By CaReese Rials
We live in troubling times. We hear of political unrest overseas. There are economic woes around the world as various countries struggle with debt. Within our own borders there are problems with racial tension and police relations. Rising expenses and a shrinking pool of jobs left 14.8 percent of Americans, 46.7 million people, living below the poverty line in 2014, according to the United States Census Bureau. Many of us have financial, family, and health concerns. In our world, it seems, there are plenty of things to worry about.
Worry is common, and it is understandable. When faced with problems, especially problems over which you have no control, worry is a natural response. But left unchecked, worry can be absolutely debilitating.
So what exactly is worry? Worry is a state of anxiety and uneasiness about a problem or potential problem or situation. It’s turning your fears over and over again in your mind. It is being preoccupied with thoughts of negative outcomes. It is breathing life into trouble that only exists in your mind and allowing it to affect your reality. It is the thief of joy and peace and it is enough to cripple you.
To be human is to face worry. It is something we all experience. It started in the garden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and then hid themselves because they were worried about facing God. It continued as the Israelites battled worry again and again in the wilderness. We see it as the disciples panicked while Jesus slept through a fierce storm. It seems that wherever we see humanity we see worry.
If worry is so pervasive is it really a problem? Decidedly so. The word worry is derived from the Old English wyrgan, which means “to strangle.” In the Middle English it meant “to seize by the throat and tear.” It later took on a more figurative meaning, “to harass” and to “cause anxiety.” There is nothing good about worry.
This is why Jesus explicitly told us not to worry. In the oft-quoted Matthew 6:25, Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” He acknowledged that we have real needs and face real challenges. But he went on to tell us that the heavenly Father knows all about the things that worry us. Instead of focusing on those things, we should be focused on him and his kingdom.
Jesus knew that worry solved nothing. He posed the piercing question in Matthew 6:27, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” In other words, how much will all this worrying accomplish in the end?
It’s a valid question—and a challenging one. Yet it’s one that few of us consider when we’re in the grips of anxiety.
There is no condemnation for worrying. Worry is a human response to life on Earth. Does that mean that we should give in to worry as it seeks to destroy us? Absolutely not.
We must combat worry. Every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. I know this to be true. In my lifetime worry has seized me by the throat more times than I can recount. In my experience with worry and anxiety, I have found three things that have helped me in the face of worry.
When there’s a problem, take it to the Lord in prayer. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul told them, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Yes, problems arise. But instead of giving in to anxiety, make your requests known to God, who eagerly awaits your requests and has promised to be your help. He will give you the wisdom to navigate the situation that concerns you.
Even after you pray you may still feel anxiety trying to get a foothold in your mind. That is the time to rehearse what you know of God’s strength and his faithfulness. The Bible is full of examples of God at work in history. We see stories of dramatic deliverance and God’s awesome power to take care of his people.
This is also a good time to rehearse the times when you’ve seen God’s faithfulness in your own life. How has he taken care of you? How has he brought you through tough situations in the past? As you look back over your own life and over the course of human history, you begin to see that God has a track record of taking care of his own. And that leads to the third way to combat worry.
Worship God for all that he has done. God has been faithful for all of human history. He will be faithful into eternity. Thank and praise him for being the eternally faithful God. Thank and praise him for what he has done in your life. And, yes, thank and praise him for all that he will do. Praise him for working in your situation even though you can’t see it yet.
I certainly understand worry. I am intimately acquainted with it. At one time I suffered frequent panic attacks, sometimes with multiple panic attacks in the same day. When I was in school I was extremely worried—about everything. I worried about grades. I worried about my future. I worried about my health, as I was experiencing a number of challenges at the time. Things got to the point where I had to take medication for anxiety. I know worry.
Even in recent years I have battled worry even more intensely. After graduate school I faced a long season of unemployment and underemployment. I had financial worries every day. Between student loans and other living expenses, I didn’t even know where the next tank of gas was coming form. Everything was a crisis. Everything was a struggle. And unfortunately, nothing was certain.
During this time I spent a lot of time praying. I even got a prayer journal, which helped with consistency. And when I felt my anxiety level creeping up—or skyrocketing in some instances—I would go back to my three steps: request, rehearse, and respond. Did it immediately change the situation? No. But it did change me. It focused my attention on God and gave me hope as I walked through life’s problems.
At its very core, worry is doubting the character of God. It’s doubting that he is powerful enough, good enough, and faithful enough to take care of you. Worry is natural and it’s insidious. But it is not insurmountable. You can have mastery over worry. The God who created the universe and upholds it all by the power of his word will uphold you as well. That is a truth to cling to in the face of worry. You may not know the future, but you know the God of the future. And if you keep your eyes on him, you can overcome worry rather than having worry overcome you.
CaReese Rials is a Program Specialist and freelance writer from Chicago, Illinois.