out, charge ahead, and be not afraid. In social situations my choleric Pat tends to dominate my sensitive melancholic Patty. My choleric tends to have the voice. But the melancholic is the one with the words, and the strongest love. If you really get to know me, I’m a quirky combination of seriousness and silliness, but the serious side often wins out. If you read that link about this kind of temperament, you’ll see St Paul was thought to have this temperament. That’s a strange comfort to me. It’s good to know that to be a saint, God can work with the raw materials I’ve already got, just as He has before.
Looking back over decades of living with this temperamental mix, I can see the best and the worst of me. The best of my choleric qualities have worked as a fine combination in business, when things are task oriented and goal driven, but in its extremes, its not always the best when it comes to the ways of the heart and the needs of marriage and family life. That’s a been a cause of worry and grief, when my gusto far outweighed my gentleness. The melancholic tendencies I possess make my thoughts run really deep and ponderable, while at the same time they make me a deeply loyal and noble friend. The self-donation needed for marriage and family is easily offered, while in its extremes, a melancholic’s weaknesses lead to being easily hurt and resentful — always a source of worry, too, or too much self-focus.
It took me a long time to figure out how my “lion” ought to lay down with my “lamb”, to poorly paraphrase the Scripture. And that there is real beauty in both aspects to this temperament. It also took me until my forties, and many graces from the sacraments, to really understand just how my strengths and weaknesses could intersect with ministry, and the kind of work that I do now…
All of this is a long way to say I have a very vivid imagination — I’m full of ideas and zeal — yet I’m prone to worry and left to my own devices I can brood over things. It’s like my default becomes stuck and set to pessimism, to seeing the glass half full. It worries me. I don’t want to be this way. It seems antithetical to a Christian’s faith, or so my rational choleric take-charge mind tells me. But I can’t escape the still waters of melancholic worry.
So what do I do? I’ve learned there are three things that help. They all address fear in some way, which is the root of all worry.
(That’s why some of my favorite passages in the Bible are “Do not be afraid” and “Do not fear”. There are multiple references to them, so its a message God really wants us to hear and know: Fear is useless. We must trust.)
Trust for me has three elements: prayer + a big God + my knowing my dignity as a Child of God.
#1 I pray.
Worry drives me to my knees. Precisely because I am a Christian I’ve learned that I am no end in myself. I can’t change the way I’ve been made, but thanks to grace, I can change the way I react to things. In other words, I think God made me with this temperament, precisely, to bring me to him. The things I don’t like in me, like the melancholic worry-gene, and the strong striver-take-charger, I can bring both extremes, my roughest edges, to God. Over and over again. And He doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s prefer it that way because he’d rather work through me than have me do things without him. Whenever St. Paul complains about his thorn in the flesh, I often think he had a melancholic streak that drove his choleric up a tree. A self-critical nature can bring can ruin in a soul without God. So can worry. I do both. So I need a lot of God.
Fortunately, we have a great many saints whose counsel against worry have lit a path for turning fears into faith…
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
— Padre (St.) Pio —
That part about God being merciful? That really addresses the heart of my self-struggles with worry. It demands that I trust Him. And that’s a good, healthy way for my lion and lamb to coexist… they both find peace in the trust of a merciful God.
#2 I trust in a Big God.
I’ve racked up a pretty big pile of annoying self-inflicted splinters over worry that did me no good — before I learned that trials and concerns must be borne in trust of God. Jesus wants me to seek him first of all in all things. Worriers would do well to memorize his words.
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.”
John 14: 1
Now what I’ve learned is that Jesus can take a worry-wart like me, and by his grace, turn me into a powerful intercessor. There’s always a reason to pray, and now I don’t hesitate. Now I even ask other people what I can pray for on their behalf. You would think if I’m already given to worry by nature, why would I want to take on anyone elses worries? But in prayer a curious paradox takes place. By my sharing their load, and by having a few fellow intercessors take my concerns too, it, ultimately reduces my worries! It increases my faith and trust in Christ, and in his Body, the Church!
Jesus said, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”
Matthew 6: 24-34.
The Father that is mentioned by Jesus in that passage is my father, too. I often forget that. That Big God is not some impersonal omnipotent deity. He is my father.
#3 I remember whose I am.
When I can remember that God is a father, and I belong to him, it has the power to calm my racing heart. My worries find the exit. Someone else is the true grown up in the room, the weight-carrier, the one with the world on their shoulder. I can curl up in his lap, and, as the 12-steppers say: “Let go, and let God.” This is why, when I faced the deepest worries of my life — related to my breast cancer diagnosis in 1996 — I found my deepest consolation in the wisdom of Scripture, and in the example of the saints, like St. Francis de Sales. They both teach me how to live the radical trust that is the birthright of a Child of God, given to me at baptism.
Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life;
rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in His arms.
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cared for you today
will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering,
Or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace
And put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
— St Francis de Sales–
Taming worry into trust has been a lifelong process for me. But I offer it up to God, again, this Lent, “asking him for grace sufficient.”