Being a very liberal minded and somewhat unorthodox Christian, and one who has long since made the wonderful discovery of the eternally valuable, relevant, spiritually powerful, and consistently inspiring wisdom which can bless us when reading the Bible with an open heart and mind rather than a literal and legalistic interpretation, there are scarcely few passages which I would consider to be “difficult” ones.
I have long since come to the joyous realization that the Bible, while containing timeless spiritual knowledge, was not a book with simplistic black and white directives applicable to every minute detail of life which suddenly and miraculously dropped as a complete work from the sky or materialized as a very specific instruction manual intended to be inferred or interpreted at face value. I have through much study, prayer, and understanding come to discern that it is a book written by human beings attempting to understand God, as well as an account of Jesus Who came to teach us the nature of God through His teachings. While many of the legalities of the time in which it was scribed we have long since evolved past in the understanding and ability to obtain knowledge that God has blessed us with, the core message of both Christ and the stories and parables in the Bible are truly timeless.
Thankfully, I no longer have any concern that God holds any judgment against me for being a bisexual man who is intimately involved with both a woman and a man, or for being radically liberal in my thoughts, beliefs and personal interpretations about God or Christianity, or the beliefs, lives and choices of others, so long as we are all pursuing the gift of our lives and whatever passions we have in a fashion conducive to the teachings of Christ that we are all called to do whatever we do in a way which is loving, caring and respectful of all others. I know that God is more concerned about our spirituality than whatever our sexuality or sexual orientation is, and would never judge me nor any of my other LGBT or heterosexual brothers and sisters based upon that, and have found a deep sense of peace about and reconciled my spirituality and sexuality and know that I am a unique individual meant to be as God Made me.
I no longer take dogma and rhetoric extrapolated from the Bible by some regarding a punitive and judgmental God of conditional love or the concept of a hell as a “literal” place. And I have long since laid to rest the imagined terrors of Armageddon brought to life by dispensationalists who elected to interpret Revelation as a literal account of the future rather than a beautiful parable about relying upon our faith in God when we experience times of duress.
I thank God every day for the teachings of Jesus, the freedom I have in my faith, and the spiritual maturity and growth I have sought and been blessed with and shared with others, and continue to grow in on a regular basis, learning something new and enriching every day. But of all of the wonderful spiritual messages in the Bible, and all of the powerful teachings of Jesus, there is one advisement, directive and teaching which remains timeless that I at times have had and occasionally still have an extremely difficult struggle with following to the best of my abilities, and I know I am not alone in doing so as others I know, even the most deeply spiritual, devoutly faithful, and most at ease with their faith have difficulty dealing with or practicing consistently.
It’s not the call to practice forgiveness instead of anger, blessing those who curse us and wishing love to those who have done us wrong. While that at times can be challenging prior to or during the process of doing so, the feeling of doing so is wonderful and cleansing as we let go of old negativity and break a chain of hurt with love. It’s not the call to love our neighbor as ourselves, as the desire to do that comes naturally when I reflect upon the gratitude for all that God has done for me and want to pass those good feelings on to others. It’s not the part about turning the other cheek and not judging; those are just good common sense that lead to positive results and experience and I have experienced their effectiveness on a multitude of occasions. And it is not the call to take the time to do for others first and elect to place love and respect for others first before whatever personal needs or self absorptions I may be experiencing in my own life. All of those, while at times a challenge in the day to day mystery of this great experience we know as life, are not difficult to me in the grand scheme of the Universe God has authored and given us.
But there is one thing I seem to have consistently continued to frequently “miss the mark” on. I’m not proud in the least of the fact that I still on occasion allow it to be a stumbling block for me; I’m actually ashamed to say it sometimes. I know that to put this teaching I refer to is in my own best interest and is of equal value to the cardinal and primary teaching of the Golden Rule, the Great Commandment to Love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves and is essential to our own best interests, well being and spiritual health.
It’s merely three little words, three simple but oh so challenging words spoken by Jesus that I seem to have the toughest time practicing on a consistent basis, as does most everyone I know, be they Christians of any variety, those of other faiths, or those who may not have any type of faith at all.
