Periodically, I like to tease my Facebook friends with something new to worry about.
Things like microscopic bugs in our eyebrows, the probability or possibility of a really large meteor hitting the Earth, and the rise of mosquito-borne dengue fever to rival West Nile and malaria as world health scourges periodically show up on my Facebook page. I would certainly hate for someone to have a worry- and anxiety-free day, after all.
Hundreds, even thousands, of books have been written that explore and exploit the constant state of anxiety in which most Americans live. Our collective anxiety goes back for generations: As far back as 1880, social observers commented on the persistent anxiety that permeated this nation.
Multiple “cures” for our anxious state accompany the massive commentary. Recently, of course, prescription drug use to combat excessive anxiety has soared. But long before those kinds of remedies, others pushed rest cures, strenuous vacations (remember City Slickers?), and opium tinctures (yeah, this stuff was sold over the counter for years).
The use of alcohol and other mind-affecting chemicals has been around since humans began to eat plants and discover the power of fermentation.
Why? Their use offers momentary relief from those fears and anxieties that plague everybody.
Now, why are we so anxious? Sometimes the answer is quite simple: We are anxious because we live in the future. The more we live in the future, the higher our anxiety rises.
This is hardly new wisdom. Jesus reminded people that worrying about tomorrow won’t change a single thing and that the day before them had more than adequate troubles to absorb their energies. Nonetheless, it’s easier for us to say “quit worrying about tomorrow” than to actually quit worrying.
I’ve seen adorable things written about learning life lessons from dogs. They do appear mostly to live gloriously anxiety-free lives, taking great pleasure in whatever comes their way. Each routine walk excites like a brand-new adventure. Each meal delights with gustatory pleasure, despite its sameness.
Nice for them. Dogs don’t worry about the future. They also are not bombarded with information about rising college costs and health care bankruptcies and public school system failures and how THAT METEOR IS GOING TO LAND ON US IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE.
Sorry about the shouting — got carried away with anxiety.
So, what are we to do? Quit thinking about the future? But we are not dogs. We do have to consider how we will provide for our families, handle our health issues and educate our children. We live in complex societies riddled by forces beyond our control, and which are far more manageable with adequate and thoughtful advanced planning.
But still, so much anxiety is debilitating. And we cannot control the future. What options are before us?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m going to do for at least a few weeks: I’m going to take a vacation and give myself some study time. I’m going to put down all my normal work responsibilities and everyday anxieties and rest, walk, garden, play, read and write.
But no column for a while. No deadlines. No trying to say something important and useful and to make sense of the religious world in 650 words.
I’ll still blog at www.christythomas.com. If my muse shows up and says, “Hey, Christy, I’ve got a great column idea,” I’ll say, “OK, sit down and let’s see what happens.” But should my muse also need a vacation, then I shall celebrate that as well.
Am I anxious about this? Sure. What if no one misses me? What if, when I return, I lose my column space? What if NO ONE CARES that I’m not writing?
Then I will indeed take advice from the dogs and enjoy the present — family, friends, good work, the sun continuing to rise each day, and each breath I take as a gift of life.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or firstname.lastname@example.org .