Facing Your Feelings offers specific advice for handling a variety of emotions with honesty and maturity including: anger, unforgiveness, rejection, bitterness, envy.
For as long as I can remember, I have disliked motorcycles. So, as you can well imagine, I was not at all pleased to learn that my adult son Robert had purchased a motorcycle as his only means of transportation. Visions of ghastly accidents haunted me. Robert lived two hundred miles away, and I was quite certain that if he had a terrible crash, our phone number would not be with his identification. So, not only would he be brutally wounded, but it would be days—even weeks—before we found out about it.
My anxiety was unending. Every time I saw a motorcycle on the road, I'd think of Robert. Fear and anxiety chilled me; a sick feeling crept into my body. Of course I knew I could not continue to survive in such a state of constant agitation. Somehow, I had to choose to apply my Christian faith to this source of continuous worry.
My way of doing this was through prayer. I decided that when I saw a motorcycle and worry tried to grip me, I would simply pray. I rejected mental images of twisted metal and broken limbs and instead prayed for Robert's safety and health, as well as for the person on the motorcycle I was seeing. Before long, my worry was replaced with the peace that comes only with prayer. It became quite a habit. In fact, to this day, whenever I see a motorcycle, I still automatically pray for my son.
Are you a worrier? What do you worry about? Do you worry that you won't be able to pay your bills? Do you worry about your children when they're out of your sight? Do you feel anxiety about your marriage? Do you worry about your health? Are you anxious about the future because you're facing a new job, a move to another city, having a new addition to your family? Maybe you just worry because it is a habit.
What is worry?
Worry is to be uneasy in the mind, to feel anxiety about something, to fret. Interestingly, it comes from an Old English word that means "to strangle."
What an appropriate derivation! Worry strangles our peace of mind and our enjoyment of life. There's a direct connection between fear and worry. Sometimes they may be interchangeable. Worry affects us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Dr. Charles Mayo said, "Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system, and profoundly affects the health."
God instructs us not to worry, and Scripture overwhelms us with reasons for not being anxious. Let's look at an interesting incident in the Old Testament that gives us a powerful defense against worry.
In 2 Kings 6, the king of Aram (now the nation of Syria) was at war with the northern kingdom, Israel. In the secrecy of his war room, he would plan to attack Israel and take her by surprise. But every time he arrived at the place he had chosen, he would find Israel's army was already there defending it. He was infuriated. The only reasonable answer was that he had a spy in his camp. When he confronted his officers with the charge they answered, "'None of us, my lord the king, . . . but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom'
"'Go, find out where he is," the king ordered, 'so I can send men and capture him' The report came back: 'He is in Dothan.' Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
"When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. 'Oh, my lord, what shall we do?' the servant asked" (2 Kings 6:12-15).
Imagine waking up and finding your city surrounded by an enemy army! Elisha's servant was worried sick, terrified. But through this frightening experience, he learned a wonderful truth.
"'Don't be afraid,' the prophet answered. 'Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.'
"And Elisha prayed, 'O LORD, open his eyes so he may see' Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:16-17).
Elisha didn't have a worry in the world! God had sent an angelic army to protect his servant. After surveying that breathtaking display of power, he knew what the outcome would be. He was able to show mercy to the enemy soldiers because God had rendered them harmless. From this, we learn a key principle:
Introducing God into the equation changes the odds, no matter how frightening the situation looks.
Maybe you're thinking, Well, that's the Old 'testament. There were all kinds of miracles then. That doesn't apply to this day and age. That's not true. This incident is an illustration of a New testament principle described in 2 Cor. 10:3-5: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
Contrary to the saying, "What you see is what you get," what we see is not all there is. Intense warfare is constantly being waged in the spirit world. Like Elisha, we have angels protecting us too. This is one reason we should not worry. Hebrews 1:14 and Matthew 18:10 inform us that we have guardian angels—spirit beings whose job it is to serve us.
