To permit the grace of God to act in us and to produce in us (with the cooperation…of our will, our intelligence, and our capabilities) all those good works for which God prepared us beforehand, so that we might lead our lives in the performance of good works (Ephesians 2:10), it is of the greatest importance that we strive to acquire and maintain an interior peace, the peace of our hearts (Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Father Jacques Philippe pg. 5).
A culture of busyness has pervaded our society today. We find ourselves surrounded by to-do lists, ads flashing the next must-have items, and social media streams that make comparison easy. In such a day and age, worry and anxiety find their way to the forefront of our minds far too often. Worry is a common topic in Jesus’ preachings. Again and again, He exhorts his disciples not to worry, but instead to “rejoice” (Phil 4:4), “give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18), and “trust in the Lord” (Prov 3:5).
Worrying not only negatively affects mental health, but also greatly limits our spiritual growth. Father Jacques Philippe, in his spiritual classic Interior Freedom, claims that “Worry and discouragement are the greatest obstacles to holiness.” If, as Catholics, our goal in life is to become saints, we must take seriously the call to not worry. In this article, I will address some practical advice about how to stop worrying and instead intentionally build trust in God. But first I will delve into some of the root causes of worry.
Roots of Worry
The greatest root of worry is a lack of trust in God’s love and providence for us. Underlying this lack of trust come three main fears: a fear of failure, a fear of being without, and a fear of suffering.
Fear of Failure
When taking on a new endeavor, we inevitably experience anxiety at the prospect of failure. What will become of our pride, our reputation, or our sense of self-worth and accomplishment if we fail?
Yet in Scripture, God calls us to trust him even in the face of failure:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30).
It is often exactly in our weaknesses and failures that God uses us for His greater purposes.
Fear of Being Without
We are creatures of comfort and security. We want a guarantee that we will have enough to live stable and happy lives. We want to know that we will have enough money, enough time, enough love. Yet looking at the lives of the saints, we can see that God does not always necessarily guarantee lives that the world would describe as “happy- many saints were imprisoned, faced extreme poverty, or were martyred. But God does promise to give us everything we need to become saints, meaning we will always have enough to live with joy, which does not depend on our circumstances.
Again, Scripture points us towards trusting in God to provide us with what is best for us:
But which of you can add any time to your life by worrying?… So do not worry, saying ‘What will we eat?’ or, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘What will we wear?’ It is the Gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:27, 31-34).
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Fear of Suffering
This final fear encompasses both the fear of failure and the fear of being without. We may fear to suffer in a variety of forms, both emotional and physical. We dread the idea of pain, whether it comes from loneliness, hatred, rejection, poverty, or a physical source. But God promises to redeem even the worst sufferings:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
Now that we’ve taken a look at three root fears that lead to worry, let’s examine some practical tips to stop worrying and place more of our trust in God.
How to Stop Worrying
Remember: Worrying is a choice. Choose to NOT worry.
Distract yourself. Take your mind off worrying by doing other things (take a break with friends, spend time doing a hobby, go for a walk)
Do not give in to sadness, or torment yourself deliberately. Gladness of heart is the very life of a person, and cheerfulness prolongs his days. Distract yourself and renew your courage, drive resentment far away from you (Ben Sira 30:21-23).
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8).
Make a list of everything you are worried about. For each worry, list two things you are thankful for.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Ask yourself two questions:
Am I being diligent with my current responsibilities?
Is there anything else I can do to resolve this situation right now?
If there are no steps you can take, there is no point in thinking about it.
See a counselor. An inordinate amount of worry or anxiety can be a sign of a disorder. Just as we would seek medical help for any physical ailments, we should also seek professional help for mental ailments.
How to Intentionally Build Trust in God
In the book Searching for and Maintaining Peace, Father Jacques Philippe describes two particularly helpful images of trusting God. The first is that of a lake reflecting the vast beauty a mountain range. Just as a lake is more accurately able to reflect the grandeur of the mountains when it is more peaceful, so too are we better able to be bearers of Christ’s image when we are more at peace. The second image is that of a skydiver. Before the diver jumps out of the plane, he cannot be completely sure that his parachute will open. The only way for him to find out is to take the leap of faith and hope that his parachute will indeed open, allowing him to glide smoothly to safety. The same holds for the spiritual life. If we never give God the opportunity to show us that he will always provide for us, we will not grow in trust of him.
Therefore, two practical ways to build trust in God are as follows:
Spend time with God every day. There will always be an excuse as to why we don’t pray every day, the most common excuse being that we don’t have enough time. But the truth is, we make time for what is most important for us. When we give God our time, he will multiply our time for us. St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) famously told the sisters who came to her complaining of not having enough time in the day to complete their tasks to then pray an extra holy hour, for it is when we feel we have the least amount of time that we most need to spend time in prayer.
Obey God’s laws given to us through Scripture and the Church. God gives us his commandments not to restrict us or make us unhappy, but because he knows they will lead us to the truest joy and fullness of life. If there is some aspect of your life that you are not living in line with Church teaching, try going to Confession and living differently. Watch as God transforms your life.
In the words of St. Francis de Sales, “The measure of Divine Providence acting on us is the degree of confidence that we have in it.”
The root of worry and anxiety is a lack of trust in God’s love and providence for us. We need to place our hope in the fact that God knows and wants what is best for us and at the end of time, He will redeem all suffering that was not redeemed on earth. All we can do is be diligent with our responsibilities, pray, and trust God to take care of the rest.