There’s always a lot to worry about – or at least it seems that way to me! I’m a worrier, a very good one actually… I have got it down to a fine art and can worry creatively in most situations, about most things!
It’s not a conscious decision, it’s just simply something I end up doing, it’s my default setting. Sometimes worrying overwhelms me and then I fall in and out of deep stretches of all pervading anxiety and/or depression which affects my health, my sleep, my eating and can affect our day to day life because it gets much much harder for me to get out & about, or to do the tasks I normally do.
As I grew up in the faith I added guilt to the worrying, it adds on and sticks very well indeed – not much effort required. Being a follower of Jesus and a worrier seemed to be mutually exclusive the more I heard… maybe you have also heard the ’11th commandment’ – ‘Thou shalt not worry’ – a popular translation of a saying of Jesus recorded in Matthew; or maybe the other part of that which seemed to come with a freebie wagging finger & judgmental tone – ‘who by worrying can add a single hour to their life?’. Then the passage where Jesus challenges the disciples who fear for their lives on the boat in the storm:
“O you men of little faith! Why are you so frightened?” Then he stood up and rebuked the wind and waves, and the storm subsided and all was calm. Mt 8:26 TLB
Is it just me who always misread this, attaching the word rebuke to the disciples rather than the wind and waves? (In fact some translations make this all too easy) So I grew up in the faith associating worry with failure, rebuke, guilt and lack of faith. No-one specifically ‘put it on me’, it’s just how I appropriated it. I wonder if I’m not the only one.
Mind you, saying that, it’s not always been a straightforward thing relating to the Christian family whilst struggling with Depression or General Anxiety Disorder. There is some truth in what Dr J Lockley says in the forward to his book:
Being depressed is bad enough in itself, but being a depressed Christian is worse. And being a depressed Christian in a church full of people who do not understand depression is like a little taste of hell.
A depressed Christian has a double burden. Not only is he depressed but he also feels guilty because, as a Christian, he feels he is supposed to be full of joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. So what’s wrong with your spiritual life if there’s no joy?
(A practical workbook for the depressed Christian, p14)
I am also Mum to 3 born worriers! With ASD in the mix, between them their worry and anxiety shows itself in a number of different ways. We have a catastrophic thinker, who gradually goes from the effort of being positive to struggling to get out of a deep pit by bedtime a lot of days. We also see extreme avoidance behaviour, sometimes showing itself in an inability to go upstairs alone, or to the bathroom without someone checking first and waiting outside. We definitely see social anxiety a lot of the time, new situations or new combinations of people cause a lot worry, and even panic in advance and can make some contexts very hard to join in with in a relaxed way (add eating together to that and it’s even harder, shared church lunches are a big deal!). We also have controlling behaviour; a coping strategy for extreme anxiety, when this gets going it can affect almost everything right down to which direction I am looking in if in the same room, or where we sit, the exact words we say in a conversation – hard to explain just how exacting that can be, but for example there are times when I even have my head physically moved, my mouth pushed into a different shape and a script told to me that I need to repeat absolutely exactly or we can’t move forward. Worry sometimes shows itself in over-the-top concern about how clean things are, and the urgent need to change clothing or bedding, to wash hands etc when things are perceived as dirty. Worries affect physical things like getting to sleep, managing to eat, decision making, managing to express yourself and explain what’s happening, brings headaches, nausea and dizziness. My kids can express worry as anger, over-excitement, feeling ill, aggression, and my favourite simply as ‘I don’t know!’ regardless of the question. And of course as worries multiply routines become more and more inflexible and at the same time each micro-transition within that routine becomes a mountain sized hurdle.
It’s not so much a list or woes I’m aiming for here, but hopefully an insight into just how well we have worry covered between us!
So I have had to do some more reflecting, in some ways made easier because I have been able to step away slightly from my guilt-worry hang-ups because I’m reflecting on behalf of my lovely children.
Being a Mum I can’t help but see that there’s an alternative tone to hear the words the Bible has for us about worry. When I sit with my kids when worry is threatening to overwhelm them, my ‘don’t worry’ means something so different from ‘thou shalt not worry’; it means ‘I’m right here’, ‘I’ve got you’, ‘I’m not going anywhere’, ‘Together we can face this’…’please let me hold you and make it feel better, I love you SO much! and it hurts me to see you hurting like this.’ I guess it slowly dawned on me (or should I say it is slowly dawning on me – cos lets face it the habits of a lifetime can take a while to catch on) that the words about worry could be heard that way, from our loving Father God – take the filter of the anticipated wagging finger and judgmental tone away and suddenly there is a gentle tone of personal, intimate, parental care, concern and love in every single ‘do not worry’. So rather than thinking that the Bible has so many ‘do not worry’s because it’s such a grave sin and we simply must work harder at never worrying, I’m beginning to wonder if actually it is a message repeated so often because our Father knows what we’re like, and when we do worry (and I have yet to meet anyone who never does) he sits with us, holding us close whispering ‘don’t worry, I’m right here, I’ve got you’. And with our Father God, his ‘together we can face this’ is so much more than mine can ever be for my children, because nothing is impossible with him! And with him his ‘I’m right here’ can go far beyond my commitment to my children, absolutely nothing can get in the way of his strong, forever-love for them.
And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
(from Ephesians 3 MSG)
So yes I am learning for myself and passing on to my children useful techniques to slow down breathing, to relax muscles, to get our brains thinking straight again, to put things in a different perspective, to learn to sit with and acknowledge the physical symptoms of anxiety rather than fear them and escalate them, and emotional vocabulary to use to become more self-aware and express to others what’s happening. But I am also more significantly learning for myself, and hopefully passing on to my children, that Father God knows all about our natural ability to worry, he knows we get anxious – and he loves us through those moments, doesn’t condemn, or demand more of us in a ‘get-you-act-together’ way – no he loves, and it is his love that will work on my natural ability to worry bringing relief and release from the way it binds me, not my effort!