Friday, January 7, 2011

What, Me Worry?

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson for 1.8.11

Do you remember that catchphrase of Alfred E. Newman, the cartoon figurehead of Mad Magazine?  He would appear in the midst of some huge impending catastrophe and pronounce his signature line:  “What, me worry?”.  The implication being that he didn’t worry about things because he was unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation.  Kind of like the spoof of the first line of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If”:  “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” you clearly don’t understand what’s going on.
The converse of that would seem to be that people who understand what’s going on around them should worry or be anxious.  I was actually told by a counselor once that anxiety was really a good thing because it motivates us to accomplish things like good grades or getting a good job.  Coming, as a do, from a long line of worriers, I’m not sure that I can agree.  My experience has been that not only is anxiety more about paralysis than motivation, it has been the cause of the vast majority of my questionable decisions over the years.  Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but whether you call it anxiety, worry, fear, or stress, I’m thinking it’s an emotion that usually works against our best interest.  And, based on the number of times the Bible tells us not to fear, I believe I’m right.  Check out what Mrs. White has to say about it:
“Jesus is our friend; all heaven is interested in our welfare; and our anxiety and fear grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We should not indulge in a solicitude that only frets and wears us, but does not help us to bear trials.... He invites the weary and care-laden, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Lay off the yoke of anxiety and worldly care that  you have placed on your own neck, and ‘take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ Matthew 11:28, 29. We may find rest and peace in God.”[1]
I remember reading somewhere that the phrase “Fear not”, or some form of it, are in the Bible 365 times, once for every day of the year.  That would seem like pretty conclusive proof, that God doesn’t want us to worry about earthly things.

But if God makes it so clear that we shouldn’t worry, why do we spend so much time worrying about stuff?  “Daniel Gilbert (a psychology professor at Harvard) drew from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and stated that the Index showed ‘that Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they were a year ago, that happiness is down and sadness is up, that we are getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes, that depression is on the rise.’
“He stated that the real problem is not financial—not having enough money, but something else: Uncertainty. People don't know what's going to happen. Will I have a job next week? What's ahead in the future for me? Professor Gilbert pointed to a Dutch experiment where some subjects were told they would be intensely shocked 20 times. The researchers told a second group that they would receive three strong shocks and 17 mild ones, but they wouldn't know when the intense shocks would come. The results? Subjects in the second group sweated more and experienced faster heart rates. Uncertainty caused their discomfort: they didn't know when the shocks would come next.
“Another study showed that colostomy patients who knew that their colostomies would be permanent were happier six months after their procedures than those who were told there might be a chance of reversing their colostomies. Once again, uncertainty caused the unhappiness.
“Daniel Gilbert summarized, ‘An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait … . Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn't a matter of insufficient funds. It's a matter of insufficient certainty.’"[2]
Uncertainty causes worry…huh.  That seems pretty simple, right?  But most of us really struggle with anxiety on some level, don’t we?  I believe that anxiety is one of Satan’s favorite ways to pull our focus from Jesus to ourselves and our own problems.  If he can keep us worrying about what might happen instead of remembering that God is always in control, then he has us right where he wants us.

Brandon O’Brien, assistant editor of, like me, seems genetically pre-disposed to worry.
“I hail from a long line of worriers. From my dad, I inherited an inability to sleep until I resolve whatever issue is currently on my mind; from my mom, I received a proclivity for stomachaches before exams.
“It's not all bad, I suppose; worry has historically been a powerful motivator for me. One Saturday night I went to sleep unprepared for the sermon I was set to deliver the next morning. I dreamed all my biblical studies professors, previous pastors, and mentors arrived at church to hear me preach, only to discover that I was shooting from the hip. I woke up in a cold sweat and worked on my sermon till morning.
“I'd like to think that my tendency to worry is evidence of my unwavering sense of responsibility. Truth is, worry reveals a deep-seated self-reliance. I might say with Oliver Cromwell, ‘Put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry.’ But when I remember God's faithfulness in the past, and remember that he alone has brought me through, I am able to replace worry with worship. This simple action ensures that my faith is not in my keeping the powder dry, but in God's promise to secure the victory.”[3]
There it is!  If anxiety is caused by uncertainty, then as Christians, we have no reason for anxiety.  We can be certain, through faith, that God is going to be standing right beside us.  And we all know (say it with me): 
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:31-39

[1] E.G. White, The Faith I Live By, page 63
[2] Daniel Gilbert, "What You Don't Know Makes You Nervous," (9-21-09); as seen in The Week magazine, (6-5-09), p. 14
[3] Brandon O'Brien, assistant editor of

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