Once when one of our daughters was facing an unfamiliar experience, I gave her a nugget of my vast wisdom. As the tears flowed, I looked loving in her eyes and said, “Don’t worry sweetheart, things are always worse than they seem.” At that moment we both burst out laughing! You see my error. We have laughed about that as a family since then and even say it from time to time as it has become one of mom’s “quotables.”
We all know the original saying is, “Things are never as bad as they seem.” I wonder at times if this is really true. Do not misunderstand this observation as I am simply being honest. Are things as bad as they seem? Perhaps that is the point. Hmm. . .
When I am fearful about something or find myself overly stressed, I ask myself these questions, “Are things as bad as they seem? What are my expectations of the outcome?” From there I try to formulate an answer. For example, in the middle of trying to train our new puppy not to jump on everyone and everything or bite like a piranha, I begin to feel as if this just is not worth the effort. She is never going to do what I want her to do and I begin to have visions of a 50 lb dog knocking people and things over while she has a death lock on someone’s arm. From there, I imagine my kitchen table replaced with a chain link dog run because I cannot control her behavior. This leads to never eating another family meal together at the kitchen table or have any guests for dinner because the table no longer exists and it is not socially acceptable to serve food in a dog run! One thought spirals out of control to the next leaving in its path a trail of anxiety.
When I allow my own mind to “think” or “wonder” over potential outcomes, positive or negative, my anxiety level increases. Let me explain. When I make a decision as a leader that affects others, my tendency is to focus on their response. Before any action is carried out, I try and think of all the possible outcomes of my decision. These could be positive responses or negative responses that I receive. Next, I begin to shape how I carryout my decision around those assumptions. This quickly begins to gnaw at the original intention of the decision and I begin to doubt my original plan. This is a problem and brings me back to “Things are never as bad as they seem.” Sometimes, they are worse! Other times, they exceed our expectations! Either way, this process of thinking always leads me to anxiety.
What does the Bible say about anxiety? Most Christians have Philippians 4:6-7 memorized,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
Three words jump out at me: prayer, petition, and peace. When I make decisions I need to be asking if I have prayed about it. Seems simple enough, but many times I find this step missing. Prayer removes the anxiety of the situation because I have the mind and heart of God. The response of others does not matter because I have prayed therefore, He will provide.
The word petition means to ask. This goes along with prayer. If I do not want to be anxious about something, then I need to ask God to help me. I believe there are times when He allows me to feel anxious because I have not invited Him into the situation.
If I have prayed and asked specifically from God, the next step is peace. Jesus is the only one who can grant the luxurious gift of peace. We have free access to it, but we must ask for it, or petition, then accept it. That last part is difficult for me. I want peace, but accepting peace means I have to trust His hand. I love how The Message communicates the above verse:
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
How I need for God to settle me down!