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Two of the (healthy) Ways I have Learned to deal with Worry and Fear

(Originally published November 4, 2016 under the title "Today: How I Deal With Worry and Fear" -- slightly modified here to indicate it is now four years later. I encourage you to follow the hyperlinks, especially those regarding prayer). 

Some people believe that clergy and other people who "have a lot of faith" are somehow immune from worry and fear.

It's not true.

In fact, because deeply spiritual people, along with writers and other artists, also tend to be deeply intuitive people who absorb the even unspoken emotional sensitivities of others, I'll bet they're subject to even more worry and fear than others.

The difference is in how they deal with worry and fear.

At any rate, for what it's worth, here are two of the (healthy) ways I have learned to deal with my own worry and fear:

First, I remind myself of the wisdom offered by Stephen Covey.

"We each have a wide range of concerns," Covey writes, "and inside this "Circle of Concern" are things like our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war -- anything we have some mental or emotional involvement in."

But as we look at the things in our Circle of Concern, we realize there two types of things in there:
  • things over which we have no real control, and 
  • other things we can actually do something about.
The things in the second group -- the things we're concerned about AND about which we can do something -- are in in our "Circle of Influence."

A good way to reduce my worry and fear is to spend most of my time and energy widening my Circle of Influence: to think about and work on those the things I can actually do something about.

For example: I am concerned about the outcome of Tuesday's election. In fact, I'm concerned about the future of our democracy itself. I can, and have, worried myself into fearful tears and sleepless nights about this.

I can continue to do that. Or I can change my focus and ask myself "what is within my circle of influence? -- what can I actually DO?" and then choose to spend my time and energy there.

[I can vote, and I can encourage others to do so (or not to do so, depending on who they'd vote for!)]

I can decide when it is wise to be quiet and listen, and when -- such as in this sermon, I decided it would be Irresponsible to be Silent.

I speak out about true patriotism -- such as in this sermon, when I preached on what our nation looks like when we are acting our best.

When I do that -- to the degree I spend my time and energy expanding my Circle of Influence -- my worry and fears decrease.

Every time.

So the first way I deal with worry and fear is to ask myself, "what's in my circle of influence?--what can I actually DO?" [And what, there, can I do to expand other people's "circle of influence," so they have more power and agency in their own lives?] And spend my time and mental energy there.


A second way I combat fear and worry is by repeating a little saying I picked up some years ago (in fact I've been saying this so much lately it's become a little mantra). And it's this:

The difference between "false religion" and "true religion" is this: 

false religion says, "Do not be afraid: that which you fear will not happen to you." 

True religion says, "Do not be afraid: that which you fear may well happen to you: but it's nothing to be afraid of."

I can spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things and events that may happen to my family or friends, [to The Falls Church Episcopal,] to this nation, and to other people and things I love and devote myself to. And as explained above, I can reduce that worry and fear by expanding my circle of influence.

Even so, damnit, I have only so much influence, and the things I fear still might well happen.

But faith -- faith in a loving, powerful, redeeming and involved God -- means that even those things happening is nothing to be afraid of.

That's because the source of our joy -- the source of our comfort, the source of our courage -- is NOT some superstitious guarantee that things will always go the way we want them to, but Immanuel: God-with-us. 

As we must remind ourselves on a daily basis, no matter who you are or what you are doing, you a creature in the midst of God's creation; you are not alone; God knows all about this; God cares about what you are experiencing, and God equips and empowers and encourages, often through the lives of others.

As I remind myself daily, the single best way to combat discouragement and despair is to spend time on a daily basis recounting those things in the past 24 hours for which you are grateful. Because "even the most harrowing day includes some good moments, if only we take the trouble to look - it might be the sight of a raindrop falling, or the fact that I can see at all. When people attempt this exercise, they are usually surprised at the number and variety of good moments in the day which otherwise would have been quickly forgotten - obscured, perhaps, by any painful experience in the day."

And finally, as my wife Mary, and the author Gregory Boyle and A.A. Milne and the ancient spiritual gurus and for that matter Jesus himself reminds us, the best antidote to being stressed and overtired is to live in the day you are in: to return to the present moment.

Most of our mental stress does NOT come from the present: most (nearly all of it) is either regrets over yesterday, or worrying fears about tomorrow.

Thing is, we don't live in either the past or the future. We live in the present.

And not only is the present moment the only moment you have any influence over, it's the only moment where true joy can be found.

Today.

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