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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About

2011-05-22 John 14:1-14
Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church USA

Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About      
by Judith Viorst

My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board.
My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit.
Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special.
    (Stumick and speshul?)
I could play tag all day and always be "it."

Jay Spievack, who's fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me.
My mom and my dad--like Ted's--could want a divorce.
Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan.
    (Who's Afghanistan?)
Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse.

My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver.
My dad could decide that I needed less TV.
Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing.
    (I'm better at printing.)
Chris could decide to stop being friends with me.

The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday.
The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head.
I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about.
And then I'd have to do my homework instead.

From If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries . . ., published by Macmillan, 1981.

Fifteen, maybe sixteen things to worry about. Kids worry. Teenagers worry. College students worry. The parents of college graduates really worry. ("Quick! Pull the shades! They'll think we've moved!") Middle-aged people worry. Senior adults worry. Men worry. Women worry. Probably more than men. Probably because of men.

There's a man who got a lot of people worried last week. It was the guy who used advanced ciphering to calculate that yesterday, May 21, 2011, would be the end of the world. For some people. The faithful would be raptured into heaven and the rest of us would endure the time of tribulation which will last until the world really, truly ends on October 21st. That's the day before UT plays Alabama at Alabama, so it's probably just as well. One less thing to worry about.

In the meantime, the rest of us have brand-new tribulations to worry about. Like the fact that they got taken and we're still here. Take a look around and notice who's not here today. I know. I'm as surprised as you.

So, here we are, left behind with at least fifteen, maybe sixteen things to worry about. Worry: Everybody knows how to do it, it's free, and it's in our genes.

Back in 2008, neuroscientists studied 200 mothers and their daughters. (Seems like an appropriate group.) They found out that worry is linked to a gene called BDNF that's active in an area of the brain involved in thinking and memory.# Variations in your BDNF mean you're genetically entitled to blame your mother (or your teenage daughter) for driving you crazy. But that's not always a bad thing.

Scientists have also identified a positive trait of BDNF, called, "defensive pessimism." So, you're getting ready for a big test and you worry that you're going to fail, so you study and study and study. And shock! You get an "A". Amazing.

Here's a quote: "I spend all day thinking of ways to gain an advantage over my adversaries, and I assume they're doing the same thing," says Victor Bushell, a partner at Bushell, Sovak, Ozer & Gulmi LLP. "If that was your job title, wouldn't you be worried?"

But it gets better. Are any of you going to fly anywhere this summer? A lot of us actually keep airplanes flying with our worry. We worry that the plane's going to crash. We pretend we're sleeping, but really we're singing "Amazing Grace" over and over in our heads the whole flight. So when we don't crash, we can stand at the gate and tell everyone, "You're welcome." It's positive reinforcement for defensive pessimism. They say 90% of what we worry about never happens. See?

But on the other hand, we've also learned that the brain's worry switches can physically get stuck in the "on" position, like a muscle cramp that won't go away. "The body sends out various hormones, neurotransmitters, and other brain-stuff which make the worry "burn" itself into the brain, and the brain's physical state actually changes."#

The brain-burn is when worrying gets wearying. "It's like chronic pain, and ultimately it doesn't shield you anymore. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then you have a heart attack."

Studies have shown, "Chronic worry can lead to a variety of health issues, including headaches, gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. Rumination, which focuses more on past events than future what-ifs, has also been linked to binge eating, binge-drinking and self-harm."#

(Feeling better yet? Wishing you were with the raptured people?)

The good news is that there are really easy ways to un-burn your brain. Supposedly they work. I'd try them, but I'm too busy keeping all the airplanes flying.

These are from Dr. Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City.

1. Distract yourself. Simply distract yourself. Go get frozen yogurt. Play on your Playstation 2 if you're not worried about that. "Studies have shown that doing something distracting for just 10 minutes can break the cycle and help people tackle problems more effectively."

2. Make a worry appointment. Reserve 20 minutes a day to worry. Put it on our appointment calendar. If you can postpone worrying, you are exercising control over it, rather than letting it control you.

