Many of us are powering through every day with a mixture of fear and anxiety serving as our primary engine. And the fuel we pour into this engine to keep it running smoothly is worry.
Most of us are so accustomed to living on this fuel that we don’t even realize how prevalent worry is in our lives. When I asked several people to tell me about their experiences with worry, most indicated they don’t consider themselves “worriers.” Then they went on to tell me about their struggles with worry, some of them describing sleepless nights and disruptions to relationships caused by worry. A few described panic attacks and other symptoms of runaway anxiety. But almost no one wanted to be labeled a “worrier.”
I never thought I was a worrier either, until God lovingly started showing me the pervasive presence of worry in my life and giving me momentary glimpses of freedom from worry. I will now readily admit that I am a worrier who is desperately pursuing freedom through trust in God—based in a stronger, deeper theology of who God is and who I am called to be. It was out of my former and ongoing experiences with worry that I wrote a book called Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry. And I’ll admit I worried my way through it. I worried that I wouldn’t have enough to say, that no one would want to read it, that I’m the only person who doesn’t have control over the problem of worry.
But I’m not.
One reason you and I worry so much is that we are surrounded by people who are as worried as we are, and who pressure us to keep worrying. As a society, we are frantic with worry. Worry is expected of responsible people. We seem to equate worry with good citizenship and awareness. We are expected to remain on emotional “high alert” as evidence that we care about the world around us. Other people want us to worry because it makes them feel better about themselves or because there is profit in fueling our fear. Whether we realize it or not, we are under pressure to conform to a self-feeding culture of worry.
Good Reasons to Worry
We are also surrounded by good reasons to worry. Our world is full of things to be afraid of, our lives are full of people and things we could lose tomorrow, and our built-in limitations keep us from seeing what we so desperately want to see: the answer to all those “what ifs”—the future.
But worried is a terrible way to live. And worry cannot fuel an abundant life.
Worry keeps us from taking risks and living boldly, and it hampers our impact on the world. It causes us to focus on negative possibilities and try to prevent them rather than follow the adventure God calls us to. When we’re worried, we try too hard to keep the life we have because we don’t trust God enough to invest in what is better. We fear people more than we respect God and his sovereignty.
Faith is always the better choice. God calls us to a life of trust in him, and part of pursuing that life is rejecting worry.
The fact is, worry is destructive. And a look through Scripture shows us that worry is sinful—a rebellious activity that creates distance between us and God. The involuntary anxious process that comes from an anxiety disorder—getting stuck in our natural and usually beneficial anxious response—is merely the product of a biological process gone overboard. Too much of a good thing, if you will. But most of us don’t have that problem—we choose to worry. And voluntary worry grows from a spiritual problem, which ultimately cannot be overcome merely through an act of the will—the solution is rooted entirely in who God is. God has repeatedly told us not to worry, not only in the well-known words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 6, but also throughout the Old Testament and in the epistles to the early church.
So while we have many reasons to worry, we have one really good—and overriding—reason not to. The Lord Almighty—the God of the universe and all that we don’t know—has called us to a life of faith and trust in him.
What good reason do we have to choose another way of life?
Rejecting worry starts with recognizing why worry offends God and accepting our proper relationship to him, to the future, and to the people and things he has placed in our care. Then we must practice doing what he has told us to do.
So if you’re worried, as many of us are, and you want to change that habit, what should you do? You can try to just stop worrying, but simply changing a behavior doesn’t address the true source of the problem. For real and lasting change, you also need to “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2). That’s how we must respond to this very worried culture we find ourselves in. Of course, that transformative process is conducted and guided by God and his Holy Spirit, not by us. But we can choose to welcome and cooperate with that work, or we can choose to fear, resent, and resist it.
We can be transformed, not just because we choose to behave differently, but because God changes our very hearts and minds. And as our mindsets change, our behavior will too. As you seek to welcome this process of transformation in your life, try making yourself more receptive to God’s influence. Surround and saturate yourself with the truth about God—who he is, why he is trustworthy, and who you are in relationship to him. Ask God to change the way you think about him, about yourself, about everything. He loves to do this sort of thing, so get ready.
Recognizing Our Blind Spots
As you understand more of who God is and how he reveals himself to you, another important step is necessary. This is much easier said than done: believe what God says. Even though we believe in God and theoretically believe he is all-powerful and loving, sometimes it’s hard to really believe the truth about who he is. He is in control of the world we live in. He will never leave us and the people we love. He is aware of absolutely everything we need and capable of providing it. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is far more powerful than absolutely everything and everyone who scares us. He has a great plan and a great view of realms and reasons we can’t even imagine. Our lack of belief shows itself in our lives when we behave as if everything is up to us.
It’s important that we admit our powerlessness against much of what worries us. People often speak of “giving it over to God,” essentially asking him to take over management of things we’ve been working on after we’ve flubbed them up. This idea is a bit of a charade. We don’t really have the power to assign work to God. Admitting your powerlessness is not really about handing things over to God, as much as it is acknowledging what is already true: he already holds these things that worry us. We don’t truly have the power to give them or take them away from him. It’s an illusion. The future is already his, and all power belongs to him.
Do you really trust God? Do you believe that he is always good and he always acts in your best interest (by his definition), for his glory? That he is more powerful than you can imagine, so powerful that he “laid the foundations of the earth” (Job 38:4)? Ask God to grant you faith to believe.
Amy Simpson is author of Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (InterVarsity Press, October 2014). She also serves as editor of Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership, Senior Editor of Leadership Journal, a speaker, and a Co-Active personal and professional coach. You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter at @aresimpson.