God has also given us the armor and the weapons necessary to defeat our powerful enemies. Ephesians 6:10-18 is a wonderful passage depicting our spiritual armor as the armor of a Roman soldier. Every piece of that armor is defensive except one. The only offensive weapon we have is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." God's Word combined with prayer defeats our unseen enemies.
Do you see why fear and worry are so unnecessary for the believer? God is on our side. He has given us what we need for peace of mind, protecting us from the cancer of worry. He knows everything that's going on, just as He knew what the Syrian king was plotting in his war room. He can prevent or permit whatever He wants, and sometimes He allows things that will hurt us. Why? Because if we trust Him, He will work them for our good. God is our Father, and we are His responsibility, just as we earthly parents are responsible for our children. Here's another important principle:
Worry happens when we assume responsibility God never intended us to have.
You may be thinking, If we don't worry, how will I feed and clothe my family? Isn't worry a good motivator? Doesn't it help to keep us on track? The answer to these questions is a resounding NO!
When Jesus was here on earth He addressed the issue of worry as it relates to all of our lives. First He dealt with our motives and goals, urging us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-24).
If your focus is on making money and providing for your own future, then your eyes are focused on the wrong goal, and you are in spiritual darkness. Your love of money and your devotion to it will steal your heart; it will replace your love for God and devotion to Him. Jesus said love of money and love of God cannot coexist in the human heart. Having said this, Jesus went on to tell us that our heavenly Father knows our material needs and will provide them: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matt. 6:25-27).
Don't worry about your life. God feeds the birds, and you are much more valuable than they are. So much for the spotted owl! This might come as news to some people today, but people and animals are not equally valuable. People are made in God's image. If God provides food for all His creatures, surely He will care for the basic needs of His own children.
'And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (Matt. 6:28-30).
Jesus calls the worrier, "O you of little faith." We don't usually think of worry as a lack of faith, but that's how God sees it.
When your child was born, you didn't wait for it to tell you it needed milk or clothes or that it needed a diaper change. Of course not! You knew what your baby needed, and it was your joy to provide it. With far greater understanding, our heavenly Father knows what we need, and He is certainly a better parent to His children than we could ever be to ours.
Our Father's desire is that we simply seek to please Him. That we put Him first. That we obey and serve Him. That we allow Him to develop our character. Material provision will be given to us. That's the easiest thing in the world for the Owner of the universe to do.
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). When Jesus spoke these profound words, He didn't mean we would not experience heartache, pain, uncertainty, and suffering of all kinds. He simply meant we should not anticipate it ahead of time.
In other words, "Never borrow from the future. If you live in dread of what may happen and it doesn't happen, you have worried in vain. Even if it does happen, you have to worry twice. Worry is the interest paid to those who borrow trouble."6
You wouldn't try to reach the top of a flight of stairs by taking one giant leap from the bottom to the top, would you? No, you would climb one step at a time until you reached the top. In the same sense, God wants you to do what you can do today and leave the troubles of tomorrow for tomorrow's strength.
For one thing, 95 percent of the things we worry about never happen. Furthermore, as Corrie ten Boom wisely said, "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength."
Not only is worry counterproductive, it is also a form of disobedience. God has told us not to worry, so to worry is to disregard His guidance. Isn't it strange that we don't usually think of worry as sin? But it is! Confess it as sin. Choose with your will to obey God and depend on Him for the ability. Then consider the following suggestions (some of which are adapted from the book Worry-Free Living to help break the very self-destructive habit of worrying.7
Plan a time daily when you can spend some time—even if it's only fifteen minutes—reading the Bible. Think about what you read, and go over the phrases. Put your name in place of the pronouns, applying each verse to specific situations in your life. Memorize passages that will help you. God's Word is powerful—it will renew and protect your mind.
