Giving Up... My Worry

Lent Series Button I was in a conversation with my small group when I first realized it.

We were taking turns sharing our stories with one another, using an entire night for each person to talk and be asked questions. It was my turn.

My tears were flowing at a similar pace to my words, when I admitted, “I just worry that everything is two steps away from the bottom dropping out.”

It wasn’t until I said it out loud that I realized how pervasive this worry really was. I spoke about it that night and have continued to ponder it since then.

----------

Our lives are full of unpredictable events. I have talked to person after person after person who have had wonderful jobs, amazing families, marvelous friendships, and rock-solid faith, until suddenly, they didn’t.

Why would I assume that wouldn’t be me? Why shouldn’t I hedge my bets?

I have made choice after choice to do what I can to control the future. I try hard and work even harder to be the best at everything I can. If there is anything I can do to prevent failure, I will do it. At the same time, I assume that none of it is going to work. That inevitably I will fail or someone will let me down. That way, when it does happen, at least I’m not surprised.

I assume the sting won’t hurt as much if I expect it.

Because I don’t live with the physical sensation of anxiety, I spent years oblivious to the fact that worry was controlling me.

I’ve heard faith defined as placing our confidence in something. Sometimes it feels like the only thing we can be confident about is that at some point, all of our lives will hit bottom.

And so I place my faith in that worry. I am confident that something dreadful will come to pass in the near future. And the more I am confident in that, the less it feels like anxiety and the more it feels like truth. The worry fools me into a false sense of security.

But security is not the same thing as peace. Peace is what Christ came to offer me.

----------

I’ve been encouraged to lean into two spiritual practices lately: the welcoming prayer and the breath prayer.

The welcoming prayer consciously invites all the things we want to hide, the feelings we are embarrassed about, into the center of our prayer life. Not to confess them, or feel shame about them, but to lift them up as a reality God already sees.

God searches us and knows us. It is often we who do not know ourselves.

For me, this has meant welcoming my fears and worries and stress into the center of my prayer life. And knowing that nothing about them changes God’s affection for me. God knows I have struggled with this worry. This revelation is not a surprise to Him. And He values me and loves me and accepts me right now, just as I am.

I end the welcoming prayer with the simple request of “Christ, shine Your light.”

The breath prayer acknowledges God’s presence with us in every moment of every day. It is a simple phrase memorized and repeated, so that it enters our thoughts rhythmically and repeatedly throughout the day, just as we breath. The original breath prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But I prayed about what I needed, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, wrote my own breath prayer for this season.

“Abba, hold my hand.”

It is so simple, yet so important to acknowledge. In every step and misstep, my Daddy is with me. He never stops loving me. He never stops holding me.

----------

I was talking to a mentor who asked me to lean into the worry. Who wondered out loud what would happen if the bottom actually did fall out from any or all of the pieces of my life that I worry so much about.

I pictured myself walking hand-in-hand with my God, when suddenly, the bottom disappeared from below me. But I didn’t fall. His hand was holding me up, gripping even tighter around my wrist than it had before.

My circumstances may fall apart. In fact, if life is true to form, parts of them will. And so I may always carry a bit of that fear with me. But the worry? The confidence in a future reality that makes me hedge my bets? I am giving that part up.

My confidence does not belong in my worry. My faith belongs in my Abba, who I am feeling in a new way, is right there beside me.


Giving Up… is a Lenten Series asking a question: What if we gave up more than external things for Lent? It’s not a belief that we can get rid of our baggage as easily as we can write a blog post. But, it is a belief that admitting those things that keep us from deeper intimacy with Christ is a good start. {Please note, this isn’t in any way meant to be a critique of those giving up something external. Often that is connected to the internal in a powerful way. In my case, though, I realized that the external sacrifice was hindering me from dealing with what was going on below the surface.}

On Adding Kindling to a Dangerous Fire

I have been waiting my entire adult life to have one. I am thrilled that I finally do.  

I finally have a wood burning fireplace. In my living room.

 

Ever since we moved into our house this summer, I tiny bit of me began to look forward to the cooler temperatures. I longed to sit on our comfy couch, curled up with my husband to enjoy the unmatched warmth and beauty of logs set ablaze.

 

Those days have come. And they are wonderful.

 

Still, every time we have a fire, I find myself a bit amazed at the entire process.  It requires some forethought. We have to bring in the wood from outside, gather kindling, and make sure the lighter is near the fireplace. Then, once it is going, the fire needs to be stoked and monitored. Our little living room fireplace burns through an astounding amount of lumber.

 

I thought about my fireplace when I did some reading on Psalm 37. There is a phrase repeated several times:

 

“Do not fret.”

In Hebrew, the word for “fret” is “Charah.” It is the same word used to talk about fire in other places. It can be translated “to burn” or “to kindle.”

