How I (Try To) Defeat Worry

Everybody is worried about something. For some worry leads them to medication or counseling or even depression. Others seek out promises in the Bible. That explains why the most highlighted Bible passage on Kindles in 2014 was…

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.

People are prone to worry. We worry about big things and small things, things we can control and things we can’t. We worry about money, the future, kids, health, relationships, our image, our houses, our careers, and more. Why we worry is a complex question and I don’t have a simple answer. But my guess is that at least part of the answer is that we worry that we won’t have something we need to be happy.

If my happiness depends on good health then I will worry about the test results. If it depends on my kids turning out how I want, then I will worry about their friends, grades, attitude, and whether the coach likes them. If I need to look a certain way to feel good about myself, then I will worry about my weight, acne, or whether my clothes are in style.

(If you’re looking for trusted authors who write on worry, you might check out this and this and this.)

But I thought today I would share with you how I fight worry. Before I say what does help me, here’s what doesn’t help: people who say, “Don’t worry. Things will work out.” That’s the advice that I hear most often and it drives me nuts.

Surely I’m not the only one who realizes this bit of advice is demonstrably wrong. The truth is that things don’t always work out. Marriages fall apart and people get divorced. Health declines and leaves some with chronic pain and others with unwanted medical expenses. Kids make poor choices and pay steep consequences. Careers don’t advance as hoped and people feel stuck in jobs they don’t like, or even worse unemployed.

My bottom line: Sometimes things do work out and that’s great when that happens, but anyone who thinks that things always or even mostly work out is either very young or hasn’t been paying attention.

Here are 4 truths that help me fight against worry.

1. I live in a fallen world and life here isn’t going to be as great as I want it to be. The Bible teaches that truth over and over and over and yet too often I’m surprised when things go south. Left to myself I have this crazy expectation that life here is going to be good and if it isn’t, I can easily feel as though I’ve been gipped.

So what helps me is reminding myself that in this life I should expect hardship, trials, and difficulties. Sometimes that will come because the world is unfair or because of other people’s sinful choices or because of my own foolishness and stupidity.

Disappointment is the gap between reality and expectations. When that gap is narrowed, not only am I less disappointed but I find myself worrying less about it.

2. I’m not in control but God is. One of the most helpful verses for me is John 1:20. Let me briefly set the scene. The Pharisees are intrigued by John the Baptist because of his teaching and the crowds he’s been drawing but they are unsure of who he is so they send out a delegation to ask if he’s the Messiah. That leads to John’s response…

John 1:20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

It’s good for me to say, “I am not the Messiah.” When I say that what I mean is that I can’t be Jesus for myself or other people. I don’t know all the issues or what the best course of action is. I can’t change hearts. I can’t make problems go away. I can’t keep people from difficult seasons of life. The list of things I can’t do is pretty long.

Sometimes worry is the result of an inflated view of self. It can be rooted in an attitude (conscious or unconscious) that says, “I can solve these problems.” When I think that I am the solution to problems, I worry about them because I think that I need to figure out the right thing to do and I need to make the right thing happen. When I realize that I am not the Messiah and that I’m not in control, I worry a lot less.

3. If the worst case happens, if things go really bad, then where would that leave me? I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could realistically happen?” I don’t have enough saved for retirement and end up living in a nasty nursing home. My kid doesn’t study and can’t get into college or even find a job. Of course there are worse things that could happen. I could be diagnosed with cancer. Someone I dearly love could die in a car wreck. I could lose my job.

Okay so where would I be if one of those things happened. Well, depending on exactly which of the above scenarios played out, I’d still have my family. I could look for another job. I could endure a nasty nursing home for as long as necessary. But most importantly, no matter what happens I’d still have Jesus. Gospel math (Jesus + Nothing = Everything) undermines worry because it says that the best thing can never be taken away from me.

4. Life is short but heaven is forever. My life here is a mist. It will soon be over and by God’s grace I will be with Jesus. Heaven is full of endless and increasing joy. Not only is this world is not my home it isn’t the main world. I’m not seeking my ultimate happiness here. If I were, there would be great reason to worry. But since my eternal joy is secure and I will soon be with Jesus, worry about things in this world just doesn’t make much sense.

4 Comments

  1. E. Wheeler said:

    Your timing is funny. I had a lecture to give this morning…my first lecture in my new role at work. So I was nervous, worried, anxious, all at once. 5 minutes before starting the lecture I stepped away and had a moment of prayer. Not for God to make everything OK or make me flawless…just to watch over me and be with me, so that I could be the best me that I could in that moment. I was still nervous and said ummmm a lot but got through and got some critical, but also some positive feedback. I think just asking for some company from God helped. At the root of it all I am a worrier about all things that you mentioned…and continue to work on that. Usually things turn out ok, but I am the “what if catastrophist” supreme leader if you were to ask my wife. You are right though, the end result never changes. Like I said I continue to work but the worry for me is like blinking. .. involuntary… I like to tell myself.

  2. sarah Gilliam said:

    Psalm 34:8

  3. sarah Gilliam said:

    I actually meant psalm 37:8.don’t fret, it only causes harm

  4. David Dingler said:

    Well done my friend . Thank you . I am learning my worry is centered on my self centered heart and desires. Once I take my thoughts off myself and put them on God and kingdom building my worries go away . This world is not about me !

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