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Stop Spiritualizing Your Worries

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2018 14 Jun

An image of a woman with short hair, looking up in concern.

I felt it the other day—that pang of worry cutting through my gut.

My first thought was to analyze the problem, turning it over in my mind, as though it were a hunk of meat roasting endlessly on a spit. But that approach has never worked for me. Instead, something obvious occurred to me. “Wait a minute. I tell other people that worry is nothing but a negative use of the imagination. Maybe I should follow my own advice and ask God for help.” So I did. I thought about the matter and then offered up a brief prayer. Before I knew it my anxiety had vanished.

But it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes our worries are so strong they send us reeling headlong into a sea of fear, with the result that we begin uttering what I call “worry prayers.” This brand of praying may be better than no prayer at all, but it is often not a lot better. Why? Because it simply puts a spiritual façade on our worries. Here’s how such a “prayer” might sound: “Lord, help us! My husband lost his job.  When that happened last time, he got so depressed. We could hardly pay our bills. Now he’s older. It’s going to be impossible for him to find work if he’s depressed.  My job isn’t going well either. What if I get fired? What are we going to do?” And on and on it goes with never a pause to hear God’s voice and receive his help.

What if we began our prayers by doing something counter-intuitive.  Instead of focusing on our concerns, we could focus on God, on his omniscience, power, and faithfulness. We could do this by recalling specific ways God has helped us in the past or by reading stories and passages from the Bible that display his faithfulness in the midst of difficult circumstances. We could spend time thanking and praising him.

Worry is a contagion that can quickly spread from one human being to the next. But it can never spread from us to God because God never worries. Instead, the reverse can happen with his calm coming to characterize our lives as we learn to enter his presence and lean on his understanding rather than our own.

The next time you are tempted to let worry control you, don’t take the easy path by giving into it. As you turn to God, resist the temptation to pray a lot of long prayers, explaining everything that’s wrong to a God who already knows what you’re facing. Be honest about what’s troubling you but don’t get stuck there. Turn to God so that he can be gracious to you.