1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. – Psalm 127: 1-2 A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.
Dan Carlton, pastor of Downtown Baptist Church, believes that faith isn’t just the province of a handful of pastors but is meant to be lived out by all seven billion of us. In that spirit, he occasionally turns over the pulpit to laypeople. Last summer he gave me a turn, asking me to talk that morning on faith and science. This coming Sunday, March 9, I get a second chance, and this time he’s let me choose the topic.
We’re going to reflect on worry: why it matters, and practical steps we can take to reduce the damage it does to our lives and prospects.
Why focus on worry? And why blog about it here? Let’s start with the second question, which is the subject of my just-published book: Living on the Real World: How thinking and Acting Like Meteorologists Will Help Save the Planet. The argument made there is that the 21st-century real-world challenge of tapping the Earth’s energy, food, and water resources, while building resilience to hazards and at the same time protecting the environment has most people depressed and anxious… but that worry is misplaced. We are mastering four tools (a basis of Earth observations, science and services; policy; social networking; and on-the-ground, widely distributed personal responsibility and leadership) that will help us meet this challenge. The greatest threat to reaching such a happy global outcome? Arguably worry and anxiety. At any given stage in our work, apprehension and disquiet distract us from the important task at hand. Over time, the accumulated stress saps our energies, leaves us vulnerable to a range of diseases, and shortens our lives. Worry compromises the individual contributions we might otherwise make to building a better real world.
But worry doesn’t just have negative impacts on us as individuals. It also makes us snappish and disputatious with each other and in groups. Our anxieties and apprehensions encourage us to see life as zero-sum. We find ourselves dividing the world into we and they when in reality, we’re in it together. Disquiet and unease tempt us to compete with each other rather than collaborate: as nations, as corporations and institutions, across neighborhoods, and (even!) at home. Worry is at the root of war, poverty, and myriad other world evils.
And why focus on worry in a church sermon? Because at its heart, worry is a spiritual matter. And because for those who self-identify as Christians, it poses a challenge of the first order. Only a third of the world’s people identify in this way, but the other two-thirds know enough about Christianity to know that serenity and composure in the face of brokenness and challenge is a litmus test of genuine trust in a higher, loving Power. Forget about salvation in the next world. Show me that you’re calm and composed in the face of this world’s adversity and I’ll follow you anywhere. I want what you have. But let me see instead that you’re just as anxious and fearful as I am, and you’re just putting up a smokescreen? I’ll see through that façade. And I can do without that. You want me to join in your hypocrisy? I don’t think so.
In Sunday’s church hour, we’ll repeat some of this, but we’ll also consider practical ways we can master worry, rather than allow it to rule us. The intriguing part is that these ways are not just practical; they’re also God-given.
Location and time? Downtown Baptist Church, 212 South Washington Street, Old Town Alexandria. Services at 9:30 (contemporary) and at 11:00 (more traditional), with coffee from 10:30-11:00 in between. If you’re local and have the time, it’d be great to see you there.
Special challenge: conversion to Daylight Savings Time this weekend. Need to set those clocks an hour ahead.