Giving Up Worrying for Lent

Have you ever had a conversation with God where you have your fingers crossed behind your back?

I have.

“Lord, I want to learn to be patient.” (Fingers doubled crossed behind my back!)

Fingers crossed!

(I always have this little kid inside of me that thinks I can hide what’s really going on from God.)

It’s a bit of a paradox. I truly want to be more patient… but I don’t really want to go though the frustrating, exasperating, annoying situations that are going to lead me to need to be patient. (Like that old saying, “Lord, make me patient… and do it right now.”)

That’s the same way I felt when I decided to give up worrying for Lent.

I told God that during Lent I was going to give up my worrying, focus on Him, and replace the false anxiety-producing pictures in my head with positive uplifting images.

The moment that offering went from my heart to God’s ears, I knew without a doubt that I was going to face circumstances that would show if I really was sincere or not about my “sacrifice.”

Now, I have to say that I really do believe that God has my best interest at heart… maybe not my most comfortable interest, or my most enjoyable interest, but I do believe He has my best interest at heart.

That said, do I believe God will always keep me from experiencing bad things? Of course not. (Although as I have said before, I did naively buy into this thinking at one point in time when I was younger.) We live in a fallen and broken world. God’s job is not to keep me comfortable.

But He purposes to conform me into His likeness, to love and serve well.

But I digress…

I had made this commitment to follow the three R’s in dealing with the anxious images in my head: refuse, replace, and repeat.

I was in a meeting where there were some very difficult matters being discussed when my phone rang. Well, it didn’t exactly ring. It quietly vibrated and flashed. I looked to see who was calling and it was my daughter, Steph.

Now it was the middle of the afternoon and she never calls me at that time of the day, especially while she’s at work. I felt this little creep of anxiety inching its way up. My mind went where it usually goes when she calls at unusual times… that she was by the side of the road in a car accident (this is my worse fear so it is the one that pops up the most).

As I said, the meeting I was in had a number of people in it who were discussing some very delicate issues. It would have been totally inconsiderate for me to excuse myself to take the call. So I didn’t.

I took a deep breath and let it go to voicemail. I said to myself, “No. I don’t want this horrible picture in my head. I’m going to think of her sitting at her desk, working at her computer, and she’s just fine.”

It was hard but I did it. “Okay,” I thought to myself, slightly smugly, “that wasn’t so bad.” And I went back to my meeting.

Five minutes later I looked down and saw the phone ring again. It was Steph.

Now, I was in an internal panic with lots of thoughts racing through my head and my heart starting to race.

“Why was she calling again so soon? I wonder if something really is wrong.” (There are lots of reasons I react this way and I’ll let you in on them at another point.)

My mind immediately had her in a disastrous situation calling with bad news.

Now I had a choice to make: Was I going to worry – would I give in, run out of the room and take her call? Or would I refuse the image and ask God to quiet my head and my heart?

(I hate to admit this but it wasn’t an easy choice.)

I decided to focus on the present, where I was right now, and not the imaginary – what could be happening.

I looked normal on the outside. Nobody in that meeting could tell by looking at me that there was a war going on in my head and my heart. But inside, I was really struggling.

I made a decision: I decided to choose to not worry; to be okay with the uncomfortable feeling and be present where I was. I truly was uncomfortable but I kept praying and repeating, “No. I don’t want this picture in my head. I am picturing her as okay.” And when I saw the bad picture pop into my head again, I changed it back to another good picture, like changing channels on TV.

Now, could there have been something tragically wrong? Absolutely. But this is where crazy thinking comes in: I usually think it is more likely that something bad is happening rather than something good. I decided to choose the opposite: if it were just as possible that she was calling about something good as something bad, I was going to focus on the good.

The 20 minutes until the meeting was over seemed like forever. I prayed and God helped me focus on the task at hand. When it finally (!) ended, I stepped (not ran) outside and listened to her voice message.

“Hey mom, it’s me. I wanted to see if I could borrow something for work so I didn’t leave a message. But then I thought of something else I wanted to tell you so call me when you get out of your meeting. Love you.”

I silently prayed a prayer of thanksgiving…and I decided next year I’m giving up chocolate for Lent.

