"Obsessive thinking" or "sticky thoughts" are the new words to describe worrying. But no matter what the name, the game is the same. Step onto the hamster wheel of repetitive fear and get churning. Try to think of every possible way to control the problem, fix the problem, and change what is beyond your power to change. Run out of possibilities, then rerun them all again.
Let your anxiety drive you until you can't sleep because your mind can't rest. Then rerun all those scenarios on the hamster wheel of stress again, just in case you missed something the first forty seven times.
Consider these regrets, problems. or scenarios while you are taking a shower, when you go for a walk, during the morning commute. Because if you think it out enough, you will find a way to control what is scaring you to death.
This is the worry that Jesus warns us against. This is the worry pattern I've followed when I was concerned for family, security, finances and any number of things. The ironic thing is I sometimes didn't recognize it as worry. I thought I was just being logical... thinking things through... considering possibilities.
That's the way of wisdom, right?
The difference between concern and worry is the obsessive nature of worry. Concern is a normal healthy response to a crisis. Worry is an unhealthy, persistent replaying of unpleasant situations that are unlikely to happen or have already passed.
Here's what I've learned about overcoming worry.
Step One: Awareness.
I recognize that my worry is not a good or logical pattern, but an oppressive one. I want out. My awareness usually coincides with asking God to help me. "Lord, I am obsessing about this problem. Please help me to get out of this rut in my brain. It is sucking the life out of me."
Step Two: Saying No.
Rarely have I called on God to help me that He has chosen to zap me into freedom on the spot. The Father seems to want me to experience a process of learning to trust Him. Learning to trust often means using the tools He has given me.
God has given me a crowbar called "No." I use this crowbar to pry my thought out of the pit. I choose to say, "No, I am not going to get on that crazy train of worry. It is not helping me. It is wearing me out. This is not what God has for me. This worry is from the enemy, who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. I refuse to go over this again."
It sometimes helps to imagine handing that circumstance over to God. I see myself place it in His hands. When it bounces back through my mind, hand it over again. "Lord, this problem keeps trying to creep in, but I'm handing it to You again. You are big enough, strong enough, wise enough and I am not."
Step Three: Saying Yes.
Saying "No" is great. But, if you struggle with the turmoil of worry, then you know it doesn't give up easily. Again, we have an enemy who wants us to get stuck.
Replacing my redundant thoughts with new ones has been the most helpful counter-move for me. I'm replacing the no with the yes. I purposely choose to meditate on a verse or short phrase that captures God's heart for me. I choose something short so that I can repeat it over and over. I'm looking to create a new groove in my mind that is true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, right, etc.
One of my favorites is: "The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need." I love this one when unexpected financial problems mess up my plans. I am reminded that I have a gentle, compassionate Shepherd who cares for me. I am reminded that He has given me all I need.
My other fall back is this: "Even so, He loves me." This one supports me when I have failed in some way. I bring to mind that His love doesn't change with my ups and downs or successes and failures. Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.
One final word on anxiety: The emotional reaction of anxiety or fear is not a sin. The trouble comes when I allow my anxiety push me to worry, obsess, or replay anxious thoughts. I've got to make choices about what I am going to think upon.
Jesus sweat blood when agonizing over the cup of the cross. His emotional responses were not sin. Jesus never sinned. These were the real human emotions that came from a real event that He (as God) knew He was about to face. Jesus took this agony to the Father. He even took the same request to God three times.
You and I are not sinning when we are afraid or sad or in anguish over a real life even that is scary or sad. We can follow Jesus right into the Mount of Olives and pray to our Father. We can pray again. And again. God never tires of our neediness. He knows we are but dust.