“We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies. We make mental provision for the days to come and everything turns out differently, quite differently… The things that have to be done must be done, and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God. Ultimately, we have just one moral duty; to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
As with most everything of high importance, it’s easier said than done when it comes to keeping ourselves from becoming “infested with thousands of petty fears and worries.” Most of us are susceptible to being kidnapped from the present by the many cares and concerns that intrude on our minds and hearts. Although our fears and worries are often well-founded, when we give them the power to distract us, it is difficult to stay focused on the here and now, and impossible to remain at peace.
Etty Hillesum, the author of the above quote, was not immune from fears and worries, and she knew what it meant to live in a “troubled world.” Etty, a Dutch Jew, did not survive the Holocaust, but she did manage to remain at peace despite the unimaginable horrors through which she lived. In this passage from her diary Etty reminds herself, and us, that our first moral duty is to protect and promote inner-peace, and she rightly claims that doing so can have a powerful impact on others and on the world.
If Etty is right in saying that petty fears and worries are “motions of no confidence in God,” then maintaining inner-peace is not merely a matter of learning how to fend off “worries about the morrow;” rather, it is about having faith that no matter what happens, there is a larger, sacred reality in which everything unfolds. Etty knew that she and her family and friends would not survive the death camps, but she never lost the sense that both life and death are dimensions of a mystery beyond comprehension; inner-peace, for Etty, was a by-product of this conviction.
We probably all make “mental provision for the days to come.” We all expect that there will be a tomorrow, and we have hopes and dreams about what it will look like. True peace comes when we hold those hopes lightly, and when we trust that even if our fears and worries should come to pass, there is a peace that surpasses understanding.