We were with dear friends, celebrating husbands’ birthdays, and Mike is a faithful reader of my blog. He talked a bit about my Easter post, said he’d appreciated it, but then quickly added, “I think you should write your next post about WORRY.” Okay…
Worry. Of course, we’ve known these friends longer than most, which means we’re familiar with the assorted triggers. Air travel. Work stress. The recent death of Mike's beloved mother. But none can compare with being Dad of daughters, grown, married. Having babies. Yikes. (And just now I had to take a quick look at Facebook to see if there might be a birth announcement. Not yet, but any minute. Grandbaby #2 should be on the way.)
And he asks me, sitting there at his own kitchen table, eating a birthday steak, “Don’t you worry?”
Do I? Worry?
I’ve never really thought it was my particular vice. My husband’s, surely. Kyle reminds his friend of a story he’s told before, more than once. How in the spring of 2017 he’d given up worry for Lent. And meant it. Right there on a card, a finger-printed cross of symbolic ashes, and this, in all caps: GIVE UP FEAR AND ANXIETY. AND CHOOSE TO TRUST. (Just now I ran upstairs to my husband’s desk, to check, and it’s there, tucked under the foot of his computer monitor. After all these years, he still keeps it.) And Kyle says it again, “God took my worry, and I’ve never taken it back.”
Ironically. It was years ago, back in the day when Mike’s daughter and my son had been an “item” and it was my first time going through a Mom-breakup, heartbroken mess—that I started to pray this:
God, I trust you.
And God delivered.
God, I trust you. The prayer I’d end up praying countless times, and I’m praying still. God, I trust you. The prayer that’s never failed.
And then. Earlier this week. A few nights back. I wasn’t sleeping, tossing and turning, restless, angst. My thoughts were burdened, frustrated, bleak. And I tried, but I couldn’t pray it. It was there in my head. The words I needed. I hadn’t forgotten, but somehow the prayer wouldn’t pray.
The next day I woke, heavy—and it wasn’t just the gloom of our Minnesota spring. (Although it is true, as sure as that sun finally figures out how to shine into summer, I’ll be certain to face my mornings with a bit more vigor.) Nevertheless, sun or none, I finally had to confess. My own stuckness might just be entangled in a bit of run-of-the-mill (yes, Mike you nailed it) good-old-fashioned WORRY.
There are a host of things to blame for this. Which is why, a couple of weeks back, when I’d just returned from an exhausting retreat (which I know is an oxymoron) and my head felt thick from a tangle of too many problems, and too much trying to figure them out—and my new neighbor-friend dropped me off at my garage door, where an Amazon box waited to be carried inside—and I opened the box and found this book—I knew right away it was GOD.
Actually, it was Ali. My daughter-in-law, living out in New York City with my law-school son. She’s been reading this book, and she thought of me, and it’s not really the sort of book you’d usually send on a whim, but she did. And immediately I’d called her and said it felt like the hug I needed. This book, just now, and isn’t it true, God knows this pathway to his daughter’s heart? Send her the book.
It reads like a textbook. Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart. Hardcover, with illustrations, not unlike the required texts of my (decades ago) psychology minor. But honestly, given the various sources of my current angst, and what feels like the daily burden of sorting through variations of everyone’s crazy—this matter-of-fact guide to emotions seems perfect.
So. Here it is, Mike. Chapter One: Places We Go When Things Are Uncertain or Too Much
(And right there, in the title, I find a bit of comfort. Because this pretty much sums up my current season. Uncertain. And too much.)
An intolerance for uncertainty is an important contributing factor to all types of anxiety… Our anxiety often leads to one of two coping mechanisms: worry or avoidance. Unfortunately neither of these coping strategies is very effective.
Worrying and anxiety go together, but worry is not an emotion; it’s the thinking part of anxiety. Worry is described as a chain of negative thoughts about bad things that might happen in the future.
Brown goes on to say that although we tend to believe worry is helpful for coping, it is not. And although we tend to assume it is uncontrollable, it isn’t. We can learn to control our worry.
Which, based on my husband’s experience, might actually be true, but it did take a whole lot of hard-sought help from the Holy Spirit.
(As an aside. Brown prefaced her comments about anxiety and worry with a personal disclosure about her own need for therapy, as well as her commitment to “give up caffeine, commit to eight to nine hours of sleep a night, and exercise almost every day.” Point taken.)
Which brings me back to my good friend, Mike. His worry. And mine, too.
I’m afraid our lives are nearly always going to be fraught with uncertainty, and too much. My own uncertainty in this current season has to do with aging parents, and a brother going (again) through treatment, and sons going off in too many directions. It is also the uncertainty I face daily about my own sense of direction. Who am I? What should I be doing? My soon-to-be-published book, something I’ve never done before—and what if I fail?
And just like Mike can’t worry that new grandbaby into a painless entry, and straight to the arms of a safe-and-sound mama—
I can’t predict my own future. (Nor can I, after countless exhausting conversations, get my assorted people to follow my wisest advice.)
But I can choose to trust.
I CHOOSE TO TRUST. (Written above ashes, on a keepsake card.)
God, I trust you. This prayer that never fails.
And today, my friend, I will pray it for you.