Lent begins today. Months ago, however, I knew what I should give up this season: worry.
As a mom of two young adults and an overall “responsible” wife, friend, church member and daughter, I’ve developed a pretty advanced capacity for worry. It’s not too difficult to find things to worry about. I worry about my younger son’s driving skills (he just got his permit), my older son’s recent travels to Lebanon, unanswered e-mails and whether I’m following the right career path. Many people, like me, have fine-tuned their worrying skills over issues big and small.
This January, however, as I led a retreat that included an examen of the past year, I realized that I had often worried about potential problems that never came to fruition. In contrast, the difficult situations that did arise were often things I had not foreseen. I couldn’t have prepared or worried about those things. I just had to deal with them when they came.
Jesus’ words echoed in my head: “Can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?“ And I realized I had probably wasted a lot of time and energy throughout the year worrying.
Fortunately, God recognizes that we struggle with anxiety and worry and He gives us another way. He says in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We are called to turn to God, who hears all our worries and promises to walk alongside us.
Still, it’s not so easy to give up worrying. Sometimes worrying seems necessary or even appropriate given a thorny situation. How do we know when such a situation requires time and attention? And how do we know when we are just spinning our wheels and fretting too much? For this we need discernment.
Yes, there may be times when God wants us to take action and find solutions to a problem, maybe talking with others or doing some research. There are also times when God asks us to simply let go and trust in his promise of good. Either way, God calls us to prayer as the first step and a necessary component of our ongoing decision making. In fact, we are to pray “without ceasing.”
As a parent, I’m often called on to exercise judgment about when to get involved or not. This past year, for example, I have often found myself worried about my son’s college application process. At times I had to let go and realize my son didn’t want or need my help. Other times I sensed I did have a helpful word that he needed to hear. In either case I probably didn’t turn to God enough. I relied on my own strength and forgot that God loves my son even more than I do.
In the Bible, we see examples of people who knew how to turn to God in tough situations. There is Daniel, for example, who hears that King Nebuchadnezzar is threatening to kill his wise men if they don’t tell him about his dream. Instead of worry, Daniel prays to God and boldly asks for help in telling the king’s dream. Then there is Mary, who, when an angel comes to tell her she will bear God’s son, accepts the news with a generous heart.
“I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said,” Mary responds.
Those of us who spend a lot of time in our heads (including me—I’m a five on the Enneagram), face the temptation to overanalyze things. I’ve recently been learning that more heart-centered activities can free me to worry less. I’ve been experimenting with short sessions of centering prayer and breath prayer, where the focus is not on my mental processing but on experiencing God’s presence with my whole body.
I also want to remember this Lent that my overall movement to worry less is not just for my personal growth but to spread God’s love to others. By worrying less, I can have more space to love others.
Last year during Lent our pastor challenged us to fast from one meal a week and give away the money we would have spent to someone in need. In a similar way, I can fast from worrying and spend the extra time in prayer or in caring for those around me. Not worrying might free me up to practice simple acts of grace, like telling the cashier to have a good day or inviting my neighbor over for coffee.
In the end, God’s power is “perfected in our weakness.” This Lent, when I’m tempted to worry about the same thing yet again, I hope to turn to God, remembering his goodness and relinquishing my thoughts to Him.