One day a feeling of peace welled up in me.
Then I wondered ‘why am I feeling peaceful?’
Then I questioned ‘how long will this sense of peace stay with me?’
Then I worried, ‘what will I do when I no longer feel peaceful?’
Then I said: ‘Oh for goodness sake! Just enjoy feeling peaceful.’
When I look at my face in the mirror I can see the lines worn by worry: ‘Am I OK?’ ‘Is it safe?’ ‘What does that person think of me?’ ‘What will I do if...?’
Such thoughts are like buzzing flies that whirr around our heads and will not be caught.
Worry makes us self-conscious in ways that are disabling – even paralysing. We become frozen with fear; our actions become clumsy, sometimes resulting in the very thing we are desperately seeking to avoid. I remember the agony of my many driving lessons; I didn’t trust the car, or its controls, and I certainly didn’t trust myself. My sudden jabbing movements sent the car into a juddering stall. The clutch grated and the brakes repeatedly pitched my instructor against his seat belt. Yet I can drive now, and drive well, and in distance at least, have circled the Earth several times.
It was the same for me learning to swim. I was 13 years old, tall for my age and stuck in the shallow end. I went to swimming lessons at the local outdoor pool. I didn’t mind waving my arms about in the water, or even kicking my legs – just as long as some part of my anatomy was firmly attached to the bar at the side of the pool. Then one day I defied my prevailing belief that I was not among those human beings with the capacity ever to be able to swim. I pushed out into the water, releasing my grip from the side – and sank! But then – under the water – as I moved my arms and legs about I found I was swimming and the water was holding me up. It was only when I surfaced again that panic set in. As soon as I went down below the waves my confidence came back. I could begin to trust in the buoyancy of the water and enjoy the freedom of moving through it without fear.
At root, worry is an attempt to manage the unmanageable. Our experience will never be wholly predictable, nor will it lie within our control. But what if we were to learn to move with the flow of what is given in the moment?
Jesus urged those who listened to him not to be consumed by worry:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what will you wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse not barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single cubit to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? [Luke 12: 22-26]
For the weary and overburdened he promised rest. ‘Learn from me’, he encouraged, ‘and you will find rest for your souls.’ [Matthew 11: 28-30]
Jesus lived in the day, leaving aside worry for tomorrow. He trusted in the gift of bread for each day and taught us to pray for the same. He rested his being in relationship with the God who loved him, and would generously provide for his needs.
This is a hard and an easy way; a hard way, because trust is difficult and anxiety is our frequent, uninvited guest. Our previous experience may make it difficult for us to trust another, or trust ourselves. Whatever your worry or mine, it will find no resolution until we gather courage to push out from the side into the deep water. We might need first to acknowledge what we are feeling and rest this with God, who knows and has compassion on our hesitations.
Yet Jesus also named this an easy way: a path that will ease us from fear, fill us with wonder at the simplicity and beauty of receiving what we need by gift, and grant us freedom to find and enjoy our larger selves.
Generous God, the next time peace comes, let me enjoy the gift of it, and rest in its reality when I no longer feel it. The next time fear comes, let me push out into the deep waters of your love for me, whether or not I am sure of it in that moment.