Leaving the Temple of Worry
by Melissa Brotton | 20 August 2019
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
“He will perfect that which concerns me” (Psalm 138:8).
What is the single thing that the elderly regret more than anything else when they look back? According to aging expert Karl Pillemer, it is all the time they spent worrying. “Their advice,” Pillemer warns, “is devastatingly simple and direct: Worry is an enormous waste of your precious and limited lifetime.”
Let’s face it: we have a cultural addiction to worry. First, there are the daily hassles of workplace responsibilities, relationships to maintain, and financial burdens, to name a few. At some point the four dreadful D’s (disease, divorce, disaster, and death) worm their way into our thoughts and hijack our overburdened hearts. When we finally do have a care-free day, tuning into the news or social media quickly threatens our last hope for any shut-eye.
Many of us worship at the temple of worry and even downright genuflect to worry in our own temples. We spend huge amounts of time and energy worrying without even a shred of return. Warped logic convinces us that worrying long and hard enough will accomplish something. But worry is not inclined to solve problems; on the contrary, it multiplies them. One worry leads to another until there are dozens of them buzzing around our poor, sleepless heads.
Recently, I’ve had a bout with worry that’s lasted nearly a week. The point of my worry is based on a realistic probability with high stakes. No matter how I turn it over in my mind, it is an impossible situation. In my human imagination, I am hurtling toward a disaster.
As I have been studying Christ’s words on the futility of worry, I begin a philosophical wrestling match with God.
“How are we supposed to not worry when terrible things really do happen?” I blurt out to Him.
A familiar answer rings through: “Where is your focus right now?”
Something I had forgotten amid the rubble of my obsessive worry.
Where is my focus?
Clearly on the problem and not on the Solver.
Relief flickers in the gloom as I recognize my worry as simply a way I turn my mind. That means I can turn it a different way. Choice.
My pastor’s sermon from Psalm 34 chimes in too: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be continually in my mouth.” Our days are to be filled with praises to God, no matter what the circumstance. How could I forget?
As I start to praise, my outlook improves, and my memory is released. I recall a phrase from Desire of Ages: “Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing” (p. 330). A thousand ways for every single problem? My paralysis gives way, and I gather courage to face the problem.
“Be anxious for nothing,” the apostle Paul admonishes the Philippians, and then delivers the clincher – “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6).
We are to pray to Jesus about everything that causes us worry, thanking Him all the while – yes, even in our muddle of our deepest fears. Gratitude, as an expression of our devotion to God, works against worry. When we praise God, we are reminded of the vast distance between His mind and our minds, of His birds-eye view of it all, and something even better, His foreknowledge: “Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Is. 65:24).
In thinking of how our brains seem wired to worry, I find it compelling that the word temple is derived from an ancient root, tem, meaning “to cut” or “to clear,” forming the idea of cutting or clearing out a space for worship. The word temenos in Greek is the sacred space surrounding the temple.2 In the story of Jesus’ cleansing the temple, He cleared it out to create a space of true worship and praise. In the same way, He is able to cut away the ropes of worry that entangle our hearts, releasing us to thank Him even before we see the answer to our petition.
But we also have a part to play. Another root for temple is ten, “to stretch,” perhaps indicating the stretched string demarcating a space for worship. As Jesus clears out my temple, I cooperate through the stretch of faith by keeping that space cleared of clutter that interferes – like the god of worry — and I choose to fill that space instead with gratitude and trust.
Speaking of trust, I’ve been blessed with someone in my life who never worries. When I come home from work, there is my kitten, Colby, lazing (often upside-down) in his hammy, blinking his big eyes at me. He knows nothing of my troubles — only that fun and games are about to begin. And I wonder how God would feel if He walked in each day and saw me doing the same – hanging upside-down in my hammy and showing perfect trust.
The Bible is filled with Christ’s promises to lift us out of fear and worry. Psalm 138:8 reads, “He will perfect that which concerns me.” Looking at the verb perfect, we can read accomplish, complete, bring to pass, make right. I want Jesus to do more than shoulder my burdens; I want Him to clear out my temple of worry. I want Him to go in and turn over tables — to declare in a strong voice, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.”
 Pillemer, Karl A. “The Most Surprising Regret Of The Very Old – And How You Can Avoid It,” Huffington Post (June 4, 2013).
2 “Temple.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=temple.
Melissa Brotton teaches writing and literature courses at La Sierra University. Her special areas are nineteenth-century British literature and religious studies. She has published on the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Biblical ecology. She spends a lot of time outdoors, paints, and writes nature stories and poems.