3. Practice saying or writing whatever you fear most, such as, "the plane is going to crash" or "I'm going to lose my job." "Repeat it over and over again slowly, like a zombie, and the fear will begin to subside," Dr. Leahy says. Eventually, "you'll just get bored with it." (Or, you'll turn into a zombie. That reminds me, "Zombie Apocalypse." Forgot about that one.)

4. And this one's mine, not Dr. Leahy's. If worry is interfering with your life to the point that you don't even want to get out of bed in the morning, tell your doctor. It's not your fault. You may be wired to get brain cramps the way some people are wired to have high blood pressure. Talk to a doctor, talk to a friend, talk to me - talking helps - and we can help you find some help. It may feel embarrassing to say something, but once you do you'll find out that we're not that different from you.


At its simplest level, worry is basically this: Worry is an exercise of the imagination. Positive exercise of the imagination we call "inspiration." We imagine a positive outcome and we get inspired to make it happen. Negative exercise of the imagination is when our brains pull us into the Dark Side. Our brains make us imagine negative outcomes, negative surroundings, negative emotions. Either way, you tell me the difference between imagination and reality.

Inspiration is a lightened mind, a lightened spirit, a lightened heart. Worry is a troubled mind, a troubled spirit, a troubled heart.

So, today in scripture, we get the story of the Apostles stuck in their own time of tribulation. They're worried. They're not only imagining the worst possible outcomes, they've seen it. Jesus Christ, their Lord, their Master, hanging from a cross. Jesus Christ, their Lord, their Master, buried in a grave. Jesus Christ, their Lord, their Master, dead and gone.

But then, he starts showing up in the weirdest places. Mary sees him the garden and swears he's the gardener, but he's not.

The disciples lock themselves in a house and are too worried, too afraid to go outside, and then Jesus is there. And then he's gone.

A few days later, they're still locked in the house afraid to go out, and the only one brave enough to get outside, Doubting Thomas, says, "You people are crazy" (or something to that effect) and then Jesus appears again. And then he's gone.

The disciples have been riding this roller coaster of hope and despair, inspiration and worry since Good Friday to today, and now Jesus, once again comes back to them. And he tells them he's going away again. (Oh, that helps.) He doesn't sugar-coat it. He tells them the truth, that as much as they see him in the present, they're also going to feel his absence.

And he tells them this. John 14:1.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled." In other words, it's not going to be easy, but don't let your hearts, don't let your spirits, don't let your brains get stuck. It's going to feel like the bad stuff has taken over, but don't let yourself be so worried about his absence that you miss the inspiration of his presence.

He says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." In other words, trust me. Trust that you DO know the way out of this darkness.

And in 14:2 he goes on: "In my Father's house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also."

And Thomas - good old Doubting Thomas, bless his heart - says, "Lord, we don't know where you're going. How can we know the way?"

In other words, We don't know how to get un-stuck from all this darkness, and doubt, and worry.

And Jesus says, Yes you do. You know how to do it. He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." In other words, I am the truth, the way out of your dark imagination. I am the life, the way out of your troubled heart.

And then in 14:12, he says this, and this is the most incredible part of all. He says,

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me (in other words, the one who trusts me) will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works..."



Jesus is saying that even though your worries tell you it's the end of the world, even though it feels like hope is gone, even though you're pretty certain that tomorrow's just going to be worse, there IS a way out. And you can find it. There is a way, there is truth, there is life. And you can find it. That's not me talking, that's Jesus talking. Trust him.

A disclaimer, though. Jesus never says he's going to take all your worries away. At least not in this age of tribulation. That would be magic, and Jesus doesn't do magic tricks. Not very realistic. Our current world, and even our current bodies, are always going to have a worry residue. There's always enough trouble to go around, and then some.

The promise of Christ, though, is that no matter how worried we get, there's always another way. So instead of fifteen, maybe sixteen things to worry about, there could be fourteen, maybe thirteen. That's a step on the right path. That's a step on the way, toward the truth, toward life.

- James