Choose a phrase from Scripture or a hymn that you can repeat to yourself at the first hint of anxiety. "'Fell it to Jesus" or "God cares for me" or "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." As you repeat the phrase, you will encourage yourself with its message and remind yourself to relax.
Just as David's music on the harp soothed King Saul's anxiety and depression, hymns and spiritual songs are wonderful tranquilizers for us today. Haven't you had the experience of hearing or singing a hymn that lifted your spirits and eased your mind? You might want to listen to a recording, play an instrument, or sing yourself. Reflect on the words and relax in the melody.
When you are worried about an issue or a relationship, don't fail to communicate. If you need to talk with your husband, schedule a time when you can honestly tell him your concerns and listen to what he says. If it's necessary, talk with your supervisor or employer about some troublesome aspect of your job. Talk with your children and listen to them as well. Worries expand into giant problems when they are left in your imagination. They need to be exposed, then whittled down to size.
Counselors suggest this technique for people who are prone to anxiety: Set aside fifteen minutes a day for active worry—and no more. This will keep worry from distracting you for the rest of the day. If worrisome things come to mind, jot them down on a card and plan to think about them later. There are three positive results from this.
First, you can accomplish a great deal more during the day when you are free from anxiety.
Second, when your "worry time" comes, you're better able to deal with the problems because you feel good about your productive day. You can devote your total attention to your concerns and list them in order of seriousness.
Third, by the time you get to the worries, the problems may well have shrunk in importance. They may not seem worth worrying about after all.
Suppose it's your child you're worried about. Do everything you can to protect him or her. Always have a reliable person care for your child when you aren't there. Teach your child to tell you if anyone touches his or her private parts. Warn the child never to go with strangers. Teach him or her a password that everyone must say. Do everything you can, then commit your child to the Lord for His protection.
Perhaps the thought of inviting people to dinner fills you with anxiety. You have a couple of options: You can refuse to entertain, or you can try to entertain and make yourself sick with worry in the process. Better yet, plan a menu you can prepare ahead of time. Arrange for the kids to spend the night with a friend in a trade-off. Clean your house ahead of time except for surface things. Rest an hour before your guests arrive. Then put everything together and enjoy your guests. Instead of worrying about a perfect performance, focus your attention on building relationships.
Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He is in us in the person of His Holy Spirit. He wants to live out His life through us. He gives us the strength for our tasks, the wisdom for decisions, the courage to face difficulties, and the victory over temptation. Keep up a running conversation with Him in your mind.
Paul gave the Philippians some excellent advice about worrying when he wrote, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).
Instead of worrying, pray. You have a Father in heaven who is real, who loves you, who will provide for your every need. He wants you to pray, demonstrating your dependence on Him. And He will give you an unexplainable peace that will serve as a guardian over your mind.
As Peter instructed, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7). This is such a practical verse. When something is on your mind that fills you with anxiety, write it down on a card. Hold the card up to the Lord for Him to read. Then say, "Lord, I'm casting this care on You for You to handle." Write across your worry, "I cast this on the Lord." And whenever an anxious thought sneaks back into your mind, say out loud, "That problem belongs to Jesus. I threw it on His shoulders." Keep the cards to remind you of your commitment, then go over them in a year's time. It will encourage you to see just how the Lord took care of each of your worries.
Many times when I share with a friend something that is troubling me, I feel better immediately. Often my friend has wisdom from her own experience or from Scripture that encourages and enlightens me. We pray together, and by the time we part, God has used another believer to relieve my anxiety and strengthen my faith. Remember, we are members of one body, one family, and we are commanded to bear one another's burdens.
If you are a worrier, God wants to heal you. He has given you His promises, His protection, and His provision. We all have a choice. We can keep worrying, ruin our mental and physical health, and retard our spiritual development. Or we can cast our cares on the strong shoulders of our loving Savior who has promised to give us His peace.
6 Frank Minirth, Paul Meier, and Don Hawkins, Worry-Free Living (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 107-21.