Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Hardy Hasenfuss 6/19/2011
at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Why do we worry?    Why do we fear?

I have chosen this topic because I have been an expert worrier all my life, starting at age 5 months, the beginning of World War II. There are probably a few of us in this room who have this so-called expertise.  Am I right?

I have made a commitment to myself to do something about my worrying, and the first step is to understand it, to recognize it. So, I’m going to share with you what I have learned about it so far. I am by no means finished with my research at this time.

I will talk about where worry and fear come from, how to recognize them, how they affect us, what we can do about them, and what Spirit and God has to do with all of this.

I can only give you a “light” version on this topic, the Worry 101, because of the limited time we have together today. I do have resources and books to recommend, if you want to go much deeper (which I’m doing for myself in this time of my life)

I’m going to use fear and worry interchangeably, because they are all versions of the same thing; they do show up differently in different situations and with different people.

Is Worry and Fear good or bad?                                  It depends.

It’s good if you use it only to the extent needed to keep you safe. Example: You fear being hit by a car when you step into a cross-walk. So, to be conservative or cautious you wait until the car stops and lets you cross safely, before you enter the cross walk. That is GOOD worrying. It’s SMART worrying.

It’s bad if you are afraid to drive on an Interstate because you believe you don’t know, and cannot learn, how to merge safely into high speed traffic on a freeway, and you therefore avoid all free-ways and interstate highways.

Fear and Worry has been around for a long time.

Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address in 1933:  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

And Yann Martel said: “It is life’s only true opponent, only fear can defeat life.”

Where does Worry and Fear come from?

Worry usually is generated in our head, and it stays in our head, and especially in our body. It usually originates from past (sometimes unpleasant, even traumatic), experiences, and we now worry that this same thing could happen to us again.

Examples of these types of fears and worries because of past experiences:

  • We’ve been embarrassed or shamed by others, and are afraid this might happen again
  • We’ve not fit in sometimes, stood out as odd.
  • People talked negatively about us, and we overheard it, or we found out from others.
  • We’ve been abused, either physically, mentally or emotionally.
  • We’ve been embarrassed in front of the class.
  • We made an utter fool of ourselves in some way and are still embarrassed about it today.
  • We’ve been kicked out of our group, for whatever reason, and then felt abandoned, that we don’t belong anywhere, that nobody cares about me. I don’t matter.
  • We’ve given a speech sometime, somewhere, and it totally bombed. (I’ve done that.)
  • Or we stood up to speak in a group and couldn’t bring out a word?
  • Can anyone relate to anyone of these examples?  Any other biggies?
  • Incidentally, fear of public speaking is one of the biggest fears people have, sometimes even ranking ahead of the fear of death.

Or worries and fears might originate in the lessons we’ve been taught throughout our life by parents, siblings, relatives, schools, and yes, even churches.


  • It’s not safe to talk to a stranger!
  • Or it’s not safe to stand up and offer a different/contrary opinion.
  • Or you shouldn’t ask for what you want or need, that’s being selfish!
  • Or it’s not nice to say NO, or to set a boundary for yourself which others should not cross.
  • Or “children should be seen but not be heard, be quiet!”

Other major fears/worries:

  • Fear of Death, Fear of Change, Fear of surprises (negative ones)
  • Fear of getting old, therefore frail and sick.
  • Fear of our genes: My father/mother/grandparent had a heart attack at 50, so I’m due for one anytime soon.
  • Or I’ve got a few aches and pains, and I’m getting up in my years, so I’ll probably need a hip replacement, or knee replacement.

Is that enough for setting the stage?         


Is that a place where we want to stay? Do we even recognize that this is where our thoughts often are. Are we aware that we are holding some of these beliefs?

Is this the kind of story we want to tell ourselves for the rest of our life? Or do we want to say ENOUGH

A lot of our worries and fears are not even based in fact. It’s something we make up. We worry about something that has not happened, and may never happen. Those of us who are in our head a lot – who of you will admit that

I will admit.      