(As my quest to give up worrying for Lent continues, I have had more circumstances where I have been challenged to not worry. I’ll tell you more about them next time. It’s been good but not easy! But I’m taking it one day at a time.)

Breaking Free From My Addiction to Worrying

Confession: I am a Worrier – with a capital W.

I think I might need a 12-step program.

“Hi. My name is Karen. I’m a Worrier.” “Hi, Karen.”

Because lately, I’ve begun to wonder if I’m not addicted to worry.

Over the years, there have been many unexpected crises that have impacted my life dramatically—my dad had a stroke when he was 53, my girls both were diagnosed with a bleeding disorder as babies, then Steve’s dad got cancer and died from AIDS he acquired from a blood transfusion. Crises continued to happen throughout my life. In recent years, my childhood best friend’s husband dropped dead of a heart attack, my sister-in-law died of breast cancer, another dear friend’s husband died of pancreatic cancer, etc.

Life events.

But somehow I wasn’t prepared for them.

Looking back, I realized I had been taught some bad theology early on by well meaning friends. I was told that once I gave my life to Christ then God had a “wonderful plan for my life.” I assumed (naively) that this meant my life would always be wonderful.

And in many ways it has been. But in many ways, it hasn’t seemed so wonderful when people I love have suffered and I have lost people very near and dear to my heart.

Add to that, I am a caregiver. By training I am a “helping professional” and by nature, I care for people who are hurting. That’s who I am and how I am gifted. And that’s a good thing.

But over time, I have sunk deeper and deeper into a “worry mindset” that permeates how I look at life and how I respond to situations. (And my worry mindset drives my family crazy!)

Now I know this is going to seem ridiculous to many people, but somehow worrying has become almost a comfort to me.

Let me explain.

Since I got that first phone call about my dad’s stroke when I was 22 years old, something gets triggered in me when I get bad news out of the blue. I’m happily going along with my life and suddenly, my life changes.

Somehow, that has developed into this crazy thought process that thinks…

…if I’m not thinking about anything and something bad is happening that I don’t know about,

…then, if I consciously think about it, maybe it won’t.

Hence, I worry.

I know that doesn’t make sense but that’s the way my little mind sometimes works.

The way this has evolved over the years is that my mind creates these horrific pictures of what might be happening. When I find out that nothing has happened, the little voice inside my head says, “See. What you imagined didn’t happen. Now you can relax.”

What does this really mean? It means I somehow think I can control what is happening. (Ha! This is so embarrassing to even write!)

Unfortunately, the downside of this is that there is this continual war between my mind and my body. And my body is acting out with symptoms of anxiety… like not being able to sleep, to a racing heart rate, to grinding my teeth at night, even to chest pains that lead me to the ER with a panic attack. (It happened the night of my birthday when I turned 53, the same age as my dad when he had his stroke. You don’t need a shrink to be able to analyze that one!)

My friend Mike Hyatt had a blog post that helped me think of this in a new way. He suggested that worry and imagination might be two sides of the same coin. That people who worry often have very active imaginations.

This idea began to take root and I started looking at what was happening in my head when I was worrying. And sure enough, I was seeing pictures of what might be happening that I didn’t know about…

  • My daughter bleeding out at the scene of a car accident.
  • My husband having a heart attack while he’s away on business.
  • My house being foreclosed.
  • My getting cancer and not living to see my grandchildren.

Not pretty pictures.

And the more I saw these kinds of pictures, the more they popped into my head. And the more anxious I got.

Until it felt like all I was doing was worrying. And yes, good things still happened and bad things still happened but there was no correlation between the intensity of my worrying and what was happening!

I was discussing this with my friend Patsy Clairmont and she told me when she struggled with anxiety, she used the three R’s: Refuse, Replace and Repeat.

Refuse to think about the picture that isn’t true. Just stop.

Immediately, Replace that picture with something positive (Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8)

Then Repeat. Over and over and over until your mind has shifted from the bad picture to a good one. (For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7)

Right after my conversation with Patsy, Lent was approaching. I was trying to decide what I could give up for Lent to remind me of Christ’s suffering. (Over the years, I have given up chocolate, wine, and romance novels—all things that I felt would help me to focus during the 40 days of Lent!)

