Have you ever noticed that the holidays bring out the worst in our worrying? Several years ago I went through a dark period of illness and distress. As soon as one difficulty passed, another took its place. By the beginning of Advent I had fallen into a fretful habit of “What if-ing.” “What if the new medication doesn’t work?” “What if I have to cancel that work project?” “What if I still feel like this on Christmas—how will I get the dinner done, the house cleaned? . . .”
“Look,” my husband said one day, “I know it’s hard to have hope sometimes. But living in the future steals today. Can’t you decide not to start sentences with ‘What if’?”
As an Advent offering, maybe I could.
“The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to those who are searching for his love” (Lamentations 3:25). As days passed and I practiced tossing What-if’s out of my head whenever they intruded, I was surprised at how often I wasted perfectly good hours by worrying about something that hadn’t happened yet—and might never. I realized that when my own store of hope was used up, there always seemed to be someone around (maybe an earth angel?) who could show me the rainbow hidden from my view. Although I endured miserable moments and it took discipline not to return to the old pattern, eventually I stopped focusing on the fearful future and decided to enjoy just this one hour. (The right medication helped, too.)
Today I look back upon that period with astonishment, for not one of my worries ever came to pass. A waste of energy, yes, but also a lesson. As St. Paul reminds us, “Hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance” (Romans 8:25). Each Advent, as I wait for the Child who brought us the hope that never fades, I give thanks.