“Can’t pray about it?” I thought. Harsh! But it made sense.
That was similar to the advice Paul, the prolific letter writer, gave the people living in ancient Philippi: That they shouldn’t worry about anything but “let your requests be made known to God.” My friend was giving me the same advice but with a challenging twist, a mirror image but warped like a fun house mirror.
Don’t worry. Pray. Worrying? Don’t pray.
Some of us might naturally turn to prayer when we face a challenge, situation, or choice that causes us anxiety. But naturally turning to prayer doesn’t mean naturally turning off worry.
We don’t always abide by the advice from the Apostle Paul — or Jesus Christ, for that matter. He said it first, in the Sermon on the Mount. After he finished the poetic “Blessed are those” section, he got down to some plain spoken but excellent instruction on how to live a life of character and wisdom. About worrying he said, “… I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.” He added that we should seek the Kingdom of God above all else, live right, and God will give us everything we need. But as he wrapped up that portion of his mountain-top sermon, it sounded like he knew we’d still worry: “So don’t worry about tomorrow because it will bring its own worries. Today’s troubles are enough for today.”
It’s hard to avoid worrying, especially when it’s in your genes on both sides of the family. My mother was only five years old when a woman decided she needed a “worry bird.” She still remembers clearly the pine cone bird with a poem posted on it, instructing her to put her worries on it. She says it has been a spiritual struggle for her throughout her life, weighing her constant faith against her relentless non-Biblical worrying.
Meanwhile, my mother-in-law prays as much as she worries but seems to be sustained by both. They are both part of her daily life, both sincere habits of the heart.
What would happen if I decided I really can’t pray about something I worry about? What would I do with my worrisome thoughts? Just let them eat me up and stress me out? That thought worries me.
When we contemplate a problem, we often come up with a solution, whether we employ prayer or not. But I’m not talking about problem solving. There’s a big difference between contemplating an issue and fretting about it. Next time you aren’t sure which you are doing, look into a mirror quickly before you have a chance to unwrap your mind from the issue. Furrowed brow, stern face, darting eyes? That face isn’t problem-solving, it’s worrying. You can also tell without looking in a mirror. Tense jaw, tight chest, feel like a cat about to spring? Yeah, that’s not problem solving.
If prayer isn’t your “go-to” when you have a problem or if you do pray but feel that isn’t wiping away worry, here’s some suggestions I discovered during research: 1) Give yourself a “worry time.” Pick a specific place, time, and amount of time to worry. Then walk away from it the rest of the day. 2) Postpone your worry. Make a note to worry about the issue during your worry time. Maybe by then one of those worries will be resolved. This helps you avoid worrying in the present, cracking the habit of constant worrying. 3) Make a decision about whatever you’re stewing on and do something to resolve it. 4) Confront the issue head-on. If you face it, you don’t waste time fretting about what will happen when you face it. 5) Journal about it, releasing some of the anxiety and, possibly, finding a solution. 6) Practice relaxing by meditating, taking a walk, listening to soothing music, or just closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. 7) Count your blessings. Can’t worry if you are calculating all the good things in your life.
Those are helpful ideas, but what sticks with me most is my friend’s decree that I can’t pray about something if I’m going to worry about it. I usually feel better about something if I pray about it, so removing that option of inner peace would worry me even more.
Calvin Coolidge said, “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”
Some researchers agree, saying only 8 percent of the things we worry about actually happen and only four percent of those are things within our control. So worrying is a waste of time and, for some of us, a waste of prayer.
Thanks to a fictional comic book character, there’s another quote that could become a mantra for recovering worriers: “What, me worry?”
Jaletta Albright Desmond is a self-syndicated columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in Davidson with her husband and two daughters. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org