I am a serial ruminator. Worry’s answer rests on the words of Jesus and the example of a giant ship.
The concerns of life can pile up. They invade my mind like the Germans flooding the French defenses. When they come, they build a nest, lay eggs, and feed hatchlings.
I overthink about “what might happen.” Like the cow that chews its cud over and over, I eat my worries. Instead of becoming smaller, they grow with each turn.
The Greeks named this phenomenon–merimnao. It means “to divide the mind.” Potential problems take the mind and cleave it into three hemispheres—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Most bookend their lives between regret and worry. Regret is the compulsive reflection on the past and its failings. (Seldom do people relish success. Instead, they dwell on shortcomings.) Anxiety is the wrinkle-generator of what might happen. (Again, it is seldom profitable.)
There is an answer. It is a single word coined by Sir William Osler. Live in day-tight compartments.
In 1912, an enormous ship launched from Southhampton. Titanic, as the boast went was unsinkable. On a cold April night, the North Atlantic claimed the bravado as the unsinkable rested on the ocean floor.
Harland and Wolff designed Titanic with water-tight compartments to be unsinkable. If one was breached, the ship would remain safe. Each chamber held water that did not flood into other areas of the hull.
The Titanic sunk (among many reasons) because those were not genuinely water-tight. At the top, there was a gap that let water, once risen to the highest level to fill the compartment next to it.
With a breach in the water-tight compartments, over 2000 people died in a single night.
When people live with either regret over the what has happened or fret about what might happen, the mind swirls like an eddy caught into converging streams. It spins and does nothing more than deepen, catching any soul that ventures into the whirlpool.
Jesus knew how to put together the “divided mind.” He said to live in day-tight compartments.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
What is a day-tight compartment?
A day-tight compartment focuses on today. It lets go of yesterday and blocks off tomorrow. Day-tight living accepts that the past cannot unchangeable and the future yet to be. Today is the only vessel in which we can pour our lives at the moment.
Some think this ignores either planning or repentance. You can plan, but those are nothing more than bullet lists on what you want to happen. Repentance acknowledges past failures and hurts and makes a change.
The only way to make plans happen and change past lives is to act in the moment. If you plan for retirement, you save money today. If you want to graduate from college, what studying do you need to do today? If you’re going to change a broken relationship, the only apology to make happens now.
How can you live in day-tight quarters?
Know your worries
Start with the past and future. What has your attention? We tend to let the salt water of regret and worry dilute today, so get it out of the way. What’s on your mind? What grabs your attention? What weighs on your heart? Put it all on paper…all of it. If it takes the space of the U.S. Tax Code, do it. It’s the only way to keep pollutants at bay.
Confront What You Can
Not all worries are worth it. You cannot act on it or affect it. For almost 20 years, we lived in the path of hurricanes. Every June 1, the season grabbed my attention. Some could be destructive, and all were disruptive. I faced one central truth. I cannot change the weather.
Some things (like tax deadlines and aging) are part of life. You cannot change the inevitable. If you cannot affect it, it is not worth the worry.
But that means…
Do What You Can
Look at today. What can you do? Assuming 7 hours of sleep (and you probably need more to be healthy), you reduce your day to 17 hours. You can do something about the concerns of life in those hours.
Today, you can act. Do you need to talk to someone? Pay the bill. Find the form. Make the doctor appointment. Buy or sell. One of the fascinating alchemies of life is no one can act on something and worry about it at the same time. Set up the retirement plan.
Instead of worrying about something, do something about it. You will feel better at the end of the day.
Be Grateful for What You Have
I visit countries where food is scarce, housing is deplorable, and despair walks the streets. When I come back, I recognize I am more blessed than most of the world. Simple things like clean beds and hot water become a new-found luxury. Worry melts when I bow my head and thank God for what I have. Most of my anxieties are about abundant blessings such as more money and reasonably good health. I worry about them because I believe I own them. They are gifts to appreciate and use. Enjoy gifts and thank God. Why worry about blessings?
In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr,
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Or better…Each day has enough trouble of its own.