Leave Your Worries At The Door

The sermon was about how damaging to the human psyche it is to worry, and the pastor had my undivided attention. If I had been at a tent revival instead of a Congregational service, I would have stood up and loudly shouted “Amen!” because I am an accomplished worrier.

While the rest of the world sleeps, I can worry about the crampy feeling in my right side and the fact that I gained three pounds in a day, and then worry  that the crampy feeling and the sudden weight gain point to an aggressive tumor, which means we won’t be able to travel this winter because I will be busy having chemotherapy.

In the clear light of day, reason will tell me that I have always had the crampy feeling midway through my menstrual cycle (forgive the over sharing), and that most likely, the overnight weight gain can be blamed on salt or some other dietary vagary.

I go on to worry that Oldest has not gotten on Obamacare in time to have coverage for December and that if he gets a job at Killington Mountain this winter as planned, he could potentially break his neck while snowboarding in a glade and not be covered by health insurance. Then I worry that there is something inherently wrong with me for focusing more on our financial exposure than on the potential injury to my firstborn.

After dispensing with Oldest’s spine and my moral bankruptcy, I move on to Youngest and worry that he has secretly dropped out of college to tour with his band.

As for the ebola outbreak in West Africa and beheadings, I can’t worry about those things because they are way too overwhelming.

While I don’t believe in God, I very much enjoy my Congregational church and the teachings of Jesus. As the Reverend spoke about the pointlessness of worry, I thought about how liberating it must be to simply discard all of one’s free-floating anxiety as easily as discarding a paper cup. Unfortunately, because I lack faith, I will never be able to fully relinquish my paper cup.

Another problem that I saw right away with the idea of completely renouncing worry was that once you renounced it, wouldn’t you be wracked with guilt over your failure to adequately worry? What if the thing you should have been worrying about came to pass? Not only that, but if you don’t worry, who will?

As I write this, My Royal Consort is trying to make me worry about a possible storm coming up the east coast that might derail Youngest’s Thanksgiving travel plans. This actually happened last year because I failed to worry enough about it, therefore it took him two days to fly from North Carolina to Rhode Island. I felt guilty—I should have been more worried about what was clearly a very sloppy weather event.

Despite these doubts, the sermon resonated with me, and got me thinking about how I could be more discriminating in my worrying, and make more of an effort to confine my anxiety to things that are truly worrisome. Right then and there, I made peace with the fact that even as a non-believer, I could still do some purging in my worry closet and not feel guilty.

Yes, I thought, it is the moments like this that make church so worthwhile for me. It is the peace and fellowship that I get each week that keep me from blowing money on Klonopin, gong baths, psychotherapy and yoga. Without the little dose of hymn singing and quiet reflection each week, I would definitely be drinking more wine and smoking more weed than I should.

As I quietly exalted in my new resolve to vanquish pointless worry, my friend Lee Anne nudged me and pointed across the aisle.

I had become friendly with the woman Lee Anne was pointing to several years ago. We would bump into each other after church in the produce aisle of the grocery store. She is elderly but quite  steady on her feet, with a lovely face and long white hair that she wears in a clip. She always sits in the same place and is usually a little bit late because she lives several towns away.

Startled out of my reverie, I looked over to where Lee Anne was pointing and saw that my elderly friend, Jeannette, was trying valiantly to remain awake during the sermon. Sitting near the end of the pew, she would slump over to one side and then abruptly right herself, before sagging back over to her side. This pattern was being repeated over and over again with impressive frequency and regularity.

I completely lost track of the Reverend, her message, and my resolution to relinquish worry, and focused my full attention on Jeannette and the solidly wrought wooden armrest of the pew. She’s going all the way this time, I worried, with my heart in my mouth. But then, just when I had braced myself for the dull smack of her skull upon the venerable oaken pew—the sound that I imagined would surely accompany her inevitable trajectory onto the floor— she would rouse herself.

Had I been someone who could simply offer up all my worry to the Almighty, I would have quickly resumed my worry-free idyll, secure in the knowledge that God would keep Jeanette’s butt securely anchored in her pew where it belonged. But being a non-believer, I knew that the only thing between her and a face-plant into the aisle was my laser beam gaze and constant vigilance. Then I started to worry that I might have a God complex.

I had been grooving on the idea of a worry-free existence up until the moment I got spiritual blue balls over the sleepy septuagenarian. This nettlesome interruption, just as I was settling into some honest-to-goodness enlightenment, made me feel like I had been awakened from a sex dream by a fire drill. I was so close!






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