Worry, and Other Unappealing Temptations
Last night, and the night before, I spent many hours worrying instead of sleeping. I was utterly at the mercy of my worries, pinned to my fears like a beetle on a card. I won't bore you with the details, but my worries included everything you would expect: money, health, education, family life, things I will never be able to control, things I can control, but wasn't; big things, little things, ridiculous things, petty things, tragic things, and the shade of green I had finally chosen for the living room -- or had I?
Anything and everything was up for a good worrying. I finally got to sleep maybe 45 minutes before the alarm went off in the morning. Getting up seemed so unfair.
As I drove home from dropping off the kids, I thought, “If I tell anyone how much I worry, they will tell me that worry is not from God, and Jesus doesn’t want me to worry.” And that made me mad, because it’s bad enough I’m worrying and can’t sleep – but now hypothetical people are trying to make me feel guilty about it, too! The nerve!
But those hypothetical jerks are onto something. It really is true that worry is something that God doesn’t want for us. Giving in to worry is a temptation, just like any other temptation.
I am very used to thinking of sin as something alluring that must be resisted – something disguised as a good, as a pleasure, which must be resisted because it’s not good for me. Don’t eat that! Don’t drink any more! Don’t watch that movie, don’t give into that urge. It may feel good now, but there’ll be trouble down the road. This is how I think of sin and temptation, most of the time: something that presents itself as a pleasant escape from the world – and something that must be fought off, against my instincts for pleasure and ease.
But there are other temptations, too – temptations which don’t offer any kind of fun at all, but which are as hard or even harder to resist. There are temptations to believe that life is cold, existence is hard, truth is always something unpleasant and prickly and hard to endure. And these lies (because that’s what temptations are: lies) must be fought off just as vigorously as the sins that disguise themselves with softness, ease, and fun.
When we are tempted to fall into chronic worry, free-falling anxiety, brooding, endless guilt, and despair, we are falling for a lie. We are turning our hearts over to a false lover, an abuser who wants to control us and make us whimper, make us pay.
There are things to worry about. There are reasons to fear, reasons to dread. These things are true, and there’s no point in telling myself, “There is nothing to be upset about.” There is plenty to be upset about, and there always will be, as long as the earth keeps rolling its tired way around the tired old sun.
But it is not the only truth. It is not the final truth. The final truth is that, after the tired old sun sets for the final time, there will be darkness for a time, and then there will be a sun that rises and never sets, never stops warming us, never stops bringing us light, and light, and more and more light. There is a lover who sees everything that we are and wants to hold us forever in His arms, never wounding, never chiding, never turning us away to spend our nights in agony and alone.
This is what is true. And this is why we must see worry for what it is: a temptation, a half truth, a temporary, fleeting way to describe the world. Not the final word. So fight the temptation of worry just as hard as you’d fight any other temptation. Control what you can control, and continually turn the rest over to God, over and over again. Pray to your guardian angel, and pray to Our Lady, who knew how to ponder the unknown without being consumed. Suffering is real, but worry is a lie. It tells us that suffering is all there is.