I used to worry.
I would worry about real stuff. One time, my roommate was getting married and moving out, and I worried myself almost sick about where I was going to move and who I was going to live with.
I would worry about fake stuff. When I was a kid, “To Be Continued” episodes would keep me up nights, worrying about the characters.
I would even make up stuff to worry about. My favorite “go-to” reason for worrying was the thought of my parents’ both dying at the same time, leaving me to fight the legal system so I could get custody of my underage siblings. And if I did get custody, then how would I support them? And would I be able to homeschool them? That hypothetical scenario could keep me going on worry for HOURS.
I worried, basically, whenever I wasn’t in control of a situation in which there was a questionable end. I worried because worry was my way of trying to maintain some sort of control. I even said to myself once, “If I don’t have worry, then what do I have?”
I think I’ve shared the story of my worry turning-point before on this blog. I worried and worried and worried about where I was going to live after my roommate’s wedding. God provided a temporary place to live. Two months later, I didn’t worry at all about where I was going to live. God provided a permanent place. So, worry or no worry, God provided.
In other words, my worry changed nothing. It helped nothing and made me feel awful.
So I (mostly) stopped worrying.
But worrying wasn’t the problem; worrying was the symptom of a problem: my desire to control my life and other people’s lives. Control was (and still is, to some extent) an idol because I think it will be better than what God provides.
Last week, a friend was having a hard time and needed prayer. I greatly, greatly wanted to fix the situation with my words and actions, but I couldn’t; all I could do was pray.
So I prayed and prayed and prayed. All day, from the beginning of work, through the morning, into lunch, after lunch.
But the thing about this prayer was that I was going into it with the attitude of “If I can just pray the right words, everything will be fine. If I strike the right combination of holy and practical, then God will be compelled by my wisdom to help my friend. If I’m eloquent enough, then God HAS to listen.”
I didn’t realize at the time, of course, but I was trying to control the circumstances through my prayers. Instead of laying down my idol of control at the feet of Jesus, I was wielding it at Jesus like a threatening weapon. (Probably even less threatening than a single Lilliputian against Gulliver.)
Around 2 or 3 o’clock that afternoon, I actually did give up control and start listening to God. Even the act of giving up control was proof that God was in control. God could have let me keep wrestling with Him, but He reminded me gently that what He was doing in my friend’s life was good – hard, but good. And when I started believing that promise, my prayers changed to ones that praised God and trusted in His plan.
So as I thought back on that day of prayer, I realized that my prayers were essentially the same as my worry – they just looked better from the outside.
- In worry, I attempted to control a situation; in prayer, I attempted to control a different situation.
- In worry, I tried to use my words and actions to obtain my expected outcome; in prayer, I did the same.
In looking back over my adult life, I can see where I’ve tried to control my love life through prayer. “God, don’t let me have a man who…” “Jesus, I’m sure you already know, but I want to make sure I get a man with…” “Holy Spirit, please be doing [whatever] in my future man’s life right now.”
While talking to God about my hope and dreams and fears and failures is infinitely better than just worrying about them, what I’m learning to do now is say, “But Your will be done” AND MEAN IT. “God, my selfish heart wants a man soon. But Your will be done.” “God, I know Your plan for my future man is perfect. Please help my unbelief.” “God, I’d like a man who [meets whatever specification], but I trust that Your plan for him and for me is exactly what I need.”
Counterintuitively, I have found that letting go of control is rather relaxing – and super productive. Who knew that God could get things done faster and better than I could? Now I know!
Unlike with worry, prayer does change things (if nothing else, it changes me). And I never feel worse after praying than I did when I started.
God has been good to me in teaching me about worry, and showing me in practical ways that He is in control and that His plan is always better than mine. But even if I didn’t see any of that in my life, I would still have reasons to believe that He is in control with a good plan.
The truth is, I don’t have control over a lot of things. I didn’t choose what parents I’d have, what state I’d grow up in, how many siblings I’d get, or even what time period I’d be born in. Heck, I didn’t even choose to be born at all.
In fact, there was only one person in all of history (Jesus) who got to choose when He would be born, and to what parents. He was the one Who created the world, allowed people the will to choose sin, and still decided to save them anyway. He made and broke nations and empires until the time was just right for Him to be born (Gal 4:4). To a virgin (Matthew 1:18). In a stable (Luke 2:7).
You would think such a person, Who was essentially the creator of His own mother, would at least get a say in His own death. Maybe He would have liked to live a long, productive life and pass away in His sleep. Maybe He would have liked to ride up to heaven on a blazing chariot like Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12). But even Jesus chose to let go of control in the end. Even He gave God all the control and went to the cross, knowing that what God was doing was good.
The man Whose words literally gave life to His accusers chose instead to say to God, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The man Who was so distraught that He sweated drops of blood (Luke 22:44) still never worried, because He had faith in the plan of God.
And, in the end, His faith was well-placed. For Jesus, God’s plan included not just a death, but also a resurrection (I Cor. 15:4), the victory over Satan, and a throne in heaven above all of His enemies (Luke 20:42-43).
God’s plan also includes me. Because Jesus had no idol of control, I will be going to heaven to live with Him forever (John 14:2-3). Because Jesus submitted to His father, I can too.
Just God’s work in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection should be enough to convince me that God’s plans for me, my friend who was having a rough time, and my future man will be worth waiting for and trusting in.
But for the times I forget that Jesus is enough, God in His infinite grace also sends the Holy Spirit to whisper to my heart, “Shhhh…I’m doing a good thing.