Worry is like taking a shortcut in Houston

I was born in Houston, which is like the fourth largest city in the United States. It’s massive. Full of people. Full of cars. Full of smog. Twice the population of the state of Kansas probably live in Houston. And if you’ve never been in traffic in Houston, you haven’t been in traffic. I get a kick out of people in Wichita who think we have traffic. Ha. No, we have bad drivers; Houston has traffic. Until it takes you an hour to go 12 miles, you haven’t been in traffic.

Fortunately for me, I have never driven in Houston. I hope I never have to. But I remember growing up down there my poor mom had to drive sometimes, when we needed to get to another side of town for whatever reason. I don’t know how she did it. And I really don’t remember a whole lot of it. Most of the time we stayed on our side of town, I think, sticking to side streets and suburbs. But we had a family we were friends with that did require us to drive some distance, and I remember sitting in the backseat on multiple occasions when Mom announced that we were going to take a shortcut.

That was our cue–my brother and me–to groan and ask her not to take a shortcut, because her shortcuts never worked. Of course, we didn’t mind. What else were we going to do? Walk? I was seven and he was five. But it was sort of our family running gag (one of the many) that taking shortcuts were more trouble than they were worth.

So when I got to thinking about the concept of worry this week, the thought of a shortcut popped into my mind. And if you think about it, they’re similar concepts because worrying is easy to do. It’s easy to let it happen. It’s much harder and it takes much more discipline to not worry than it does to give into it. But worry is a shortcut that doesn’t lead anywhere. It makes you feel better somehow because it helps you feel like you’re doing something when you really can’t do anything at all, and for doers (like me) that’s alluring. But it’s an illusion.

Houston, Texas (not my photo as I'm usually cowering in the backseat when we're driving through)

Houston, Texas (not my photo as I’m usually cowering in the backseat when we’re driving through)

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

This is one of the last things Jesus said to His disciples before He was crucified. He wanted them to know that He was going away but that He wasn’t leaving them alone. He didn’t want them to worry because He was giving them a gift that would stay with them forever. It’s nice to know we have access to that same gift–the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knew that His disciples were going to have a lot on their plates when He was gone. He knew what they were going to face. He knew what would be asked of them. He wanted them to be as prepared for what was coming as they could be. And He knew that worrying about the things they couldn’t control would only slow them down, would stunt their growth, would distract them from accomplishing the great things He had in store for them.

Funny how things don’t change, even in 2,000 years.

Worry is still debilitating. Anxiety still strips us of our effectiveness. And yet we all still cling to it because we’ve given into this cultural lie that it helps us do more. But worry is like taking a shortcut in Houston – it’s stressful, complicated, and you never end up where you think you should be.

Worrying is easy. But it’s usually the easy things in life that are the most damaging.

Fighting worry and anxiety off is hard work. It takes discipline and practice, but it’s worth it. Whoever thought taking the scenic route would be called discipline? Well, I think we all need some of that kind of discipline in our lives. We all need to take time to play. We all need to take time to let go of the things that are driving us and prioritize exactly what it is that we’re doing here.

So skip the shortcut. You have time to take the scenic route. And you actually might enjoy it more.

Cannon Street Underground Station, London, England

Worry and stress are like bread and butter

Do you ever feel like your life is spinning out of control? Like there’s so much happening around you and to you (good and bad) that there’s no way you can keep track of it all? It feels like rush hour in the tube in London. You’re there with a purpose, but you can’t make any headway because there are too many people in the way, not enough room, and too much noise–so much noise. And you can’t control any of it. You can control yourself. You can control your reactions. But you can’t control other people, and you can’t control when the train gets there, and you can’t control how much space is left on the cars.

It’s so easy to worry about the stuff we can’t control. It’s so easy for me to sit here and let my mind wander about everything that could go wrong, and even though I may have the best of intentions, even though I may just be wanting to plan for those eventualities, it’s just one step further to let myself start worrying.

Cannon Street Underground Station, London, England

Cannon Street Underground Station, London, England

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:31-33.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

This is from one of Jesus’ more famous messages, usually called The Sermon on the Mount. If you’ve ever heard of the Beatitudes, this is the same message that includes them.

It’s not a new message. Jesus talked a lot about not worrying, about trusting God, about moving forward with confidence and hope. The rest of the Bible is full of examples and stories about how worrying isn’t useful.

