Gary Zimak is the author of several books, including A Worrier’s Guide To The Bible, Listen To Your Blessed Mother, From Fear To Faith, Faith, Hope & Clarity, Find A Real Friend In Jesus and Stop Worrying & Start Living. He is a frequent speaker at parishes and conferences across the United States and Canada and is recognized as the leading Catholic speaker on the topic of overcoming anxiety. Gary is the host of Spirit In The Morning on Holy Spirit Radio in Philadelphia and is a regular guest on EWTN TV and radio. For more information, visit his website FollowingTheTruth.com.
If you’re a Christian who tends to be a worrier, there is a good chance that this question has crossed your mind on at least a few occasions. It’s a question that I have asked myself many times. Rather than avoid it (which is sometimes the easiest response), let’s address it. If you’re expecting me to answer it, however, I have no intention of doing so. Now, before you stop reading, I would ask you to hear me out. In short, there is probably a point when our worrying crosses over into the sinful zone. When that actually happens is hard to pinpoint. Instead of speculating about the precise moment when our worrying becomes sinful, let’s look at a few facts. In the end, I think it will prove to be more helpful than trying to answer a relatively unanswerable question.
What is worry?
Generally speaking, worrying is the act of allowing your mind to dwell on unpleasant events or situations. A quick internet search will result in many definitions, but they all contain a similar theme. Unlike fear (which is an emotion), worrying is a conscious action. Although it may not feel like it, you can choose to not worry. We’ll discuss that in greater depth before this article concludes.
What did Jesus say about worry?
As followers of Christ, it makes sense to look at His advice on the matter. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to refrain from worrying about our life, what we will eat/drink, about our body and what we will wear (Matthew 6:25). He also asks if worrying can add a single moment to our life span (Matthew 6:27). After pointing out that our Heavenly Father provides for the birds and clothes the grass of the field, Jesus ends with the words, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34). Sin or no sin, His message is crystal clear. Worrying is not a good use of our time.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on the filial trust that cooperates with our Father's providence. He is not inviting us to idleness, but wants to relieve us from nagging worry and preoccupation. Such is the filial surrender of the children of God. (CCC 2830)
What’s the big deal about worrying?
If you aren’t moved by the fact that worrying is a choice and that Jesus urges us not to do it, I ask you to consider this hypothetical scenario. Suppose that you are cooking a meal for someone you love. It can be your spouse, a child or a good friend. To make this more meaningful, imagine that you and this person have been close for many years. Not only do you know one another well, but the relationship is based on mutual love. After working all day in the kitchen and making sure that everything is perfect, you serve the meal to your loved one. Before tasting it, they inspect the food, cut off a small piece, place it in a container and begin to swab it with a plastic strip. When you ask what’s happening, you receive the answer, “I’m testing it for rat poison.” How does it make you feel? Not too good, right? Your expression of love (cooking the dinner) is met with a painful lack of trust.
What does it all mean?
Jesus loves us. He became man to suffer, die and rise from the dead so that we could be redeemed. In the pages of the Bible, He repeatedly expresses His love for all. Even if we ignore His words, it would be a major stretch to look at His actions and conclude that He doesn’t love us. If that’s the case, why would someone who loves us that much lie to us about worrying? Furthermore, how do you think it makes Him feel when we don’t trust Him and continue to worry about our lives and what might happen in the future?
How can I stop worrying?
Hopefully, you now see why you shouldn’t worry. Rather than trying to determine if it’s a sin, isn’t it better to simply refrain from worrying? Before you begin to panic, let’s remember that fear and worry are two different things. One is involuntary and the other is voluntary. I can’t stop myself from feeling afraid, but I can stop myself from worrying. When I am afraid, I have two choices. I can choose to worry or I can choose to do something productive, such as praying or reading the Bible. When I am doing one of these God-centered activities, I am not worrying. Even if I have an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach, I am not worrying. Think about it. This is a point that gets missed by most people who struggle with anxiety. The Lord knows that we can’t control our feelings, but He expects us to do our best to control our actions. If you are so overcome with anxiety that you can’t think straight, I recommend that you resort to familiar prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary or Glory Be. You can also repeat the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Even if it doesn’t feel like it, praying or reading the Bible puts you in contact with the Lord.
Could worrying be sinful? Probably, but I don’t think it’s worth analyzing it in great detail. Excessive worrying typically results from a lack of trust in God’s providence. Once you accept that fact, it becomes easier to manage. Keep in mind, however, that breaking free from worry is a process. You will slip up and begin to worry from time to time, but keep trying. When you find yourself starting to worry, open your Bible and hit your knees. That will make Jesus very happy!
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)