Ever since I can remember, my mind worked overtime thinking about all the dreadful events that could happen to my loved ones or me. I worried about major tragedies: plane crashes, rape, cancer. I even worried about minor situations: missing a payment due date, wearing the wrong thing to a social outing, having bad breath. However, most of those what-ifs were never realized.
Until, that is, the day my worst dread became a reality: My father was diagnosed with cancer. Finally my worries were justified. But now I had to decide: Who would be my companion through this crisis? Anxiety—or God?
While praying for my dad, I recalled Jesus' words in Luke 12:25-26: "Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not! And if worry can't do little things like that, what's the use of worrying over bigger things?" (NLB). This message comes from the man who often didn't know where he'd eat or sleep; who constantly endured public criticism from many important people; who knew he'd die an excruciatingly painful death. I was ashamed. I didn't want anxiety to cripple me. I wanted to trust God and experience peace. "OK, God," I prayed through clenched teeth, "I'm turning Dad's health over to you. I'm trusting you want the best for my family. And I won't worry about something I can't control." That prayer was the toughest I ever prayed.
To follow through on my prayer, I began searching for strategies to rid myself of worry and fill my life with hope.
Pray in faith
For me, prayer wasn't the problem. The problem was telling God my worries and asking for his help, then holding on to them, like a tug-of-war. I kept reminding God to be as concerned about the situation as I was.
When I progressed from my 20s to 30s with no husband, I grew panicky. Oh, how I prayed and worried I'd be single forever. Finally, God impressed upon me he couldn't answer my prayers if I didn't have faith—the opposite of worry. He didn't promise that he'd answer "yes," just that he'd answer. I took a leap of faith and said, "God, I'm going to trust you know what you're doing. And if that means I never get married, then I'm not going to waste my life worrying about being single." When worry reared its ugly head again, I repeated that prayer. God didn't immediately answer with a "yes." But I discovered the more I prayed that prayer, the more I meant it. God eventually gave me a spouse, but by then I was enjoying my life so much, I'd stopped worrying about my marital status.
Studies show worrying can lead to tension headaches, hypertension, muscle tension, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, irritability, poor memory, insomnia, and even obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Whenever I tense up and feel nauseated, I meditate and breathe deeply. In his book The Anxiety Cure, Christian psychologist Dr. Archibald Hart explains meditation and its benefits as the "literal embodiment of Psalm 46:10, 'Be still, and know that I am God.' . . . It is all about worship, a devotional act" of imagining "Jesus standing in front of you, beckoning you to hand over all that bothers you." Then I "select an attribute of God and focus on it. His love, compassion, grace."
I also exercise to combat the physical effects of worry. When I'm exercising, I can think only about breathing. After all, who has time to worry when you're just trying to huff and puff around the track one more time?
Learn to laugh
Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." I realized I needed to lighten up, to force myself to find whatever humor I could, and not take myself so seriously. So what if I messed up and called a coworker the wrong name? So what if I miscalculated the traffic and was late to the business meeting I was leading? I've learned to apologize, laugh about it, and move on. (I use the "I'm blond at the roots" excuse.) By tomorrow, everyone will have forgotten. And if not, it'll make a great story in a year—or ten.
In Philippians 4:6-7, the apostle Paul says, "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he's done. If you do this, you'll experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand" (italics added).
I decided to test this promise one day during a nine-hour road trip. It was raining so hard I couldn't see the pavement. My anxiety meter was running high, so I decided to list aloud all the blessings in my life. The list's length amazed me! Focusing on the positive calmed me enough to think clearly, make wise driving decisions, and actually enjoy the ride. I couldn't control the weather, but I could control my anxiety.
Acknowledge God's power
1 Peter 5:7 says to give all your worries to God, for he cares about what happens to you. But who is God, really? I tended to make him just a little bigger than I was—until I studied Isaiah 40. God says, "Do you want to know how big I am? Compared to me, people are like grass." With such a big God on my side, why should I worry? Granted, devastation in life does occur. Your family files for bankruptcy, your teenage daughter gets pregnant, your husband dies in a car accident. Those are absolutely times of concern. But they're also times when God reaches out to say, "I'm sovereign. Do you trust me? Allow me to take control." Then he lets you choose.
My "worry demon" still rears its head on occasion, but with decreased frequency as I continue to practice biblical principles. Several years ago, when my husband and I were building a house, a carpenter fell two stories and was injured. When I first heard the news he was suing us, I saw us losing everything. But God intervened in my thoughts: Does losing everything matter eternally? Once I realized my attitude and reaction, not my loss, would make an eternal difference, God's indescribable peace flooded me. In the end, we had to pay the worker $35,000. We're still recovering from that financial hit, yet I'm OK. That's what kicking the worry habit can do.
During difficult times, I look back over all the other times God's faithfully brought me through worrisome circumstances. If he worked on my behalf then, he'll surely do so again. Just ask my dad—he's living proof.
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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