Flashback from my teenage years: In the heyday of the satirical MAD magazine, its mascot and cover boy, Alfred E. Neuman, was known by the famous tagline, “What, me worry?” The iconic, gap-toothed fellow certainly didn’t appear smart enough to worry, even if there was something worth worrying about.
For many of us, however, this isn’t true. In fact, a friend once told me, “I can’t think of anything I should be worrying about. That worries me.” These days there’s no shortage of worrisome matters competing for our concern, ranging from global terrorism to natural disasters to the how our favorite football team will fare in the fall to the everyday uncertainties of life.
Recently, after yet another senseless shooting in a Louisiana motion picture theater, a news commentator asked two eyewitnesses if they had ever thought about going to see a movie and being confronted by someone bringing a gun and opening fire. “What a dumb question,” I thought. Do we sit in our homes, worrying about whether an airplane will fall on top of them? That happens once in a while, you know. Do I drive down the road, fretting that a sinkhole will suddenly open up, swallowing my car and me? That occasionally occurs, too. If we agonized about every potential calamity we might encounter, we’d never go or do anything.
Sure there are things we should be concerned about and when appropriate, take precautions. Like not leaving a toddler sitting on a kitchen counter unattended. Or trying to drive defensively, in case the operator of the approaching car does something stupid. Or striving to live within our income, even setting aside some money if possible, in case of unexpected expenses.
But imagine how much mental and emotional energy unnecessary that worry costs us. In one of her books, the late Corrie ten Boom, who experienced more than her share of hardship and grief, wrote, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
It also has the effect of inviting gloom into an otherwise bright, carefree day. Some unknown sage put it this way: “Worry pulls tomorrow's cloud over today's sunshine.”
I’ve not been a stranger to worry over the years. In difficult times, if you can’t think of anything to do, worrying at least feels like you’re doing something. Adapting MAD magazine’s mantra, I’ve sometimes admitted, “What me, worry? Uh…yeah!” But as ten Boom and Mr./Ms. Anonymous have noted, all that worry really accomplishes is to pull a potential shadow from the future and use it to enshroud the present.
So if we’re not to worry, what should we do? Many admonitions from the Scriptures are helpful, but three immediately come to mind. One is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “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, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The second is 1 Peter 5:7, which simply states, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” And the third is Isaiah 41:10, which pictures us in the midst of turmoil: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Reading these passages, we’re tempted to respond, “That’s easier said than done.” True, but our response reveals what we believe about God. Walking with God always comes down to obedience, putting faith into action. As Oswald Chambers writes, “Even at the risk of being thought of as fanatical, you must obey what God tells you.”