What, me worry?

“I’m sure they’ll be fine.”

That’s what my mother-in-law said as we discussed introducing our tightly wound dog to her high-strung dog.

Jon and I were about to head out of town—sans son and dog—so the stakes were high. Would the two pooches be compatible housemates?

I was skeptical. No, I was worried. Part of my brain was pretty sure that after some barking, chasing and power plays they would find their way to a truce, but the rest of my brain envisioned my mother-in-law and our son enduring a weekend of growls and skirmishes as we enjoyed a weekend away.

After Jon and I drove off, waving goodbye to my mother-in-law, son and their two-dog pack, from that point on helpless to help, it occurred to me yet again how futile it is to worry. When have my worries ever averted disaster?

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of worry is “mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated.”

Impending or anticipated.

It doesn’t describe worry as concern for something that is upon us. When it comes—when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when we’re feeling sad—we are not usually worried. We are troubleshooting or addressing the problem. Washing the wound, pulling out the stinger, calling a friend.

Surely this is why some of us feel we are at our best when we’re in crisis. Doing something that is necessary offers more feeling of control and sense of accomplishment than worrying about something not yet here, something that is a mere possibility.

Did I worry about whether my first marriage would last? Yes. Did it? No.

Did I have doubts about my book’s first publisher? Yes. Did it go well? No.

Did I anticipate challenges when we adopted our son? Yes. Has parenting been easy? No.

But here’s the question I like to ask myself: Are things—right now—as they should be?

We all know the unfortunate truth, right? We don’t grow unless we encounter challenges, we don’t learn who we are—or become who we are meant to be—unless we enter the crucible, face the fears, endure the pain, fail, grapple, bang on the sides of whatever has trapped us and beg to be released.

And then figure out how to deal with it.

Despite the difficulties I listed, I can say that at this moment, things are as-they-should-be. I am married to the right man, my book has been released in a new edition by a new publisher, and my husband and I are working as a team to raise our son.

And each of those things I worried about has brought me to the point I find myself at today. The path could have been more direct, less toilsome. But I don’t regret the route. Without it, we would not be where and how and who we are in this moment: not perfect, not exactly relaxed but, indeed, fine.

Jon’s and my weekend took us to the Spent Dandelion near Lake Superior’s North Shore, where we spent time with Anna Madsen, a freelance Lutheran theologian and one of my first-ever friends. As we discussed the idea of being open to risk and to failure, and how to live into our experiences, she observed that many times Jesus said, “Do not be afraid,” but the Bible does not quote him saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

This, despite how much he and his followers had to fear.

As for my mother-in-law, our son and the dogs, yes, the animals jockeyed for position, negotiated which human they would guard and where the food bowls would go. Then they settled down for the evening.

And the next day they got growly and unacceptably snappy, so my mother-in-law voted her own dog off the island, delivering him to my sister-in-law’s house. Then both dogs settled down, separately.

In the end, my mother-in-law was right. No, it wasn’t smooth. No, it wasn’t the easiest weekend on the dog front. But really, there was no reason to worry.

They—we all—were fine.


Whether you are on a theological quest or looking for a peaceful spot to spend a few days of reading and reflection, I whole-heartedly recommend the Spent Dandelion Theological Retreat Center in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Rev. Dr. Anna Madsen is wise, thought-provoking and genuinely delightful—and an hour of theological conversation with her is included with each day of your stay!


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