It’s part of Matthew 6:25 and Luke 12:25, the passages surrounding those and other locations in Scripture. Those three little words I am speaking of are three that are easy to say and to hear, but that a vast majority of us, at least myself, many close to me, and many I know have one hell of a difficult time putting into practice. I feel it is the most difficult thing we are advised by Him to do in our lives through all of the things He taught:
“Do not worry.”
It isn’t that I in any manner refute, discount, or even disagree in the least with what Jesus is saying. In fact, I totally and wholeheartedly agree, especially when reading these passages in their entirety and taking them in the proper context, or even just focusing on their core message:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25) Jesus is telling us not to lose sight of the bigger picture with being concerned over day to day concerns about our basic needs, which God will take care of or help us to take care of.
“Strive first for the dominion of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) This is a reminder that if we seek God and a strong connection with God first, that not only will we have to be worried that our needs will be taken care of, but that other things we desire and hope for will naturally fall into place as well. It is placing our spiritual health with the highest importance, which makes perfect sense as all else will follow if we trust in God.
Forever acknowledging that He knows the day to day struggles we are going to experience as a part of the grand mystery of life, Jesus adds: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) He knows that every human being experiences worry and anxiety when faced with something we all have to face: the unknown. Yet, He is telling us to live and cherish each moment, and not to be absorbed in negative “what ifs” or any anxiety which we might experience in the future. Simply put, He is telling us to take things one day at a time.
And He asks a very honest question of us that I feel we are supposed to reflect upon and consider in Luke 12:25 when He says, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” The obvious answer is no. In fact, the opposite could be the case-but more on that later.
And finally, in Luke 12:32-34 He reminds us, lest we have not taken to heart His illustrations about the futility of worry and any apprehensions we might be holding on to about God taking care of our needs, that, “it is God’s good pleasure to give you the dominion” and to “make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in Heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is an excellent admonition that we place the highest value on that which is within our hearts, rather than material things, which alleviates a great deal of the comparatively trivial issues or things we might be worried about to begin with.
Comforting words, if difficult ones, to be certain, and these are but a few of His most profound teachings on the topic of worry and anxiety. He is absolutely correct on all counts, as with all of the rest of His teachings. And I know, it seems like plain old common sense, just as many of the wonderful teachings God blessed us with through Christ. And it really is.
But the way life goes some days and at times for longer periods of time in our lives, the term “easier said than done” is an understatement. As with many things, the concept is easy to embrace and crystal clear but it is the application of this teaching which may initially seem problematic or difficult at first glance. However, it is not impossible, and once we can allow God to lift any doubts we might have on the topic and enable us to embrace the beauty of what Jesus was trying to empower us with, the end result is being able to become closer not only to God but to be better stewards of all of the rest of God’s Creation, more at peace with ourselves, and successfully equipped not only to live the life God intended for us to live to the fullest but empower those around us to claim the same gift.
These sometimes difficult to embrace teachings are definitely no stranger to me. I’ve done my fair share of worrying in my own life; at one time I suffered from extreme anxiety and crippling panic attacks, and have been under so much stress at times that it quite literally made me physically ill, so I have plenty of experience with the subject. However, it is not just the teachings of Christ on the matter but every single personal experience I have ever had where worry and anxiety came into play that reinforces my being absolutely certain that nothing good ever came from worrying, being anxious or afraid, or allowing fear and apprehension to influence my decisions or anything else in my life.
The “big” worries I once had – those involving God as being a force to be “feared” and which were the result of a fundamentalist doctrine which capitalizes upon the basic human nature of fear, anxiety and especially the biggest one of all-the fear of the unknown or that which we do not fully understand – have thankfully passed, through many years of study, seeking, prayer, introspection, and learning to experience God in everyday life and within, and ever present rather than seeking God externally or somewhere distant and “out there.”
That in and of itself was quite a process – and I am certain that a vast majority of other LGBT people can relate to a similar, yet individual rather than identical experience to the one I went through in doing so. Many I know still struggle to a point with these issues, and make progress on a day to day basis with the reconciliation of their spirituality and sexuality – but they have come to a point where they have at least arrived at a place where they have learned to take one day at a time and allow the revelation that they too are loved and accepted by God, and were Created by God as they are to flow through them and continue to wash away the residual worries, anxieties and fears on a daily basis. That to me is the step which facilitates a path to a point where we can let go of the majority of worries, or so one would surmise.
