Confession: I am a Worrier – with a capital W.
I think I might need a 12-step program.
“Hi. My name is Karen. I’m a Worrier.” “Hi, Karen.”
Because lately, I’ve begun to wonder if I’m not addicted to worry.
Over the years, there have been many unexpected crises that have impacted my life dramatically—my dad had a stroke when he was 53, my girls both were diagnosed with a bleeding disorder as babies, then Steve’s dad got cancer and died from AIDS he acquired from a blood transfusion. Crises continued to happen throughout my life. In recent years, my childhood best friend’s husband dropped dead of a heart attack, my sister-in-law died of breast cancer, another dear friend’s husband died of pancreatic cancer, etc.
But somehow I wasn’t prepared for them.
Looking back, I realized I had been taught some bad theology early on by well meaning friends. I was told that once I gave my life to Christ then God had a “wonderful plan for my life.” I assumed (naively) that this meant my life would always be wonderful.
And in many ways it has been. But in many ways, it hasn’t seemed so wonderful when people I love have suffered and I have lost people very near and dear to my heart.
Add to that, I am a caregiver. By training I am a “helping professional” and by nature, I care for people who are hurting. That’s who I am and how I am gifted. And that’s a good thing.
But over time, I have sunk deeper and deeper into a “worry mindset” that permeates how I look at life and how I respond to situations. (And my worry mindset drives my family crazy!)
Now I know this is going to seem ridiculous to many people, but somehow worrying has become almost a comfort to me.
Let me explain.
Since I got that first phone call about my dad’s stroke when I was 22 years old, something gets triggered in me when I get bad news out of the blue. I’m happily going along with my life and suddenly, my life changes.
Somehow, that has developed into this crazy thought process that thinks…
…if I’m not thinking about anything and something bad is happening that I don’t know about,
…then, if I consciously think about it, maybe it won’t.
Hence, I worry.
I know that doesn’t make sense but that’s the way my little mind sometimes works.
The way this has evolved over the years is that my mind creates these horrific pictures of what might be happening. When I find out that nothing has happened, the little voice inside my head says, “See. What you imagined didn’t happen. Now you can relax.”
What does this really mean? It means I somehow think I can control what is happening. (Ha! This is so embarrassing to even write!)
Unfortunately, the downside of this is that there is this continual war between my mind and my body. And my body is acting out with symptoms of anxiety… like not being able to sleep, to a racing heart rate, to grinding my teeth at night, even to chest pains that lead me to the ER with a panic attack. (It happened the night of my birthday when I turned 53, the same age as my dad when he had his stroke. You don’t need a shrink to be able to analyze that one!)
My friend Mike Hyatt had a blog post that helped me think of this in a new way. He suggested that worry and imagination might be two sides of the same coin. That people who worry often have very active imaginations.
This idea began to take root and I started looking at what was happening in my head when I was worrying. And sure enough, I was seeing pictures of what might be happening that I didn’t know about…
- My daughter bleeding out at the scene of a car accident.
- My husband having a heart attack while he’s away on business.
- My house being foreclosed.
- My getting cancer and not living to see my grandchildren.
Not pretty pictures.
And the more I saw these kinds of pictures, the more they popped into my head. And the more anxious I got.
Until it felt like all I was doing was worrying. And yes, good things still happened and bad things still happened but there was no correlation between the intensity of my worrying and what was happening!
I was discussing this with my friend Patsy Clairmont and she told me when she struggled with anxiety, she used the three R’s: Refuse, Replace and Repeat.
Refuse to think about the picture that isn’t true. Just stop.
Immediately, Replace that picture with something positive (Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8)
Then Repeat. Over and over and over until your mind has shifted from the bad picture to a good one. (For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7)
Right after my conversation with Patsy, Lent was approaching. I was trying to decide what I could give up for Lent to remind me of Christ’s suffering. (Over the years, I have given up chocolate, wine, and romance novels—all things that I felt would help me to focus during the 40 days of Lent!)
Around this time I was talking with a friend and asking her to let me know when she arrived at her destination because I was a worrier.
She said, “Too bad you can’t give up worrying for Lent!”
I hung up and thought about it and decided, why not?
I would give up worrying for Lent. Whenever I found myself worrying (and creating these awful pictures in my mind) I would focus on Christ and create a new picture.
The problem was, I knew by definition, I would have situations occur that would normally cause me to worry where I would have to change my thinking.
And they did.
So, I’ll tell you in my next blog post the details of how it’s going but until then I’ll give you a hint: it hasn’t always been easy but it has been good.
Philippians 4: 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.