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How to stop worrying

The Spanish word for worry is “preocupado” – preoccupied. We moderns derive our identity from our occupations. We occupy our time – we fill it. We prize busyness. Henri Nouwen notes that, as enslaving as are our occupations, our preoccupations are even more so. “To be preoccupied means to fill o…
By Seth Barnes

The Spanish word for worry is “preocupado” – preoccupied. We moderns derive our identity from our occupations. We occupy our time – we fill it. We prize busyness.

Henri Nouwen notes that, as enslaving as are our occupations, our preoccupations are even more so. “To be preoccupied means to fill our time and place long before we are there. This is worrying in the more specific sense of the word. It is a mind filled with ‘ifs.’ We say to ourselves, ‘What if I get the flu? What if I lose my job?’ Much if not most of our suffering is connected with these preoccupations.”

The problem, as Nouwen diagnoses it, is that because we are continually preparing for some future possibility, “we seldom fully trust the moment.” Our lives are filled, but we remain unfilled, engaged in activity that feels unconnected to a larger reality. We go thru life with one foot firmly planted in a possible disturbing future, never free to experience the delicious sweetness of the moment.

Jesus understands what it is to be human, to be tempted to fill one’s mind-space with preoccupations. He said, “do not worry” not to give us one more guilt-producing rule, but to give us a key to fully experience the richness of life.

But worry can be such a deep-rooted habit, how do you break it? Jesus tells us that it must be replaced. It’s a law that “nature abhors a vacuum.” Remove something and something else must take its place. Smokers chew gum and drug addicts take methadone. To get rid of worry, fill your mind with other thoughts.

Jesus’ prescription is a salve to the harried modern mind because it works: “set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these things will be given to you as well.” In other words, as you concern yourself with life in the spirit—loving God and people—God will concern himself with your future. He’ll take care of the “what ifs.”

It’s a profound mind shift, but for those of you plagued by worry, it offers a vision of a hope-filled and purposeful life. You make that mind shift thru the disciplines of solitude and community—topics for another day—but you take the first step by setting your heart on the things that are God’s heart.

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