Those nights when you lie awake, restless and tossing and turning, your mind churning over a future that is uncertain and unknown. Those days when your heart is heavy and your spirit is sorrowful while you imagine what will befall you or that person you love. There isn’t a human being alive who doesn’t know the agony of worry. There isn’t a human being alive who hasn’t allowed legitimate concern to devolve into illegitimate anxiety. But just because worry is universal does not mean it is right or good. To the contrary, God warns us against it: “Be anxious for nothing,” he says, and “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”
But it’s not so easy in the moment, is it? If God forbids worry, why do we still spend so much time doing it? If God warns us against anxiety, why we do we still find ourselves racked with fear as we consider what we’ve done and are doing and will do? Why do we waste days and squander nights in the joyless captivity of worry?
We think worrying is caring. We associate the issue or concern with the anxiety we feel for it. In fact, we may go so far as to sanctify our anxiety, to elevate it to the status of virtue. “I worry so much because I care so much.” And maybe we turn on people who don’t feel the same: “You don’t worry because you don’t care.” But worrying is not caring. Or, to turn it around, not worrying does not equal not caring. Our willingness to fret about something is not a necessary indication that we care deeply about it. Our unwillingness to fret about something is not a necessary indication that we are ambivalent about it. In those times we are fearful or uncertain, we can make ourselves believe that our worrying displays just how much we care, just how much our hearts are engaged. But it’s a false connection. The fact is, we can care deeply and never feel a single pang of worry.
We thinking worrying is effectual. “Effectual” is “producing or able to produce a desired effect.” We want our problem to be fixed and convince ourselves worrying will help. We think our worrying will accomplish something. Especially, we think our worrying may convince God just how much we care and cause him to respond to our pleas. But worry is not effectual. It does not accomplish anything—or anything good, at least. Worry is not the means through which God wants us to express our desperation to him. Worry is not the means through which God hears us or responds to our pleas. Worry is not a shortcut to the ear of God or the key to unlock his attention. To the contrary, it may be the very opposite. Our worry may cause God to allow our trial to continue until we have calmed our hearts and submitted them to his good purposes.
God does not mean for us to worry, but to pray. He does not mean for us to bear our own burden through anxiety, but to entrust it to him through prayer. It is not God’s will that we fret, that we feel deep anxiety, that we spend days and nights running over all the terrible possibilities in our minds. Rather, we are to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt us, casting all our anxieties on him, because he cares for us” (1 Peter 5:6-7). His care, not our anxiety, is our refuge. When we hand it all to him, we can truly be anxious for nothing. We can care deeply without worrying for as much as a moment.