don't look down

Recently, I was taking the kids and the dog for our morning walk. It's usually a really peaceful time for me. The kids love being outdoors (it calms them), and I get to enjoy a podcast, the sunshine, and exercise while my little guy makes faces at me from the stroller. On this particular day, I really, truly was enjoying the walk, but was thinking about what a stressful week and month it was going to be. Something in the podcast I was listening to suddenly hit a nerve and addressed exactly what I was anxious about, and I just burst into tears. It felt like I was carrying too much on my shoulders, and I just couldn't anymore. I was incredibly thankful in that moment for the oversized sunglasses I was wearing, so the 9:00 a.m. crowd of elderly folks on their adult tricycles with miniature dogs in the baskets couldn't tell I was crying.

The next day, on the same walk, taking the same route, I was thinking about what was causing me to worry so much that I broke down crying on a beautiful day, walking peacefully through a neighborhood with my 2 favorite kids. Out of nowhere, the image of Jesus and Peter walking on water popped into my brain.

It's a Bible story I've known since my Sunday School days. Jesus went off by himself to pray, while the disciples were battling some tough waves on a boat. Before dawn, Jesus went out to meet them, walking on the water. The disciples couldn't figure out what they were seeing, and naturally became afraid.

"27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”29 “Come,” he said.Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”" (Matthew 14:27-33)

In that moment, I knew I was Peter. I knew I had taken my eyes off of Jesus.

Life is full of wind and waves. Sickness, financial burdens, overwhelm, waiting on an answer t

o prayer, job stress, and countless other issues demand our attention. The devil wants us to think we will surely drown because of the wind and waves. After all, humans can't walk on water. It's just not possible.

And yeah, when we focus on how we personally can overcome the wind and waves, we are found wanting. A mere human holds no dominion over such forces of nature. I personally do not have the power to defy gravity or reverse the laws of physics. I'm only human. So I sink.

When Peter focused on Jesus, he had no reason to worry because he didn't even see the wind and waves. All he saw was his Savior who was making amazing, impossible things happen for him. All he had was faith and gratitude and joy. The moment he took his eyes off Jesus, he had reason to doubt and fear, because he saw what he perceived to be an inescapable reality.

But the reality is that Jesus is the Son of God. He was present at the creation of this world, and he holds it in the palm of his hand. And I think he can't help me overcome a little bit of stress? I think he can't provide for my every need? I think he's left me to fight my battles alone? You of little faith. Why do you doubt?

I'm a slow learner. I've taken my eyes off of Jesus before, and it hasn't gone well for me. But my Shepherd is reaching out his hand for me. He's serene, confident, strong. I need only keep my eyes on him.

how to stop worrying

don't worry
In fourth grade we had to come up with an invention. I always hated projects like that as a kid. As a perfectionist, straight A student, this wasn't something that could be checked over, perfected, or found through careful study of the textbook. This meant going out on a limb and risking imagination. Don't get me wrong - I had imagination in spades as a child. I wrote stories about my imaginary friends in my free time. I just didn't like being graded on my imagination.

Anyway, the invention I came up with probably isn't that much of an "invention" in the traditional sense. I came up with the "worry wheel." On the top was a wheel divided into pie pieces, each labeled with a traditional worry applicable to a 4th grader. For example, being busy with homework and after school activities, grades, lost something, etc. You could spin the wheel, and a window would land on a Bible passage that talks about worry. I think I ended up getting an A, probably because it had a Biblical theme and I went to a Lutheran school, and not necessarily because of the genius of my invention.

The invention itself wasn't brilliant by any means. But at the time, it was very relevant in my young life.  I often think back on third grade as one of the most emotionally turbulent years I have had. Nothing traumatic happened to me, but I anguished about every small detail of my life. High school was more of the same, fretting about my future, my grades, my busy schedule, and my relationships. I turned into a very bitter and sullen person. Present Day Emily would not want to be friends with High School Emily.

Fast forward to adulthood. Specifically Christmas Day 2013. My family was playing Table Topics Conversation Cards, and the question, "What do you worry about?" arose. I racked my brain. I ruminated and brainstormed. I could not think of a single thing I had truly worried about in the past year to the point of staying up at night. How had I turned into this person that had learned to let go? When did this change happen? Most importantly, what techniques did I use to avoid worrying?

I think back to a year ago when I was pregnant with Pip. Pregnancy has the potential to be 9 months of straight worry, and even more so when the doctor recommends a level 2 ultrasound for a suspicious white spot found on the regular ultrasound. "But please don't worry about it," they said. The joy of finding out the gender of our baby was momentarily cut short.

So my husband and I went home and took to the internet. We looked up the facts, risks, and cases. We talked about it. We prayed. And then we stopped worrying and moved on. There was nothing we could do but wait. There was nothing that worrying would accomplish. In fact, stress during pregnancy can even have negative effects. We made a conscious decision to be relaxed, hopeful, and happy.

I have applied the following strategies whenever I have a reason to worry. Without realizing it, I developed a routine whenever I was prone to apprehension, fear, or doubt. It works well for me, and I think it can apply to anyone who is sick of being stressed and worried.

1. Verbalize. Say the problem out loud. What exactly are you worried about? This step is really important. Things are less scary when you bring them from the darkness into the light.

2. Abyss. Figure out the worst possible scenario. Think of ways you would cope with it. Realize that you are strong enough to handle whatever that worst case scenario is. Really dive into the abyss.

3. Pray. Turn to scripture and prayer. God instructs us not to worry. Trust in him. He will calm your storms and shoulder your burdens. Pray for resolutions to your problem. Pray for strength to handle the consequences.

4. Action. Do what can be done. Make a phone call, send an email, crunch the numbers, apologize, Google possible solutions, whatever. If nothing can be done, make a conscious decision to hand it over to God. (Much like the serenity prayer instructs)

5. Relax. Perform a calming ritual. Mine tend to be taking a hot shower, writing about it, pouring a cup of coffee or tea, reading a book, etc. For some people it could be exercise, a massage, listening to music, or cleaning.

6. Stop. Stop talking or thinking about it. Just stop. At this point you have done what you can, you have prayed, you have thought it through. Now you are done. You have a life to live, people who depend on you, and joys to experience. This is not burying your head in the sand. This is choosing not to let your problem take over your life.

That's it. It's so simple. It applies to money problems, angry bosses, parents, and coworkers, sick children, lost credit cards, bad grades, and bad decisions. God can handle it, and you can handle the consequences whatever they are.

Further reading: Matthew 6:25-34, Mark 4:35-41, Isaiah 41:10, I Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:28-29, John 14:27, Philippians 4:4-8, Romans 8:31