When we worry, we fight the constraints of the way we and our world were created. We try to enter a place we can’t go. We try to control what we have not power over. — Amy Simpson
I play a little game with myself called “Worst Case Scenario”. It requires me to apply equal measures of worry plus creativity to any given anxiety-producing situation in my life. It turns every stressor into an instant Y2K. My imagination goes into 7th gear trying to prepare for every possible unhappy ending to the story. My adrenaline is released like a pack of baying bloodhounds as I ramp up for fifty-eight different, terrifying versions of whatever apocalyptic Worse Case is going to happen.
Though I have fifty-five years of experience that have mostly proven Mark Twain’s observation (“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened”), still…
Though I have four decades of learning to trust God’s faithfulness and goodness, still…
I find anxiety is one heck of a persistent party crasher.
Author Amy Simpson’s excellent Anxious: Choosing Faith In A World Of Worry (IVP, 2014) is frank, compassionate and wise. Her book underscored for me that my worry flows out of my need (!) for control, gave me some helpful redirects to help me recognize anxiety before it’s Y2K again in my soul, and reminded me that trust is a choice, just as much as playing that dumb “Worse Case Scenario” game is.
Amy graciously shared some thoughts about the book and her own struggles with worry. I commend her excellent book to you.
What drove you to write a book about worry? Doesn’t writing about all the stressors we have in this world just make us have more anxiety?
I wanted to write a book about worry because I wanted to express something I was learning and being challenged by, which I thought might help and challenge others too. I honestly didn’t think I was a “worrier” because we tend to define that word assomeone who worries excessively, and most of us don’t think our worry is excessive; we think it’s justified and necessary, at least most of the time. But God began to open my eyes to the habit of worry—and just how much it controlled me—through a series of challenging circumstances. The culmination of this lesson came when my husband and I were dealing with some serious financial stress and at the same time felt strongly, over a period of time, that I should resign my position as a publishing executive and devote a substantial portion of my time to writing. We knew this was not an economically viable idea. During times of
global economic crisis, people who are supporting families shouldn’t quit good jobs to become self-employed Christian writers; this is basic common sense. On top of that common sense, we were saddled with the mortgage on a second house a thousand miles away, which we had not been able to sell because the housing market had fallen apart right as we made a cross-country move. Our future was uncertain and our financial situation was precarious. Clearly, it made no sense for us to make a risky change in my employment status. But no matter how many times we told ourselves that, this sense of calling did not go away.
As I was wrestling through the “what ifs” and the fears that were keeping me from obeying God, I kept asking God for reassurance, something that would give me a sense that everything would be okay. And I spent a lot of time asking him to take away this stressful situation, to bring stability to our circumstances. But instead of changing our circumstances, and instead of giving me the concrete answers I was looking for—what I was really longing
for was a peek at the future—he just taught me more about himself. Everywhere I looked, in my own personal study, in my reading, in sermons, in conversations with others, I was constantly confronted with what God says about himself and with how much he desires for us to trust him. I just could not escape it, and I began to see my worries and anxieties against a backdrop of this marvelous God whose strength, wisdom, and plans dwarf our own. I saw how my “what ifs” reveal my appalling lack of trust not only that God will take care of me, but that God’s plans are better than mine, even if my worst fears are realized. He asks us to trust him that what we can see is not all there is, and that what he offers is far greater than what we think we want and need.
Eventually, in the midst of this situation, my husband and I both realized that God was calling us to take a big step of faith and to trust in him to care for us, even if it meant losing much of what we thought we couldn’t stand to lose. So I resigned from my job and committed to do what I believed God was asking me to do. About a week later, our second house went under contract. We lost everything we had put into it, but we were able to walk
away and be free of that burden. And while this career move has turned out to mean a lot of sacrifice, God has provided everything we need and more. The last couple of years have given us repeated opportunities to choose faith over worry and to see God take care of us. Interestingly, I think writing the book helped me become a less anxious person. Even though I was writing about the many reasons we worry, there’s something about writing that gives an opportunity for distance and objectivity that’s hard to achieve in other activities. So I was able to sit and really think about some of the things that worry me and realize that when they’re put in perspective, they’re not as big as they seem. And I realized that I often worry about other things only because someone is actively encouraging me to feel worried about them, not because they’re important to me or because worrying will help at all. If my worry causes me to go out and spend money I wouldn’t otherwise spend, or to turn my focus to something I wouldn’t otherwise be distracted by, someone else is profiting from my worry. I was also helped by the process of thinking through some of the mental and spiritual exercises I wrote about in the book. The writing process gave me some new tools to use in choosing faith rather than worry.
How do you battle worry on a daily basis?
I do need to battle worry on a daily basis. The experiences of seeing how prevalent worry is in my life, then writing about it, have made me very conscious of this ongoing battle. Sometimes I try to address worry by doing something: relaxing, taking a break, praying, exercising, talking to a friend. But as I wrote about in Anxious, and as Jesus taught when he was on earth, our behavior reflects what we have in our hearts and minds. The key to real behavior change is change in the way we think. So when I find myself worrying, I try to shift my focus and reorient myself around what I believe is true about God. I check my attitude toward the future: Am I trying to see something I don’t have the ability to see? I check my attitude toward possessions and people: Am I trying to hang onto something that really isn’t mine? I try to pull back to a bigger-picture perspective: How important is this really? Am I focused on what matters to God in this situation? These changes in thinking can cause changes in my behavior and can help me to stop worrying.