But for many, especially the LGBT individual, that is not where the worries or anxieties come to a final resting place. Although we may no longer find it necessary to perform complex theological gymnastics to reconcile who we are and what we are, and have full knowledge of the fact and have fully arrived at the understanding that who we are is totally acceptable to God, there is still the complication that there are so many who do not understand us. They allow their anxieties about who they are or lack of understanding about such – often borne of a lack of understanding and further perpetuated by more anxiety which spreads like a virus or a cancer by others – to prevent them from being fully open to us. This, in turn can lead to another source of anxiety if we allow it to.
Those of us who are on a spiritual path are not exempt from falling victim to worry and anxiety; we may be, as I and others like to refer to it, “spiritual beings having a human experience,” but we are still human and part of the nature of who we are means that we can still fall victim to worry and anxiety.
It may not be a worry about what happens after this life (the idea of a literal Heaven or Hell), or a worry about who we are not being acceptable to God due to our sexual orientation or sexuality, but often times we still find ourselves allowing the day to day worries to consume us: worries about what others think of us, worries about what others say about us, worries about how others might try to judge us. There are worries brought on by what might happen tomorrow, whether or not we will keep a job in the midst of layoffs due to a struggling economy, whether or not there will be a natural disaster, or whether or not we will make the mortgage payment next month. And finally, there are worries about family members, relationships, friendships, our own future, our own health.
As drastic as this sounds, I feel that to allow ourselves to worry for one second about any of the above is utterly pointless and a terrible waste of the lives God has blessed us with. Yet, I am guilty of it from time to time, and I know I have plenty of company in engaging in it.
So why, with what we know, and given what God said through Jesus about worrying, even after all the reassurances we might have felt in our heart on a personal level, do we still allow ourselves to do it and get wrapped up in it?
Unfortunately, pertaining to the “why” I am afraid I cannot answer that question. God, not me, was the Author of the Universe and I could not begin to understand or ascertain the meaning of why everything is the way it is, or why human beings seem to have the propensity for worrying ourselves to ruin over imagined events that are in the majority of cases extremely unlikely to ever occur. It is beyond my tiny level of understanding, but the absolute closest I can arrive at is so that we would be encouraged to realize our tendency towards it and seek the answers by developing our spirituality and coming closer to God as we grow more aware and confident of who God made us to be, what our purpose is, and how we can use our passions and the knowledge we have been blessed with on our own personal journeys to enable others on theirs.
A far more important query to me on the topic of worry and anxiety-however these metaphorical “demons” might plague our lives – is how to vanquish them and consciously seek to avoid them, and what to do to best protect ourselves from engaging in them.
I can hear some people saying, “Yeah, right” or “As if” now. Okay, maybe we will never be totally free of all types of stress, or not for a very long period of time. But what if we lived as if we were? How do we begin to take on something we are often trained to do from a very young age by parents who with all the best intent of loving and caring for us have instilled us with worry, either by instruction or example, or that we have absorbed from culture, however well meaning or benign the intent of majority of those who saddled us with it might have been?
I feel that it has to begin in the same manner all fears, especially fears of that which is unknown or has not taken place are conquered: by taking an honest, reality based dissection and examination of them, determining what it is that we experience anxiety or worry over, and then taking a rational look at things to see the folly of allowing ourselves to indulge in worry or anxiety.
When I succumb to a fit or bout of being anxious or worried, rather than try to find reasons why I should defend and allow myself to be anxious and worry, I am always one to seek out reasons why I should not. And there are plenty of very good reasons not to. Here are just a few of many:
It always helps me to begin by looking back on one of the questions Jesus posed in Matthew about worry and anxiety when he said, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Of course not. (This has to be a trick question.) For one, the negative answer to that question posed is dictated by common sense. But beyond that fact, even though it was not necessarily known or documented during Christ’s time among us on Earth in physical form, today’s medical science has proven that the exact opposite may in fact be true: the proposition that worry, stress and anxiety are not only bad for us on a spiritual level, but can actually prove to be hazardous to our health, longevity and extremely detrimental to all aspects of our well being. There’s obviously a grain of truth in the old adage, “worrying yourself sick.”
I’m not suggesting that it will cut one’s life short or result in fatality if we are concerned about things. But I can speak from experience that enough worry and anxiety over a given period of time can make you sick, as I and others close to me have experienced it first hand. Anxiety which led to depression and panic led me to self medication through alcohol abuse years ago, which by the Grace of God I was able to escape. Stress at work caused me to develop a dependence upon prescription medication to the point where I developed physical health problems until I discontinued. Another stressful time when I was consumed by anxiety led to a nervous breakdown and a deterioration of health. Even exposing myself to situations where I was surrounded by stress and anxiety have resulted in my getting sick and developing flu like symptoms. This, of course, resulted in more worries about my health, which just made matters worse and perpetuated a self destructive cycle.
And it is not merely the potential for physical consequences. Even if one does not regard that as a factor, there are plenty of other good reasons not to engage in worry. The most predominant and profound one I can think of being is that it is an absolutely colossal waste of the valuable time, gifts, moments and resources that God has so graciously blessed us with.
I have tried time and time again to justify it when I allow myself to indulge in worry or anxiety, but I have yet to recount one single time in my life when anything good, positive, or productive ever came of it (aside from re-learning every time just how foolish it was in retrospect). Quite the opposite has proven to be the case, and just as I am not alone in worrying, I’m not alone in seeing the utter pointlessness of it after the fact and asked myself in frustration with my own time of weakness, “What in the world was I worried for?” and finding no valid, solid or justifiable reasons for letting anxiety get the best of me. Whenever I talk to someone who has allowed anxiety to consume them I have not ever talked to anyone who later related that worrying about something, regardless of the nature of it, had any positive or beneficial effect on the outcome or how they dealt with it. The exact opposite is true; worrying only made matters worse all around.
Not only is worry and anxiety a nonproductive use of time and energy, as well as being detrimental to our emotional, spiritual and more often than not, physical health, it also is at the core of poor decision making, missed opportunity, and the creation of even more additional anxiety. Often, being apprehensive, anxious or worried about a given task will result in procrastination, which compounds matters even further and leads to even more anxiety, until we might feel a little bit like Charlie Brown when he said, “My anxieties have anxieties!”
At the least worry is a waste of time, but at its worst, it can become a force all of its own totally consuming us and leading to even worse consequences than whatever it was that gave us initial imagined cause for concern. Worry and anxiety leads to fear, the kind of unreal, imagined, and unfounded fear that leads to poor and at times terrible decisions. In my belief system, and how I think about God, fear, and especially that kind of fear never leads to anything good, and can only result in a negative outcome or acting in ways contrary to our core spiritual beliefs, acting in ways that could in extreme cases be harmful or hurtful to others.
Some even speculate that by merely worrying about imagined negative things happening that thought energy can influence them into becoming a reality – that if we act as if something negative will happen, sometimes we can bring it to fruition through our behavior being influenced by said thought patterns. This has happened a few times in my own experience where I was so preoccupied with worry that I made poor judgments which caused the very things I was worried about happening to transpire and manifest. Being anxious can cause us to mess things up on more occasions than one: I have always been a fan of the saying, “the faster you go, the slower you get” as I have had many times when I was trying to hurry to do something in a panic and just ended up making mistakes that resulted in a simple task taking twice as long as would have been necessary had I simply remained calm and not allow anxiety to cause my focus to be lost, misplaced or obscured.
Whether or not you subscribe to the train of thought that we can somehow create bad things by thinking on them or now, I have found that there is some evidence to suggest that constant worry about something will influence our personal actions in negative ways, and I can attest to the fact that negative thinking is never a good idea for any reason.
