Everyone experiences stress and worry at some point in their lives, and it’s pretty much just a survival instinct developed by human beings. This sense of fear helps keep people from being eaten by wild animals, run after than the next guy in a race, and getting hired for a job because we freaked out at the interview. Since most of us are not on safari or in the olympics we are limited to not so life threatening scary situations which quite honestly do not warrant the level of stress they cause. At least for me anyway, it seems that my self talk is what causes my stress more than any actual or outward circumstance. And because I am ﬁghting against self talk (and not a large lion) my weapon of choice is worry because it represents an inner vigilance against myself. And because worry is my weapon against this future threat I am describing to myself I feel productive. And annoyed when it is labeled worrying… because I am dedicatedly employing an age old survival instinct here. At least it feels that way. And I’ll tell you about one time I let this whole scenario get completely out of control.
The phone rang and it was the head of my Bible study. She called to see when she could sign my up for a love gift. That is a talk that people gave when they were leaving town. A time to share what they had learned with those that were staying. The Bible study was for medical wives so we were all traveling the same path – more of less. Well, that day was not the day to catch me on the phone. Actually that’s not true. No day was a good day to get me on the phone because it was our last year of training and we had no concrete plans on where to go next. And so when Robin called I ﬂipped out on her. Just a little.
How could I give a love gift. I felt like I had nothing to share. Everyone endured the hard times of medical training hoping for better things to come and nothing was coming our way! Would we be forced to accept a job with no contract? Or maybe do locums for a year and hope the wind changed? Would we be unemployed? What about selling our house? Should be do it and hit the optimal time for selling in our community and then risk having no where to go? Should we wait and miss the market peak and risk not ﬁnding a buyer? Schools? Should I enroll them where they are for next year? Should I tell the kids we are leaving? How could God let this happen after all our hard work? I mean, I realize that we aren’t promised prosperity but we had worked so hard. My husband had worked and studied and done really well during training and I had worked equally hard with our girls at home. There was no way I was signing up to give a love gift. No. Way.
I don’t think that this even phased Robin. To this day she doesn’t even really remember the conversation as anything that abnormal because she is older and much wiser than I am. She told me that she would pray for patience and guidance and she signed me up for the last love gift spot of the year.
My husband came home while I was having this conversation and I was all freaking out and crying. Remember I like magic. Magic is not uncertain about anything because whenever there is a problem you just poof it away. That leaves you with no problem and no worries. But unfortunately I have been discovering the real world has problems that actually need to be solved. And since problems do exist there are two ways of dealing with them. You can worry about them and create so much anxiety that you cannot think clearly enough to tackle them at all… or you can just work at solving them. Weird that I would so often choose the ﬁrst method. But I really stink at problem solving. Like I need to take a class. Which is maybe why I was so attracted to my husband. He rocks at it.
But during this time I did not take the best advantage of my husband. In fact. I pretty much pushed him away. Because rational thinking and overwhelming anxiety are not great friends. It is really hard to listing to rational thinking when you are overcome with worry. And it is really hard to listen to unending irrational worry when you are a rational thinker. They just clash. So we clashed. For about a year and I let my thinking go down the proverbial toilet and he needed to keep his head above water to ﬁnish training. Fortunately we love each other, even when we can’t stand each other. But it was hard.
So what resolved this problem? It wasn’t me! I would love to tell you that I turned my though life around and learned to problem solve like a maven… but I didn’t. I worried right up until the last second. But life changes and eventually so did our situation. My husband was offered a great job working in a town about and hour away from where were currently lived. They were offering very competitive compensation, which allowed us to keep living in our current house and buy a new one simultaneously. During this season we also learned that my grandparents had left me money and I would be able to use it to redo some things in our current house and potentially make money on the deal. Not only were my worries over but things were turning out even better than I would have imagined. We bought a gorgeous house on a lake, sold the current house after we moved and my husband had a great job. Was it possible that I had been worrying over nothing. Not just possible, but truth. I had made our lives much more miserable than necessary because I chose to worry instead of problem solve.
I owed my husband an apology. That’s for sure. Until I wrote all these things down I didn’t realize how much of a role I played in making our lives / his life miserable during this time. Because we do have a choice. Not in closing our eyes to our circumstances but in facing reality and dealing with actual issues and not fabricated disasters. Because without reality you can’t be yourself. You turn into a crazy person who no one wants to be around. Trust me. Excessive worry is not your friend. It wasn’t mine.
Can I promise that I will be better next time? We’ll have to wait and see but I can bet I will be because I have taken the time to expose my issue. I am aware of it. My husband is aware of it. Certainly my friend Robin is aware of it. And I have studied it a bit too. See worrying and problem solving are not even remotely the same thing.
Problem solving = a constructive thought process focused on how we can ﬂexibly and effectively deal with a problem at hand.
Worrying = unhelpful thinking that is belligerently focused on the problem at hand and every other problem it can imagine.
But how do you do this process right? Being a dedicated worrier I actually had to write it down with a sharpie on the back of an old Christmas card that never got sent out. There were six steps I could think of that would immensely help me in the future:
1. What is the real problem (only current & real problems allowed here)
2. What are some ways to deal with this problem.
3. Which way is the best way to deal with the problem.
4. What are the pros and cons of this solution?
5. How can we act on this solution?
6. How well is the problem solved?
You would be surprised by how well this works! Just the ﬁrst step of ﬁguring out what the real problem is helps immensely. Then taking action on it is really empowering. My husband, who is an expert problem solver magically transforms from the enemy of my incessant babbling to the best of resources when I choose to imply this method. And I don’t have to freak out on people who randomly call me on the phone.
In the New Testament of the Bible, Paul takes this issue head on in 1 Thessalonians. Take a look:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 ESV)
I could have gone a long way in ﬁghting off this excessive time of worry by respecting my husband’s hard work, esteeming him highly and being at peace. Taking action where I could instead of being idle would have lead to to enthusiastically preparing to share my testimony with our bible study group as I could be an encouragement to those who were behind me on the journey. Rejoicing, praying and giving thanks was not even on my radar. I ignored the Holy Spirit and did not hold onto the good or abstain from evil as I worried like a champ. And yet… as the dust cleared and I emerged from a really hard and stressful time I found that despite my failings God was sanctifying me and teaching me and growing me. Because despite our stresses and worries and mistakes HE is always faithful and HE will surely do it.