Monday, July 11, 2011

The Power of Worrying

There’s plenty to worry about in the world. Macro events, micro events. Global warming, unusual weather patterns, natural disasters, war. Family concerns. What the kids are up to. Will one's job last? Will one finish school? Will one get accepted into school? And on and on.

All of these things (and more!) can disturb our peace of mind.

The question is, does worrying do any good?

Not for me.

Part of the point of the gospel is to bring us peace. Consider the Savior’s words to Peter and the apostles prior to the Lord’s atoning sacrifice. Just after he prophecies that Peter will deny him three times, the Savior says, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). Later in the same chapter he says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (verse 27).

Don’t worry. (Resist the urge to hum like Bobby McFerrin.)

Telling someone not to worry is a little like telling someone not to think about an elephant. The first thing that comes to mind is the elephant. The best ways not to think of an elephant is to think actively about other things. In John 14, the Lord reminds his apostles of the many mansions in his father’s house. He does the same thing in Doctrine and Covenants 98. Think about those mansions in heaaven.

Taking the long view seems standard counsel for those who suffer privations in this world. And it works for me.

I often write about my experience with the 12 steps of recovery. The first three steps are commonly summarized in this triplet: “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.” Those first steps are all about what’s in my power to control and what isn’t. For the alcoholic or addict, the addiction is not in his control. For the loved one of an addict, the addiction (or any person) is not in his control.

A friend of mine recommended once that I ask myself a question when I begin to worry: “Whose problem is this?” If it’s mine, then I can worry about it only enough to do something about it. If it’s not mine, then I ought to stop worrying about it and focus on things I can do.

One way for me to stop worrying about things that aren’t mine is to focus, as my friend recommended, on my own knitting. Another is, as the Savior taught, to take the long view. Sometimes I do an exercise that walks me to the most awful possible conclusion of a particular concern. Then I take a deep breath and tell myself (out loud), “And that’s ok.” And it is. In the long run, the eternal scheme of things, I can accept much more now than I used to.

But if I had to rely on myself alone, I doubt I could do it. I also require the grace of the atonement to calm my troubled heart. My faith lifts and supports me when I need it most.

In the end, Emma Lou Thayne’s text describes my experience. The last two verses of “Where Can I Turn For Peace”:

Where, when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.

He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind,
Love without end. (Hymns, 129)


  1. Thank you. I desperately needed this today.

  2. For Every Evil
    For every evil under the sun
    There is a remedy or there is none.
    If there be one, seek till you find it;
    If there be none, never mind it.

    Mother Goose

  3. Aikeles -- glad to be of help.

    Anon: Thanks for sharing Mother Goose's great advice.

  4. Good advice; thanks (as always) for sharing.

    (And I would love to see you focus on your knitting!)

  5. Love the question: "Whose problem is it?" So many times our worry is about things that are not our own personal problems. Also love the idea of focusing on doing something about what we are worried about, instead of just worrying about it. Worrying is such and inactive

  6. Robin, my knitting is (alas) metaphorical. :-)

    Sistas: "Worrying is such an inactive action." Yes, indeed. Nicely put!