A question. What are you…afraid of?
Fear has this way of flaying us open, I think. Of laying bare what we see as bigger than us.
Worry manifests itself in vastly different ways. Some of us, for example, seek to staunch this bleeding of our hearts with intense control or safety. That is to alternatively say, some of us who struggle most with control actually are waging an inner battle with fear. As counselor and neuropsychologist Ed Welch writes, “One message is obvious: ‘If I imagine the worst, I will be prepared for it.’ Worry is looking for control….Worry has become your talisman to ward off future catastrophe.”
Though I haven’t yet decided if worry is one of my most besetting character flaws (family members, feel free to weigh in—apart from the comments section…)—I can tell it’s gnawing at me lately. See, one of my “stressed version of myself” characteristics is an inability to get back to sleep at night after that rainstorm, or that child that wants to be held and prayed for after a bad dream. My brain suddenly lights up like a too-perky iPhone in the dark: Good morning! Here’s your agenda for today. What? It’s 2 AM? Well. Guess what? You have an extra four-point-five hours to knock out all of those pesky to-do items.
Perhaps that’s more a sign of stress than worry—but there are definitely stones my brain is rubbing its fingers over as we prepare to move back.
It’s why I took the bait for Welch’s book, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest (his step-by-step workbook also comes highly recommended). If you wrestle with worry—or don’t, but should!—please go for it. He recently caught my eye with his insistence that we don’t actually combat worry with the gravity we should. He points out Jesus’ words from Mark 4:
The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful. (emphasis added)
I mean–do I really see my worry that way?
Truth: worry is choking. It ages us; shortens our lives more than it lengthens. Makes us do stupid stuff, like check the door locks six times. Robs us. Robs our families.
Welch illustrates just why worry is such an enemy:
Worry is focused inward.
It prefers self-protection over trust.
It can hear many encouraging words—even God’s words—and remain unmoved.
It can be life-dominating.
It is connected to your money and desires in that it reveals the things that are valuable to you.
It can reveal that you love something more than Jesus.
It crowds Jesus out of your life.
This also makes sense when I look at God’s reassurance throughout the Bible: Do not be afraid. Almost always, the reason–and clear compassion–surrounding these words are clear: I am with you. It’s God’s nearness; His presence.
Welch observes, “Love, an intimate relationship, is linked to trust, a personal allegiance. Trust reveals the center of our worlds.” Or as 1 John 4:18 puts it, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
When I’m at that crossroads of fear or faith–Will my child totally botch this test? Will this biopsy be negative?–my trust must choose to remember God’s nearness. His trustworthiness–fed, Welch notes, with the evidence that God indeed proves trustworthy. (These pictures and this story, for example, remind me.) Fear chokes my deep knowledge of and response to that presence.
“One of the strategies for dealing with worry is to be overtaken by something more important than the object of your worries,” Welch writes wisely. Indeed. (If I worry about my body but my a fire is trapping my child, my love for my child overcomes that care.) But the assuaging of my fear is only as strong as that replacement object. Will I allow myself to be overtaken simply by inflated “positive thinking” and the prospect of everything lining up like I want it?
Or will I be overtaken by the unshakably trustworthy Presence? I’m talking the Presence of the One who loves me and the people I love more wisely and overwhelmingly than I ever could. This brand of trust knows–chooses to know–that in the end, this will end with joy.
This week–may our most profound worries be utterly engulfed by Presence.
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