What to do about worry.
For many this well known bible passage is a very tall order indeed. It’s all very well telling us not to worry – it’s quite another for us to just be able to hand our burdens over to God, and leave them there. There will be some of us who find our worries and concerns can be overwhelming. Sometimes there will be logical reasons for this, maybe there is illness in the family, not enough money to make ends meet, a difficult job situation, unemployment, homelessness – whatever the reason, it is natural to us to worry and be concerned. It would seem a little odd for us not to be worried about some of these things. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any reason for us worrying but we still have those feelings. I guess there is a difference between being concerned about a situation and being overwhelmed with worry. When we are overwhelmed we are not as effective – we can’t think straight and our levels of stress have an impact on those around us. So if just giving up worrying feels too hard what can we do to combat those feelings.
Firstly I guess it is important to recognise that God gave us an in built alarm system that goes off when we feel threatened. This is very useful if our survival is threatened in some way but sometimes it goes off when there isn’t really a threat – we just feel threatened and this results in us feeling worried or anxious.. So feeling worried is a normal part of being human. Even Jesus demonstrates this in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was clearly feeling a bit overwhelmed in his asking of God to change the plan of where everything was heading. So, I guess the first thing to say is don’t feel guilty about not being able to just give it to God. God is not looking for us to be perfect just for us to try our best. He is a loving and tender parent, who encourages to do our best to move forward.
There are some very practical things we can try that can help in the face of worrying;
Learn to relax and understand that God is in charge.
There is that Bible verse, ‘Be still and know that I am God’….it comes at the end of Psalm 46 where it describes a lot of disasters happening – natural disasters, wars etc, but instead of getting het up about them all the Psalmist suggests being still – not easy to do when you are all uptight. I guess this means meditating on God – or sitting in God’s presence, without a lot of words…just resting. This isn’t something that comes naturally to a born worrier but it is something that can be learnt.
We would maybe have to begin by telling God what we are worrying about – and this might take some time. We may need to rant and rave at God a bit and that’s ok too - It will help with the worry to share it with God – it gets it off your chest and gives God the opportunity to make a difference. If we look at the book of Job we see that he tells God exactly what he is thinking and feeling – he doesn’t hold back because he is speaking to God. Once we have got things off our chest we can just sit in quietness and rest in the presence of God. To avoid being bombarded by intrusive thoughts it can be helpful to say a short phrase over and over – something like ‘Be still and know that I am God’ until you get to a place of peace and resting.
This is something that takes time and practice to develop - so enjoy the rest you can manage and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage very long to start with. Keep going back to it until it becomes easier to get to that place of rest.
Know who your support team is.
Having a support team around you at times when you are really worrying is a really big help. Again we can look to Jesus as our example. Increasingly his Disciples became his confidantes and support. They were committed to Jesus and loved and cared bout him. They didn’t always get it right – in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus had asked them to keep watch whilst he prayed – but they were tired and fell asleep, but I guess we can assume that they were doing their best. The other friends that we hear about are Mary, Martha and Lazarus – I could imagine that Jesus retreated to their house because he could just relax and be himself. Mary was good at just being available to Jesus and listening to what he was saying. Sometimes having someone just listen was exactly what Jesus needed.
So, all of us whether we have worries and concerns or not, need people that we can be ourselves with – people who accept us just the way we are and don’t judge us and are good at listening to us. We also need those people that are going to stick by us no matter what – no matter how stressed out we get they will continue to do their best to love and care for us. We need to remember that friends are not always perfect(…and we are probably not as easy going as usual either!) – none of us get it ‘right’ all the while – so trusting in a friends good intentions and forgiving them as they also forgive us our irritability and stressing helps us to feel supported and loved even though we are going through a tough period.
Learning to love ourselves.
Sometimes it is very difficult to love ourselves. In Zephaniah we read that God rejoices over us with gladness (ch 3, v17). He loves us and accepts us with all our imperfections….and he is God - almighty, all powerful God! If God loves us so much…maybe we should give ourselves a break.
Learning to accept ourselves just as we are is one of life’s great lessons, battling with acceptance can cause daily worries and niggles. Acceptance isn’t just about keeping to the status quo though. It’s more doing what we can to improve those bits that are difficult, being prepared to learn new ways of dealing with old problems such as worrying and getting stressed, but it also means being very gentle with yourself and forgiving yourself when things don’t go the way you hope. Learning to love and accept who you are is to see yourself as God sees you and that is a place of acceptance and love.
From a practical point of view it is about challenging negative thoughts you have about yourself and reminding yourself of how God sees you and how your friends see you. It is intentionally challenging those thoughts that bring you down and acknowledging the positive attributes you have.
So, here are my top tips for combating worry/stress
-- Don’t feel guilty about worrying
-- Learn to meditate as a daily practice
-- Tell God exactly what’s on your mind – even if you are angry with him.
-- Identify people in your life that can be good practical supports
-- Spend time with people that you can just be yourself with.
-- Learn to love yourself as God loves you.
-- Be intentional about negative and positive thinking.
-- Be forgiving and gentle with yourself.