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I worry. I worry about how close the fires in California are coming to friends and family. I worry about my friends’ illnesses. I worry about money, time, schedules. And I pray. I pray so much that I sometimes worry about burnout — not mine, but God’s. With so many intentions, so many voices crying out, how can God possibly handle it all? Luckily for all of us, God has no limits.

When prayers bubble from my lips
in inexhaustible plentitude,
and I fear I have spread God too thin,
like margarine on toast,
suddenly I hear it — child, child.
There is no distance I cannot cover.
I hold the earth in the palm of my hand,
easy as an egg, a pebble, a shell.
Turn out my pockets. Like a mischievous boy
I have filled them: with galaxies, eons, the sighs of
the wistful, the tears of mourners, the muffled heartbeats
of animals in their dens. Each is considered.
Each is held with gravity. All the prayers of all the years
cannot dilute me or hold me back.
I hold my breath a beat.
And at once I know: All is well.

Cart precedes horse: I often find myself with the physical symptoms of worry — a sick stomach, jitteriness — and have to stop myself to wonder, “What am I worried about?” It is ridiculous on the face of it, and more so because I claim to be a woman of faith. Faith ought to preclude worry, no? Still, there it is, jangling my nerves, causing my foot to jiggle in a way that was once (truthfully) interpreted by a psychologist as “a desire to run away.”

What to do with this (often misplaced) worry? After all, all the worry in the world won’t change things. Nor is it my job to do the worrying — I know darned well that God’s got things in hand. Still, as long as there are ways for the world to disconcert us — from floods in Louisiana to earthquakes abroad — there will be worry. How to deal with it? As usual, poetry leads the way.

I say I want it
but only after
the itchy blanket of worry
has its way, binding my
legs, making itself heavy on
my body.

Why can’t I skip
straight to peace —
forego torment and
allow the excellent swell
of God to buoy me up?

The sky has never fallen, yet
I crane my neck and cry, “It might, it might.”
Be at peace, little chicken.
The whole of the world will not swallow you
as long as you send your terrors
to heaven, and watch them dissipate
like breath in cold weather, like clouds.

My former boss once told the story of a job he had as a teenager. He was in charge of loading up machines that automatically washed heads of lettuce, then used centrifugal force to dry them. One day, the lettuce was coming out too soggy. He tried a longer spin. Still mushy. He spun the lettuce longer. Even worse! Eventually, he figured out that all that spinning was breaking down the heads of lettuce and releasing their internal, cellular water, turning them into mush. The lesson in this story? Sometimes overworking a problem doesn’t make it better. It just exacerbates matters. It makes things mushier.

I’m the kind of person whose brain comes electrically alive the minute it hits the pillow. Suddenly, I think of a hundred things that need to be dissected, worried over, analyzed. All at the worst possible time, a time when I ought to be relaxing and letting go. I’m sure I’m not alone in this cycle of illogic. Millions of people suffer from insomnia. I am one of the fortunate ones; my natural sleepiness always overtakes me. It’s not so easy for other folks. What can you do when your brain can’t stop spinning?

I learned this trick from the great and good Thomas Merton, author and monk, and — in my head, anyway — a saint. You start at your feet and think, “I can’t feel my feet…I can’t feel my feet.” Slowly, your feet seem to disappear into weightlessness. That’s when you move on to your ankles, then your shins, etc. By the time you get to your head, you should be nearing sleep, if not already unconscious. It’s simply a way of breaking the spell of overworking problems in your head, of worrying yourself out of the sleep you need. It works wonderfully well for me.

Prayer also works well. Pick something soothing, that you know by heart. The rosary makes a magnificent choice. If your brain is busy following the familiar grooves of a favorite prayer, it can’t get lost in a worry rut. My friend SueBe has lauded the use of prayer beads and finger labyrinths. It’s all the same concept: You replace a bad thought cycle with a better one.

Who knows why some people are natural mush-makers while others drift through life carefree and breezy, falling asleep the second their noggin hits the pillow? I can’t explain it. God made us in our infinite variety, worriers and non-worriers alike. God may not be a worrier (it would be difficult to be both omniscient and anxious, anxiety hinging as it does on fear of the unknown), but Jesus understands how we feel. He knows what it feels like to anticipate, to know not only that bad things are coming but that — even as you worry — you can ultimately do nothing to stop them.

It’s comforting to know you’ve got a friend somewhere who knows what you’re going through. Especially if you’re a lettuce-head like me.

I account my woes anatomically. I know that churning feeling in my stomach is worry — worry about my sister who is suffering, and my mother who, like me, holds her troubles inside instead of hanging them out for everyone to see, like a clothesline of consternation. It makes my mother unwell, too, and at her age, that’s a problem. Me, I’m young. I’ve got plenty of years of worry left in me.

I keep thinking about Psalm 22, particularly the line that says, “I can count all my bones.” I would have to be considerable thinner to count my bones, but I still relate to the line. My problems are under my skin, so deep that sometimes I forget them. My stomach hurts, so I must be worried about something. What was it? Oh yeah. Count those bones.

And yes, I know, worry is an unnecessary emotion. I think SueBE once said, “It’s like praying for something you don’t want.” Not just a waste of time, but self-defeating, too. I don’t want to pray for something I don’t want. But try telling my stomach that.

It’s not easy shifting faith from soul to tummy. My tummy doesn’t reason well, for one thing. But then I recall that Psalm 22 doesn’t say, “Just stop worrying.” It says, “Get it out.” Yell! Cry! Craft insane metaphors about bulls that are really like lions! Call on God because you can. You don’t have to suck it all in.

So that’s what I’m gonna do. Hey! God! I know there’s not that much on my plate, not compared to many other people who are suffering far more than I. But I’m small, and I’m selfish, and I’m scared. You, of all people, know that. So please, send me some succor. Soothe my sore tummy with some answers and a big ol’ splash of hope. And help my mom and my sis and all the rest of us who internalize our troubles to give up hoarding and let them all out. There’ll be an awful racket, but you have big ears. You can handle it.

Fear stops the heart,

panic, the hands,

more efficiently than hypothermia.

Lord, there are snares concealed in the snow.

One snap at my ankle, and I freeze:

Lot’s wife, with a lower sodium content.


Blessed are they who carry anti-freeze in their veins.

I am not their kind.

Teach me to bear the cup

through Winter’s deepest chill.

To move forward, like Shackleton’s men,

even when the very whiteness blinds.


I just spent another night wakefully fretting. I know it’s bad for me. I know it does no good. But all the reasoning in the world doesn’t seem to stop me. Here’s the thing: I know it’s wrong not to trust God to take care of me. I know it’s a strike against my faith to worry. On the other hand, however: Where’s the line?

Which line? You may well ask. The line between what I can control, and what God will. I’ll explain. I’m going on a trip soon, and I’m fretting about it. Now, obviously, there are things I can and should do. I can’t just leave home and hope that God will provide for my pets. I have to hire a sitter, ensure there is plenty of food, make sure the house is clean and well stocked. These are things I should worry about. But at what point do I let go of what I can do and leave it up to God? At what point is my responsibility absolved? When does it start being pointless to plan and worry?

Perhaps this line is well delineated for most people. But for me, it’s fuzzy. Have I really done everything I can do? Have I come up short on the “God helps those who help themselves” side of the equation? That’s what keeps me up at night.

Is this a normal conundrum? How do you find the line? And what is the right amount of worry? You think about it. I’ll be in the kitchen getting myself some warm milk.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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