Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Weight of Worry

I am a worrier from way back. My aunt Gail remembers greeting me as I stepped off the school bus in first grade. From my countenance, it looked like I carried the weight of the world in my book satchel. "What's wrong, Melissa?" she asked.

My eyes filled with tears as I confessed, "I don't know how I'll ever make it to college."

"College?" Gail repeated, incredulous. "Sweetheart, why are you worried about that right now?"

"Well, if first grade is so hard," I replied, "how will I ever make it through college?"

My aunt soothed my troubled spirit that day, encouraging me that I would learn a little more every day and assuring me that when the time came for graduation, I would be ready.

I wish I could say that I left worry behind at the bus stop that day, but for many years my tendency was to carry my anxieties with me wherever I went. As I traded in my book satchel for a backpack, a backpack for a briefcase, and a briefcase for a diaper bag, it seems I often carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. And even as I learned to unburden myself through prayer, my tendency was to unpack my troubles before the Lord, then place them one by one right back into my sack. What a heavy load to bear!

But God never intended for me to carry the burdens of stress and worry. Jesus commands in Matthew 6:25, "Do not worry." And He urges in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." What sweet relief those passages offer to an anxious heart!

As my relationship with God has grown, I have progressed from belief, an intellectual knowing about Him; to trust, a confidence in His presence I can rest in; to faith, which carries me forward. And on most days I travel lighter, leaving cares and worries at His feet.

But as we studied Matthew 6 in our Sunday school class this week, I was struck by verse 27: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" And I realized that it is impossible to stand tall when we are consumed with worry. Instead our anxieties make us feel small, insecure and incapable. And paralyzed by fear, our worries plunge us into loneliness, making us forget that God is always with us.

This passage was especially meaningful to me Sunday since Joe was out of town. Because normally as Joe packs his suitcases to leave, I pack my bags too -- the old familiar bags of worry. I dread his absences long before he goes, fret over his safety while he is away, and wonder what will become of us if he does not return.

When I allow myself to give in to this worry, I make myself so insignificant. And rather than dealing with a little thing like a sibling squabble as a singular incident, I approach it with the mindset of, "You don't respect me as much as your father. If something happens to him, what will become of us? How will I support us financially? How will I keep you from rebelling in your teenage years, and in the end will you turn your back on God? And how will I get through the day when I don't know how to change a tire, do our taxes or kill a snake? And what if an intruder breaks into the house?!?"

And what I have finally realized is that the answer to all my "what ifs" is ...

"Then God."

If someday Joe does not come home, then the God who gave him to me will continue to care for me. If I face hardship, danger or struggle, then He will provide, protect and empower me. The journey may not always be easy, but I know He will never leave me.

So during Joe's five days away, I let go of worry and found that I had more room in my sack for blessings. This week instead of stress, I carried peace. I traded fear for joy, and anxiety for thankfulness. And in return God filled my week with happy days and restful nights.

When I am tempted to pick up my bags of worry in the future, I hope my mind will drift to Matthew 6:26: "Look at the birds of the air. They don't plant or gather crops. They don't put away crops in storerooms. But your Father who is in heaven feeds them. Aren't you worth much more than they are?" And I will be reminded that as Christians we really have nothing to worry about. Because when we release the weight of worry and cling to God, we can soar.

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