Who Profits from Your Worry?

by Amy Simpson

Image by Hopeful.ya

Image by Hopeful.ya

"The target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline."

These are stunning words from the United Nations Millennium Project, pointing to some remarkable results in the fight against extreme poverty.

Back in 2000, the United Nations convened the Millennium Summit, a gathering of world leaders who came together to set humanitarian goals for improving global living conditions by the year 2015. Among these was the goal to cut the 1990 global rate of extreme poverty in half. In setting this goal, the world gave itself 15 years to accomplish something huge. Turns out, we needed only 10 years.

That's progress well worth celebrating, but few people are even aware of this progress. In fact, a recent Barna Group survey found that 84 percent of Americans are unaware of this trend. And 67 percent of us are convinced extreme poverty has actually increased during the last 30 years.

Why aren't we celebrating?

Perhaps many reasons exist, but one may be the reality that most of this success has come from the efforts of governments who have opened and stimulated their economies to growth, not from private individuals or NGOs. Very few voices in our society have a vested interest in spreading this great news—because few can claim responsibility for it. There is much still to be done, and if donors rest on the laurels of what the world has accomplished, they may become complacent. If they become discouraged at the news that the governments of India and China have accomplished what the altruistic impulses of Americans could not, perhaps they will stop giving.

For some organizations and individuals, it's common practice to attract donations by stimulating not only compassion but also anxiety. For those who rely on such techniques for their bread and butter, it's more lucrative to trade in worry than to celebrate success.

It's one thing to stay quiet about something that may threaten the sustainability of the still-much-needed business of doing good. It's another to prey on worried minds for profit.

Our culture expects and encourages worry. It's considered a sign of engagement, importance, and motivation to make a contribution to society. By contrast, Christian virtues are often misunderstood: peace interpreted as apathy, contentment as laziness, and joy as callousness.

Our culture expects and encourages worry. It's considered a sign of engagement, importance, and motivation to make a contribution to society. By contrast, Christian virtues are often misunderstood: peace interpreted as apathy, contentment as laziness, and joy as callousness.

This cultural soup keeps many of us from recognizing the presence of worry in our lives until it swells into a mass of anxiety that causes us emotional or physical pain. Also often hidden is the constant pressure from people who hope to profit from our worry. They design their marketing campaigns, products, and messages specifically to keep us worried.

Why are we still using antibacterial soaps, household cleaners, and hand sanitizer when we know they're producing a problem far more terrifying than the one we're trying to clean up? Companies are eager to feed our fears in order sell us their products.

Why do we keep subjecting ourselves to the pain and risks of unnecessary plastic surgery—and spend even more when economic times are hard? The fear of growing irrelevance, or losing what we have, can be overwhelming. As one study discovered, "Female subjects conditioned to think about a bad economy were more likely to display a preference for buying items that could enhance their physical appearance." Surgeons and pharmaceutical companies are there to help.

Why haven't we ended our dysfunctional relationship with cable news networks and sensationalistic political campaigners? Fear is a powerful motivator, and they know how to capitalize on it.

Is this who we want to serve?

I'd rather serve the God of all strength and peace, who holds the world without trembling. "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?" he asks. "Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?" (Isaiah 40:12).

This same God told Joshua, "Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9). He inspired the psalmist to write, "The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?" (Psalm 118:6)

Jesus told 1st-century people, living a subsistence lifestyle in an occupied land, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Worry was and is a barrier to trust in the only One who is truly capable of providing all that we need.

We should think about who our worry is serving. It doesn't serve us, and it doesn't serve God.

Worry is a waste of time and emotional energy. It never moves us forward. And when people make decisions from a place of worry, they often make things a whole lot more complicated and painful than they were. As followers of Christ, we are called to a countercultural response: faith, trust, and peace.

Amy Simpson is author of Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry. She also serves as editor of Gifted for Leadership, senior editor of Leadership Journal, a speaker, and a co-active personal and professional coach. You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter @aresimpson.


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