On “The Worried Well,” Religion, and the Cure

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

I got to thinking about how the medical expression “the worried well” also works in the religious realm.

“The Worried Well”?

From dictionary.com, this term means “…the people who do not need medical treatment, but who visit the doctor to be reassured, or with emotional problems.”

What brought the expression to mind recently is the preponderance of drug commercials on television, radio, and online advertised to treat not only standard illnesses but also an ever-increasing collection of new ailments  including the side effects caused by–drugs prescribed for the original conditions.

Not only that, it seems sometimes that the ads are not only selling the drugs but also the new diseases.


It’s enought to give you a headache.

This is not to say medicine is not a huge blessing for humanity. Mostly.

But it is to say, based on the increase in the amount of drug commercials and new diseases, there’s more and more a person could worry about all the time.

“The Religious Worried Well”?

Religion can also keep you worried. Consider:

I used to think when those “born-again Christian types” prattled on about “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship with Jesus Christ,” it was just Jesus-babble (like psycho-babble but with a large cross hung around the neck).

Now that I’ve been one of them for a few decades, I get it, i.e., the meaning behind what Jesus said when he said “”I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14; “know” as in having “fellowship with Him” not physically, but mentally and spiritually. Say what? Consider this explanation).

As to a clear definition of religion (a contradiction in terms if ever there were one), all disciplines from religion to philosophy, sociology, psychology, and anthropology weigh in, and in quite the lengthy read, if one has the time and inclination. Here is a sample from Wikipedia.

But the best I’ve gleaned about the differences between the two might be summed up like this: Christianity is to acquire and to nurture a relationship with Jesus Christ* whereas religion is a variously defined worlview/set of behaviors, rites, and obligations aimed at satisfying a god or gods (or if the term “god” triggers one, “superior being,” or “ethereal one-ness,” or “it” may suffice), and normed over time.

Furthermore, over time, the doctrines, rules, and regs in a religion can be changed and replaced, added and deleted, versus a relationship with Jesus Christ who is “the same yesterday today and forever.” He came to earth on a mission and accomplished it, once and for all time.

Of course, some people dismiss anything to do with religion or spirituality, but if we’re honest, we acknowledge that as soon as the brain begins to branch off from learning how to  manage physicality, with a lot of help from Mom and Dad, and starts to operate in reason, all humans soon share this: the primal quest to know Is There Some Kind of God (or gods) Out There? Not in so many words, of course.

This quest is wired into the DNA of every human, young and old, rich and poor,  just like the quest to know who we are and how we fit into the world.

The quest, more of a primitive sense at first, of course, initiated perhaps by looking up at the sky one day and wondering what’s on the other side, is also writ large between the lines of science, art, literature, music, and all other forms of invention and creativity.

Its application in the strictly religious sense is how every child is taught in every culture that certain behaviors are wrong (worshipping the wrong god, for example, or subscribing to the wrong philosophy, or incorrectly fulfilling some rite or ritual, or disobeying the “elders”).

Non-compliance, or “illness,” if you will, in the world of religion will compromise your spiritual immunity to a lesser or greater degree, the terminal condition, depending on one’s faith tradition, being the category of sin that will strip you of your salvation altogether and send you straight to Hell.** 

But, not to worry. Mankind has the cure. Lots of cures.

Just like all those advertisements for drugs, there are also ads for spiritual remedies in every discipline and on every street corner; there are various, sundry, ever-emerging and changing religious systems to take as needed and prescribed.

So when some spiritual condition makes you ill it could also be a very worrisome thing–finding the right cure, that is.

The Cure

Back to my comparison of religion with a relationship and knowing what I do now about the difference between religious systems developed by the best spiritual thinkers (and, okay, a few power, money, and sex mongers, let’s face it, because religion is a powerful people-magnet because…primal quest…), I’ll stay with my relationship with Jesus.

In part, because I grew up intensely religiously enmeshed at church, school, and home in the Mother of All Belief Systems (my story unpacks here), and when I became aware of the simple yet profound Gospel of Jesus Christ (check it out here), there was simply no comparison.

The choice for me–and innumerable others over time–was a realization that religion and a relationship with Jesus are as different as apples and oranges, philosophy and science, “ethereal one-ness of the higher power strewn amid the stars and seeded on earth at the unknowable dawn of dawn,” or what have you, and the God of the Bible.

Of course “knowing Jesus,” just like knowing anybody else, requires time, dedication, openess and exploration of the real person, not just what you’ve heard other people say about Him.


For physical maladies, real or emotional, see a doctor–and if you need medicine, be sure to read up on all the side effects, first! (Personally, I’ve found that muting the sound when the ads come on the television or radio also helps.)

For the spiritual malady I’d call religion that sustains itself in part by keeping the spiritual seeker (of any age) worried that he or she isn’t doing enough, being enough, and/or keeping up with the changing rules in order to “get well” spiritually, if not actually “stay saved,” I recommend the sufferer take one Jesus (the real One), if you will, daily, at will, with a full glass of the “water of God’s Word,” and drink deep.

As Jesus put it to the woman at the well, using water as a metaphor for spiritual life:

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

She would likely come to know if/as she meditated on His words to her and learned more about Jesus, that nothing else satisfies, resolves, saves, heals, delivers, provides peace of mind–and redeems–like what is revealed in that (spiritual) prescription, in short, in knowing Him.

And not only that, Jesus, Himself, paid the price for this cure, one time, in full, on the cross.


*Here is information on how to initiate and nurture a relationship with Jesus Christ.

**For example, in the case of Roman Catholicism and depending upon the category of sin, and whether or not you have done sufficient penance for it while on earth, said sin will land you in Purgatory, a temporary state of suffering by fire–of indeterminate length.

But there is a little bit of good news, that is if you can get past the burning-in-an-unquencheable-fire  part. Via various, sundry, but approved, rites, rituals, and prayers peformed by the still living, you can get out of Purgatory and ushered into heaven. At some indeterminate point. But it’s complicated.

And of course, the Purgatory doctrine/tradition begs the question: what, exactly did Jesus mean when He said, “It is finished?”

This entry was posted in Commentaries, most recent posts, salvation by grace, spiritual transformation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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