Have you ever watched a group of teenagers play Musical Chairs? Well, it’s hilarious and frustrating. Mostly because it’s SO SLOW. Getting them to actually move around the circle of chairs is almost impossible…because they all do the nervous-half-sit on every chair they pass. They’re staring at the person controlling the music the entire time…trying to predict the moment the music will stop.
This, I’m afraid, is the way I often live my life. I am a chronic worrier. If I’m honest, my tendency to worry is a direct result of my need to control everything. I’m sorry to tell you that, if you’ve ever done dishes at my house after a party, I probably thanked you profusely, waited until you left, and redid them. I have never delegated easily, or at all. I worry so much when I delegate that I would rather just do it myself. I like to be prepared for things. I never want to run out of anything I need, so I always have extra on hand. In a time of uncertainty, I am always going to prepare for the worst possible outcome in hopes of minimizing pain and frustration en route.
I love the language of Philippians 4:6 in the Message:
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let your 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 center of your life.”
There is definitely a portion at the center of my brain reserved entirely for worry. I often think, “If this ONE thing got better, I would be so relieved!” That never happens though. Once a particular problem is solved, the worry portion of my brain is immediately filled with another big something…or lots of little somethings. It’s ALWAYS full, and overflowing into every aspect of my life. Like striving, worry is another form of chosen slavery.
What WOULD it look like for the “worry” section at the center of my brain to be replaced with Christ? It sounds really, really nice…but what does that mean at a practical level? If you think about it, the antonym of “worry” is “trust.” If we’re worrying, we’re not trusting. We’re living as if everything depends on us.
With small worries, sometimes this means fast-forwarding in my head: if this person does my dishes, and they aren’t done EXACTLY as I would have done them, what’s going to happen? Are they going to miss the ONE germ that happens to make me sick? Seems unlikely. Is that knife they just put in the dishwasher that I usually hand wash going to be completely ruined? Probably not. What am I so afraid will happen? Giving up control is so hard sometimes…even in little things. But we have to trust that, if we give up our need to control, everything will probably work out JUST fine. Sometimes, better! When I find myself worrying about the smallest things, it’s usually an indicator that I’m striving for perfection. That I’m focusing on small and unimportant details that keep me from growing…and being. A collection of little worries can fester and control us…and keep us from connecting with important people in our lives. They can be a block to intimacy. Ultimately, the constant, small worries can hinder us from abiding in the presence of God.
It’s a different ballgame with big worries…when real trials come our way. Some problems we encounter feel incredibly scary. Maybe we’re facing fear after a serious diagnosis. We face possible loss of a loved one, either by death or divorce. We watch as one of our grown children makes decisions that worry us. We face financial difficulties after a lost job…and months of fruitless interviews. Sometimes our trials linger…and the uncertainty seems to be unending. Replacing worry with trust in these times is incredibly hard. It’s hard enough, in fact, that the Bible has a lot to say on the subject. James tells us to “consider it pure joy” when we face trials, because they will test our faith and develop perseverance. He goes on to say that we will find complete maturity in perseverance through our difficulties.
Romans 5:3 says:
“There’s more to come: We continue to shout out our praise even when we’re hemmed in troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary-we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
Can this be true? Is it possible that, in the midst of extreme difficulty, we can replace worry with expectance and excitement? Is it possible that we will never be left feeling shortchanged? It is if we know who God is. God never said he would prevent our pain. The truth is, we wouldn’t want him to anyway. Pain helps us explore the depths of our humanness in a way that little else can. A line in one of my favorite books, The Language of Letting Go, claims, “Our capacity to feel pain will eventually be matched with our capacity to feel joy.” We spend a lot of time in our lives avoiding pain. We try to run away from the storm, when the secret to replacing worry with Christ is actually to turn around and face it…to let the rain fall on our faces…to plant our feet boldly and confidently in the strong wind. Christ promises to stand there with us. Even better…he promises that, if we can stand there and trust him, we’ll end up in a much better place than we were before. As it says in Romans, we’ll be flooded with more blessings than our hearts can hold. When we run from pain or fight to avoid it, it doesn’t make us happier…it makes us numb.
I am so tired of living a life of worry. It has bled me dry…robbed me of joy, and kept me from living the abundant life God promised. I have spent so much time living in worry over the future that I’ve often missed the joys and gifts of the present. I’ve exhausted myself trying to outrun and outsmart pain instead of taking God’s hand and standing in it. I have made a decision to wage war on my life of worry. I am determined to feel the peace that comes with filling that part of my brain with Christ. 1 Peter 5:7 says: “Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.” I can give my worries to God. I can trust him. He’ll be more careful with me than I’ll be with myself. He sees everything outside of my tiny view. I know this in my head…but how to know it in my heart? Here’s my plan, since I like practical takeaways:
- Keep God’s record of faithfulness to me on the forefront of my mind. When I’m facing a trial, big or small, I need to pause, look behind me, and remember that God has never wasted an ounce of my pain. I’ve lived enough life at this point to know that, when things don’t turn out the way I expect, it’s because God has something better planned. His record of faithfulness to me is impeccable. I can’t think of a single trial, big or small, that did not land me in a better place than I was before.
- Acknowledge the fruitlessness of my control/worry. But seriously…when does worry or control ever work? Does it change what’s going to happen? I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in moments of panic…when I was filled with worry. That’s when I grasp for control, and that always causes more harm than good. Worry doesn’t change anything about my circumstances, or whatever I’m worried about. All it does is make me miserable and keep me from abiding with God in the joy of the present.
- I can make a list of things I’m thankful for. This is a pretty powerful tool. In a moment of worry, I can stop, make a mental list of the blessings in my life, and suddenly…I realize that I have it pretty good.
- Constantly ask God to guide me with his spirit. As I said in a previous blog about striving, this has been a life altering prayer for me. I ask God multiple times a day to fill me with his spirit…to guide my thinking, my decisions, and my emotions. Matthew 6:34 says:
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
If I’m constantly asking God to send his spirit to guide me, and then keeping my eyes wide open and alert to all he is doing in my life, the word says I’ll never regret it. I’ll never be left feeling “shortchanged.” I’ll never be the kid in Musical Chairs who’s left without a chair in the end. The promise is, if I keep my eyes on Jesus…not behind me, not ahead of me…but on HIM…I will be prepared and ready for whatever comes my way. If I seek to stay completely focused on the presence of God RIGHT NOW, I can be assured that I am safe…that I am on the right path. I can be certain that, even if that path doesn’t lead me where I expected, it will be GOOD. Better even.
“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.”
Here’s my favorite part of all of this: God wants me to bring my worries to him…EVEN THOUGH those worries mean I don’t trust him fully. I can pray through tears and sweat and tell him that I believe him, but ask him to help my unbelief in the same breath. He is THAT loving and merciful. When something difficult comes my way, I can trust him one minute, doubt him the next, and he’ll listen and help me no matter how many times I come to him with the same fear. He’s THAT good. He’s THAT loving. That is a God worth giving up control to.
Could someone remind me of all of this tomorrow, please? Or…in an hour?🙂
What’s YOUR advice? How do you replace worry with Christ?