Worry and wonder

by Steve Brock on September 22, 2011

It's amazing that something like a dead shrew along the path can be a wonder and even more amazing how often worry prevents us from seeing such things.

How much do you worry?

My guess is more than you care to admit. I’ve heard varying statistics, but in general, over half of our worries are about things that never transpire.

Pure imagination.

Another twenty-some-odd percent are worries about our health. Add an additional twelve or so percent that are concerns about what others think. Throw in some other similar areas that you can’t control and it turns out that about 92% of the things we worry fall about are things we can’t really do anything about.

This worries me.

My favorite example is my friend Will who felt he was worrying too much. So he prayed about it and made a conscious effort to stop worrying. And he did. He went for three weeks without worrying. Then, he realized he hadn’t even been worrying for that whole period.

Which, of course, made him worry about not worrying.

Why remind you of something you’d prefer not to think about? Because worry affects how we travel.

On the good side, I’ve found that travel is one the most surefire antidotes to worry. I go on a trip, particularly overseas, and I finally come face-to-face with the aforementioned reality that most of the things I worry about are not things I can change anyway particularly when they are thousands of miles away. Physical distance helps me let go of what I really should never have carried to begin with.

On the bad side, if we don’t let go of worry and we pack it along like an additional carry-on bag, we soon find that it starts taking from us. It robs us of peace, of the ability to be present and most of all, worry robs us wonder. We let what is preoccupying us on the inside blind us to what lies all around us on the outside.

I experienced this just a few weeks ago. I was walking a familiar trail near my house in a relaxed mood, conscious of my surroundings and appreciative of this day. As a result, I noticed a small, mouse-like creature near the trail. It was less than two inches long, not counting the tail and though it looked to be merely resting, this little guy wasn’t going anywhere.

I was so fascinated by what turned out to be the first shrew I’d ever seen in person that I scooped it up in a plastic bag and brought it home to show my boys who were equally enthused.

You may be thinking “big deal” (or worse if you’re not wild about rodents). A small animal along your way. You call that wonder?

I do. It was a small wonder because it was novel, beautiful in a pointy-nosed-cute-mouse kind of way, unexpected and it caused me to give thanks for its discovery. I was grateful just to have noticed it. In fact, it rather made my day.

But here’s where worry kicks in.

A week or so later, I walked the same trail, yet on that day, I was preoccupied with a number of concerns. It wasn’t until I was almost home that it dawned on me: I had no idea what I had just seen.

I had let preoccupations about the imagined future steal my ability to perceive present wonder or even be aware of the present.

Now I could worry about all this. Or I could make a choice to trust God and stop the worrying. That’s not easy, but I’m learning, through travel and life experience in general that it comes down to intentionality. I have a choice every day to worry or to trust.

I’m rather tired by the former, so I’m doing my best to rely more on the latter. After all, I say I believe that God knows my every need and cares about every little detail of my life more than I do. Amazing, when you think about it.

And that’s exactly what I intend to do: think more about what God has done and will do and less about all those things I can’t control anyway.

I may never encounter another shrew on a trip, short or long. But by not worrying, I can at least be more aware of the journey and more open to whatever wonder comes my way.

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My last entry regarding my friend’s trip to Alaska and the power of treating our trips as an act of faith reminds me of two stories I heard when I was in Alaska several years ago. I’ll tell you the first one here and save the other for my next entry.

Bald eagle locking onto a fish. Note the appropriate ratio in size between the eagle and the fish...

The first deals with salmon and eagles, not necessarily in that order. Apparently – this was a story I heard, mind you – when a bald eagle swoops down over a body of water and latches onto an unsuspecting fish, the eagle’s talons lock into a grip on their prey that cannot be released until there is some countervailing pressure on the item they’re carrying or on the talon itself. This usually occurs when the bird lands and then relaxes as it eats its catch. But if it can’t offset the pressure that causes the talon to grip tight, the eagle cannot let go. [click to continue…]

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Travel is many things to many people, but have you ever thought of it as an act of faith?

On your salmon fishing trip, try to think about catching one of these bad boys rather than the work that you left behind.

I was reminded of this notion yesterday as my friend Mike (a different Mike from my seagull-loving college roommate) left on a trip to go salmon fishing in Alaska.

He’d planned this adventure with friends over a year ago and yet now that the departure date was upon him, he was having second thoughts. Projects at work this week had piled up like dirty dishes in the sink. Taking a week now to go relax and enjoy the grandeur of Alaska with friends seemed counter-productive. How can you relax when you know you have all this work waiting for you when you return? [click to continue…]

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