A Minor form of Atheism?
Back at the turn of the millennium Rohan Candappa wrote "The Little Book of Stress" as a pocket sized antidote for all the other self-help tomes, especially the nauseating "Little Book of Calm" that was so rightly pilloried on Black Books. It is filled with useful little hints and tips aimed at maxing out your stress levels, with many of them centring on worry... including useful suggestions like:
Write down your worries. Read the list before you go to bed.Worry or anxiety can be paralysing... And is at times totally irrational. The book "In the Pink" that I reviewed a while back, includes the story of a woman who could hardly sleep at night for fear that a burglar might break in - then one night she heard something downstairs and woke her husband... asking him to (for the hundredth time) to go down and check everything was OK. He went downstairs an actually found a burglar helping himself to their belongings.
"Well, hello," he said, "I'm so pleased to meet you. Can I take you upstairs to meet my wife? She's been expecting you for over 10 years."The "Little Book of Stress" also suggests:
Worrying is meditation carried out by realists.and
Why meditate when you can worry?The latter one seems to be a secularised version of ye olde church poster that says "Why pray when you can worry?"
Paul clearly sees prayer as part of the antidote to worry:
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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians : 6-7
I have often prayed a paraphrase of that instruction with people at stressful times in hospital, and one of the most requested hymns by those at hospital services or planning funeral services, expresses a "What a friend we have in Jesus" where Joseph Medlicott Scriven (one of my favourite names ever - had to be a hymnwriter or a Dickensian book-keeper) writes:
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer
However, the combination of that hymn, Paul's instructions to the Philippian church and the repeated instructions in the Bible not to fear are often used as a powerful cocktail to heap guilt on top of anxiety, with the suggestion by some that worry is a sin (I've already written about that last year, here and here). At one point one of the contributors to "In the Pink" goes so far as to refer to worry/anxiety as a "minor form of atheism". I don't think they invented that phrase, and I know what they are getting at. It is a memorable soundbite. But soundbites, even scripturally derived soundbites alone, don't necessarily make things any better... particularly with those for whom anxiety and worry is not a glib choice but a psychological (and probably biochemical) condition. Such anxiety probably requires pills as well as prayer... if indeed the person is capable of praying in the maelstrom of worry. It is at that point that praying friends are invaluable as well as simple printed prayers (On this front the appendix to "In the Pink" is excellent)...
The form that the prayer takes is also important... If it is little more than sanctified worrying, where we recite our anxieties before God, then take them with us when we leave the place of prayer, it probably won't help much. But in order to prepare us for those times when anxiety bites, (and it comes for most of us at one time or another) we could also do with learning a different model of prayer. More meditative, centring prayer genuinely can take the heat out of our worries and anxieties. Not denying the seriousness of the situation we feel ourselves to be in, but ourselves and our problems in the hands of an almighty, all-knowing and all-loving God.