The Benefit of Worry
Lifting weights once seemed to me very unnecessary—a curious activity for people who wanted to feel like athletes, while the real exercisers were off somewhere running. But as it turns out, I was wrong. Incorporating weight training into your exercise routine is beneficial on many levels: raising metabolism, increasing strength, reducing the risk of injury, heart disease, and other illness. I even read recently that lifting weights can help lift depression. Far from my initial theory, I have no doubt that using weights properly is a necessary part of building both muscle and health. I have also found it a helpful illustration even as I am discovering it physically true.
Counting to ten with a weight in my hand recently, I found myself worrying about upcoming events, things I needed to do, things didn't do well enough, and so forth. To be honest I can't remember exactly what I was worrying about that day. But I remember thinking about the weight I was physically lifting and the weight I was mentally carrying—and connecting with illustration in my hand.
What if it's possible to use life's resistances to build character, hope, and even faith? I believe it's quite possible. Yet even so, as it is in weight lifting, a weight is only beneficial to the body when it is lifted and released. Muscles grow during times of rest; to never release a weight would forfeit the benefits of weight lifting and only make way for serious injury. When it comes to worrying, it might resemble a person lugging around a barbell, stubbornly refusing to set it down for whatever reason or benefit they think they hold by perpetually carrying it.
F.W. Boreham tells a story about a woman who spent her entire life as a worrier. As a small child she would sit in her father's lap and momentarily lay aside the weight of worry as he took his thumb and smoothed out the wrinkles on her forehead. "Now keep it smooth," he would say. "Don't let it pucker again." But it was of little help. Now a grown woman facing the final days of her life, she sat confessing to pastor Boreham—without seeing anything ironic in her words—that it worried her that she had been such a worrier all her life. I suspect in some way we can all be something like this poor woman, failing to see the absurdity of many of our worries.
I can find many places in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount where reacting with a sense of worry seems almost appropriate, and I would guess in this assessment I am not alone: You have heard that it was said, "Do not murder." But I tell you that anyone who is even angry with his brother is subject to judgment. Or, You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who even looks at someone lustfully has already done so.(1)
Can anyone stand in the kingdom Jesus describes in this sermon? Is it worth even trying? For worriers, there seems a great deal of material. But this is exactly what is so startling about Jesus's words about worrying, which come as almost a hiatus in the middle of his sermon. In between an exhortation to be perfect and a description of the narrow gate, he proclaims gently but confidently, "Do not worry!" To those trembling with the fear of certain failure, it is an impossible, strange command. Yet it is one over which he seems to proclaim: It is my life that makes all things possible. He says:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?(2)
Worrying is something like picking up the weight that Jesus has removed and deciding to carry it around again anyway, causing injury with your refusal to set it down. If it is truly "for freedom that Christ has set us free," we can truly stand firm, not letting ourselves be burdened again by the slavery of worry. What if we can approach life's worries with the thought of building hope and even faith, growing closer to the God who lifts the burden? What if it is a matter of letting go, setting the weight we would carry again and again before the Cross? What if the only benefit of worry comes in lifting it up and setting it before the God who will hold it?
Of course, I realize this is easier to say than it is to do. But perhaps it is a reminder akin to Jesus pausing in the middle of his weighty sermon and smoothing out the wrinkles on our foreheads. Over each weight and worry, he repeats the resounding benefit: I will give you rest.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:28-29.
(2) Matthew 6:25-27.