Worry is a waste of time. Going back to the tube illustration, you can stand in the station and worry about whether or not you’ll be able to get a spot on the train, but you only have two options–either there’s a space for you or there isn’t. If there’s a space, you’ll get on. If there’s not, you just have to wait till the next train. Maybe you won’t get to your destination when you thought you would. But worrying about it won’t accomplish anything–other than to wear you out.

Haven’t you noticed? Worry is exhausting. It’s an emotional roller coaster. We wear ourselves out worrying about things we can’t control anyway and by the time we reach our destination, we’re too tired to accomplish anything meaningful. What good does that do? What is the point? We have a culture that thrives on anxiety. Worry and stress are two of the mainstays of the American emotional diet, and there’s a concept out there (especially in the corporate world) that if you aren’t worried or stressed out about something, you’re not doing something right.

And that’s ridiculous.

I don’t want to worry anymore. I don’t want to be worn out and stressed out and anxious about things I can’t control anyway. I don’t want to waste my precious, limited time worrying about whether people like me or like what I have to say, although as a performance-driven people pleaser those two things are the bread and butter of my emotional diet.

I work and worry and stress myself out to accomplish the things I think I need to accomplish, and most of my stress and anxiety comes from those self-inflicted deadlines. But are those the things I need? I think I need them. But God is the one who knows for sure.

In the verses previous to this passage, Jesus is talking about the birds and about how they don’t worry about what they wear or what they eat and God provides for them. And if God cares for the birds, doesn’t He care for us more? God will take care of us. And the thing is I know that. I’ve seen it. He’s provided for me in so many ways that I can’t keep track, and it’s complete and utter foolishness to forget it or to doubt Him simply because I don’t know what’s around the corner.

All I need to do is seek Him. I need to live my life the way the Bible says. And He will take care of the rest. I need to trust my dreams and wants and goals to Him. I mean, He gave those things to me anyway, and they’re better off in His hands because He can truly make them happen, whereas I will just flail around like a turtle stuck on its back and wear myself out getting nowhere.

God knows what I need, and He’s a good God. He won’t withhold something out of spite. He won’t refuse me just because He can. He doesn’t abuse power like that. If I think I need something and He hasn’t given it to me, maybe I don’t need it at all. Or maybe I need something else first. That’s between me and Him–and Him and you. But either way, worrying gets you nowhere. And it accomplishes nothing.

So don’t waste time with it. It’s hard. Trust me, I know how hard it is to choose not to worry when it’s so much easier to hold on. But once you learn how to let go, it’s addicting. And it’s such a relief.

Do what God wants. Live for Him. Let the rest go. You’ll enjoy life more, and by the grace of God, you’ll accomplish great things because God will intervene and do more through you than you ever could have on your own, even if you prepared for it.

Bend in the path of a topiary maze at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Facing the unknown with what you know for sure

Do you ever have those “what if” moments? Those moments in life when you step back and look at a situation and ask yourself “What if this happens” or “What if that happens”? What if something good happens? What if something bad happens? What would I do?

Preparing for the future is always a good idea, I say. Knowing your limits is also good. Knowing the resources you have, knowing the people you can trust are also both good things to know. But what happens when those “what if” questions take over your life? What happens when you can’t do anything without asking “what if”? Granted, you should always consider the consequences before you act. That’s only wise. But considering consequences and asking what if questions are two completely different things.

Like crossing a bridge. If you cross a foot bridge across a river, considering the consequences would involve asking yourself what’s on the other side, how you need to prepare for it, what you need to bring with you. Asking yourself “what if” before leaving would be asking yourself if the bridge will hold your weight. Considering the consequences of your actions means you care about the people around you, that you care about your future, that you aren’t just acting blindly and forging ahead without any sort of map. Asking “what if” means you’re afraid of the future.

Bend in the path of a topiary maze at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Bend in the path of a topiary maze at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 46:10.

Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.

Our futures are mostly unknown. And don’t get me wrong. I like time travel movies and books as much as any other geek. In fact, I’ve written novels about time travel, and in some vein it’s an alluring concept to be able to change it or to be able to anticipate what’s coming. But it’s called science fiction for a reason. God Himself says through Isaiah the prophet here that only He can tell us the future before it happens.

God has revealed what we need to know about the future. And for the blank spots, we have His character as a witness to what He will do.

