Finding Hope, Losing Worries

The real life story of a worry-wart who learned to have faith.

Posted in , May 22, 2009

Worried Look

I’ve always been a worrier.
When I was little, we had a ceramic ashtray on our coffee table decorated with a picture of a tidy little house with a red roof, white picket fence and these words: “Don’t worry. It may never happen.”

Oh, but I did. Worry, that is. About everything. A lot.

One day I noticed a new freckle on my nose. I’d recently read about something called skin cancer. What if I have skin cancer, too? I worried. When I told my mother about my fears and she told me to stop being such a “worrywart,” I worried that all my worrying was going to give me warts!

Sometimes, when I was busy at school, playing with friends or lost in a good book, worry would leave me alone. But it always returned—chronic, vague and menacing. On the sunniest days it lurked inside me like a storm cloud, threatening to steal my joy.

As I grew older, I began to see how worry, for me, was more than a bad habit. It was the way I was wired. Worry was my futile way of trying to control the uncontrollable. And, if I was honest, I had to admit that my chronic worry revealed a certain lack of trust not only in myself and others–but also in God. If I truly believed in God, why should I worry about anything?

One night I tossed and turned in bed, waiting for our teenage son to come home from a party. I glanced at the green glowing numbers of the clock on my bed stand and felt a surge of anxiety. He was 15 minutes past his curfew. Lying there, alone with my racing thoughts, I quickly became convinced that our son was:

1. Being pulled over by a policeman for some unthinkable infraction that would ruin his life forever, or...

2. Being loaded onto an ambulance, sirens wailing, lights flashing, heading for the hospital, or...

3. The Mother of All Fears: lying somewhere in a ditch.

This was not just any ditch. No, this ditch was a bottomless black hole that contained not only my 15-minutes-past-his-curfew son, but also every deepest, darkest fear I'd ever had. Over the years, I came to think of it as the “worry ditch.” And once I fell into the worry ditch, it was next to impossible to climb out.

I should mention that throughout this fevered episode of high anxiety, my husband, Tom, (not a worrier) was beside me sleeping peacefully. He was also snoring.

I was about to poke him in the ribs to share my mental distress (and stop his snoring) when I was struck with an insight: Worrying gave me a false sense that I was "doing something" about a problem, when in fact I was actually wasting valuable mental energy and accomplishing nothing!

So what, as a chronic worrier, was I to do? I turned to the Bible, which has a lot to say on the topic.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gets right to the point: “Do not worry,” he says. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? So do not worry.”

It’s worth noting that the apostle Paul does not encourage us to “Worry without ceasing.” Instead, he writes, “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer is both the opposite and the antidote to worry.

I have a friend who likens her tendency to worry to the “thorn” that, despite Paul’s fervent prayers that it be removed, afflicted him throughout his life. “When I find myself worrying,” she says, “I use it as a reminder of how much I need God.” On her nightstand she keeps a plaque that says, “Stop worrying and go to sleep. I’ll be up all night anyway. Love, God.”

So the next time you find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of the night, take a deep breath and remember that:

• Worrying is a waste of valuable time and accomplishes nothing!

• Worry can be an opportunity to draw closer to God.

• God, who loves you and knows what is best for you, has told you not to worry!

• God knows what He’s doing. He’s God.

To learn more about Kathryn Slattery’s work, visit her website.

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