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hangnails and what to do about them

how life is like a hangnail

As Charlie was preaching on Ash Wednesday, I realized I was worrying a hangnail on my thumb--rubbing it back and forth, every now and again picking at it half-heartedly. It was nervous energy focused on a tiny thing that, if I could smooth it out, fix it, all would be right with the world. It was the same with the Shrove Tuesday Auction. I was very ready this year--all ducks in a regimented row--and Monday night I lay awake, my thoughts racing over miniscule details. I created short To Do lists so I wouldn't forget in the morning, going over and over them, trying to smooth out things out so all would be well.

And of course all was well--the event was wonderful. But that's the point, isn't it? Worrying something means going over and over it with your hand or in your mind, memorizing the flaws until all you can see is the flaw. How could it possibly go well with so much wrong with it--O God, how did it come to this?

The worrying of a sore doesn't help. It fills my desire to do something but that's it. More often than not my worrying a hangnail leads to blood and pain. But how to get away from the need to worry? "You cannot by worrying add to your life a single day" says Joshuah bar-Joseph. But how to stop?

In worrying a hangnail, my finger is the sole focus of my mind. I am in the midst of a crisis--there is imperfection, there is roughness, there is challenge--which must be met. The world narrows to this one thing. It's no different with a work challenge or a personal worry--the thing which gives us pain or frustration becomes the locus of everything we do. There is no distance, no space to gain perspective--the worry is all. Centuries of Christian writers have said the answer is Sabbath. We need a moment separate from our daily worry to see things as they are. Easier said than done. We are commanded several times to take a day off yet, as Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline we cannot convince ourselves that it's important enough to find the time. Sabbath seems like slacking off because we don't have anything to worry, because we don't have anything to keep us busy.

The thing that worries me is not all-consuming. The thing that worries me is not all-important. The thing that worries me is not an idol. The thing that worries me will pass.