Bent over my work computer yesterday afternoon, I glanced up occasionally through the eight-foot plate glass window in my office to study the enormous black storm clouds boiling up from the southwest. I’d like to get home before that hits, I thought.
Only it didn’t.
Umbrella in hand, I gathered my things just past 5 pm only to note with astonishment the brilliant light now pouring through my office window. That storm I wanted to beat home?
Sometimes the things we fear never do.
A hand-wringer by nature, I have spent a lifetime trying to distinguish Worry from its sibling Concern. They share a family resemblance, after all. Both are kin to Care. Each has its ancestry in the state of Apprehension.
So how do you separate these two conjoined twins?
When I reentered the corporate workforce full-time at age 53, I recall sitting at my desk that first morning staring at my computer, wondering whether I would ever learn enough to truly be useful. Worrying about failure? Futile. But caring enough to work hard to reward the confidence of those who hired me? Totally appropriate.
So I printed out a simple sign in big block letters to remind myself that every day I learned something new would be a good day at work.
Over eight years later, I’ve never had a bad one.
Has there been plenty to worry about in other corners of life? You betcha.
A “routine” knee surgery for my husband last month that produced unexpected complications. A second hospitalization and invasive procedure to deal with infection only five weeks later.
A young friend recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma who has been given only a 50% survival rate.
A troubled marriage or two in our extended family.
I care deeply about these situations. I am profoundly concerned. So how do I disentangle these legitimate emotions from their bastard brother, Worry?
You’ve read this far because Worry has waggled his fingers in your face too. He’s the playground bully who pokes and prods and steals your peace of mind as if he could spend it for lunch.
So if you’re as sick of being bullied as I am, here are a few strategies to kick Worry to the curb.
- Talk it out.
Verbally processing concerns can help. Seeking information, digesting it and talking it through with trusted advisors goes a long way towards alleviating anxiety. Talk to medical personnel, your pastor or a counselor. Take notes, seek second opinions. Take your dark thoughts on long walks to expose them to the light. Talk to God.
- Resist the rut.
Someone once defined persistent worry as carving a rut into which all other thoughts drain. Once you have processed your concerns and taken them to those who are in a position to help, switch lanes. What you fear most might well run off into the ditch before it ever reaches you.
- Pay attention to the positive.
It’s there, you know. That half-full glass. The beloved who is recovering. That friend with Stage Four cancer who has an amazing 50% survival rate. The marriages that might improve or dissolve, but in either case will not leave the suffering spouse in limbo.
I have an awful habit of inquiring anxiously, “Is everything alright?” when one of my kids calls unexpectedly. They know me well enough to laugh and say, “Yeah Mom, everything’s fine.”
But you know what? The next time a call comes, I’m gonna say, “Hey, what’s new and good today?”
The storm may never arrive.
But even if it does, you can still kick Worry to the curb. Let him go bully someone else. Or better yet, come alongside them and link your arm through theirs. Then link both arms through God’s.
Worry loses his power when you face the bully together.