 

 

To fret is to add kindling and spark to a dangerous fire.

 

If we are not careful, it can create flames that eat us up and leave us in ashes.

 

Do not fret because of those who are evil
     or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. – Psalm 37:1-2

  Be still before the Lord
     and wait patiently for him;
 do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
     when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
     do not fret—it leads only to evil. – Psalm 37:7-8

 

That last line in particular really catches my attention, “Do not fret- it only leads to evil.”

 

I’ve heard of worry leading to heart attacks, but leading to evil? Really?

 

But the more I think about it, the more I see why it is phrased so strong. When we fret, our perspective gets completely out of whack.

 

When we envy others for their successes, we objectify them. We see them only as they relate to our achievements, not how they relate to our God. Instead of seeing their core identity as loved children of our King, we see them as competitors against our status.

 

Perhaps even worse is what this fretting shows about our perspective of God. It shows we have lost faith in His goodness and power. Somehow, something has happened to make us think the control of our universe in our hands instead of His.

 

When we let ourselves fret, we put kindling on a dangerous fire: the fire of thinking we know better than God.

 

Now, those feeling of worry and envy? I think those are natural. Human. It is a broken world, and it is so, so difficult to not feel jealous or anxious.

 

Fretting suggests we are letting those feelings of envy and worry ruminate.

 

When we worry, we light a match. We could take that match, and put it out under the cool water of God’s overflowing grace and love. When we fret, we instead take that match and put it under the kindling jealousy and envy and doubt.

 

The trick is not to try to avoid stumbling into feelings of worry. The trick is to stay close to the God who can help us stop that fire before it burns out of control.

 

The Lord makes firm the steps
     of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall,
     for the Lord upholds him with his hand. – Psalm 37:23-24  

What happens when you worry? Can you relate to the analogy of a fire?

Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.

 

Control, Panic, and Finding our Anchor

Breathing is something I usually don’t notice. If I slow down, I become aware of how wonderful breathing feels. How the air currents rush through my nostrils, as if they are racing each other to my lungs. How my entire body seems to open up in order to receive a new breath. How the whole process seems to make me feel lighter.

Usually, I don’t pay attention to these feelings. I just go about my day and assume breathing will continue on in the background.

I have been more aware of my breaths lately. Because not long ago, I couldn’t find them.

I was lying on my bed, chatting with my husband. My mind was swirling with the unknowns of the future. I was crying and trembling as my heart raced to keep up with my thoughts.

Suddenly, the weight of panic settled in and rested upon my chest. My lungs could not bear the burden. I lost control. I gasped in short bursts. I exhaled in sputters. I ached for oxygen. I struggled to find a rhythm. I felt my torso heave.

I hyperventilated.

Slow and steady, my husband settled me into calm. He anchored me, and my breathing gradually returned to normal.

What caused this?

Housing. Another thing, like breathing, that I take for granted.

Months before, my husband and I made an offer to buy a house. It was a short sale. Lots of hands in the same basket meant a long process of negotiation. The banks could not come to an agreement with the sellers by the time we relocated.

We moved in with my husband’s parents.

As much as we love them, this was not a good long term solution. We were anxious to get the housing situation figured out.

Since the bank didn’t meet their deadline, we were no longer contractually obligated to the property. We made an appointment with our realtor to see what else was on the market.

As it turns out, by the time the day came to look at houses, the bank had reached an agreement with the first house. It was ours if we wanted it. With a guaranteed closing date within the month.

But, we still decided to look. Just in case there was something else we liked more.

Turns out, there was. We fell in love with another house.

We decided to pull our offer on the first house in order to go after the second house.

We waited, overnight, to hear back from the sellers of the second house. This is what brought on the panic attack.

This was a self-imposed stress.

Though it was nerve-racking, it was our choice to be in that place of panic. We chose to look for houses. We chose to give up the house we had in our pocket. We chose to take the risk of going for a different house.

We exercised our choice and exerted our control.

Interesting that as soon as we exerted our control, we lost our control. We had no influence over whether the sellers of the house would accept our offer. We had no say in when they would desire to move, and whether that would match up with our timeline. We had no ability to make the house pass inspection

And in the middle of these unknowns, I hyperventilated. A reminder of how little control I actually have.

Sometimes we feel like life is completely within our direction. Like we have a grasp around all of it. We think we can chose which way to go and know exactly what will happen.

Most of the time, it turns out, control is an illusion. We never have power over the unknowns. And sometimes, we even lose our influence over the knowns.

When the uncertainties of life cause us panic, the answer is not to grasp harder for control. It is allow the One who loves us settle us into calm. Because no matter what we don’t know, we do know this. Jesus is Lord, and He loves us beyond measure. Christ can be our anchor in the midst of our stress.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” –Hebrews 6:19

Have you ever panicked? How has Christ been an anchor for you?

16 Comments