By Kathleen A. Trissel
Has anyone ever told you, “You have control issues”? Worry is a form of fear and anxiety, the number one mental health problem in the country, but worry also has as its root the need to feel in control. We all struggle with wanting to feel in control, whether we recognize it or not. What would happen if we ceased to try to control that which is out of our control? Worry would decrease and peace of mind would increase.
Anxiety and worry have many causes. Financial strain, the loss of a job, fear, sickness, grief, sin, and a family history of anxiety are all triggers. The Bible mentions anxiety 30 times, so we know it’s on the mind of God. Proverbs tells us: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down . . .” (12:25, English Standard Version).
What is worry? It’s a form of torment. Dictionary.com defines it: “to torment oneself with or to suffer from disturbing thoughts; to torment with cares, anxieties.” In another context, worry is described: “to seize, especially by the throat, with the teeth and shake or mangle, as one animal does another.” That’s a graphic picture, but it does describe the effect of worry. We can, however, know we’re not alone in this struggle, as even biblical people struggled with anxiety and worry.
David and Paul
Most of us would agree that David had a reason to worry, since Saul sought to take his life (1 Samuel 23:15). But Jonathan told David, “Do not fear” (v. 17). David even spared Saul’s life when he had a chance to kill him (chapters 24 & 26), thus growing in integrity. I imagine that David learned trust and grew in his confidence in the Lord as he escaped one attempt after another by Saul to kill him.
In Psalm 55 David faced betrayal from a friend, but he poured out his complaint to the Lord. His words give us the confidence that we can also cast our cares on God (v. 22). In Psalm 57 we see David hiding in a cave as he sought to escape Saul’s pursuit of him. He cried out to God, “My soul is in the midst of lions,” but he also declared that God was his refuge.
Paul experienced anxiety over his concern for the church. While Paul was in prison, he was anxious and concerned for the Philippian church, so he sent Epaphroditus to them. He said, “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious” (Philippians 2:28).
Because of Paul’s courage and boldness, we don’t think of him as having struggled with inner fear. Scripture, however, tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:5, “Our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.” At a different time, the Lord told Paul he didn’t need to fear to go to Corinth because “I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:10).
How do I identify worry in my life? Some of the signs of worry include: fretting, an inability to relax, trouble concentrating, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and difficulty sleeping. Worry strangles the life of God from us.
I never thought of myself as a worrier; I’m more of a thinker. But lately I’ve struggled with worry that my life is not amounting to much and fear that when I stand before God I will have failed. But then God dropped this onto my heart: There’s no article I can write, no book I can author, no song I can sing to earn more of the favor and acceptance of my Father in Heaven than I have right now. Peace swept over my mind.
Jesus gave us instructions to not worry, but how do we obey his Word when worry is all-consuming? Part of that obedience comes in allowing his truth to wash over our minds, as it did for me.
Pouring Out Our Hearts
David, Paul, and Jesus give us some ideas as to how to overcome worry.
Scripture tells us our walk with Christ is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). This is part of the process of relinquishing control in our lives over to the only one who is worthy of holding the reins. It was the grace of God that dropped the thought into my mind that I already have the acceptance of my Father; it originated in the heart of God. We can’t conjure up thoughts that bring peace and cause the worry to flee, but we can pour our hearts out before the Lord.
Neither David nor Paul wore a coat of self-righteousness, nor were they stoic with their emotions. They poured out their complaints and lamented before the Lord. I wrote a personal psalm in a difficult time in my life. It was full of lament, but I came to the end and wrote, “My complaint is complete,” and it surprised me how it turned me to praise, trust, and thanksgiving. That’s the example David and Paul leave us.
Jesus, with a tender heart for us, tells us not to worry. He tells us that if he cares for the sparrows who do nothing to earn their next meal, how much more does he care for us? He encourages us instead to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all the other things we worry about will be taken care of (Matthew 6:25-33). He also knows that trying to live in more than just one day at a time is too much for us (v. 34).
What’s There to Learn?
So what can we learn from our experience with worry? We learn how to be comforters and encouragers because we know what it is to need comfort and encouragement. The Bible tells us that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Our struggle is not meaningless. Those who have gone before us share their comfort with us, and to those who come behind us we share our comfort with them.
Overcoming our struggle with worry and anxiety one situation at a time builds confidence and trust in the Lord. It teaches us about the faithfulness of God. Despite how it feels in the middle of the intense worry, God always shows that he’s faithful.
In this life we will struggle in one way or another. It’s not that we won’t worry, but it’s what we do with it and to whom we take it. If we follow the model of David, Paul, and Jesus, we will run to our daddy God, knowing that he cares for us more than we ever imagined.
Kathleen A. Trissel is a freelance writer in Canton, Ohio.