02 June 2014

Things I've been working on # 2 - Worrying

As well as working on complaining I've also been working on worrying.  I know.  I have all the fun.

Worry.  Concern's evil twin.  I've been working on this one for a L.O.N.G. time.  As I child I lost months of sleep in the lead up to the single, solitary day of each year when we did high jump for sport.  It's humiliating being the tallest in the class (at least I was while I was in primary school) and not even be able to get over the first jump. 

I lost sleep over times tables - particularly that awful game where everyone gets to stand and the teacher fires a times table question at you and if you get it right immediately you can go to recess or resume your seat but if you get it wrong you have to remain standing until the next round.  And the twelves generally, with or without the game.

I lost sleep over the impending end of the world when some careless teacher told us about the planets lining up and of the cataclysmic events that would ensue. Think earthquakes of the ilk of the ground opening up, swallowing you and your house whole and then closing up again.  (I don't think the teacher went that far...my overactive imagination was quick to kick in.) 

Eventually the earthquake apocalypse gave way to the firestorm terror after a terrible video in science about nuclear energy and nuclear bombs.  Then I spent hours lying awake checking for signs of firestorms outside my bedroom window - as a worrier must certainly do when one lives in a weatherboard house. 

I worried about not being able to the recall the theorems I was supposed to have memorised for maths.  And did I mention high jump?

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Matthew 6:25-27

I recall having a conversation with my then new minister when I first became a Christian on the whole subject of worrying.  He told me he had at one time determined that he would not worry and then went THREE WHOLE YEARS without worrying.  In awe, I set about trying to get my worrying under better control, because clearly you could.  And I did.  I have gone long chunks of time through my adult life without worrying.  All thanks be to God.

But there have been chunks of time when I DID worry and last year I noticed that I was losing the battle again.  I found myself worrying about all sorts of things - big (and real things) and small (and of the adult equivalent of the ten seconds it takes to muck up the first high jump and then spend the rest of the sports lesson sitting under the tree...nothing at all sorts of things.)

Worry was a real problem for me last year.  And the irony is not lost on me...the fact that last year I read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges and was so thoroughly convinced by his argument and so thoroughly encouraged by his words. 

Is not worry a patent lack of trust in God?  Ahem...yes.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
Matthew 6:28-30

Unsurprisingly, the worrying did not go away with the new year.  The habit (because it IS just a bad habit) and the sources of my anxieties didn't just disappear with a new calendar on the kitchen wall. But over the year, with God's help, I have found a means of keeping the worry at bay.  It's not about getting more sleep, trying to do some exercise, trying to eat better and consume less caffeine, or even crying out to God more in prayer...although I have been doing more of all of these things and they do all help.  Especially the crying out to God bit.  And it is not about trying out this little theory either, although I have employed these techniques as well, such is my respect for the one who spoke these wise words. 

No, I have been missing something in the equation all along...because I am a long term planner from way back.  The bit I've been missing is the bit about taking one day at a time.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31-34

I worked this out because I reached a point where worry would hit overdrive if I thought too far ahead into the future.  I could keep my anxiety down if I just focused on today but as soon as I looked too much further ahead I would start to worry big time and feelings of panic would come upon me.

I know, I KNOW (she says, hitting her forehead with her hand several times so as to bang the truth in a little further) so well in my head that God gives us what we need for today and that we don't need to worry about tomorrow until tomorrow.  Today we just need to deal with today.  How well I know this in my head.  And this year, because of the way the year is turning out, I am beginning to learn what that means in my heart and my hands as well. 

This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
Matthew 6:9-13

When I pray "Give us today our daily bread"  I am truly learning to ask only for what I need today.  And that is making all the difference.  Just today.  Of course Jesus knew that, otherwise he would have taught us to pray for a week, a month or a year's worth of bread. 

I am slow to learn.  But this year He is teaching me, and undoing the bad habit of a lifetime.  One day at a time.


Sarah said...

I used to be a terrible worrier when I was a kid, too. The things I worried about mainly involved school - would I have to do something I wasn't very good at and have everyone laugh at me (bike ed, climbing, gym), would I have someone to play with this lunchtime (such are the fickle friendships of young girls). By God's grace, I have worried less over the years, but last year brought it all back. Since then I've done a lot of thinking about the difference between anxiety as a medical condition and worrying in general. When I had anxiety there was no logical reason for my anxious thoughts, I even had to keep asking myself what I was anxious about. I think there is a delicate balance between anxiety being a sickness which requires treatment and worrying which shows a lack of trust in God. Although I knew I was sick, God used my anxiety to graciously reveal areas where I did not trust Him.

Meredith said...

Thanks for all your thoughts. It is interesting to bring anxiety into the equation. Anxiety, in my limited experience of it, feels chemical. Which is, I guess, what makes it medical and needing treatment at its severest level. But worry seems a bit harder to pin down and yes - lack of trust, a bad habit and even as I think about it, disobedience in not handing it over to God. But there is probably a fine line between the two. Thanks for adding your insights.

Sarah said...

I brought it up mainly because some Christians believe anxiety as a medical condition is nonsense and that anxiety and worry are one and the same, that saying anxiety is medical is an excuse to sin. This makes it hard actually having anxiety (or rather recovering from it) and having to deal with those sorts of opinions...fortunately few and far between though.

Meredith said...

It's a good distinction to make. I imagine there are lots of people who don't even realize that there is a difference between the two. Another very good example of how we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak.