Okay, time for a show of hands. When you start a sentence with “What if . . .” how many of you are picturing something wonderful happening? And how many of you are envisioning the bottom dropping out in a thousand different (but equally catastrophic) ways?
If you are in the first category, you are my hero. And also: we need to be friends. If you are in the second category, you are not alone. Here’s the truth: My “what ifs” are always worst-case scenarios.
What if Daniel isn’t home from his bike ride yet because he was swept up by a funnel cloud and then attacked by a bunch of thugs?
What if the pain in my side is appendicitis or, more likely, some unpronounceable kind of cancer?
What if gluten/GMOs/social-media-induced narcissism/the two-party political system will be the demise of us all?
What if I run out of time or money or energy or friends or grace?
What if I’m missing out on what God is calling me to do?
Yep, my worry gene is on constant overdrive.
But lately I’ve been wondering . . . what if my imaginings were best-case scenarios?
What if, instead of catastrophizing, I serendipitized instead?
What if my “what-ifs” were about all the amazing, incredible, wonderful, serendipitous things that God might just have in store?
I adore this poem by Mary Oliver:
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
I can relate to Oliver’s worries about things like which direction the rivers will flow and if the earth will turn the right way—things we humans have no business controlling, not to mention any power over. And I love her remedy, which at first seems like a bit of a non sequitur: go out into the morning and sing.
When I started riding my bike with Daniel, he shared this rule of cycling with me: Don’t look at what you’re trying to avoid; look at where you want to go. This sounded terrifying at first, because it means you have to loosen your perceived control over this thing you want to protect yourself from. But in reality, this letting go is freedom.
When you take your eyes off your object of worry, it loses its power over you. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you’re much more likely to crash into something when your eyes are fixed on it.
So just for today, in the face of worry, I want to sing. Every time a worry comes crashing into my brain and my heart, I want to fight back . . . not with striving or many words, but with a song.
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
Are you a worrier? What do you tend to catastrophize about? What helps you combat worry?
Linda M says
Wonderful! I love the Mary Oliver poem. As the mother of 4 sons, I create very dramatic catastrophes in my mind. But today, I think I’ll go outside and sing. Thanks, Stephanie.
Thanks, Linda! I feel like Mary would be friends with us. 🙂 Happy singing!
Kristen Joy Wilks says
A timely reminder…today is just one of those days. Thank you, Stephanie.
Happy singing today, my friend!
All of your posts are beautifully and thoughtfully written, Stephanie – as Jim Kraus comments every Thursday morning, “Today – no exception!” I cannot print them all to keep, but this one I absolutely must. Today within the space of one hour I fell in the parking lot in front of a car, was almost hit by a postal truck on my way home, and a branch fell on my car in the rainstorm. But here’s the thing: I had not worried about any of those things happening, and worry could not have prevented them anyway! And other than a slight limp, I’m OK. So I need to pick this aging body up, limp outside and sing. Thank you!
Oh dear! What a day, Maggie! Isn’t that the irony of worry? As much energy as we expend on it, it never helps! (Or adds an hour to our lives!)