Imagine Jesus appearing to you and giving you a specific command to avoid something, and then restating that command five more times. You would certainly take that admonition seriously. This is exactly what Jesus did when he delivered a forceful sermon condemning worry as a sign of lack of trust in him. You can read about this in Matthew 6:25-34, where six times Jesus forbids us to worry. There’s no better self-examination on the virtue of trust than a review of what we worry about, and for what stretches of time we engage in worry.
Here is something to really worry about: If you are worried for five minutes, then for those five minutes you are not fully in God’s will. For those five minutes you do not truly trust him. Likewise, if you worry for three days, then for those three days you are not fully in God’s will, for you have let the Lord’s presence and his reliability slip far into the background of your consciousness. Jesus said godless people think this way (see Mt 6:32). Why? Because it manifests a weakness or sometimes an absence of that God-focused form of faith that is called trust. A gurusaid it philosophically: “Don’t be afraid of the day you have never seen.” A Spirit-filled poet said it more theologically: “Never be afraid to trust the unknown future to a known God.” [note 3]
Nevertheless, we must not confuse worry with legitimate concern. Concern for the millions of starving people in the world is not a self-centered thought, but a mental act of charity and altruism. Concern for the health of your loved ones or concern for employment to provide a livelihood for your family is also altruistic, for the most part. This is even truer if one’s concern is for the repentance, sanctification, or salvation of others--especially a relative or close friend. That would be the virtue of zeal, which, as a form of charity, is a desire for someone’s spiritual good.
However--and this is a point often disregarded--if that concern exists as an unsettling inner experience (“troubled” is the word Jesus uses in John 14:27), then it seriously corrodes one’s spiritual life. This troubled mentality has little or no reference toa reliance on the Lord to ultimately take care of the situation with his prayer-drawn grace. For that reason, it is no longer a virtuous concern, but a fault of worry, roundly condemned by Jesus in his gospel message.
How does one distinguish clearly between sinful worry and virtuous concern? There are two primary characteristics of virtuous concern. First, the mind keeps the matter God-focused with quiet, calm petition, while maintaining awareness that the heavenly Father himself knows our needs (see Mt 6:32) and is concerned with them (see 1 Pt 5:7 and Ps 55:22). Second, a concern that is truly not worrisome is characterized by a deep serenity--that is, an emotional tranquility (peace of heart) and a spiritual tranquility (peace of soul). This peace of soul (see chapter 70 of this book) is a fruit of the Spirit (see Gal 5:22) and is a special supernatural gift that comes to us only from Jesus: “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled [i.e., worried] and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27, emphasis mine). In more colloquial terms: Don’t lose any sleep worrying. Give it to God. He’s up all night anyway!
This excerpt is from the book Pathways of Trust, by John H. Hampsch,C.M.F., originally published by Servant Publications. It and other of Fr. Hampsch's books and tapes can be purchased from Claretian Teaching Ministry, 20610 Manhattan Pl, #120, Torrance, CA 90501-1863. Phone 1-310-782-6408.