For Heaven's Sake, by Brian Kingslake

from Brian Kingslake, "For heaven's sake. Forty-six variants on the theme: how to react to the conditions of life on earth in such as way as to prepare oneself for life in the kingdom of heaven (Christopher: North Quincy, MA, 1974)

Table of  Contents


15. Worry and Anxiety

I am not thinking just now of the healthy kind of worrying which is part of the stress and tension of normal living, as when we find ourselves in some perplexing situation and wonder just how we ought to act. I am thinking of the worry and anxiety which people experience when they think of various troubles and disasters which might happen to them or their loved ones at some future time, but which have not yet happened and may never happen. It seems foolish and irrational, but the fact is that most of us experience such fears of the future, some more distressingly than others. They rob us of our sleep at night; or, if we get to sleep and then wake up in the middle of the night, we start thinking of all the terrible things that might happen, and then we can't get to sleep again.

People try to insulate themselves from worry in various ways, according to their temperament. Some plunge into work, in the hope that tremendous and continual activity will prevent them from having to think of the future. Others choose play, immersing themselves in a ceaseless round of amusements and superficialities, from which they dare not let up. Some try to make themselves brave by continual boasting. But such avoidance of confrontation with the specter of the future does not remove one's worries, it just pushes them underground; and from the subconscious they work outwards, producing unhealthy tensions, physical sickness, and eventual despair.

Note that worrying people usually have a strong and fertile imagination. Unimaginative people don't worry. The unschooled peasant cannot visualize anything worse than what he has actually experienced, and so there is nothing for him to worry about. Animals and birds do not worry, they just take life as it comes. (They are nervous if they see you approaching them, but that is the realistic and sensible worrying which I referred to at the outset.) Worriers about the future are usually people with vivid imaginations, some of whom might make a name for themselves by writing short stories, judging by the way they are able to work out in their minds every little detail of some appalling tragedy that might take place! The imagination is a wonderful gift from God, which He has given only to man. It makes us creators in our own finite way. But the same powers of creation which we have inherited from our heavenly Father can be used also for destruction; and that is what the worriers are doing with their wonderful imaginative powers. The basis of all anxious thinking is insecurity, the fear that things might go wrong. Undoubtedly it is true that almost anything might go wrong in this physical universe, where our very lives are dependent on forces we don't fully understand and cannot fully control. We didn't bring ourselves into the world in the first place; we don't really know where we came from, nor how we got here, nor where we are going. There is plenty to worry about, you see, if we are set on worrying. Sometimes we worry about things over which we obviously have no control. We worry about our children, after they are grown up and are living their own lives. People worry about the war in Southeast Asia, about the Middle East situation, the trouble in Ireland. Of course it is right to be deeply concerned over what is happening to our fellow human being everywhere, and we must do what we can to influence the political situation; but beyond that, worrying is a waste of energy. There is a kind of false pride in it - the feeling that we ourselves are so important. Well, the world had to get along somehow before we were born, and it will doubtless get along after we are dead; so just let us leave those things over which we have no control to God. Let God be God!

Since our own influence is so small and the future is so unpredictable, is it any use our trying to plan for the future? Certainly we should try. We are "project oriented" by nature, and much of the interest and joy of life consists in planning various projects, working them through, and hopefully achieving some pre-arranged end. Swedenborg tells us that this is true also of the angels in heaven. Much of their happiness is derived from projects; only he doesn't call them projects, he calls them "end, cause, and effect." The angels lose themselves in some particular project and work at it avidly until they have completed it. Then they turn to something else, and so on to eternity. That is what Swedenborg means when he calls heaven "a kingdom of uses." And we know how important it is for us also to have our projects, in our work and in our hobbies: either short-term projects like writing a letter or preparing a meal, or long-term projects like taking a university degree or raising a family. If our projects could never fail or go wrong, we should not enjoy them nearly so much. I have just finished a minor project of framing a picture. I had to cut the glass to fit the frame, which was a delicate and exciting operation, because at any moment the glass might have cracked in the wrong place and everything would have been spoilt. But it would not have been nearly so much fun, I think, if there had been no risk of failure, if success had been predetermined from the outset. Much of our spiritual development comes from our having to deal with materials which may break or go awry, so that we have to exercise caution, and be resourceful and versatile, able to cope with the unexpected, to respond to sudden needs of improvisation. When we can trust ourselves to improvise, much of our worrying ceases. You set out to drive a car across town. You don't know what problems are going to face you on the way, but you don't worry, because you know from past experience that whatever happens you will probably be able to improvise your way through. It is the person who has never learned to improvise who is the worst worrier.

