Don’t Worry, Be Hopeful
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
Nov. 12, 2017
The American Psychological Association just released the results of its annual Stress in America survey, which revealed high levels of stress among Americans, even more pronounced than last year. In fact, more than half Americans say that this is the worst period of American history that they can remember. Of all the stressors, 63% people reported that the future of the nation is a “very” significant source of stress. That’s slightly more than other common stressors, like money at 62% and work at 61%. What specific issues cause stress? 43% said health care and 35% said the economy. Around 30% are stressed about trust in the government, crime, and terrorist attacks. Higher stress is understandable, considering the recent news:
· A man entered a Baptist church in Texas and shot and killed 26 people, from ages 18 month to 77 years, including a baby in the womb.
· Indictments of officials close to the President and investigations of Russia’s interference in a US Presidential election. Tensions rise between North Korea and US, with threat of nuclear war looming large.
· A proposed Tax Plan would take away deductions on student loans, making the cost of sending our kids to college even higher.
No wonder our stress levels are higher. Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, anxious, or worried. Worry means to disturb someone’s peace of mind. It comes from the Old English word weryen, meaning to strangle. Worry can have a strangling effect on us, with real health consequences including: headaches, stomachaches, sleeplessness, feeling anxious or overwhelmed or very emotional.
We know worry and stress are not good for us. What is the cure?
Bobby McFerrin sings “Don’t worry, be happy.” Makes it seem so simple: just stop worrying, right? Wrong. We can’t just flip a switch and turn off our worries and turn on our happy.
The American Psychological Association says that it is important that people learn healthy ways to manage stress and worries and reduce risk of other health concerns.
Healthy habits include getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, limiting exposure to stressors like the news, and finding ways to get involved in organizations that are in line with a person’s values (Alexandra Sifferlin, TIME magazine, Nov. 2, 2017).
We know the value of sleep and healthy eating, and limiting exposure to news.
But, did you know there are benefits in being involved in an organization with your values?
Talk show host Stephen Colbert asked African American author Ta-Nehisi Coates whether he has any hope for improved racial relations in America. He responded: “I’m not the person you should go to for that. You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope. Your friends provide you hope.”
Sounds like he is talking about the church. Church is organization in line with our values--where we go to nurture love, peace, and hope. Here at Community Church, our invitation is: Come, just as you are (with your stress and worry), find the joy and inspiration you seek, become the person you were created to be.
And when we come, we find joy and inspiration in many ways:
At church, we hear the gospel—a counter-cultural witness. In today’s lesson, Matthew 6—Jesus said, “You of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?...indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus calls us not to worry. Worry does not benefit us; it hurts us and drains us of strength. Hope, on the other hand, gives us strength. Hope is believing that despite all evidence to the contrary, God is at work in the world. Hope is trusting that God is with us, come what may. Together, we hear the good news: “Don’t worry, be hopeful.”
At church, we sing. Singing lowers stress levels. Singing releases stored muscle tension and decreases the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol in your blood stream, and it increases another hormone called oxytocin, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress, and also to enhance feelings of trust and bonding. Singing can take your mind off the day’s troubles and boost your mood. The effects of singing are cumulative; studies have found that regular singing lessens feeling of depression and loneliness.
Together we learn a new song: “Don’t worry, be hopeful and sing.”
At church, we pray. Prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress. Researchers found that people who prayed for others were less vulnerable to the negative physical health effects associated with financial stress. Praying for material gain for oneself did not counter the effects of stress. But, thinking about the welfare of others may be a crucial component in receiving the stress-buffering benefits from prayer.
Together we pray a new prayer: “Don’t worry, be hopeful and pray.”
At church, we give. Giving our money away is difficult. We think of many reasons not to do it: money’s too tight. The person we give to will waste it. It’s just a drop in the bucket. Oh Lord, the problem’s so big and my wallet is so small. But, when we give away money, there is a significant return on our investment. New research reveals that when people gave money to their friends or to charities, they got a boost in happiness, while those who spent money on themselves did not. Generosity actually makes us feel better, not worse, about giving our money. We worry that we will not have enough money to buy what our families need and want. But the truth is, the more we give, the less we worry.
Together, we give in a new way of generosity: “Don’t worry, be hopeful and give.”
Giving is an act of imagination: When giving away your money, it helps to think of it as more than what you will lose and more of what others will gain. Rather than seeing it as a $20 bill you are slipping into the offering plate, imagine it as a warm blanket or a bottle of medicine for someone in need. That handful of quarters you put into the wagon is a handful or rice. That check is sheetrock to rebuilt a home devastated by Hurricane Harvey. That pledge envelope is a year of Sunday worship services in which we can come together to hear the good news, sing a new song, pray a new prayer and nurture our hope.
At church, we are challenged to hear Jesus say, “Who by worrying will add a single hour to your life?”
Friends, I know that telling you to stop worrying will not stop your worrying. We can’t do it alone.
But, together, we have a better chance at nurturing a new way of living, with less worry and more hope.
At church, we come together for 1 hour each Sunday to worship. Here we learn Gospel values and we practice how to live them out. Here, we learn a new song and pray a new prayer and give in a new way. Here we gain strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Here we come to be guided by the refrain: “Don’t worry, be hopeful.”