When I was young, I used to worry about high school. My brother is four years older than I am, and he used to delight in showing me his math homework, telling me, “one day you will have to do this. Doesn’t it look fun”?
The thing is, I liked math. But his homework never looked fun. Probably because it was shrouded in fear for me, but who can really say.
When we “see” the future, we don’t tend to give ourselves any kind of context. I imagined being four years older, doing my brother’s math homework, with no further training than where I was at in that moment, completely forgetting that my brother was in my exact same place four years before. His homework would have terrified him, too!
The hard things I have been through in life, for the most part, have not exactly turned out to be the things I worried about. And if they were, they weren’t exactly as I imagined them to be.
As it turns out, I am terrible at predictions.
And the hard things I have faced? I have made it through them all alive. The truth about hard things is that in our minds, they are monsters in our closets. In reality, when we are forced to confront them, we don’t always see them for what they are (things we should have been worrying about)–we just face them. Because in that moment, the time has passed for worry.
When we first found out I was pregnant, I spent a good amount of those first few weeks worrying that something would go wrong. I didn’t let myself get truly excited, because what if the worst happened? What if the baby died, what if the fetus didn’t develop properly because of something I did, what if, what if, what if.
The only way to truly be effective in our worrying–to make it worth our while–is to be more thorough in our worry. After a few weeks of worrying about my pregnancy, I realized something: If I am going to really do this worrying thing the right way, I shouldn’t limit myself to worrying only about the life of this child inside my womb. What about when/if it comes out? My newborn could die in his/her sleep. My baby could be hit by a car. It could be deathly allergic to strawberries, it could be kidnapped, it could die of the flu, it could be bullied, or emotionally damaged by something I said, or eaten by a tiger at the zoo. Eric could die, I could die, the child could be an orphan, the child could be teased for not being athletic, or for not being very smart.
It took me a while, but I plainly saw that I wasn’t worrying about enough. There is always so much more to worry about. How will we ever worry enough? What if we forget something that needs to be worried about?
So we should ask ourselves, when we are worrying about one small, solitary thing: what else could we add to our list of worries? And after a few moments, when we realize that we can never possibly worry about enough, we should work ourselves into a tizzy and ignore the things around us that need to be taken care of. We should worry until we can worry no more, and collapse into a state of worried panic. How useful we will be in that state!
Our only other option, if we decide not to worry about everything, is to worry about nothing.
That is the only logical alternative. If we are capable of worrying about everything, and are able to do something about all of our worries, then by all means let us spend our hours worrying. But if we are not capable of worrying about everything that needs to be worried about, then we should not worry about anything. Because it is entirely pointless.
So, to sum up this practical guide to worrying, we can be productive in our worries in only two ways: by worrying about absolutely everything (and not forgetting anything!), or by worrying about nothing, and simply deciding to face whatever trials come before us with courage. When it comes to worrying, it is all or nothing. We either have complete control, or we don’t. We must choose to act accordingly.
P.S. Two more guides: