My husband enjoys running. John often goes on 45-minute runs, and I rarely look at the clock while he’s out. Yet one evening, I suddenly noticed he’d been gone more than an hour.
The sun had set, and I knew John didn’t have a flashlight. More minutes passed. As I fought the temptation to worry, my mind drifted back to the time in high school youth group when we learned what the Bible says about worry.
“Do not be anxious about anything,” we memorized from Philippians 4:6 (New International Version).
I don’t remember much more from that night, except my friend Denise’s question: “So what’s the difference between worrying and just thinking about something a lot?”
It was a great question. We were both seniors in high school with stressful topics like grades, graduation and college filling our thoughts. Were we worrying, as we’d just been instructed not to, or simply thinking?
There seemed to be such a fine line between the two.
It took me several more years to grasp what the verse in Philippians was saying and how to tell if I crossed that line into worry.
Sometimes my thoughts are empowering: thinking through my to-do list helps me plan my day, analyzing my budget motivates me to save for future expenses.
But I cross that fine line when my thoughts fill with things I can’t control, like my husband out for a night run with no flashlight, identification or cell phone.
“How many of our hours, our days, are spent worrying about things over which we have no control and things that will never happen?” writes Linda Dillow in Calm My Anxious Heart. “There’s no disputing the fact that, nine times out of 10, worrying about a thing does more damage to our body, soul and spirit than the actual thing itself.”
Through the years, I learned of another line — the one between general worry and an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health website, “When anxiety becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it has become a disabling disorder.”
Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults, about 18 percent of the population. If you’re one of the 40 million, keep reading, but seek additional help from a healthcare provider. There may be other complicating factors.
Apart from anxiety disorders, worry is a matter of not trusting God and trusting more in our own abilities to fix our circumstances.
So how do we stop? And how do we prevent it?
In their book Soul Prescription, Bill Bright and Henry Brandt emphasize that it is “not by trying through an act of the will to make our worries go away. Rather, [we] hand them over to God.” They suggest these steps:
Bright and Brandt say, “God desires for [those who worry] to have their mind wholly fixed on Him, for then they could know peace.”
As I sat in my house trying not to worry about John running along busy streets in the dark, I realized that even if something bad happened to him, God was still in control.
By faith, I know God will meet me in any situation, painful or joyful. By faith, I trust He will uphold me just like He has upheld others. He will prove He is still God, and that is always enough.
What we memorized at youth group, “Do not be anxious about anything,” is actually a loving command meant for our good. When we choose to obey God in this, He blesses us — through the simple joy we have when obeying Him, and in other ways too.
John came home after an hour and a half. If I’d allowed myself to worry, I might have been emotional by the time he got home and reacted with anger, scolding him for being gone too long.
Instead of being upset with John, I was able to connect with him, recognizing and sharing his excitement for the run he’d just had. Worry would have stolen that blessing.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength,” emphasizes Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom in her book Clippings From My Notebook.
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