Worry, Maslow's pyramid and resting in Christ | Reflections from Fellow Sam Kesting, '18

As I continue to move through life, I have found that there are quite a few areas which lack consistency.  Relationships, academic performance, athletic skill, and even housing situations all seem to be in flux, for better or for worse.  With all of these facets of life on a roller coaster, often times the only thing that seems to be constant is worry and ironically, it is the uncertainties of life that feed the ever-present nagging in the back of one’s mind.

Just like a love of sunsets or a fear of deep, dark water, worry is one of those things that is uniquely human and just comes naturally to us.  It is impossible to fully escape its clutches and can even be incapacitating at times.  I often think about worry as it corresponds to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: a pyramid of what are considered to be necessities to an enriched and fulfilling human life.  While the pyramid is by no means a perfect illustration of needs for all cultures and societies, it is helpful when conceptualizing and compartmentalizing worry.

Principally, our existence is predicated on being able to anticipate answers to questions of survival such as when we will have our next meal, where we be able to find water, and how we will stay warm, dry and out of harms way.  From these physiological needs, the tiers of the pyramid ascend up through needs of safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization at the top.  While I certainly cannot speak for everyone, I would posit that most of the individuals reading this post do not live with daily worry regarding food and shelter, especially those of us reading this on the screen of an electronic device.  Many of us are blessed to be well-fed and sheltered regularly.  However, the upper four tiers on Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid are where things begin to fall apart.  Worry quickly descends into our minds and begins to grow dark, cold roots around our hearts.

First, we struggle with needs of safety.  Financial woes, abuse, and poor health (both mental and physical) plague our society.  Everyone is touched by these ills on a daily basis in some way and they can cripple the mind and soul with fear and worry.  Next, we are confronted by a yearning to belong.  Anywhere.  Spousal relationships, church groups, sports teams, book clubs, yoga class, or even a night out with a group of friends are all manifestations of attempts to meet this need.  On many occasions throughout life, it can feel like we are each one of the least wanted in our respective communities.  We also wrestle with problems of esteem.  We fail at work, in school, or in a relationship.  Our capacity for “success” as the world would define it crumbles and we see ourselves as worthless and with nothing to show for the years of life behind us.  Finally, we face challenges to self-actualization.  Work is often not fulfilling, our potential seems stifled, and we still do not have the slightest clue what we want to be when we grow up.  It is clear to see these upper four needs going unmet in those around us and even clearer still within our own persons.  Universities are environments replete with worry regarding these necessities and having been at one for the last four years, I can tell you it is ubiquitous.

The obvious question that follows these unmet needs asks how we fix them.  Do we not have seminars and counselors?  Medicines and therapies?  Clubs, dating websites, and self-help books?  Why do all of them fail us?  What are we missing?  Why do we continue to worry?

I have been blessed to have grown up in a family of faith and many wise voices have poured into my life over the last 22 years.  From them, I have identified two methods for combating debilitating worry: resting in Christ and practicing thankfulness to learn to give generously.

Being a young kid dealing with worry and fear, I memorized 1 Peter 3:5 and Matthew 11:28.  These verses speak of casting anxiety and burdens on Christ and receiving rest and care in return.  As a child, this brought some comfort but in growing older these words become far easier said than done.  It can be difficult to see the Lord’s plan come to fruition in a tangible way, especially on His timeline.  Ultimately for me, resting in Christ has meant prayerfully laying plans, expectations, and worry at his feet and trusting that He knows what he is doing with them.  There have been many occasions in which I was filled with strife about the future and Christ has revealed His better way for my life.  Although there is and will be plenty of uncertainty, I can be free from trying to have it all figured out.

Thankfulness is like a muscle: left alone, it decays into nothing but when exercised, it flourishes.  It is far easier to dwell on what we do not have than what we do, especially in a state of constant comparison with those around us.  We will always be able to see the bigger, better, and more successful and our circumstances are rarely exactly to our liking.  I once had a director at a camp I worked at tell me that he was thankful for rainy days.  When I first heard this, I was a bit taken aback.  As a counselor, rainy days were usually the toughest.  It was always colder, kids got wet and frustrated, and activities were cancelled.  The director went on to explain how the rain watered the earth, reminded you that you were alive through discomfort, and led to more time indoors where important conversations could be had with the campers.  This taught me to find opportunity to be thankful in all things.  Much like thankfulness, generosity does not come easy.  We are selfish creatures and any extra time, money, or other resources that we have tend to immediately be used on our favorite person (ourselves).  However, in thankfulness, the seeds of generosity are sown.  Being thankful for our circumstances surely leads to the realization of the abundance that has already been given to us.  From this abundance, we are called to be open-handed and freely distribute what we have to others.

The worry that corresponds to the tiers of Maslow’s pyramid is countered through Christ and His church.  Safety, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization are found through prayer, study of scripture, and community with likeminded Christians.  Resting in Christ provides safety and belonging, thankfulness builds esteem, and generosity provides purpose.  Although a perfect and complete picture of needs being met will never occur on this fallen earth, glimpses can be realized through a relationship with Christ and interactions with those who love Him.  I have been blessed to be able to see these glimpses through others and in my own life at school and will hopefully continue to see them as I move on from this place.  While worry will never fully be dispelled, this perspective has helped to keep it in its place.