face surrounded by words indicating worry

The Connection between Worry and Control

 September 15, 2021

Do you worry about people and events over which you have no control? Are you stressed out from trying to control all those things you worry about? Tell me, are worriers control freaks? Is there a connection between worry and control?

In high school I had this crazy idea. The things I worried about never happened so I figured if I just worried enough, I could keep bad things from happening. Crazy, right? I even wrote a one act play on this, following the example of the theater of the absurd and Ionesco. Fifty years later, I certainly know better, and yet I find myself falling into the same crazy thought pattern at times. This got me thinking about the connection between worry and control issues.

The Illusion of Control

We all have control issues, some more than others. We prefer to be in charge of our own lives. However, we learn quickly this is an illusion. There are forces at work in the world over which we have no control. Take the weather. We can complain all we want but that won’t stop an oppressive heat wave or hurricane force winds. It’s out of our control.

We know control is an illusion, and yet we try anyway. In a previous blog I wrote how doomscrolling is a way to exert control over our lives and horrible events in the world. My own incessant need for knowledge stems from my desire to control my world. If I just know enough, I can make great decisions and ward off any evil from befalling me or my family. And so, I’ll agonize and seek input over minor decisions in order to “get it right.”

Some have good reason to worry. Perhaps as a child they were traumatized. Their childish brain sought ways to blame themselves for what happened because, as terrible as it was, feeling helpless before these events is even worse. If it is their fault then there is something they can do about it. Thus starts a pattern of seeking to control their lives to keep bad things from happening. They have little to no trust that their world is a safe place or that they will be protected. They find it hard to believe in a loving, protecting God.

This sets the stage for a life-time of worry, because if they worry enough and explore all the contingencies of what might happen, then they will be prepared for anything. They will have some semblance of control—a false reality based on the illusion of control.

What Does the Gospel Say?

The gospel confronts us with the craziness of such thinking. Jesus tells us:

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” (Mt 6:25-34)

Paul tells us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil.4:6-7)

Pretty strong words! But are there any benefits of worry?

The Benefits of Worry

I’m married to a “who me, worry?” type of guy. You’d think this would help me worry less. It has, but it has also pointed out to me some of the benefits of worry. Because I worry, I plan ahead. Like the boy scout motto – be prepared – I try to be prepared for all contingencies. Of course, I’m not always successful at this. No matter how prepared I am, there are always surprises, things I’m just not prepared for. I like to think my preparations, based on my worries, decrease the likelihood of these unwelcome surprises.

I may not be able to control the words and actions of the people around me. That’s what keeps life interesting. But I can control my own actions and plan ahead.

The Connection Between Worry and Control

So what is the connection between worry and control? It appears we try to control that which we worry about to keep bad things from happening. Crazy? Maybe. Although, like most of life, maybe it’s more a matter of balance. Isn’t it equally crazy to not worry about anything and go through life having to deal with the consequences of not planning ahead, never learning from past mistakes?

Let’s worry about what we can control, and not worry about those things we can’t control. And pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

What about you? What do you worry about? Is it something you can control?

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