Confession. I might be the worrying-est worrier. I worry about lots ‘o stuff. Fellow worriers of life, you’ve got a friend in me. The Toy Story kind.
I don’t just worry about the present and future, I have often found myself worrying about the past. And in case that sounds ridiculous, it is. The past has already happened and I can do nothing to change it. I have tried to figure out if all of this worry is part of my constitution, or if the worry has resulted from things I have been unable to control, circumstances I have encountered, my upbringing, etc. Logic tells me all of the above and then some. But for those of you who know what perpetual worry feels like, you know that worry sucks. I mean, it truly blows.
Sometimes I worry about ridiculous things. Case in point. The other day. I began to worry about an important conversation in an interview that I had coming up. Now, like everyone I’m not good at a lot of things. For instance, I once tried to drill a screw into the wall with the power drill set on reverse, I cannot assemble IKEA furniture, and looking at certain math equations literally causes my brain to shut down. But, I am good at some things. I like to think of myself as a pretty decent communicator. EXCEPT when I’m nervous.
So, I ruminated over this upcoming conversation, and the worry that I had about it did nothing except fuel an autonomic nervous system freak-out, which somehow caused a temporary and simultaneous paralysis of Broca’s area and my hippocampus, so that, not only did I horribly stumble over my words, I had temporary amnesia from what seemed ALL of the knowledge that I have accrued in my entire lifetime. Awesome. Needless to say, the interview did not go well. Bobby McFerrin, where are you when I need a reality check?
Other times, I worrify (yes, that’s now a real word) the future by mobilizing my anxiety in the most ridiculous ways.
Por exemplo. My husband got in a fender-bender a few weeks back and the front-end of his vehicle was pretty crunched up. Most people would say a few well-placed expletives, file the insurance claim, pay the deductible, get the car repaired, and move on. Not me. My husband followed those steps, but of course, I take it to the next level in my head and think, “Omg, what if the accident caused some internal damage the repair techs never see and the car leaves the body shop with some problem that was never addressed?! Great, two years from now, the transmission’s gonna go because they never fixed the thingy that runs the main thing and then the engine’s going to stress because of the thingy, and then, and then, and then…”
I’m already into the future at the dealership with my husband, waving goodbye to the car that should have lasted us a decade and dreading future finance charges. I know, I’m cray cray.
The worst way that I worry is when I truly catastrophize the circumstances. Here’s an example. One night, my eldest child said her shift ended at 10:00 p.m. She’s still not home by 10:45 p.m. and we only live about 20 minutes from her place of employment. I call her cell to make sure she’s ok. No answer. I hang up, you guessed it, worried. Do I remember all of the other times that she has neglected to answer her phone when I call? No, of course not. (Side note: Parents of teenagers who pay for your children’s cell phones, is that not one of the most annoying things ever? I mean, they have cell phones so that we can get a hold of them, right? Not so that they can stunt their social and cognitive skills by never actually using the phone to talk to anyone, but instead learning abbreviated text-ese that will decrease their chances of developing beautiful grammar and fluid speaking skills.)
Back to the point. My kid is late and I start to think the worst has happened. Has she been in an accident? Did the car break down? Is she on the side of the road somewhere in the dark?! Alone?! Or even worse, was she mugged on her way out of the store??!! From there, the doom accelerates at an exhaustive pace. My stomach is in knots and I feel faint. By the time she walks in the door, five minutes later, my nerves are shot, I’ve already pictured the funeral procession, and I’m practically in tears when she says, “Sorry, my phone died and I had to stay late to finish a few things.” Oh. My. Lord.
Someone please tell me I’m in my right mind. That you’ve experienced something similar. Don’t leave me hanging here…this is normal, right? Ugh. Maybe not.
I like to think I find good company in the Psalms. David is a great example of a self-made worry-wart with a lot of troublesome thoughts. That dude wrote like a million poems about worry. But he also showed us what he did with it. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Sometimes this is much easier said than done. In times of worry, I not only find comfort in David’s pleas to God for a sound mind and how he demonstrated his active surrender to God, I also remember the words of Corrie ten Boom. She most wisely articulated that “worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
Worry is worrisome to me because it means that something in my life is off-balance. It means that I’m allowing myself to believe that all of the circumstances in my life are somehow in my control, which, of course, they are not. But the illusion of control is what fools me into thinking I have some sort of power over the things over which I have no authority. I can only control those things that are actually in my power to control. Like what I eat, what time I go to bed, and whether or not I would ever choose to watch the movie Gravity ever again – which, I won’t. All of the big stuff is off-limits. Not in my sphere of influence. Verboten. I think God made it this way so that our default to worry would eventually weigh down on us so mightily that we would have no better choice than to rely on Him and cast off the worry that clogs our thoughts and burdens our souls. Worry is paralyzing, ineffective, and in a sense, self-centeredness. Tim Keller said it best when he explained that, “When we decide to be our own center, our own king, everything falls apart: physically, socially, spiritually, and psychologically.” Amen to that.
The other day, I was sitting with a sweet friend who suffered a devastating miscarriage earlier this year. She had struggled with infertility and was overjoyed when the test was finally positive. When her baby suddenly died, her heart was shattered. But, God is SO good and by His grace, she is expecting a little one again. While we chatted about the excitement of her baby, I couldn’t help but notice a cloud that hung over her words when she described her apprehension in finally revealing her pregnancy to the world, now that she was in the “safe zone”. When I asked her about this, her eyes welled up with tears and she confessed she was afraid that she would lose this baby as well. While I completely empathized with her pain and worry, my friend was hanging on so tightly to something not in her control. But, her confession of anxiety and worry was exactly what both she and I needed.
In his book, The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You, John Ortberg encourages us to be diligent in bearing one another’s burdens when we are overcome by worry. “Never worry alone. When anxiety grabs my mind, it is self-perpetuating. Worrisome thoughts reproduce faster than rabbits, so one of the most powerful ways to stop the spiral of worry is simply to disclose my worry to a friend… The simple act of reassurance from another human being [becomes] a tool of the Spirit to cast out fear – because peace and fear are both contagious.” My friend’s beautiful vulnerability demonstrated the healing that comes from pouring out our hearts, our fears, our worry, and our concerns with trusted friends. God’s gift to us is that we can tangibly feel our worry dissipate when we allow His peace to permeate our souls, but He also grants us the blessing of authentic conversations with friends that can obliterate our cerebral perseveration on the worrisome what-if’s.
The conversation with my friend also convicted me of the many times that I have fallen prey to the mesmerizing and spellbinding trickery of worry, and how my own fear has kept me from experiencing the joy that comes with God’s gifts to us. My friend’s courage and confession also prompted me to recall the feelings of supernatural peace that I have when I truly surrender my worry to God.
Perhaps Stevie Wonder was on to something when he wrote these catchy phrases: “Don’t you worry ’bout a thing, don’t you worry ’bout a thing, pretty mama, Cause I’ll be standing in the wings…” I want to sing that to my friend today. I want to share it with you as a reminder that God is always here to protect us, to cover us, including our worry and fear, with His wings. In Him, we can choose to find rest for our weary, fretful, crazy catastrophizing minds. I’m preaching to myself right now because – I’m human. I’m going to worry. But as much as I do worry, I desire to trust God that much more. Hands open. To infinity, and beyond.