We go through all of the scenarios in our head about things that could happen if ….,,  or if we don’t do this …..        Sound familiar?

Worry is not generated in our heart, it’s not a creation of Spirit, of God, of Love.

What is the result of worrying, what are the benefits:

As I said before, there is some positive benefit that can be derived from being fearful and worrying: We practice safe behavior, we wear bike helmets, ski helmets, wear seat belts, etc. We will do fewer dum things, like jumping from a moving train.

What are negative consequences of worrying, especially if we worry too much:

The list is long, too long. I only have 8 items on my list, and I am sure everyone of you can think of a lot more.

My list of 8:  here we go:

Effects of fear/worry

  • Worrying affects our self-confidence. We worry that we are not good enough, smart enough, look good enough
  • It paralyzes us. We seem to not be able to make a decision, move forward, take action.
  • It keeps us from joy and enjoying life fully, because we expect the worst.
  • Positive people will avoid us. We’ll only attract other worriers. Misery loves company.
  • We wastetoo much time and energy worrying about things in the future, things that have not happened yet, or may never happen.
  • We rely on our bodily defenses: short, shallow breath, tensing up our body and keeping it tense, keeping it in fight or flight mode constantly, wearing down or wearing out our adrenaline system, which leads to exhaustion, dis-ease, bodily symptoms like heart problems, high blood pressure, structural (spinal) problems, severely overtaxing our immune system, which then does not allow it to fight viruses, bacteria, disease.
  • We become pessimistic and negative in our attitude; we attract negative happenings and negative people into our life, and we go on a down-ward spiral, down, down, down. We lose contact with humanity, our friends. Nobody wants to be around us anymore. And in defense, we hide from the world.
  • We deprive the world of our light, our service, our energy. 

So, what do we do deal with our fears and worries: (Notice I don’t say “fight”, whatever we fight, i.e. put energy to, we invite more of into our life, including all negative stuff)

Here are my 9 Antidotes to worrying:   (By now you can tell that I like lists)

  • Recognize where we’re at in any particular moment – checking in, asking ourselves:
  • How do I feel right now?
  • What am I thinking in this moment? Am I mainly in my head?
  • How is my breath? Short and shallow, or deep and slow?

And the answer here is not to push away, ignore our feelings. Be with them, acknowledge them.

  • When we notice any pain or similar body sensation ask ourselves whether our body is possibly trying to tell us something? And can we accept pain as a good thing, a real gift? Can you imagine stepping on a rusty nail and not feeling any pain? That would spell disaster for us.
  • Examine the story we’re telling ourselves about a particular situation. Is it true what we’re worrying about. Can we be absolutely certain about this? (Byron Catie, The Work).
  • Examine all the SHOULDS we are telling ourselves. Shoulds make us feel guilty, and that makes us worry about not being good enough.
  • Think (worry) less about the future, and let our heart speak more to us. Let God and the Universe speak more to us. The heart does not worry. The head does. God does not worry, our head does that for God. When we try to control the outcome, when we try to control how the world should function, how the weather should be tomorrow, we’re in fact interfering with God. When we worry how it’s all going to come out, we are in fact distrusting God, telling God “you may be wrong”.
  • Practice gratitude more often, in fact regularly! While we’re doing that we can’t worry. We cannot hold 2 thoughts in our head at the same time.
  • Believe that we’re good enough, that we don’t have to get or be any more perfect.
  • Pray more, be still more often, take ourselves to the Present Moment more often. Meditate more often.
  • Live!  Live NOW, in this moment, not in the future!

The Dalai lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity answered:

“Man …. Because he sacrifices his health In order to make money.

Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health

Then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;

The result being that he does not live in the present or the future;

He lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never lived. “

Let’s affirm that we will not do THAT.  And let’s end with this prayer:

“The love of God is my anchor. Nothing is required of me but to know that peace, love and harmony are found within.

As I rest in the stillness of the silence for a few moments, I feel the presence of God within me. Peace soothes my mind and heart. When I return to face the situation at hand, I bring God’s peace with me and experience transformation.”


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