Life is full of unknowns, and all of those uncertainties can weigh us down if we let them. And I’ve recently been struggling with that dreaded “what if” question quite a bit because there are a lot of unknowns in my life right now. True, there are a lot of things I know for sure, and I’m thankful for those. But the things I’m not sure about are always floating around my brain, screaming loudly and trying to distract from the things I know for sure.

Part of being a writer is the ability to connect dots between details, and most of the time it’s a blessing because I can make a story out of anything. But for the rest of life it’s a headache because my brain is constantly putting pieces together for things that may not happen in my life, for good or for bad.

So how do you handle the “what if” moments? How do you answer them? This week, I think I’m going to focus on that because I’m facing some big “what ifs.” What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if it’s not that easy? What if it was easy and I made it too complicated? What if this? What if that? What if, what if, what if. It’s enough to make me just wish my brain would shut off.

There’s a song by a blind singer named Ginny Owens that I love, called “Live Once.” And there’s a line in that song that I always think about when I’m facing those petrifying what if moments.

I can face what I don’t know
By singing about what I do

And that’s really what it comes down to. Life is full of unknowns, but we can face the unknowns using what we know for sure as our weapon. I may not know what the next stretch of road in my journey will hold for me, but I do know that God set it out before me. And if God set me on this road, He wouldn’t send me for no reason and He wouldn’t send me alone. Because I may not know what’s at the end of it, but I know He sent me. And that really tells me all I need to know about it because I know Him.

The eventual end is happy because God has promised it will be. He can tell us the future if He wants to, and He’s told us what He wants us to know. The rest of the time, He does what He wants. And that’s great. Because good people do good things, and God is always good.

So when you face that decision or that bend in the road, don’t focus on the uncertainties ahead. Focus on what you know for sure. When that voice comes along in your brain and asks you “What if?” … Answer “So what?” If God has sent you, He has a plan, and His plan is better than yours anyway, even if it may not feel like it right now.

What if I fail? So what? God just has another opportunity in mind. What if I succeed? So what? God will give me the strength I need. You can answer those questions because you know who God is. You can face those uncertainties because what you know for sure won’t change.

The garage at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Living off balance will leave you with bloody knees

I like to think of myself as a coordinated person, even though that’s not actually the case. But, I mean, I’m not clumsy. Not usually, but something interesting happened last night as I was getting home. It had been a long day. I’d gotten done running the lyrics program for my church’s band rehearsal around 8pm, so that meant I was pulling into my driveway about 9pm. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and it had been a long day–a good day but long.

I got out of my car and grabbed my empty lunch bag, my coffee cup, and my backpack. I travel with a large backpack that has my life in it. All my tech. Everything. It’s pretty heavy, but I would rather haul one big bag around than to have to juggle three or four smaller ones. I went to shut the garage door and I looked up to see a wasp hovering directly over my head.

I don’t really worry about stinging insects, but they do tend to love getting stuck in my hair. So I twisted to push the garage door button as I stepped out onto the concrete pad in front of the garage (the only concrete on my whole five acres, really), and somehow my foot got crooked in my right shoe. They’re wedge looking clog things that you slide into. If it had been a flip-flop, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but twisting around when your dominant foot is wobbly will probably cause problems. And then factor in that I’ve got a coffee mug and a lunch bag in one hand, my keys in the other, and a fifteen-pound backpack. See where I’m going?

Yeah, I hit the ground. Hard. Landed square on both knees. Scraped up both of the tops of my feet, because the horrid shoes came off as I fell. But that was as far as it went. I got my coordination back fast enough to be able to sit up before I bashed my nose into the concrete. I had my more durable work trousers on, so they didn’t tear or anything, but I did bloody my knees up through the fabric. And one of the scrapes on my foot actually bled quite a bit. I was proud of myself. I don’t fall very often, but when I do, I want to do right!

But I got to thinking about the whole situation this morning. If I hadn’t been off balance, would I have fallen at all? I mean, I might have stumbled. But falling is a different level of being off balance. It meant there was something on me that got out of whack (the backpack) and when the wasp startled me I couldn’t compensate correctly because the off-balance weight threw me off. And I fell.

The garage at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The garage at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:5-8.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

This is one of the verses that came to mind when I thought about trying to live a balanced life. I’m sure that there are probably some better ones in Ecclesiastes, but (quite honestly) I didn’t have time this morning to go digging for them. And actually this wasn’t what I was planning to blog about. But if you read verse 8 in the Amplified Version, it comes off a little differently:

[For being as he is] a man of two minds (hesitating, dubious, irresolute), [he is] unstable and unreliable and uncertain about everything [he thinks, feels, decides].

