The Tyranny of Worry

My mom is the youngest of 11 children. One of her older sisters just recently entered Heaven at the earthly age of 102. Of the 11 children, 9 were daughters. (My mom’s father, a farmer, had hoped for a family of strong rugged farmhands).

I grew up surrounded by scores of aunts, uncles, and cousins. We gathered at my grandparents’ farm for holidays and summer vacations. There was always lots of food, ceaseless activity, and incessant chatter. I loved those gatherings, and I can get lost in the memories of those days with my cousins when we gathered eggs, fed cows and pigs, rode horses, and gathered pecans in bushel baskets while the uncles hunted in nearby woods and the aunts cleaned the kitchen after huge family meals.

As thankful as I am for my family and the memories of those care-free days of country life, I realize now that those simple times were also intermingled with mammoth doses of worry. The sisters were fretters. All 9 of them. They feared and fumed and agonized. Their family had battled through The Great Depression and sent sons and sons-in-law off to war. Worry was the air they exhaled and the air I breathed.

The interesting thing is that in my family, worry was seen as a virtue. The sisters explained that their worry was an evidence of how deeply they loved. That sounded right to me. It never occurred to me that worry was wreaking havoc with my emotions and perspective and interpretation of life.

As I grew up, I became really good and experienced at worrying. If there had been a Worry Tourney, I would have been awarded “Most Valuable Player.” If there had been an Anxiety Society, I would have been President. You get the idea.

God gave me new life when I was a young teenager. I started having vague inklings that worry was not compatible with this new life in Christ. I remember the first time I read Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.”  That verse began to sink its way into my heart and my thinking, and I longed to make it true in my experience.

To some, worry may seem like a relatively innocuous stronghold. But for me, it was brutal. It affected every area of my experience, and sapped joy and strength from my life. It kept me awake at night, and invaded my relationships. I didn’t even recognize it as a stronghold for many years, because I had been trained so thoroughly in believing it was a virtue.

I vividly remember  the first time I heard a pastor teach that worry is a sin. I was startled and felt insulted. I didn’t want to admit that my identity was wrapped up in the sin of worry. It was so much a part of who I was that I didn’t see how I could ever disentangle my heart from the tentacles of my deep-rooted anxiety.

Over a period of years, God did that mighty work of untangling. It was a hard-won spiritual battle. And I thought I was forever free. By God’s unfailing grace, Rob and I made it through his 3 1/2 years of cancer without a return of the uninvited companion of debilitating worry.

However, in early widowhood, worry returned with a vengeance. It was unexpected. I didn’t realize right away that it had happened. I was living with a constant undercurrent of anxiety that I had never experienced. During the ravages and devastation of cancer, Rob had been with me. In his presence and strength, the burden had been shared. In widowhood, without Rob by my side, the load seemed unbearable. My daily mental refrain was, “This is too hard; I’m not going to be able to do this.”

 God was so patient and merciful. The lessons He taught me during those dreadful days were life-giving and heart-strengthening. It started with His reminder to me to discern what was ruling my thoughts. In those days, it was definitely worry and anxiety.

Worry is sin because it rules my heart. It dethrones Jesus. He alone is to reign on the throne of my heart. Worry is also a choice. David says three times in Psalm 37, “Do not fret….”  In verse 8, he says, “Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing….”  In the margin of my Bible, this quote is written beside Psalm 37: “Fretting is an injury we inflict upon ourselves – people or circumstances may be the occasion of our worry, but no one can fret us except we ourselves.”

 During those first weeks of widowhood after repeatedly rehearsing to myself the plaintive refrain, “This is too hard; I’m not going to be able to do this,”  I realized that I was listening to myself rather than speaking to myself. The fact was that widowhood was  too hard, and that I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own. But the greater truth was that I wasn’t  alone. I had been  focusing on the lesser truth of my own frailty rather than the greater truth of God’s grace made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) and that I can do all  things through Jesus who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Paul Miller says that “anxiety is self on its own.”  With God-granted peace, I could rest in the greatest truth that I was not on my own. At the cross, God had bound Himself to me in Christ.

In his first “Breaking Strongholds” message, Aaron said that we must “challenge our thoughts” in the spiritual battle against strongholds. He told us to “take cover” in God’s truth. I thought of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 in which Jesus teaches that the worry of the world “chokes the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” This is exactly Satan’s strategy, and why the spiritual battle for our thoughts is so intense. The choking of the word and the resulting unfruitfulness are high stakes. Our thoughts do not surrender easily. Life is war.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Peace is choked when I succumb to worry. Peace is God’s promised gift when I forsake the sin of worry and commit my way to Him.

Olan Stubbs says, “If worry is a conversation we have with ourselves about something we can’t do anything about, then prayer is a conversation we have with God about something He can do everything about.”  Aaron reminded us that we must “depend on the Spirit in prayer.” God’s truth and prayer are indispensible in this all-out war we face on a daily basis. We must fight back with these spiritual weapons.

The manifold worries of widowhood, unemployment, disease, relationship challenges, parenthood, and living in this sin-scorched world are meant to throw us into the Everlasting Arms that uphold and sustain the boundless universe…and the smallest sparrow. In Christ, we are His. As Aaron proclaimed in his message, “Victory is certain!”