Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gnashing of Teeth – and Other Pastimes

I’ve been worrying about this blog post. Feeling anxious, fretting about how it will be received. Fearful, agonizing, wringing my hands. I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth contemplating again. It’s…worry.

More than baseball, worry seems to have assumed national pastime status. If there’s anything we can worry about, we will. We even worry when we have nothing to worry about – surely there’s something we should worry about, which worries us.

Take the stock market, our revered economic “indicator.” Many times it rises and falls according to what “might” or “could” happen, based on the latest positive or negative developments. The market’s huge pendulum swings are propelled by fear, worry about the future.

The weather worries us. Experts predict hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, heat waves, or other kinds of severe weather…and we worry. What if this? Or, what if that? Is it because of climate change? If so, let’s worry about what can be done about it.

Alfred E. Neuman of MAD magazine
used to say, "What - me worry?" But
most of us haven't followed his lead.
If such things aren’t sufficient for keeping you happily worried, you can worry about loved ones – or your family as a unit. Or your career, finances, health problems, whether your car will start in the morning. If you’re a big sports fan, you can worry about whether State U will lose that key recruit to the archrival, or whether your team can outbid other teams for the latest superstar’s services.

People on every side of the political spectrum worry about our nation’s direction. What’s the destiny of our society, the “land of the free”?

Recently, TV adapted Stephen King’s sprawling novel, Under the Dome, for a 13-week summer run. What if, as in the story, a giant, impermeable dome fell on your community? No one could get out – and no one could get in. Now that’s something to worry about! It could occur, you know. Stuff happens.

Some people worry about being in an airplane crash. I always liked a friend’s philosophical take on that. He would say, “If you’re destined to die in a plane crash, and don’t get on a plane, then one will fall on your house.”

As a society, we love to worry. We complain, moan, groan, toss and turn in our beds. One thing we don’t often see, but seems like it would be fun to watch, is gnashing of teeth. Maybe people in biblical times worried even more than us, because it talks a lot about teeth gnashing. For instance, it says, “The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away…” (Psalm 112:10).

Jesus also referred to this worrisome tendency. He said, “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).

One thing’s certain – if you’re gnashing your teeth, your anxiety level must be really high. “Gnash, gnash, gnash!” “Hey, could you keep the noise down?”

That’s why the Bible offers a “cure” for teeth gnashing: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, that transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Jesus gave His followers the right perspective. “Do not worry about your life…. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?... And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it…. But seek first his kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22-31).

Years ago, Alfred E. Neuman, fictitious mascot and cover boy of MAD magazine, offered the motto, “What – me worry?” And singer Bobby McFerrin’s lilting little Caribbean tune suggested, “Don’t worry, be happy.” But let’s face it – we live in an oftentimes scary, always unpredictable world. There’s so much to worry about.

That is, unless we believe God’s in control, as He promises: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Rest in that and we can face each day with anticipation, rather than trepidation.

Pray. Ask. Have faith, trusting God for every one of your needs – and all your circumstances. Jesus is saying, “Enough of that worrying. I’ve got this!” And just think, in heaven there will be no worrying. No gnashing of teeth. 

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