On occasion, more often than not, worry and anxiety can even be contagious. I have been in situations where I have seen a group of people allow themselves to be upset or worried after spending some time with others who are constantly parroting and repeating their worries, anxieties and fears to others until they begin to fall into the same snare of negative thought and imagined worries. The brand of legalistic, fear based fundamentalist Christianity which many people, LGBT and otherwise have lived through and experienced has built an empire on capitalizing on the tendency we all have to allow our anxieties to get the best of us by centering on the one area most people naturally fear anxiety about: the unknown which has to be taken on faith and faith alone.
I have witnessed it firsthand many times. I have visited churches where the primary focus had little or nothing to do with getting closer to God, understanding and applying the teachings of Christ to make the world and our lives a better place or developing a deeper sense of connection to the Divine, and everything to do with people’s anxieties about hell, devils and demons. I have had some vivid conversations with more than a few fundamentalist Christians about how they were under constant attack by demons and forces of evil at every turn, including everything they had been taught about benign things being “tools of the devil,” from Harry Potter books to same gender marriage. For people who professed to have found such peace and joy in Jesus, they certainly seemed constantly preoccupied with worry and anxiety about anything which stood contrary to their specific understanding of a literal interpretation and exaltation of the Bible. In fact, there was so much discussion and anxiousness about evil that I called into question just how at peace they were and what benefits their choice of faith had created for them. I have wanted to say to a few that I personally feel that if there are demons, the real demons are anxieties, the real devil is fear, and that “Worry is hell” as the late great liberal theologian Emmet Fox once wrote.
And it isn’t just theological speculation that can create anxiety. So many worry about things totally unrelated to spirituality on a regular basis, and transfer those worries on to others. Many who express concern about and oppose LGBT rights such as freedom from discrimination, freedom to marry, freedom to adopt, freedom to equal acceptance and simply freedom to be without fear of persecution are driven by political and belief reasons, but there are also a great many who speak from a place of fear and ignorance and anxiety created by a lack of understanding of the LGBT Community which is constantly perpetuated.
And there is the whole issue of politics, especially relevant during election times: many who have voted against their own best interests have done so out of the worry and fear they have been regularly and deliberately fed by the media and “mass hysteria,” collective anxiety, and worry over specific issues.
The point I am attempting to arrive at by listing the consequences – both individually and collectively – of engaging in worry and anxiety is simple and one that I still have yet to fully embrace and practice: there is absolutely no reason why we should worry about anything, but a multitude of reasons why we should not. Jesus knew this, and this is why I feel He mentioned it numerous times.
So if we know that worry and anxiety is not a good thing, but that it will arise in us from time to time be it anxiety others try to pass on to us, or an unavoidable possibility given circumstances in our own lives, how in the world do we consciously try to fight the urge to do it?
One method I have found extremely helpful in alleviating anxieties is to make a list of things I might find myself being worried about, and then asking myself why exactly I would even entertain being worried over them.
One cause of concern that I and I am certain a great many others have experienced relates to work. During times of economic challenge and difficulty, the tendency to worry about losing ones job can become even more pronounced, as it did to me in the not too distant past.
I had been working 12 hour days, under tight deadlines and was barely making ends meet at the same time. In addition to being under pressure, I was under some financial stress on a personal level as well, and I was missing impossible deadlines and making errors due to being so fatigued from putting in so many hours. I had some warnings about my performance and the amount of work I was putting out and became increasingly anxious about losing my job.
In years past, I would have let this take me apart and worry that yes, I was going to lose my job, and fall into financial ruin and be unable to find another one. In the past, when I had engaged in this worry, that had actually happened, whether I resigned a job before the imagined loss of it only to find out that there was never any threat of such happening, or continuing to wallow in negativity until my poor attitude resulted in self sabotage and being let go. Once I had been let go or left, my worry that I was never going to be able to find a better job prevented me from being motivated to do so effectively.
But this time, I decided to approach it differently by turning the tables on the game we so often play with ourselves that usually gives birth to anxiety: the classic game of “What if?” The game usually involves sitting and thinking about the worst possible outcome; however, experience has taught me that regardless of whether it ever happens or not, imagining the worst is often the worst thing we can do. In this recent instance, I decided to ask the question, “What if I am going to be let go?” and think of the best possible thing that could come of it if I did and suddenly, I was able to think of several things: perhaps a new and better opportunity was going to come my way and I needed to be ready for it; perhaps someone close to me would need me there or a new opportunity to help someone was on the way and a different job would facilitate that; or perhaps I would finally find a way to start my own business. But even with the exercise in positive speculation and affirming inner dialogue, the final answer I arrived at within was one that ultimately brought me peace about it: “Whatever happens, God will take care of me and help me to use what I have and find a way.”
