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.

Worrying about life at 88 miles per hour

The future is easy to worry about because we have no control over it. Even if we think we have control, we don’t really. We can convince ourselves that we can alter it with hard work or good opportunities, but no matter how you look at it, you can’t control every aspect. 

Wooden bridge at Glen Eyrie

Wooden bridge at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

I have always loved the Back to the Future movies. Marty McFly and Doc Brown and the legendary DeLorean are tons of fun. I love the whole trilogy, and I love how the things they do in the first movie negatively affect the world in the second and third movies. And when they try to fix what they did wrong, they make it worse.

But whether you think of the future like the one immortalized in the Back to the Future movies or if you think of it more like a winding path up the side of a mountain that you can’t see the end of, one thing is certain: it’s not something we’re supposed to meddle with.

And that makes us worry about it.

At their heart and soul, people are control freaks. Some people are worse than others, but I’ve never met another human being who didn’t want some kind of control over his or her life, no matter how much they might have denied it. And I don’t know why that is.

I’m speaking from experience because I’m the worst control freak you’ll meet. I want to know everything. I want to know who is doing what. I want to know who is going where. I want to know what is happening today, tomorrow, next week, next month. Shoot, when I found out how much vacation I was going to have in 2012, I wanted to sit down and plan out every day off in 2012 for the whole year.

Don’t get me wrong. Planning is good. It’s a good idea to have a contingency. It’s a good idea to be prepared. But we also need to be flexible. We need to realize that there’s a bigger story going on around us and sometimes our plans need to change because of it.

Today’s passage is John 14:1-3 and it’s Jesus talking:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

I can only imagine how tired Jesus had to get of telling the disciples to trust him, to not worry. I guess I shouldn’t pick on the disciples because Jesus does that to me all the time too.  Jesus said this to the disciples at the Last Supper, the last meal He ate with them before He went to the cross. The disciples were all upset and worried because Jesus had told them that He was leaving. The disciples, of course, worried about the future. Because they couldn’t see God (they thought). And they couldn’t understand Jesus (because they weren’t listening). And they wanted things to happen the way they wanted it to happen (sound familiar?).

I’m so much like the disciples all the time it astounds me. I share bits and pieces of their flaws, from the doubt to the impulsiveness to the skepticism.

The issue here comes down to trust.

I trust my ability to drive. So I drive over 100 miles a day.

I trust my ability to cook. So I eat the food I make.

I trust my ability to write. So I blog and write short stories and novels and articles about plumbing installations.

I trust. So I act.

So do I trust Jesus? Do I trust that He is who He said? Do I trust that He’s going to do what He promised?

So if I trust Him — if I really honestly trust Him — I need to act on that trust. I need to live by that trust. I need to demonstrate in my actions and in my thoughts and in my life that I really believe the things that Jesus has said. And that means not worrying about the future.

Jesus said He has the future worked out. He’s preparing a place for us and one day He’s going to come back and get us. I trust that. So I’m happy to stick around here doing what I can until He comes back. But I also trust that He hasn’t left me here with nothing to do, because He also told me He has a reason for everything He does.