“If you can worry, you can meditate.”
As a life-long world class worrier, John Ortberg’s words in “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat” grabbed my attention. In his practical style, Ortberg then simplifies: “To meditate merely means to think about something over and over.”
Have you ever characterized yourself or someone else as a “worrier”? I have often thought of myself this way, as if it were an innate condition or personality type that I could not help. Laying aside the important nuances and depths of truly meditative disciplines and psychotherapy, in many cases (mine included), worry is a learned habit. We can create the “worry-monster.” Over time, it becomes ingrained.
I his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul encourages his readers to “think about” certain things and then act, resulting in the “God of peace [being] with you” (Philippians 4:8 - 9). Paul’s list of key volitional thoughts includes “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, [and] whatever is commendable” (Philippians 4:8). In an omnibus category at the close of this list, Paul says: “…if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:9).
Turning good thinking into a good new habit that edges a predominant mindset of worry aside requires hard work and consistency. As Ortberg suggests: “Let [good thought] simmer in your mind. Reflect on it from different angles until it becomes part of you” (emphasis added).
Good thinking is one step. Acting on it makes us whole. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he says “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12 and 14, emphasis added). We need to truly wear compassion around all day long. Habitual mental focus is key, but keeping such noble things inside is empty.
Have you ever told someone facing difficulty that they are in your thoughts and prayers? I have said this to many people and heard it from others during personal challenges. These are often significant words of comfort in and of themselves. Prayerfully thinking of someone can be powerful. Sometimes, but not often enough, I slow down and listen to my prayers for someone in need. I then ask myself: “What can I do about the circumstances that might help?” In some cases, simple things like a phone call, hand-written note, or personal visit are comforting. Other times, providing a ride or a meal or sitting with a friend in a hospital is most helpful, to the person in need as well as the provider.
The New Testament Book of James succinctly links and also contrasts word/thought and deed. In a nutshell, “if any think they are religious” but do not ever do anything about it, “their religion is worthless” (James 1:26). The author’s examples of “pure and undefiled religion” include “caring for orphans and widows” (James 1:27). In a striking example of alleged faith being dead without practical works, the author of James asks: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
The things I tend to fret about mostly relate to myself. Working toward a fresh habit of mental focus and clarity steeped in love can dissolve the worry. Translating such thought into daily acts of kindness results in a more meaningful existence. Suddenly, the things I used to stew over pale in importance and become merely things to think about from time to time.