Thursday, July 25, 2013

Words that have changed me: Words for the anxious.

Ever since I was a child, my brother took me under his wing, loved me, and showered me with his wisdom.  I know that God uses him as an instrument through which He speaks to me, and so to this day, anything he says goes straight to my heart and becomes engraved in my memory.

About two months ago, I went to him for advice.  I was worrying and crying for days on end about a problem a friend of mine was having.  And Tony said something true to me: "Only worry about the things that you can control."

Anxiousness and worry are things with which I have always struggled.  I have a talent of being able to see and plan things far into the future, but I may also abuse that talent.  I can easily get lost in worrying about the future and creating imagined anxiety for myself, completely losing focus on the here and now, the tangible moment which I can control.  But reflecting on that thought, the very things that I can control, I realized that I have much less control over things than I ever imagined.  And I realized why my life wasn't changing: because I wasn't changing those very things that I do have control over.

I thought I was being a good friend.  I thought I was being holy by letting my friend's problem dominate all my prayers and thoughts.  But I was wrong.  In fact, my many prayers exposed my doubt that God would answer them.  My many worries exposed my vanity and hypocrisy, preferring to consume my mind with the problems of others over which I have no control, rather than looking inward and consuming myself with fixing my many shortcomings.

As Tony explained to me, I should simply give her my opinion, pray for her, hand over the issue to God, and leave it at that.  I could not help her beyond that point, and if I cannot control her decisions nor control the world, why should I worry about it so much?  By worrying about something over which I have no control, I was neglecting so many other things that I do control.

Those words have PROFOUNDLY changed my thoughts and actions.  Every time I find myself ruminating over the past, the future, something, or someone, those words ring in my ears:  "Only worry about the things that you can control,"  and I quickly remember something productive I could be doing and focus my attention on that.  In this way, my worry becomes useful.  My worry can be a useful motivation, and can be turned into actions, rather than acting as a retarding force simply leading to paralysis.

Limiting one's concerns to what one can control also safeguards against a certain type of self-deception.  A few months ago I read a book entitled I Told Me So: Self-deception and the Christian Life.  In it the author explains that a self-deception tactic we may frequently employ is recasting our feelings of anger or hurt toward someone as "concern" for them:
Concern is a convenient disguise for anger, since "concern" for someone is a perfectly legitimate sentiment, and it seems to justify many of the behaviors one would expect from someone who's just plain hurt and mad. ... We're not angry with them, we just feel sorry for them. 
And so we go on, expressing our criticism and cynicism of them in our prayers, and gossiping about them to others, but that's okay, because we're doing it for their own good, we are concerned, we're being such Good Samaritans by spreading news of their problems or how they've wronged us.  BUT if one only worries about that which she can control, she has no need for these sort of thoughts of concern for others, and saves herself from this sort of deception.

The quality of not worrying and simply doing one's part and leaving the rest to God is something I greatly admire about the Virgin Mother.  There are so many instances in her life when she could have worried and argued with God, refused to do His will because she didn't understand, but instead, she simply obeyed God and allowed Him to manage her life as deemed fit.  And look at what she did for the world.

And so, I pass these words of truth along to you, and I hope you will use them when you are tempted to waste your energy worrying.  Only worry about the things that you can control.


  1. Awesome post, Martha, and especially relevant when there seems to be so much to worry about in the world, yet little we can actually control. The book about self-deception sounds very interesting, too.

    1. Thanks Phoebe! Yeah it was a good read, and it's really short. I got it from the book fair =]

  2. I loved this post! I really needed to read this as a reminder in my situation in life; it's so easy to forget that God has a plan already for us, but we sometimes think that if we take it up on ourselves or rely on ourselves to take care of everything, we can get it done faster and better. We just need to remember that it's only through God's hands we have alk the blessings we have today and it's in God's hands we should leave what we cannot accomplish by ourselves.

    1. Amen! You're so right. I know I act like I think I know better than God even when I don't realize it. I'm glad you found this post useful!