Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to ‘Rein in’ Worrisome Thoughts

Worrying begins at a very young age.

(Eighth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on February 26, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 6: 24-34.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighth Sunday 2017]

Rein in your thoughts!

Those four words, I would say, sum up the Lord’s message to us in this gospel text we just heard from Matthew, chapter 6.

Rein in your thoughts!

To “rein something in,” as most of us know, means to stop it or to get control of it or to limit it in some way.  And so we speak of a government trying to “rein in” spending (usually without success!), or a cowboy attempting to “reign in” his horse.

Well, at times our thoughts need to be “reined in” as well: our angry thoughts, our uncharitable thoughts, our impure thoughts—even our worrisome thoughts (which are the ones Jesus explicitly makes reference to in this gospel).

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. … Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own evil.

Jesus could have said, “Rein in your thoughts of worry” and it would have had the same meaning.

Now that’s easier said than done—especially if you’re older, or if you have a serious illness (as some of us do).  I know that since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s back in 2010 my thoughts turn, more than ever before, to the future—and to the great “unknowns” of the future: How will my health be next month, next year—and beyond?  What will my quality of life be like?  What other symptoms am I going to have to deal with in the future besides the ones I’ve already got?  Will I be able to care for myself in my later years?  Will there ever be a cure—and if there is, will I be eligible for it when it’s finally discovered?

Those of you with cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes—or any other serious malady—have similar questions that cross your minds, I’m sure.

And that’s quite understandable. 

But if we don’t deal with these thoughts and rein them in (so to speak), they can and very often will depress us.  They can even paralyze us emotionally—which is why Jesus is so adamant in this gospel about trusting God and not allowing worrisome thoughts to control our lives (even if we’re blessed to be in great physical health!).

So how do you deal with these thoughts personally?  How do you deal with thoughts of worry when they make an unwelcomed appearance in your mind? 

Well, one way—one very effective way—to deal with them is to “stand on the word of God,” as our Protestant brothers and sisters would say.  In this context, “standing on the word” involves replacing thoughts of worry and fear with thoughts from the Bible about faith and trust—especially the thoughts that Jesus gives us in this text.  In fact, this is a very good passage of Scripture to try to memorize (at least in part), so that you can call its message to mind whenever you’re tempted to worry.

Lord, I’m very concerned with this situation, but you tell me in Matthew 6 not to worry, and that you will provide for my needs even more than you provide for the needs of birds and flowers and everything else in the world of nature.  Help me to seek first your kingdom—your way of holiness, and to trust that tomorrow will “take care of itself”—as will this situation I’m dealing with.

That’s one way to “rein in” worrisome thoughts: stand on God’s word.

Let me share with you now one other approach.  This is one that I’ve found very helpful and have used a lot—especially since my Parkinson’s diagnosis.  And it’s really quite simple:

Whenever you’re tempted to worry about the future, think of the past—specifically your past; and, especially the trials, difficulties and sufferings you’ve experienced in your past life.  Do that, and then remind yourself of something that you know—of something that you know with absolute certitude:

God was faithful, and he got me through it all!

And how do you know that?

Because you’re here!  That’s how you know it.

If the Lord had not been faithful and hadn’t gotten you through it all, you wouldn’t be here this morning!  You’d be somewhere else.  You’d probably be in River Bend or St. Sebastian’s or one of our other local cemeteries.  The rest of you would be at room temperature in some other location.

So, if God has been faithful, and has given you the grace to deal with EVERY trial of your past life (and, as I just said, we know he has), isn’t it reasonable to believe he will do the same in every trial you face in the future?

Why should we think that God will suddenly change and NOT give us what we need in days and years to come, when he’s always given us what we’ve needed in the past?

And so, in those moments when I’m tempted to worry about my future with Parkinson’s, I think about my parents dying at relatively young ages, and many of the other trials and tragedies I’ve experienced over the years, and I say,

Lord you brought me through all those sufferings—some of which I didn’t think I could deal with; and you’ve given me the grace to deal with Parkinson’s now for more than 6 years.  So I’m going to trust that you will continue to do the same thing for me in the future.  I trust that what you’ve done for me in the past, you’ll do for me today and every day of my future life—whether I get physically get better or not.

That way of thinking “reins in my thoughts” and lessens the worry—sometimes eliminating it entirely.

Obviously prayers also help, as do meditations like the one St. Francis de Sales wrote sometime in the late 16th or early 17th century.

Apparently people worried a lot back then too!

I’ll leave you with his words:

Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in his arms.
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you the unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.