Sam Radford

January 17, 2022

The futility of worry

In his latest book, ‘Four Thousand Weeks’, Oliver Burkeman addresses the role of worry, writing:

Worry, at its core, is the repetitious experience of a mind attempting to generate a feeling of security about the future, failing, then trying again and again and again - as if the very effort of worrying might somehow help forestall disaster. The fuel behind worry, in other words, is the internal demand to know, in advance, that things will turn out fine: that your partner won’t leave you, that you will have sufficient money to retire, that a pandemic won’t claim the lives of anyone you love, that your favoured candidate will win the next election, that you can get through your to-do list by the end of Friday afternoon. But the struggle for control over the future is a stark example of our refusal to acknowledge our built-in limitations when it comes to time, because it’s a fight the worrier obviously won’t win. You can never be truly certain about the future. And so your reach will always exceed your grasp.

Having grown up in church, it’s hard not to be reminded of the words of Jesus on this subject too:

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? 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Emphasis mine.)

That last line is everything.

‌Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

In case it’s not clear, the answer is No! 

When time is short—as Burkeman’s book reminds us—why waste it on things we cannot control?

And that question Jesus poses is even deadlier than it seems. It’s not only that worrying adds nothing to our lives; every hour spent worrying is time forever lost, time taken away.

None of this is to suggest we shouldn’t plan and prepare for different scenarios life may send us. That’s wisdom. But worrying is futile. It steals our life away. Literally.

—Sam

Got some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you—do hit reply or drop me a note.

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