I’m nearly done with Ed Welch’s book, Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest. In chapter 4 he likens worries to visionaries, “worriers are visionaries minus the optimism.” The few paragraphs below are a portion of that chapter as well as a teaser for the rest of the book. The reality is that we all struggle with fear to some degree and in some area. Ed Welch does a wonderful job in addressing the reality of fear, truths of God pertinent to our fear, and addresses some specific areas of fear from a biblical perspective.
Welch, Edward T., Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest. New Growth Press.
Worriers Live in the Future
There is a story line to human life that includes a past, present, and future. Fear spans them all. Fear can be triggered by the past, react to crises in the present, or anticipate them in the future. Its preferred time zone, however, is the future. Dread, panic, nervousness, worry, and anxiety all speak of our potential future vulnerability. Our word fear doesn’t discriminate between threats that are present or future, real or perceived, but it usually says, “I am in danger.” Anxiety and worry are less oriented to the present. They say, “I think there will be a danger”; “Something or someone I love might be threatened in the future.”
Here is where adult imaginations show their mettle. Imaginations are our ability to consider things that don’t presently exist. Sometimes we call it vision. A visionary is one who looks ahead and envisions the trajectory of a church, business, or individual life. A talented visionary is one who can see future possibilities and persuade others of that future. visionaries are rarely right (at least in the details), tend to be optimistic, and are always confident.
Worriers See the Future in Minute, Gory Detail
Worriers are visionaries minus the optimism. An experienced worrier can go for days leapfrogging from past to future and back again, never landing in the present. When they travel into the future they see it in Technicolor and vivid detail. Before they go for a routine physical they can hear the doctor pronouncing the dire diagnosis. They see the twisted metal of the imagined car accident. They watch the course of their life change after they fail a biology test, and they haven’t even taken it yet. They hear the pastor saying “dust to dust” at a spouse’s graveside service. They see the house being sold and watch the grieving children console themselves in drug abuse.
It isn’t only children who should have warning labels put on their imagination!
Worriers Are False Prophets
Of course, such scenarios are possible. No one can prove worriers wrong, so there is a veneer of reasonableness to every worry. Aliens could invade. An errant meteor could destroy civilization as we know it, though the meteor would spare incorrigible worriers because they have made adequate preparations. We can’t prove otherwise. Where worriers show their irrationality, however, is in their success rate: They are always wrong, at least in the specifics. They think the worst about tomorrow, and it doesn’t happen. Then, when their prophecy doesn’t come to pass, they don’t say mea culpa or place less credence in their next worry. There isn’t time for such things because there is too much to worry about for tomorrow.
Advanced worriers worry about everything, and if you worry about everything you will occasionally stumble upon an approximation to a real event. Worry that someone you love will be in a car accident, and worry about that every day— every hour— for a decade, and someday you might get a call from a friend who needs a ride because her car battery went dead. This event will then justify every worry you ever had.
Or let’s say that there actually was a car accident, and your worries began there. Now you are scared to drive, and you worry when anyone you love goes faster than twenty-five miles per hour. Worry has become your talisman to ward off future catastrophe.
Can you see how worries multiply? Suddenly you are a gifted prophet and it is your God-given duty to worry. You see the future; others are blind to it. You must sound the alarm for the people you love. Compassion demands that you worry.
So goes the natural history of a professional worrier.
If you are looking for a way out, consider starting with a name change. In the Old Testament, prophets were the ones who talked about the future, and, much like worriers, what they foretold was often bad. The only way you could remain in good standing as a prophet was if your predictions were infallible. Err once and you were forever banned from making future prophecies (Deut. 18: 22). Using this standard, worriers are certifiable false prophets. Their peer group is not so much those with psychiatric diagnoses as they are astrologers, tarot card readers, and Ouija board devotees. How much better off we would be if all our future predictions were declared illegal and we were forever banned from making any others.