By Karen Wingate
Worry has a way of playing tug-of-war with our faith.
My faith was at a standstill. A Christian for more than 30 years, I thought my belief in Christ was strong, even impenetrable. Growth is a natural process of our relationship with God, but I had become lax, content to go through the motions of church and service. I prayed that God would cultivate my trust in him, even though I thought my level of faith was good enough.
Then my daughter went to Russia for a college study program. Suddenly my faith didn’t seem so tensile strong. Worry over her well-being threatened to etch corrosive lines across my decades-strong faith.
It was 2010, the hottest summer on record in Moscow. Intermittent phone calls assured us Christine was enduring the heat. I was feeling rueful that I had discouraged her from taking too much summer wear. “It’s Moscow,” I said as I tucked another long-sleeved shirt in her suitcase. “They probably don’t even need air conditioning.”
The heat turned oppressive. International news said out-of-control peat fires surrounded Moscow on three sides and carbon monoxide was escalating to lethal levels. A growing number of deaths were blamed on the heat and smoke. As summer moved into the first week of August with no relief in sight, concerned friends asked me, “Aren’t you worried?”
“Do I believe in God or don’t I?” I quipped. “If I say I believe in his almighty power, I will trust him to take care of her.” After all, didn’t God assure Isaiah, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2, 3).
Her final phone call tested my glib response.
The doctrine behind my words was correct. When we say we have faith, the next question must be, “In what or in whom?” What is it about God that we trust? We bandy about the terms that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful. Did I believe he was powerful enough to protect my daughter during a weather crisis? Was I willing to act on the truth about an all-powerful, all-loving God?
Contact with Christine became random and unpredictable. Trying to keep up with daily responsibilities, my mind was preoccupied with the growing crisis. Friday morning, in the middle of making arrangements for an out-of-town interview for a children’s magazine article, I answered the phone.
It was Christine. “We might be evacuated out of Moscow tonight. I won’t have a cell phone connection after we leave, so this will be my last contact with you before I get home.” And she hung up. No explanation of where she was going or when she might be home.
Worry wants to doubt God’s capacity to deliver while faith trusts that God will do what God does best. Worry wants to take charge while faith waits for God to solve the problem. Worry obstructs our ability to keep up with daily life while faith obeys what God asks us to do, leaving our concerns in his capable hands. I had a choice to make.
I placed the phone on my desk. Surely there was something I could do about this latest development. Maybe call the university. Try to get her back on the phone to give her advice. Perhaps I should cancel everything, spend the time in prayer and fasting for her safe return. Should I call our church’s prayer chain, put a plea out on Facebook, or . . . ?
Worry would have spent the next week obsessing over Christine’s situation, wondering throughout the night if she was OK and talking of nothing else to friends and family. Faith, on the other hand, would relinquish the situation to God, confident that he was far more capable to care for her than I was. Since I was helpless to do anything, initial relinquishment was easy. I don’t care to admit how many times I was tempted to grab the situation out of his hands, wondering if there really was more that I could do.
I wonder if God prefers that we reach the end of our ability to solve the crisis so we will get out of the way and let him work. Worry in the form of wondering and mulling over the situation accomplishes nothing. How amazing that we do it anyway! I’ve spent too many sleepless nights over the course of my life rearranging the pieces of a crisis like pawns on a chessboard, only to find out the next day that God already had the situation in checkmate.
When my children were babies, I often prayed over their cribs, “Lord, protect them in ways I cannot.” With my daughter wearing a face mask to protect her from the toxic fumes half a world away, I understood the full brunt of the word “cannot.” God would have to be in charge.
I stared at my computer screen, trying to remember what I was doing before Christine’s call. Ah, my out-of-town trip. Maybe I should delay my plans. After all, if she came home right away, wouldn’t I want to be on hand to welcome her? Shouldn’t I keep vigil by the phone, waiting for her next call?
Hadn’t I just acknowledged that God was caring for her? I picked up the phone and called the editor of the children’s magazine. “I’m glad you called,” he told me. “Another five minutes and I would have left for the weekend.” Three phone calls and 15 minutes later, my plans were in place to travel to a city 200 miles away to interview Destiny, a deaf girl who teaches others sign language so she has friends to talk to her.
I could have put life on hold and allowed my mind to belabor the Russian crisis under the guise of prayer. Instead, my interview with this amazing young lady turned out to be one of the richest experiences in my work as a writer. For two days, I was enveloped in the deaf community. The ensuing article had lasting repercussions for Destiny. If I had given in to the temptation to put life on hold so I could worry about Christine, I and many others would have missed out on the blessing of this young lady’s life.
A meme on Facebook posted these words from Corrie ten Boom: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” When I chose faith rather than worry, God gave me the emotional strength to follow his agenda, leaving the concern of my day to him.
Beyond Our Imagination
Whenever I think of what happened next, the words of Ephesians 3:20, 21 come to mind: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Two hours after I acted in faith to make my travel plans, the phone rang again. The director of the university’s study abroad program was contacting every parent to communicate the evacuation plans and to reassure us how they were handling the situation. The students would board a train bound for St. Petersburg late that evening and stay there until they were scheduled to return to the States. The university paid for housing in a hotel, arranged several sightseeing trips around St. Petersburg, suspended classroom work, and gave each student a daily stipend for meals. My frugal daughter came home with money to spare, glowing with tales of the city she had long dreamed of visiting. It was the best week of the trip, she said.
There’s that little word all in Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
God delivered above and beyond what we could think or imagine for both my daughter and me. And I was tempted to worry?
Karen Wingate is a writer, blogger, and Bible study leader in Roseville, Illinois (www.graceonparade.com).