As a confirmed worry-wart, I will never forget what occurred one evening during my trip to a children’s home in Ghana this past January and February. I was helping one of the girls at the Home with her homework, when one of the little boys, Michael*, began to get very upset.
“I forgot my backpack on the bus,” he said in a panicked voice. Michael was the top student in his class, and I imagined his anxiety had something to do with losing his status if he didn’t get his homework turned in.
“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to calm him, “I’ll give you a piece of notebook paper. You can copy the questions onto the paper and do your homework that way.”
This reply did nothing to calm him; in fact, his panic was growing, and I couldn’t understand why when it seemed that I was providing him with a viable solution to the problem. Then one of the other girls said, “He’s not worried about the homework. He’s upset because the bus driver said that if anyone left their backpacks on the bus, they’d be caned.” (Caning is a common form of punishment in Ghana, at least at the schools that I visited.)
Tears had begun to run down Michael’s cheeks, and I could see his mind playing out the terrible scenario of what tomorrow morning would bring for him. I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “Michael, maybe the bus driver won’t see your backpack. Then all of this worry will be for nothing. You are so upset right now that it’s as if you are already receiving the punishment. And if you keep worrying about it, you will have put yourself through more pain than if you really do get caned tomorrow – because that will last a moment, while you’re worrying could last all night. So let’s pray that the bus driver does not see your backpack and leave it in God’s hands.”
We prayed together, and Michael’s tears began to slow. He still seemed to carry the burden of a marked man for awhile, but in time, allowed himself to play with his friends again and was able to sleep peacefully later that night.The next morning Michael raced onto the bus and found his backpack tucked behind one of the last seats. Moments later he came flying off the bus, backpack in hand, with a huge grin on his face.
“It’s here! It’s here!” he said. The bus driver had not spotted it! There would be no caning that day.
I wrapped my arms around him in a big hug and said, “See how silly it was to worry!” He nodded and went skipping up the bus steps.
I often think about this story and have to laugh, because I am a worry-wart myself. So really this is a story of one worrier (me!) trying to calm another. I know that most of my worry is wrong or unfounded – a complete waste of mental energy – and yet I find myself falling into it anyway.
Recently I heard a sermon about worry in which the pastor said that:
- 40% of the things we worry about never happen
- More than 30% are things that have already happened and that we can’t change
- Only 8% of worrying is actually justifiable
Jesus knew the dangers of worry and cautioned against it in Matthew 6, saying, “So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? . . . Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not. . . . So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:25;27;34)
Most of us worry-warts know that our worrying cannot accomplish anything good, and yet, so often we allow ourselves to succumb to it. One worry leads to another which leads to another, and pretty soon we are drowning in a sea of imagined atrocities that may or may not come to pass. This not only affects our mental health, but our physical and spiritual health as well. Sometimes I have to stop myself mid-worry and say, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?” Then after I’ve imagined the worst outcome, I remind myself that even if that were to pass, my heart and soul would still be secure in Jesus. I remember that this earth is not my eternal home and what befalls me here is only temporal. I comfort myself with the knowledge that even in the most difficult of circumstances, God can still get the glory, and this is what I should be concerned with more than my own need for self-protection, which is often the root cause of my worries to begin with.
A friend of mine recently told me about her “God Box.” She said that whenever she is worried about something, she writes it down on a piece of paper, puts it in this “God Box” and forgets about it. This is her way of turning over the problem/worry to God and allowing Him to deal with it so that she can have peace. She said that over the years, she has seen God do amazing things through the circumstances in her life that had caused her the most worry. She told me that many people with “God Boxes” will burn the papers that they have put in there after the Lord has dealt with them. However, she likes to keep each one because for her it is a reminder of how faithful God is at answering prayer and taking our worries from us. Today she has a nice collection of papers that testify to the goodness and power of God in her life.
As we go through life, none of us will manage to get through without facing circumstances that bring us worry. But it’s how we deal with the worry that is is important and shows in whom we have placed our trust. As adults (especially parents), we can easily pass our worry-wart tendencies onto the children in our lives. But how much greater would it be to leave our children with a legacy of trusting in God and not wasting time on circumstances that are beyond our control! If you or a child you know is a worry-wart, perhaps you might think of making a “God Box” for your home, classroom, church, etc. Whatever you do — turn over your problems to Him and receive the peace that only He can give!
*Names of children in the article have been changed