Even if things happen for which we are totally unprepared, we still have the assurance that the Lord is with us, that He has foreseen it, and that His Divine Providence is over everything. When I say that Providence is over everything, I do not mean that the Lord necessarily causes it, or even wills it, except in the general sense that the Lord made the universe the way He did, with its built-in laws which operate independently of man. If an earthquake takes place, and the ground opens and swallows up someone's house, this doesn't necessarily mean that the Lord had anything against the owner of the house. What it means is that Lord made the earth as He did make it; He made it very hot and let it cool; and as it cools it contracts, and, being made of the material it is made of, certain tensions are created during contraction which, when they reach sufficient stress, tear the surface apart. Moreover, the Lord must allow some things to go wrong through man's own misuse of his freedom. If He did not permit man to embark on dangerous and destructive projects, man would never learn the difference between good and evil. When the nuclear bomb destroyed Hiroshima, could the Japanese victims have truthfully said: "This is the Lord's doing, we must calmly submit to the ways of His inscrutable Providence?" No! Not everything that happens in the universe is according to the Lord's will. But nevertheless the Divine Providence is over everything that happens, in the sense that He knows it is going to happen. He has foreseen it, and He has already planned everything from His side so that the best possible good will come out of it for everybody concerned. And when I say "everybody" I mean every man, woman and child considered as an individual, not just the human race as a whole, or the American nation, or any mass movement; or as we speak of animals and say that the killing off of the weak ones is "good for the species." God loves you personally, however humble you may be. He wants the best for you, even if He does sometimes have to allow things to go wrong for you. However adverse your circumstances, however sick your body, He will see that nothing hurts the real You. "You" will come out of it all right! If you open yourself to receive the blessings He has in store for you, then death itself will not hurt you - it may even in fact be the ultimate cure!

Do you really believe this? - that you, as a person, are safe and secure in His protective care? - that, if you love the Lord, all things are working together for your good? Such an assurance will remove all fear of the future! Plan for the future you must, of course. Do everything reasonable, within your competence, to make things come out well. Say: "This is the project I am working on, Lord, this is how I want it to go. You know already, Lord, whether it will work out or not; and if you know it will not work out, I can trust you to make other and better arrangements for me. Maybe my intentions are wrong, Lord, my plans too self-centered. If so, please show me how to make a better plan, more in line with your will. Thank you, Lord!" Note here that you are using your imagination positively to produce the best possible results; and this can have a powerful influence on the situation, even on the physical level; we don't know precisely how it does, but we know it does. By the same token, the negative use of the imagination can have a powerful adverse effect. This is what worriers don't seem to realize, that by worrying they are actually helping to bring about the troubles or failures or disasters they so greatly fear. Evil spirits from hell are well aware of this, and one of their principal aims is to get you to use your imagination in this dangerous and destructive manner. They nudge us and egg us on, suggesting all sorts of things that might fail or go wrong, trying to persuade us to visualize the expected disaster as if it were actually taking place in all its grizzly details. Such thoughts on our part make it almost impossible for the Lord to help us; they drive away our Guardian Angels, God's messengers to us, and leave us alone in the gloating company of those evil ones whose sole aim is to destroy us, and who have power over us just to the degree to which we are thinking negative thoughts. A sense of Guilt or Failure is one of the things they insinuate into us; they remind us of all the mistakes we have made: stupid, foolish, idiotic! They make us utterly disappointed in ourselves; we feel we are a mess, on our way to perdition. When the devil carries a man off to hell because of his evils, you can be sure the devil put them in him in the first place, and got him to accept them as his own! The thing to do is to send the devil packing, which you can always do if you want to, in God's name. Remember how Jesus said: "Get thee behind me, Satan!" And we can say the same, if we find our imagination drifting into anxiety and worry, "Get out, you! I don't want any part in you! I am the Lord's child, I am in His keeping! All will be well, all will be very well!" And then, if you are in bed, roll over into another position, make yourself comfortable, relax every muscle (and check up carefully to see that every muscle is relaxed!) ; fix your mind on some Psalm or other passage from God's Word which you know by heart (if your mind wanders, pull it back again!) ; feel yourself in your loving Father's arms, and go off to sleep. In the morning you will wake up thinking: "How ridiculous for me to worry like that over such and such a thing! It will probably never happen. And if it does happen at its very worst, what of it? So what? I am in the Lord's hands! All will be well, all will be very well!"

It isn't only in bed that you can obtain help from the Lord in this matter of worrying. Any time is prayer time; and a habit of "tuning into God's radio channel" during spare moments throughout the day can keep you constantly in the security of His presence and in an atmosphere of peace. Worry can be caused by too much attention to externals; in other words, by putting values in their wrong order. If we saw the correct relative importance of everything in God's eyes, we might not worry nearly so much. It is because of our ego that temporary things, our possessions and our physical bodies, seem so important to us. Place the Lord in the center of your life, and you will soon find that the only treasure you value is in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt and where thieves cannot break through nor steal. That is the only safe-deposit with absolute security!

As for the future, why do we think it is so desperately important? It isn't really, you know! Our culture is future-oriented, but we should be much better off if we ceased to bother about it so much. If it were so important, the Lord would let us see it; but He does not do so, because He wants us to live in the "now." He wants us to prepare for Eternity, yes; but Eternity is not in the future, it is a continuous succession of "nows." In our culture we devote so much energy to preparing for the future that we lose all capacity to enjoy the present; and when the future comes for which we have been so anxiously preparing, we are still getting ready for another future, until we die; and then perhaps it is too late. Make all reasonable preparations for the future, of course; but confine your feelings, your emotions, your joys and your sorrows, to the Present. Learn to live fully in the present, savor it, give it your full attention, for it is the only little bit of time which, at this moment, is actually yours. Remember what I said about the animals and birds: they never worry, but take life as it comes. And remember what Jesus said, in one of the best-known but least observed passages in all literature, "Take no thought for the morrow (or, be not anxious about tomorrow) for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." (Matthew 6:34). And again: "Take no anxious thought, saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink? or, wherewith shall we be clothed? - for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

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