And the most uplifting part of that was that deep down, I knew that to be the truth from experience: I looked back, and I cannot count the times when I was worried or anxious about something and it had been totally for naught, at times even resulting in my jumping the gun and making bad decisions. Because for as much as I have allowed the demons of anxiety and worry to get the best of me in life, somehow, whenever I have just let go and trusted in God, as difficult as that has been at times, everything just somehow worked out all right.
I’m still under a lot of pressure, stress and duress at work, and the possibility still exists that I might have to seek a new job. But I do not feel the same level of worry and anxiety about it that I did. It’s just that I have been blessed with the appropriate perspective about it, and am able to think about it in a different light when balancing it with matters of far more value and importance.
This was not the only time I have been able to fend off worry; there have been a few others and it takes a conscious effort and fully trusting in God to do so. On the times when I have found it difficult, I can think of so many examples when I was worried for nothing:
When I was going through the process of rediscovering my own spirituality, I had some of my fiercest struggles with worry and anxiety, and daily I thank God for getting me through them only to realize there was nothing to fear in the first place. I recall the worry that I felt when I was under the delusion that God did not accept me for who I am, and feeling as if I would be forever trapped between either denying myself and who I was Created to be or denying God. I had anxiety about reading the Bible and actually listening to the spiritual messages within and the powerful teachings of Jesus, only to find when I read it for myself with an open heart and mind rather than trying to take it literally and contrasting it with knowledge, information and rational thought that there was never anything to fear and that I had allowed the anxieties and fears of others to trickle down and influence me. I learned that I was not alone; that there was a vast community of faith who accepted me as I am and shared my ideas and beliefs and accepted the ones they might not share or understand.
I recall the worry and anxiety when I was coming out as a bisexual man and one who feels the need for a committed relationship with both a female and a male partner, as well as a whole host of worries about reconciling my spirituality, sexuality and sexual orientation and the anxiety that I was “unnatural”. I worried about what others would think of me, I worried about what friends and family would think, what church members would think. I worried that the girl I loved would ever be able to understand and accept who I am. I later learned that all of those worries were unfounded and did nothing but waste time where I could have been embracing the support of others who felt as I did and understood. I found support and information that let me know that there is nothing unnatural about being who I am. I found that the majority of friends still loved me for who I am and were shocked that I had thought they would not, and for the few I lost, I found wonderful new friends through support groups and in the bisexual and polyamory communities as well as among other progressive and liberal Christians. I found that most of my family still loved and supported me as well, and that the girl I loved had not only always known but was bisexual as well and it gave her the strength to embrace and fully be who she was which served to only strengthen our relationship, and I was able to find an honest, caring and committed relationship with another bisexual man as well. While the life I lead may be unorthodox and different to many, I have come to fully realize that no matter how we might worry about what others think about us, it does not matter; what matters is that God loves us as we are and that we are grateful for who that is and that we know we are acceptable to God.
And I cannot even begin to relate the times I have squandered valuable time worrying about various things that I was so certain in my anxiety would happen, only to find out later that not only did I have no cause for alarm or anxiety: there were instances of public speaking or musical performance where I was concerned up until I went on only to experience everything turning out great later on, there were instances where I was anxious how someone would respond to a job I did or a late deadline where I was sure all was lost, and it wasn’t, and even something as seemingly silly or trivial as being anxious before going on a roller coaster at the amusement park only to get off wanting to go again. And every time all I could think of after the fact was how much time of my life I had wasted on anxiety when there was absolutely no cause for it. I found that most or all of my anxieties were as real as the imagined monster under the bed or the closet when I was a child and that I had made myself endure something terrifying on a personal level for no reason at all and done nothing but steal potential moments of joy, happiness and clarity from this life.
