I was still 10 minutes from work when I realized it: I hadn’t even stepped foot in the office yet and I was already stressed out. I was already anxiously making a list of all the things I had to get done before noon, already worrying about how the day would go.
And this is the case on a lot of days.
I used to think being worried and stressed was just the way I was wired, but I’m learning there is more to it than that.
I’m fully aware Jesus said not to worry about our lives, and asked, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” In fact, He spoke a lot about not worrying.
Still, I’m learning I am not immune to these feelings. And I know I am not alone. So many of us struggle with stress every day. The problem is, we can’t just move past it. What I am learning is to get past it we first have to move into it and address it.
In recent months, I’ve been looking within and addressing this in my own heart. In the process, I am learning a great deal about God, myself and the discipline (and the art) of letting go. Here are three things I am learning in this process.
Don’t Let Others Determine the Outcomes.
We often allow others to determine the outcomes, define success or tell us what a good result is. Think of how often we use the definitions of others to determine whether we are in a good spot. Our stress is often the process of fretting as to whether things will turn out as others think they should.
This process is subtle, but it happens often. We can allow the thoughts, opinions, attitudes and measurements of others to guide our thinking about outcomes. So what if we stopped worrying, and asked a simple question: “What do I actually want?” The answer is difficult to discover, but often very simple.
Let’s not forget God is one who wants to give us the desires of our heart. The trick is cutting through all the things we think we want, the things others tell us we should want, and finding our heart’s truest and most earnest desire.
I’ve started simply telling God what I want, and asking Him for it. Something in this is oddly comforting, because I know God knows what I want. And if we know how to give good gifts, how much more our Father in heaven?
Think in Years, Not In Days.
When I feel the clutches of anxiety and stress squeezing my soul, I remind myself to think in years, not days. What I mean is when I have to make a big decision or have a big opportunity coming up I ask, “How much headspace will I give this five or 10 years from now?”
Just today I made a mental list of all the people and things I will still care about in 10 years. My faith, my wife, my children, my closest friends and the list went on. The longer the list, the more I felt at peace. Because, truth be told, the things I worry about right now did not make the list.
If you are anything like me, we give so much airtime and headspace to things that are passing away. These are the things that will not last and will not change who we are in the years to come. What if, instead of worrying, we gave all that mental and emotional energy toward things that matter?
I’m learning the more I focus on anxiety and trying not to be stressed, the more anxious I get. I can actually get anxious over my anxiety. So, I have begun praying for my family, my closest friends and our faith community, and give thanks for all I have been given. Not only does my mind stop dwelling on what causes worry, but my mind centers on what matters.
Remember Who You Are.
Anxiety often centers on us—our ability to control, our insecurity about how others will think of us or whether we will succeed or fail. Anxiety is nothing more than fear. We must remember if we have control or lose control, succeed or fail, become wildly popular or an object of scorn—none of that speaks to who we truly are.
We must never forget we are beloved daughters and sons of the Almighty, and nothing can change that. God does all He can to remind us of that fact often. He does it through family, friends and, if we stop to listen, His gentle whisper.
When St. Francis would return to his hometown, his abusive father would come out and curse him publicly. In these times Francis would bring a friend with him. He told his friend the following:
“When my father hurls curses and abuse at me, I will hear them painfully in one ear, but I ask you to walk on my other side, and whisper God’s favor into my other ear. Say to me, ‘Francis, you are my beloved son. You are a son of heaven and a son of God!’ Just keep repeating it until I can believe it again!”
I am thankful to have friends who whisper God’s favor in my other ear until I can believe it again.
Those words come from my wife, and her unfaltering love and support she gives me every single day. They come from my kids when they hug me, snuggle with me, and say “I love you.” They don’t care about my accomplishments, they just want me to chase them upstairs and wrestle with them before bedtime.
It’s my closest friends who remind me I am a beloved son. Those who have seen me at my sparkling best and miserable worst—and still say with conviction, “I love you, brother.”
So here I am—standing in the midst of stress and worry. And through these simple practices I am learning no matter what happens in the coming days, weeks and months—worrying about it will not add a single hour to my life.