‘No worries, mate,” as they say in Australia. I wish that were true about my life. But we all know worry plagues each of us from time to time in all sorts of ways.
I can worry about the future, about my family, about my work, about my health…you name it.
I know it’s useless to worry – but knowing that and avoiding worry are two very different things. Jesus points out that my worry won’t change things. But I still struggle to leave it alone.
My mind is like my old dog, Teddy. He was a great dog – mythical and wise in so many ways.
When he was sick, he would try to get in the car with me. He actually wanted to go to the Vet. When he was dirty, he would swim in a nearby creek, then clean himself by running back and forth, zigzagging through boxwood shrubs until he shone.
But Teddy did have one weakness.
Toads. He could not resist running up to bite at hopping toads. His response was hard-wired. But, because of the toxins a toad’s skin produces, every new and fascinating toad made Teddy sick.
But he could not stop.
The toad would jump and Teddy would pounce. Even mid-pounce, Teddy would gag a bit. If he mouthed with the toad enough, he would soon be sick and stagger, drunkenly ill.
My faithful dog Teddy was trapped by his urge to pounce and the nauseating consequences of tasting a toad. And I’m not much different, apparently.
I know that my worry often leads me into anxiety, whirling thoughts, and fruitless internal staggering.
But there is something compulsive about my worry at times. I like the idea of worry-free life and all the songs we sing about it: ‘blue skies, smiling at me…’ don’t worry, be happy…’ ‘forget your worries come on get happy…’ come on get happy, happy…’ But singing these feels a bit like ’whistling in the dark.’
Psychologists say that worry comes when we apply problem-solving skills that let us look at situations and events mentally from all kinds of theoretical angles to an unknown future.
And I do love the mental process of solving problems. But when I turn that to the future, to things I can’t solve, predict or control, and try solving everything mentally, I can end up in worry and even anxiety.
Or when I look back at a past event and play it over and overdoing different things to change the past, I am ‘ruminating.’ That is my problem problem-solving aimed at memories and the past that can’t be changed.
And whether I worry or ruminate, I have two broad responses. I get happy with my solutions or feel anxious because they don’t feel sufficient.
The solution to worry should not mean losing my ability to solve problems. And just dampening down that skill or turning it off isn’t a complete answer, though interrupting problem-solving on overdrive with ‘mindfulness’ practices or relaxation can act as a governor on a speeding mental engine.
But my struggles with worry seem more complex than a simple change of mental habit or perspective will solve.
With all my problem solving, worry, rumination, and anxiety there seems something deeper and more compulsive at work in me. Like Teddy, there is a genetic orientation that pulls me to chase the worry toad, even when I know it will make me ill.
Jesus points me to a new spiritual dimension of my worry as he points me toward worship.
He points me to see my life flowing from my relationship with God that addresses my fundamental life orientation rather than only with the mechanics of worry or the physiology of habitual anxiety. He says that my worrying ways of living flow out of a heart committed to other gods and to other loves.
Worrying is evidence of a heart oriented away from God, in that moment, and toward my solutions or to my love of money, control of power.
When I slide into the practical worship of those hidden gods, my unbelief in God and my misplaced faith then drive my worried anxious responses.
The gospel points me in a new direction. Through Jesus, I have been reconciled to God who is my Father. He cares even for raucous, dirty carrion crows and tends them. He also loves me as His dear child.
When I believe that well enough, deeply enough, when his love for me draws me to love him in worship and joy, life is different.
And even when my problem solving and hidden gods can’t help me, I can turn from them to trust the one who loves me, to trust his goodness and provision. That deals with a deeper dimension that frees me from my compulsive worry by trusting the presence and care of God.
So now I look to build a new set of compulsions.
I want to compulsively trust the promises of God, so I read them and meditate on them.
I am building a fascination with hearing from him and a deep desire to respond in prayer. And as I enjoy his presence my growing trust and worship will begin to move my heart away from all the other things that rev up worry inside me. So that in Him, as I trust Jesus, I can still solve problems, look to what the future might bring, and face my past honestly without fear or an anxious heart.