I come from a long line of worriers. Worrying is actually seen as an admirable pastime for responsible people in my family. If we aren’t worrying about what could happen, what might happen, what may happen, we won’t be adequately prepared for the future.
Crazy as it sounds, my worrying ability is almost a source of pride. I’m good at it, and I feel like my family is better off because of it. My shield of worry protects us from the dangers of salmonella (cook that chicken thoroughly!), burglaries (lock the doors every night!), and naked babies (pack a change of clothes!).
This past weekend I went to a conference, and one of the speakers re-framed my relationship with worry.
If we worry, it’s a sign we don’t really trust God.
Whoa. That thought made me pause. After all, I do both, thank you very much. I worry AND trust God. So there.
The speaker continued. If we trust God, we would understand that whatever today or tomorrow holds, it will be used for His glory. Whether that’s suffering or celebrating, trust involves an acceptance of God’s will. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s unexpected.
Ouch. I believe that God can use whatever mess we make in life for some greater good. But that hasn’t kept me from being anxious about all those potential messes. Maybe I’m not simply “preparing for the future” by worrying about the smallest of contingencies. Maybe I’m actually trying to control everything because deep down I don’t trust that God is in control.
I’ve heard Matthew 6:27 about a hundred times before. It’s always sort of made me roll my eyes.
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
No. I get that. But that’s not a huge incentive to change. My worrying isn’t to try to make myself live longer. It’s to prevent All The Horrible Things from happening.
The more I thought through that statement on worry and trust, the more I realized it was true. Even if All The Horrible Things happen– God is there. I don’t need to have read every article on disaster preparation in order to get through it.
I tiptoed around the edge of this thinking a few years ago when prepping became popular. Water purification systems, long-term food storage systems, generators– they were all the rage. I bought a big bucket of dehydrated meals and squashed the fleeting thought, “Do I really need 72 dehydrated meals in my basement? If something goes down, ten-year-old oatmeal isn’t going to do much.”
It isn’t going to do much, indeed. When I get all wrapped up in worry, brandishing my shield, it becomes impossible to see the suffering of others, where I’m being called, or the shower of blessings I’ve received. I fixate on the details, leaving no room for God to provide. The quest to control everything doesn’t end up accomplishing much.
Turns out this whole worrying thing is a big obstacle to growing in faith and holiness.
I ended up purchasing this workbook from another speaker at the conference whose focus was Christian stress management. It seemed to be a practical way to move away from my lifestyle of anxiety and toward a lifestyle of trust.
We are already starting to see small changes in our family dynamic.
That was a blessing I didn’t expect. Dealing with our stress and anxiety in a healthy way is causing ripples throughout the rest of our life.
With a daughter facing a chronic, hard-to-treat diagnosis, our overall family stress level is high. We worry a lot.
It’s going to be a long process, shifting from perpetual worry to trust. I’ve got a lifetime invested in worst-case-scenario-ing. But this was a good place to start. The exercises have been helpful.
At one point during our car studying, I slammed the book shut, though.
“Wait a minute! This doesn’t actually make it less likely that we’ll be attacked by a bear or involved in a terrorist attack. It just makes it so we’re not thinking about it.” At the time, my worrier self was irritated. The exercises weren’t minimizing my risk or solving the big problems that constantly occupy my thoughts.
After a few moments of silence, it hit me. “I guess that’s okay. Those things aren’t particularly likely around here anyway.”
Embracing an attitude of trust isn’t an invitation to make dumb choices. Responsible people do plan for the future. Responsible people do wear seat belts and eat vegetables and pack a change of clothes for the baby. But responsible people don’t need to be crushed under the weight of a million “what ifs.” As Christians we trust that even if we eat a donut for breakfast and or forget to put gas in the car, ultimately we’ll be okay.
When I look back over my life, I can see that trust in God makes sense. I can see that I have no reason not to trust. I can see that my worrying hasn’t ever really accomplished anything. And it’s in the darkest moments that it’s obvious God’s plan is much bigger than anything I could have constructed.
For example, I was beyond upset when I didn’t receive the scholarship I’d been expecting at my top choice college. Begrudgingly I decided to go to a completely different school that offered me a better financial package. And that’s where I met my husband.
When I was pregnant with our oldest daughter my husband got laid off, and our landlords (who had been offering us a smashing good deal) decided to increase our rent drastically. It was in that drought of options that building our own home miraculously became attainable.
I couldn’t have ever guessed the path that my life would take.
I’ve spent a lot of time trusting in my own cautious nature, my own intelligence, my own abilities. But looking back, the bumps and holes in the road of my life have been largely out of my control. There wasn’t anything I could do to either prevent or cause them. And somehow I’ve gotten through. Somehow they have been part the larger tapestry of my life.
The process of trusting is an ongoing battle. Writing about those challenges has helped me keep moving in the right direction, but I’ve never realized how much I cling to my worrying ways in order to protect myself.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely;
In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.
There is such relief in giving myself permission not to dwell on every single bad thing that could happen. I’m committed to lay down the shield of worry and to be open God’s providence.
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