Can you identify with being “of two minds”? Like you just can’t decide? That’s easy in our world today, at least in America. We have so many choices. We have so many options. There are so many roads you can take, how can you choose exactly which one is the right one? And that thinking can easily translate into our walk with God. Because if there are so many options in our “real” lives, surely God would offer us as many choices in our spiritual lives, right?

Well, that’s not always the case. But that’s a topic for another blog. The point here is that you can’t straddle the fence. A lot of people try, but eventually your life will come down to a point where you fall off. You can’t live for Christ and live for the world at the same time. You just can’t. Again, you can try, but you’ll reach a point in life where you’ll stumble and you’ll be so off balance you won’t be able to catch yourself, and then you’ll have worse injuries to show for it than two bloody, scraped up knees.

Make up your mind. That’s what I always think when I read this verse. Be decisive. Choose a side. Because if you don’t choose a side, you’re going to be unstable. If you don’t choose a side, you’re going to be a liability to both–or you’ll be trapped in the middle where you’ll never be effective because no one will able to trust you. Follow God or don’t. But whatever you do, do something real.

Our world suffers from a lack of decisiveness in general, so it’s easy to stand out if you have a made-up mind. God isn’t is a God of indecision. He’s a God of clarity, of certainty, of stability, and if you’ve really made up your mind to follow Him, those traits will eventually show in your own life. Because even when you aren’t clear or certain or stable, God is.

Leader of "", a Kekchi Village that had never seen white people before we visited, Peten, Guatemala

What God can do with your story

When was the last time you told somebody about something God did for you? I know some people who are really good at sharing God’s work with others, whether they believe in God or not. I can certainly write about it all day long, but when it comes to talking about it, I don’t do so well. But when it comes to talking, I tend to clam up anyway.

Leader of El Chilar, a Kekchi Village that had never seen white people before we visited, Peten, Guatemala

Leader of El Chilar, a Kekchi Village that had never seen white people before we visited, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are 1 Chronicles 16:23-30.

Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!
Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods.
The gods of other nations are mere idols,
but the Lord made the heavens!
Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and joy fill his dwelling.
O nations of the world, recognize the Lord,
recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
Bring your offering and come into his presence.
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
Let all the earth tremble before him.
The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.

The Bible says over and over again that we need to talk about what God has done. We need to tell others. We need to tell the world. We need to shout it out at the top of our lungs. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons.

First off, how are people going to know what God has done if we don’t tell them? Yes, people can read the Bible. That’s one of the best ways to get to know who God is, but if all people know about God comes out of Scripture, will they believe He’s relevant today? I’m not saying Scripture isn’t relevant. Far from it. The Bible is the most relevant book in the world to modern times. But if my only knowledge and experience comes out of a book–living book or no–I’m not sure I would hold to it as dearly as I do. Because my experience with God, though its foundation is in Scripture, goes beyond what was written thousands of years ago and happens today.

I talked to God this morning. I asked Him for help for today. I asked Him to help me know what to write on this blog. And He answered. He’s not just the God of the Bible; He’s my God today, tomorrow, and far in the future. But if we don’t tell people that, they aren’t going to know. They’ll just assume all there is to God is in Scripture, but the testimony of God’s people is often what makes the difference.

Secondly, we need to tell others about what God is doing so we don’t forget.

We’re forgetful creatures. At least, I am. Maybe you’re better than me. I forget what God’s done all the time. He can answer a prayer of mine in the morning and by evening I’m wondering where He went and why He won’t talk to me.

I need to tell people about what God has done in my life, because the very act of telling means I won’t forget. Telling others helps me remember that God has never let me down, and He’s always been there for me. I’ve always been able to count on Him. I’ve always been able to trust Him. And if I’m not in the habit of telling people about Him, I run the risk that I will forget. And God doesn’t deserve that. Beyond that, if I get in the habit of forgetting God, I’ll be tempted to try to live my life without Him. And that’s not a life I want. That’s not a life that will make a difference or help people. That’s a life that will be about me and what I want.

So what if people don’t understand? So what if they look at you funny? And they will. But tell people about what God has done in your life. Share your story with them. You never know what God might do with your story. Sure, it’ll help you remember what He’s done for you, but it also might be just what the person you work with needs to hear to encourage them or to help them take that next step toward getting to know God better.