We Weren't Instructed to "Worry Without Ceasing"

Sometimes it feels like we don't just yield to fear, we get out of the driver's seat and give it the wheel, letting it take us wherever it wants. 

Recently, without realising it, this is exactly what I've been doing. I've literally been worrying without ceasing. If my husband doesn't call while he's at work, I worry he's been in an accident. And I don't stop there. I follow the fear down the rabbit hole and think about how difficult my life would be without him, how much I wouldn't cope, and how utterly miserable I would be. 
If my child sleeps too long, I worry. Is he alright? Has he stopped breathing? I try to banish the fear with logic: he had a late night, it's overcast today so he won't have been woken by the sun... but I close my eyes and see him lying still, not moving, and the worry rises up again. I go in and risk waking him just so I can escape from the fear. 

These are just the little things, those that are so silly and so common that it doesn't hurt me to share them. It's a little bit embarrassing, but these things come and go. The other things: money, my health, purpose. These are the things that cling to me almost constantly. The things that leave me tired and worn, the mighty solider who doesn't eat or sleep; loyal and dedicated to worry.  

For anyone who is a worrier, Philippians 4:6-7 has to be one of the best known verses from the bible. I have read it time and time again:

The ESV says: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Now, there is nothing wrong with that. It would have to be one of my favourite passages of scripture and has helped me focus on God in many difficult times. But here is my train of thought sometimes when I read it: "I don't think I can rejoice right now, this is really overwhelming... I don't feel very reasonable... Okay, don't be anxious, don't be anxious, don't be anxious. Maybe I need medication... What is supplication? I can't remember. I need to look that up... I'll do it later. Oh, I like that last part!"

This morning, I read this passage in the Message for the first time:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.
— Philippians 4:6-7, MSG

Sometimes we need things to be worded simply for them to get through the fog. These two interpretations are saying the same thing, but for me, right now, it took another translation for it to get through. 

"It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life."

To worry is our nature. If we worry, that doesn't mean we are broken or damaged humans who can't function the way everyone else does. Obviously, some people worry more or in different ways to others. Conditions like anxiety and depression contribute to this, and can make it even more difficult to escape from fear and worry.
But if we read the Bible from the perspective of "I'm doing something wrong because I've replaced my trust in God with worry" then we are just going to come out our time with God feeling worse. If, instead, we acknowledge worry as human nature and use that as our starting point, the sense of being doomed before we even begin starts to lift. 

The initial instruction in Philippians 4 not to fret or worry isn't especially helpful. If I'm experiencing anxiety and someone tells me "don't worry" then the most likely result is that I'm going to be more worried. Best case scenario, I want to punch them in the face, and my worry is temporarily replaced by anger. Which I will probably then worry about later. Worst case scenario is that I assume it's really that easy for everyone else. 
If we keep reading, these few verses actually give us one of the most practical methods of dealing with worry available to us:

1. Instead of worrying, pray. 
This won't happen straight away. It's a learned behaviour and a habit. This doesn't mean that if we feel any worry then we have failed or are broken. Feel the worry; grab hold of the worry; but instead of letting it guide you, pray about it. Pray honestly and deeply about what is concerning you. Pray out loud or write it down so your thoughts can't take you captive and try to change your prayers back into worry. The more we practice this, the more natural it will become. As natural as the worry itself. And then, instead of being a trigger to shift into deep sadness, stress or despondency, worry will be a trigger to pray. 

2. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. 
A while ago, I realised that God is super polite. He has the power to eavesdrop on every conversation we have. But talking to my husband, my friend, or even myself about how worried I am doesn't automatically mean God's going to hear me and sort it out. Maybe God hears those conversations start and he says "Oh! This is a really big deal and is really personal. But she hasn't talked to me about it, and I don't want to intrude. I'll just wait until she tells me." We've all done this: pretended we don't know something until the person involved actually tells us... and hey, maybe that's not how God works, but I'm not going to take any chances anymore. I'm not willing to risk God not acting in my life because I'd rather passively hope he listens in on my conversations with other people. Let's start letting God know our concerns, directly and personally.
Petition him. Put your voice behind the change you want to see. Don't be quiet, don't just mention it once and think "Well, now he knows and he will act when he wants to." Be loud. Be constant. Don't stop asking until you get an answer. Be like the woman in Luke 18 who was refused justice by the (evil) ruler and kept on asking until he gave in. 
But don't let that be all. Praise him. Go back to the ESV version of Philippians 4:6 and dig down deep and find a way to praise God through the circumstances. Even if you start by singing a song that you make up. A song that sings of worry and fear but transforms into a song of how good our God is. If you don't have enough left in you to sing, sit and listen to music that captures your worries but shouts of God's grace and mercy through it all. 

These simple, practical steps are the first to replacing that habit of worry with a habit of prayer and praise. That promise, of a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good... coming to settle me down is one I really, really want!

So let's not let worry be the centre of our lives. Let's not spend our days mulling over our problems, exploring the endless possibilities of what could go wrong. Let's place Christ at the centre of our lives and see what wonderful things happen. 

Skye is our Youth and Young Adults Rep, and works alongside her husband Danny to create a vibrant community for young people in Goulburn.