None of the experiences which might have brought me anxiety, even though there was no need or cause for it were easy processes, and there were many times when things have not gone as I would have wanted or as I hoped. There were people who I came out to who never spoke to me again, who shunned me as unnatural and unacceptable to God, or who discriminated against me. There have been times when the best laid plans get called on account of rain or something falling through, or an unexpected turn of events that upset our original intent. Things happen. But in the end, God did take care of me and saw me through it, despite whatever amount of worry I made myself suffer through and endure in the process.
One thing that has remained forever consistent is that worry and anxiety over anything did nothing to influence the outcome of a given situation; the only thing they did was serve to make challenging times even more so and add stress to the equation. At times, I have actually allowed anxiety to prevent me from following the very guidance I have sought and prayed for resulting in a negative outcome, for which I only have succumbing to my own worries to blame! And at others, there were many instances where I had missed great opportunities God had sent to me to embrace by allowing myself to engage in worry and negative thought, rather than to remain fully aware and open, trust in God to take care of the needs in my life, and engage in positive thought.
I often respond to someone’s apology for some minor alleged infraction against me with the simple phrase, “No worries,” as I think it’s a good and constructive thing in today’s vocabulary so often filled with negativity and vulgarities which further denigrate sexuality, individuality or each other in some way on a cultural level. But there is something deeper to it on a subconscious level, akin to the way I constantly say “Thank God” whenever something good happens; it is part of what I want to tell others and how I want to feel as well, to not only strive to follow Jesus’ Wisdom of telling me not to worry but passing it on as well. And part of it is simultaneously constantly reminding myself to avoid worrying and if and when I do not let it influence others.
So given that I know that worry and anxiety, while it might be a by product of this wild adventure we know as life, is at the least pointless and in the worst scenarios can manifest itself in a potentially destructive fashion, why do I still let it get the best of me sometimes? I cannot say that I always succeed at stifling my worries or anxieties every time, and I have yet to meet anyone who can consistently claim to do the same. How can I – and anyone else – develop effective tools to try to avoid it, or deal with it in the healthiest and most effective way possible?
There are a few things, such as recounting personal experiences when we suddenly realize how useless our worries are or playing a positive inner game of “What if?” that only permits visualizing a positive outcome, and of course there is the gift of helping others in need which can alleviate our own anxiety by assisting another in overcoming theirs. But in my heart and in my faith, and what I have learned from what Jesus taught about it, what it really comes down to is a matter of trust-trust in God as we understand God, as Jesus talked about God.
Imagine this for a moment: whatever it is you find yourself facing, whatever task it is you may have been putting off, whatever dream it is you might have or be longing for: how would you approach it, and what would you do if you knew there was nothing at all to be worried or anxious about, and that no matter what, God was there for you, helping you through whatever may come?
Would you follow an established path in life, or dare to follow your own and blaze a trail? Would you have the courage to be fully honest with yourself and others about who you are without concern for what others who might not understand that would think? Would you rekindle old dreams gathering dust which you had put away for concern that they were “unrealistic” or impossible and bring them new life? Would you just be able to cherish every moment of the now instead of becoming mired in concerns of what might or might not happen tomorrow? Would you truly be able to do, rather than doubt?
There are many beautiful teachings and messages expressed to us by God through Christ, but one of the most anxiety destroying ones is what He expresses during His advisements for us not to worry during Matthew 6 and Luke 12: He was teaching that there is not only no reason to be afraid, but that God does not want us to be. God does not want us to suffer; God wants for us to be happy, to have the desires of our heart, and not to be afraid – and we will always be taken care of, even when we feel as if all hope is lost, that we are facing impossible or insurmountable odds, or we are permitting anxiety to obscure our knowledge of God’s Unconditional Love for each and every one of us, regardless of who we are. If as LGBT people we are worried that we will ever find peace or acceptance, there is no need to – God already accepts and loves us as we are. Those who would choose to reject us or deny us have not fully realized that yet, but take comfort in knowing that where we may not be able to fix things, God will provide a way.
If we are at peace, and we are happy, we can then radiate that peace on to the rest of God’s Children. And we all need it. Regardless of how at peace we might feel, we still get worried sometimes. We still experience feelings of anxiety and dread for the simple fact that regardless of how much wisdom we might have attained through the Grace of God, there is still a great and vast unknown that we cannot possess.
In His talking about the birds and about nature in illustrating the value of not being concerned and knowing we are taken care of and that our needs will be taken care of, Jesus is telling us and reminding us where we can truly see and experience God when we may feel that God is distant or absent during times when we feel anxious or under stress. I have often said, “If you want to see God, simply look around you.” I feel that this truly is the case.
There is an old hymn my Mother used to love called, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” I’m not a big fan of God being called a “He” or a “She” for that matter, as I feel God is beyond a human concept like gender, but I kind of like the idea of the song being that God casts a watchful eye over every detail and takes care of everything, thereby eliminating our cause for worries.
My Mom has classic hymns, I got something similar from Pop Culture in the Twentieth Century. In one of my favorite films, American Beauty, there is an exchange between one of the characters and his girlfriend that summed up how I feel about the same idea. He’s talking about a piece of short film he made, of a bag randomly blowing around in the wind, and he ends up by saying, “And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever.”
Not exactly the most expected source for something spiritual I know, but during a time when I was feeling worried, that did hit home with me and something clicked. How could I feel concern or worry knowing that God was looking after things, and that while I and everybody else is expected to do our part to make the best of our lives that we can, when it came to matters that I had no control over, God was somehow taking care of everything? And then it hit me: the times when I have fallen into worry have most often and most intensely have been when I have not allowed myself to be fully awake and constantly aware of God’s Presence.
Not only do I feel God’s Presence can be truly felt and seen in nature and the physical beauty of the world and the spectacular things it contains, I feel that the face of God can be seen in so many places: in small unsolicited random acts of giving and kindness; in a tender moment shared with a loved one; in the unconditional love one shares with another, in the rainbow after the storm, in the moment of waking to view a fresh and undisturbed snowfall on a winter morning, in the contented purr of a kitten, and I could keep going on and on – but you know the moments I am referring to. As much as we allow ourselves to get caught up in whether or not freeway traffic is locked up and make us late for work, or whether or not we will be able to do everything we think we have to get done today or what could or might or might not happen tomorrow, next week or next year, and as much as we can let ourselves forget the fact that God is ever present and not absent, there truly is no escaping the reality that God Is.
And as has been proven in my experience, and that of many others on so many occasions, regardless of how distant we might feel from God, it is merely an illusion or delusion. Whatever is creating anxiety in our lives, we can rest assured in our faith that the only thing we will accomplish by allowing it to overtake us and steal away the precious moments we have in this life to make the best of it as God has given us the gift and ability to do is to have wasted time.
Perhaps one of the most powerful things Jesus says about worry is how we should put things in perspective when He talks about the treasures that really matter, what is within us as being our “treasures in Heaven.” For no matter what it is that we are concerned or preoccupied with, whether we worry about this or that happening, and come what may – nothing or no one can take away things like love, memories, a sense of joy in knowing that God loves us, or the feelings of Oneness with God which bring us true happiness.
Those three little words, “Do not worry” are still in my opinion the greatest challenge of all the things Christ taught, especially given the challenges life throws at us all the time.
But if we find ourselves faced with a mountain or even a molehill worth of anxiety, sometimes merely taking a deep breath, opening our eyes to remind ourselves that God is all around us is the first step towards letting go of those anxieties. If we then reach within our hearts and souls to the times when we have later asked ourselves why we wasted time engaging in worry when God was with us seeing us through all the time, and always remember than we are loved and cared for with an Unconditional Love, then we can fully live in the moment, one minute at a time, one day at a time.
And when we never expected it possible, we might just realize that our worries are replaced with gratitude and a sense of peace with God, a knowledge that we are cared for, and we can let the same relief that we often feel when we realize our worries have been for nothing flow through us before they happen. Then we are truly one step closer to living a life as God intended-free of worry, anxiety and fear and full of hope, faith, and love – a life more abundant and filled to overflowing with all of the unique blessings God has in store for each and every one of us.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.