“Is worrying a sin?” Asked my friend when we were sitting on the sofa in his living room. It was Christmas week in 2014. Manchester got a little bit of snow, and my good friend and I were busy sipping our warm tea and having a chit chat.
Some of us might have the same question. Me too, although I can’t remember the first time I asked that question.
Recently, I saw a quote on my social media feed, posted by someone, saying that worry is a sin because it is doubting God. I have heard many preachers say the same thing. Do not worry; It is a sin, because it is doubting God’s ability and power. This statement sounds biblical and gets popular, the same like other sayings such as ‘God helps those who help themselves’. But, is it truly biblical? Does the bible really say that? Show me where!
What I know is that the bible doesn’t say explicitly about it. What I know is that even Jesus worried when he was at Gethsemane.
What is worry?
Some of my friends saw me as a very happy and smiley person who seemed never to worry about anything. Later they realised they were wrong. I like to control my worries, which is why most people think I am very laid back. But I do worry about many things. If you haven’t met me in person, you might know someone who is very laid back and seems worry resistant too. Think of this person, and if you have a chance to ask if they have any worries, I believe the answer will be a ‘yes’. My point is that none of us can resist worry.
As I said, I do worry about many things. When I think of what will happen in the future, I get worried. When I flew for the first time to the UK, I worried that they would stop me at the border and send me back home. When for the first time Andrew introduced me to his parents, I worried that they might dislike me. When I processed my papers to get married with Andrew, I worried that they might not accept it. The same worry came when I applied for my spouse visa. Of course the things I worried about never happened.
In my opinion, worry is an individual experience which can differ from one to another. While I enjoy long flights, I know some people get anxious on even a short flight. While people enjoy big parties, I will get worried if someone invites me to a party (I’m not kidding). Worry could be caused by many aspects; our past experience, our concern and the uncertainty of the future. I worried if Andrew’s parents would dislike me because I experienced the pain of rejection from my ex’s parents. Andrew worried about my visa application because he was concerned about me and our relationship. And most of us worry about the future because we know nothing about it.
Worry in the Bible
The Bible doesn’t say plainly if worry is a sin or not. There are few references about worry that can be found; one in the Old Testament and more in the New Testament. Jesus himself spoke about it on his teaching on Matthew 6:2534.
Matthew 6:25-34(NIV) Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
From the passage above, Jesus actually commands us not to worry (verse 25). If we are honest to ourselves, this command has confused us.
Many Christians tend to believe that worry is a spiritual problem. We often relate it with Jesus’ command for us not to worry. If we worry, it means that we are lacking trust and doubting God’s power. If we worry we disobey God. Disobeying God is a sin. There there… No surprise then if we worry about being worried.
I work with people with mental health and learning disabilities. I share life with eight of my clients under the same roof. Some of my clients have an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). They obsess with even small things like order, numbers or hygiene. They get worried if they see things not in order. The other one with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) worries if she might loose someone she loves again after her mom passed away. Another one suffers from bulimia nervosa (eating disorder). She worries about gaining weight and refuses food.
Those three are a few examples of complex anxiety disorders. My point is that worry is not just a spiritual problem. It is very complex. And the way we simplify worry as a spiritual problem makes Christians who struggle with anxiety feel ashamed. We make them believe that they deserve God’s anger first and grace second. Maybe we should stop harassing them with “Trust God more!” advice. It sounds biblical but would that be relevant for them?
My friend, a believer, has been struggling with anxiety and found it annoying to hear people say that each time he asks for advice. For him it sounds more like “I don’t have time now, just go away…” Hearing people advise him to ‘Trust God more’ often makes him feeling guilty with his faith. He trusts God, but it seems God is never satisfied with him. See how it gives more pain than help?
Worry is very complex, and calling it a sin is another complication. I guess it is too quick to judge worry as a sin.
For anyone who are struggling with worry, God loves you no matter how many times you have failed fighting your worries. Forgive us if we’ve been discouraging you than lifting you up. I am a worrier too, and let’s get stronger together in our faith.