Around this time I was talking with a friend and asking her to let me know when she arrived at her destination because I was a worrier.

She said, “Too bad you can’t give up worrying for Lent!”

I hung up and thought about it and decided, why not?

I would give up worrying for Lent. Whenever I found myself worrying (and creating these awful pictures in my mind) I would focus on Christ and create a new picture.

The problem was, I knew by definition, I would have situations occur that would normally cause me to worry where I would have to change my thinking.

And they did.

So, I’ll tell you in my next blog post the details of how it’s going but until then I’ll give you a hint: it hasn’t always been easy but it has been good.

Philippians 4: 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Serving in Haiti: A Mother’s Peace of Mind

“Hi, Mom. It’s Kel. Haiti is chaotic and crazy but I’m feeling so much better. I think I just had a 24-hour bug. You wouldn’t believe the horrible conditions here but I’m doing great now. Patients are all over the floor of the hospital and it’s total chaos, but we are making a difference and that’s what counts.”

I just got off the phone with Kelly, my daughter who is serving on a medical team with Mission to the World (MTW) in Haiti. She normally works as an Emergency Room nurse at Duke Hospital in North Carolina and has been on the MTW International Disaster Response team for the past year waiting to serve when a disaster occurs.

Not surprisingly, my sweet girl is an adrenaline junkie. She loves high adventure and has a heart for serving others. She loves kids and always wants to be in peds whenever she’s working. She seems especially gifted in pediatric trauma.

Sigh… For a mom like me who struggles with worry and anxiety, wouldn’t you know I’d get a kid like her?

Since the heart-wrenching crisis in Haiti began, my emotions have been off the charts. On a scale of 1-10, I’ve been at a -1 and a +11 and everywhere in between.

I knew she would go to Haiti. I knew she would want to serve.

She’s fine now, but when I got the message she was sick in Haiti, I really had to search my heart and see if I truly believed the words I wrote to her before she left. (And I had plenty of time to think, search and pray when I was tossing and turning all night long!)

So thankfully, the answer ended up being yes. Because God gives me the strength to trust Him, one moment at a time.

(When I asked her if I could share what I wrote she said, “Of course. I know you Mom!”)

Hey Sweetie,

All kidding aside, I want you to know how much I love you, how proud I am of you and how grateful I am to be your mom. You know, when you were put into my arms 28 years ago, it was truly love at first sight. You were so adorable… plump, inquisitive and ready to explore the world.

Obviously, you are still the same person (well, except for the plump part! ;-)) I truly did fall in love with you. You were a kid who jumped in with all your heart and soul. From those days when you were a year old and swinging from the canopy of your crib, I knew you had a zest for life and a determination to just “go for it.” You were such a strong-willed child; you know I covered the paddle with lots of batting so I wouldn’t hurt you trying to mold your little feisty, determined, temper-throwing behavior without breaking your focused, intent, exceedingly strong spirit in the meantime.

I know you spent a lot of years “sitting on the bench.” Volleyball was good for you but I can’t tell you how hard it was to watch you give your all and not get to play. But God produced in you endurance, patience, and teamwork where you contributed your all, even if you weren’t on the front line. But now, you are going to be on the front line and those lessons you learned along the way have made you who you are: a long-suffering, committed team player who is patient and caring, in spite of difficult circumstances. That, my sweet girl, is the mark of a true servant leader.

And so, like the day you were born, I put you again in God’s hands to guard and guide you. Young Life’s slogan, “You were made for this” seems to be appropriate for this day. I truly feel that this is a culmination of what you have been working for so diligently these past years. And I am so proud of you. I know that as you strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus, that there will be rough times. But if you keep your eyes focused on Him, I know He will be there with you.

So to be clear, I really do believe that God is sovereign. I do believe that He made you, He owns you, and He loves you even more than me.

Trust your instincts, trust your heart, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide you as you walk into a place where you will see the horrors of a fallen world. I pray you will be the answer to prayers when hurting people have cried out and asked God to send help.

And, of course, I want you to be safe but the bottom line is I trust you and trust the one who made you.

Go with my deep love and prayers that you will be able to help those who are hurting and so desperately need your touch.

I love you sweet girl.

Your Mama

P.S. And don’t forget your Go-Girl so you never have to take life sitting down.