The problem of worry
I intended to share a post full of waterfalls today, to tell you all about our weekend adventure.
But other words are pressing to be shared and so the waterfalls will have to wait.
My mom flew home a week ago, after spending two weeks with us. We had a great deal of fun together but she (along with my dad) really and truly helped me during that time.
You see, I have a problem with worry.
I have always been prone to anxiety. When I was in college, I worried about exams and grades and then the inevitable question of what came next. When I was in grad school, I worried about my research and that everyone would see that I was just pretending to be smart when in truth, it all felt impossible.
At my first ‘real’ job, I worried about my clients. Oh, did I worry about them. I worried that I wouldn’t review their paperwork fast enough or they would use a prohibited material and lose out on income from a field. I worried to the point that I ground my teeth at night and my stomach hurt all the time.
When I took the scary jump to being a photographer, I worried that the people close to me were lying – that my pictures were truly crap and my friends and family were just being nice. I worried that I would disappoint my clients, that little kids would refuse to smile, that my camera wasn’t professional enough, that in the end, I wasn’t good enough.
When I worked at the animal shelter, I worried for each and every animal that crossed my path. Would they leave the shelter? Would they go to a home that loved them or to a home that treated them like a toy to be used and then returned? I worried I would upset the volunteers or say the wrong thing to the public. I worried that a dog or a cat would slip through the cracks because I didn’t do enough. I worried that the state of North Carolina would always remain one of the cruelest states to animals.
I worried. I worried. I worried.
And I told myself that once we moved to Oregon, I would relax. I would write. I would let go of my anxiety.
You can probably see where this is going.
Worry was not done with me. I worried about getting pregnant. I worried that whatever I wrote was worthless. I worried that being a writer wasn’t good enough, that people would look down on me. I worried about our families feeling sad that we are so far away. Facebook showed me lots of folks my age with kids and careers and perfect hair, carefully edited lives that my logical brain knew was not an accurate presentation of real life. But my worry stirred the question, am I behind? Am I in life’s remedial class? At the end of every day, I worried that I simply wasn’t enough. Ultimately, I worried about my purpose in this life, and if I’m being perfectly honest, if I even had one.
I felt adrift and lost, without a clear direction for my existence.
So, I prayed, ‘God, show me your purpose for my life.’
And as I waited and waited and waited for a response, the worry always remained by my side.
I wondered why it wasn’t clear what I should do and I worried that I was wasting time and talent. That God and those around me would shake their heads at my lack of accomplishment.
And then my mom came.
You can probably see where this is going.
Over the course of several talks and phone calls to my dad, my parents made it clear to me that it was okay to simply relax and take joy in where I am for the time being. To be happy. They told me I could do anything I wanted with my life but it would be okay to relax first.
And as simple as that sounds, I needed to hear that.
Because here’s another confession: I tend to feel guilty for being happy and so I push it away. When the world is filled with people starving, with girls being abducted and trafficked, with disease and car crashes and child abuse and animal cruelty …. how dare I smile. How dare I have joy.
But here’s the thing. When you think like that, the despair overwhelms you and you drown in it. It is very hard to save someone else when you yourself cannot swim.
But when you have joy – indeed, when you have Jesus, you know that anything is possible.
During one of our conversations, my dad asked me whatever happened to music – it used to be an important part of my life and bring me joy and was also a way to share that joy with others. I played the piano my entire life up until five years ago when we moved to North Carolina and I sold it during the move.
I didn’t have a very good answer for my dad. I had never planned to let music, and subsequently a piece of myself, disappear for good. My dad is nothing if not a problem solver and long story very short, I now have a piano again. This piano came from an old lady who, after making music for decades, can no longer play. She was overjoyed that her beloved piano was going to a new home, that the music was not ending – it was simply changing its address. Even though my fingers are clumsy and seem drawn to precisely the wrong notes, it fills me with joy to play. It carries me back in time to another version of myself, a very young version that understood great things are yet to come. Each note shoots an arrow through worry.
The final blow to my worry was a book. While my mom was here, we went to an estate sale. As we walked through the material remains of a life well-crafted and well-lived, I spied three copies of the same book – Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Clearly, this book mattered. I bought a copy.
I finished reading it yesterday and it has changed my life. No, wait, rather it has made clear the life-changing nature of loving God. And I realized all this time that I’ve been asking God the wrong question.
I’ve been asking the author for the ending without reading the story.
The question, the prayer that I need to ask God is to abide in me today, fill me with the Holy Spirit and let my actions today honor Him.
I almost deleted that last sentence because I know some if not many of my readers think that words like ‘Holy Spirit’ are hokey or typical Christian jargon. But the truth is, the only way to handle a single day in this world as a follower of Jesus is hand in hand with the Holy Spirit.
I haven’t been doing that. I’ve been acting as though it is all up to me, that I must chart my course alone. And while this may appear to be from a good intention – I want to do my part, I want to impact the world, I want to change lives – I realized there is way too much I and me and not nearly enough God.
So, yesterday, I prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit for the day. And it is the first day in a very long time that I have not worried – at all. I didn’t do anything earth-shattering. I worked in the garden, I cooked, I cleaned, I took pictures, I played the piano, I laughed, I ate pie. And yet, I felt peace and joy.
And what’s more, I felt God’s assurance that I live on this earth for a very grand purpose: to honor Him.
I don’t know what that looks like long-term. I don’t even know what that looks like next week or tomorrow.
And for the first time, maybe ever, I’m perfectly fine with that.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. And if you’ve found yourself thinking, I worry about my purpose, too, consider giving Crazy Love a read. And then consider talking to the One who created you – who indeed knows you from the inside out and loves all of you.
I promise the waterfalls will be here tomorrow.