The Worry Trap
Opportunities to be ensnared by the worry trap present themselves daily at our doorstep. On the odd day that they don’t, we invent our own reasons to fret and lay awake at night stressing over how we will cope with imaginary disasters that will likely never befall us.
Failed smoke detectors, car wrecks, disease diagnoses, sudden loss of mobility or employment, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, and betrayals by loved ones populate the late-night thoughts of many a worrier. The human mind, unrenewed, is a darkly creative wellspring of disaster.
And if worry itself weren’t bad enough, as soon as it has a foot firmly wedged in the door of our souls, its companions, Stress, Anxiety, and Fear, come gleefully scampering over the threshold, and soon we find ourselves overrun with vermin we never intended to host.
Mark Twain’s wry humor sums our condition up well with this statement:
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Living in the worry trap can afflict our bodies with the results of long-term stress, actually making us physically ill. I know, because it happened to me.
The Results of MY Living in the Worry Trap
Years ago I was faced with making a job change I felt God was leading me to make. Shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I was not in the healthiest place emotionally. The worry over “deserting” my boss (whom I truly loved and knew depended on me) was compounded by unhealthy beliefs about myself and others. The resulting stress landed me in a doctor’s office getting bloodwork and a CT scan to try to discover the source of the debilitating head pain I had developed. At first, the pain would hit only at night, leaving me exhausted and sleep-deprived, but at least able to function during the day. Then it began to invade my daytime hours, affecting my job and productivity as I often had to desert my desk and find a place to cry when I couldn’t handle the pain any longer.
At my desk, I kept an economy-sized bottle of ibuprofen, and I soon began to receive sideways glances from co-workers every time they heard the bottle rattle. They knew I was taking WAY too much, but my thinking was so clouded by exhaustion and pain that I didn’t see the utter folly in “if I just take two more, they will all kick in, and this awful pain will go away”. I’m sure it’s no big surprise to you that there was no definitive diagnosis, other than a condition brought on by…you guessed it…worry’s child, stress.
God, in His mercy, did eventually heal me. I am so grateful that He did, but even more grateful for what I learned through this valley experience.
Worry was a waste of my God-given time and mental energies – a bad habit that created undesirable paths in my brain that made me more prone to worry in the future.
Jesus said it can’t even add so much as one hour to our lives. Medical science assures us that it actually does the opposite.
Why Do We Worry?
Why, then, do we then so tenaciously cling to our right to worry when it is ineffective at best and damaging at worst?
Worrying gives us a false sense of control, like at least we’re doing what we can to help the situation…that if we were to just roll over and go to sleep, we somehow have failed to grasp the severity of the situation, or have abdicated all responsibility to fix it.
Worry gives a false sense of accomplishment: “Whew! I worried about that all night!”
It’s time to train our brains to choose better.
The oversimplified solution, of course, is to stop worrying.
But have you ever tried to do that?
It’s about as easy as trying not to think about anything.
So how do we free ourselves from the worry trap?
I believe we must relentlessly give our brains other options until new mental paths have been forged.
Healthy Choices For Our Brains:
- APPLY. Regular, daily exposure to the faith-building, mind-transforming, powerful Word of God. There’s no substitute and no shortcut…this is what works. Transformation requires dedication. This is not a quick-fix solution that will make a dramatic difference if I only apply it once a month, or whenever things are so bad I can’t stand it anymore and then forget to do it for the next 3 weeks. If I apply myself to God’s Word and apply God’s Word to myself, transformation will happen.
Romans 8:6 “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (NIV)
Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” (NIV)
- TRUST. Jesus teaches that the antidote to worry is trust. Trust needs a foundation to grow on, and that foundation is the knowledge that God is good and that He loves you. If our foundation is cracked, our trust will never flourish…who can trust a God they fear or believe doesn’t love them? Good news: God is into foundation repair! If you suspect yours is cracked, as I did, ask Him to do the restorative work necessary so that your trust in Him can grow.
- LEARN. The human brain is an amazing gift from God, capable of far more than we realize or utilize! Even lifelong, chronic worriers can change their ways because our incredible brains can be retrained. Learn about the power of choice and put your mind to work for you, and not against you. I highly recommend Dr. Carolyn Leaf’s book, Switch On Your Brain, for in-depth reading along these lines. Dr. Leaf’s hope-filled and encouraging book is packed with scientific research in conjunction with powerful truths from God’s Word. A truly worthwhile read!
- CHANGE CHANNELS. As Martin Luther said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” If your thoughts are constantly taking you places that you don’t want to go, grab the remote and change channels. Immediately replace those the unwanted thoughts with something positive. Take your rightful place of being in control of your thoughts, not being controlled by them.
- ASK. Ask your Heavenly Father to help you in your commitment to rewire your thinking and to escape the worry trap. He wants it for us even more than we want it for ourselves! Ask Him specifically to bring Scriptures to your memory when you need them, to remind you that you can choose to replace worrisome thoughts and to lift your focus to see Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. Also, ask yourself HELPFUL questions (not a hand-wringing “Whatever shall I do?” but a positive “What can I do to improve this situation?” and then allow your brain to come up with healthy, proactive solutions if your worry stems from a situation you can impact.
Whew! That was a lot of work, but don’t give up! A life free of chronic worry and the damaging stress it brings is a life more available to God. It’s also a happier life and a more proactive life! I want that for myself, and I want that for you, my friend. It’s a step along the path of your beautiful journey to conforming to the image of Christ.
If you apply these steps regularly to your life, I can’t promise that you will be miraculously worry-free until Jesus returns. But you WILL recognize the worry trap for what it is, have the tools to escape it, and eventually to avoid it altogether.
With faith, hope, and love,