Here we are, marking the end of Lent: Week 2. I know people who have given up all sorts of things, from the usual (sweets, which Annesley’s roommate Kate has sworn off for the season) to the interesting (cussing, offered up by my favorite local columnist, Kerry Dougherty.)
(How’s that working for you, Kerry?)
Me, I gave up worrying.
I don’t always give something up, but this year, when the minister said that Lent “reveals where your heart is” and that it serves as a call to draw closer to God and give up anything that gets in the way of that relationship, I knew what I had to do. My heart, old and gnarly stump that it is, can get bound up in worry – and sometimes, the forest grows so thick that I can hardly see the Light.
Worry can make a person do funny things. When Robbie was in high school and the time came for him to take the SATs, it hit me that I wasn’t entirely sure he knew how to read. I mean, I assumed he could, but I had never actually seen it. Eager to help him nail at least a few words on the vocab test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and personalized them as his Valentine’s present:
Robbie was kind enough not to complain that I’d ruined a perfectly good case of balls, but when he actually used them (that’s my boy!), things got a wee bit ugly. Turns out, red Sharpie marker isn’t really “permanent,” and Robbie ended up with pink string – I think the technical term is “mesh” – in his lacrosse stick.
Needless to say, that provoked a few caustic comments. Irascible, even.
As with sweets and cussing, I am sure there are all sorts of strategies one could employ to get rid of worry, but for me, the only tactic that has shown any promise is the same one Paul used, back when he was pumping up the Corinthians: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)
Medical research (and buckle up, because I am heading way out of my strike zone here) reveals that the neural pathways in our brains work kind of like a cow going through a cornfield. The first time a thought goes through the path, it doesn’t leave much of a trace. But keep on treading the same ground, and pretty soon the stalks begin to separate, the corn gets trampled, and the path becomes so familiar and well worn that it might as well be a highway.
If I am building a highway for my thoughts (and aren’t we all?), I want it to be one that is paved with good things. The only way I know how to replace worry with peace and trust – to take anxious thoughts “captive,” if you will – is to send the cows through my cornfield armed with God’s promises.
And believe it or not, this plan really works.
Back when my worries about Robbie’s academic prowess conspired to keep me awake at night, I clung to verses like Isaiah 54:13, “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace.” (I know more modern Bible translations have gone gender-neutral and that this passage clearly covers “daughters,” too…but I’m kind of tied to my old 1984 NIV, especially when it comes to picking prayer promises for my boy.)
Now that I am an official Mother of the Bride, with not just one by TWO daughters getting married within a few months of each other, I have a whole new set of worries: What if it rains? What if I forget to order the cake? What if I never find an MOB dress? (If you saw my Christmas Sweater blog, you know why this is a legitimate concern.)
To all of these fears, and to countless more of the nasties that try to steal my joy, Jesus says this: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)
And then, as if he’s had some experience with the whole wedding planning thing, he gets even more specific: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
If you’re looking for a good memory verse, try that one. It pretty much covers everything, from the willpower it takes to watch your roommate scarf up a cinnamon bun (sorry, Kate), to the mental gymnastics required to excise those dagnabbits from your vocabulary (you can do it, Kerry!), to a good night’s sleep with two weddings coming straight at you on the calendar, like a pair of billowing freight trains.
I’m not sure I’ll ever banish worry entirely, but as long as I keep piling the promises onto my cows (Philippians 4:8, 4:13, and 4:19 are all running loose in my cornfield right now), I know that everything will be okay.