Kick Those Anxious Thoughts to the Curb!

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition [humble and earnest asking], with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me [Paul, author of Philippians] – put it into practice. And the God of peace [contentment, fulfillment, security] will be with you.”

-Philippians 4:4-9 (emphasis and additions mine)

Goodness, I love this passage. 

And maybe you’ve read it many times – but I like to go back and read it with fresh eyes as though it is an official instruction manual for my heart and mind.

(Maybe that’s just the type-A, always-loves-a-good-plan part of me. But it works!)

I have this passage written down on an index card in the form of a checklist (type-A again, folks!):

  • Pray
  • Give the worry to God
  • Give thanks
  • Think about what is true.

Then, when I start to worry, I pull the card out and remind myself to give my worry to One who loves me most.

Or, in other words, I kick that anxious thought right in the pants! WABAM!!! (Also, can you tell I work with kids? I literally just did the slicing-the-air motion with my arm. I think I might be heavily influenced right now by the new ninja moves I’m learning).

Anyway, I’m not a very practical person – emotions are like, way better (kidding! sort of.) – but sometimes it’s good to have plain old practical advice. Here are two practical heart and mind “ninja moves” (I can’t get over this ninja theme!), that I like to use to kick worry to the curb. 🙂

1. The What-If’s and Worst Case Scenarios

Typically, if I have an anxious thought that won’t leave me alone and preoccupies my mind, it’s a “what-if” scenario.

I’m sure you know the thoughts well:

What if she thinks _______? What if they don’t like _______? What if I do something wrong? What if_______ happens?”

Clearly, these thoughts need a good karate chop.

So when I realize I’m playing a what-if on repeat in my mind, then I look back at my heart instructions from Philippians 4:8:

Paul writes, “Whatever is true…think about such things” (Phil 4:8).

Oh!

Because you know what?

“What-ifs” are not true! That’s why they’re called, “what-ifs” instead of “reality!”

So we shouldn’t even worry about them!

Whew! Praise God, right?

(Because what-ifs can be downright scary. Especially if you’re a creative type like me and think up scenarios for a living).

So why worry and focus on what-if scenarios as though they are true?

Because God, in His lovingkindness, has shown us what to focus on instead.

He instructs us to focus on “what is true.” Not on what we’re afraid might happen.

Karate chop number one, folks!

2. The Power of Giving Thanks

If you’ve read any of my posts, or if you’ve ever heard me talk… pretty much ever, then you know I love the writer, blogger, and photographer, Ann Voskamp.

God has blessed and used her book 1,000 Gifts to truly change my heart and my life.

1,000 Gifts beautifully illustrates the importance of giving thanks to God.

Voskamp says, “It is impossible to feel thankful and anxious at the same time. So we must choose to give thanks.”

Do you see the beautiful gift we have here, friends? That we can choose the path of life instead of the path of worry simply by choosing to give thanks?

And not only is a mindset of thankfulness an open window and fresh air for our hearts, but giving thanks is a command from our Perfectly Loving Father.

Looking back at our heart instructions, Paul writes:

“…with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6).

How beautiful. That very sentence makes my heart sing! Not only are we free to give thanks, but we must give thanks! What a delightful charge.

And yet, how often do we all skip over the “with thanksgiving” part and head straight to the “present your requests to God” part?

…Yeah, me too.

Because when I’m worried, I am not in the mood to focus on things I am thankful for.

And so, I must choose. We must all choose to give thanks in those times of worry.

I also ask God for His help.

And then, quietly but surely, my heart and mind start to think calmly and hopefully while I give thanks.

If you’ve never prayed prayers of thanksgiving when you’re worried, I find it helpful to start off by telling God thank You for the truth about who He is.

We can thank Him for all these things because they are written in scripture, so they are the truest of true:

God is good and faithful (Lamentations 3:22-23),

He is all-knowing and all-powerful (Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 139: 1-6),

He is perfectly loving (Psalm 23:6, John 3:16, Psalm 103:8) .

He has good plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11).

And then, with a heart growing calmer and steadier through the giving of thanks, I love to move on to thank Him for fuzzy socks and cat purrs and then sometimes cat bites and space heaters and chocolate chip cookie dough and the small but beautiful gifts like those.

And I’ve learned through experience that a thankful heart opens the door to let God’s peace come in, displace the worry, and strengthen the faith.

Karate chop number 2! WABAM!!! (I felt the sound effect was warranted again. Thankfulness makes me so happy!! What can I say?)

Encouragement

Friends, if you are like me, and you get caught in the net of worrying way too much, you are in good company!

Remember how Jesus walked on water that one time, and Peter got out of the boat to walk toward him, but then Peter got scared – started to worry – and so then he started to sink? I love how even Peter, a man who is looking right at Jesus, a man who gets to touch Him and talk to Him in person, who is His very apostle, and who is called “Blessed” by Jesus in a conversation with Him, still struggles with feeling anxious. I also love how even though Peter became anxious, Jesus reached out and saved him. Jesus did not let him sink.

Perfect Love.

Perfect Love Who desires us to “Cast all [our] anxiety on Him because He cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7, modifications mine).

Now, in a very serious conclusion, if you ever get stuck and are drawing a blank about something to be thankful for, hear this:

“And on that day, God made bacon and said, ‘Men, I love you.’ And then He made chocolate and said, ‘Women, I love you too.’” – Michael.

I like to think God laughs at our jokes sometimes. 🙂

There is ALWAYS bacon, chocolate, and the never-ending love of the God who loves you more than life!

Blessings, peace, karate chops, and bacon and chocolate to you,

Robyn

Those Ugly Stepsisters: perfection & fear

Dear friends, a few nights ago I froze at my computer.

At the keyboard, more specifically.

My brain turned into a blank piece of paper and the words wouldn’t come.

I felt anxious.

And so I prayed and I read Ann Voskamp (highly recommended) and I wrote in my journal and I ate chocolate and I watched a rerun of Boy Meets World.

Then, I told Michael about what I was feeling. He said, “You need to write about this. About how you took on something big and you’re nervous but – God’s in your court.”

And I said, “…Okay. Done.”

Because Michael knows me better than I know myself a lot of the time.

And when that logical, loving man tells me I need to write, I know he’s right.

Now, the “something big” I’ve taken on is becoming a writer professionally.

More specifically, writing books for children.

That’s a big leap.

It’s awesome, it’s scary, it’s for such a time as this, it’s blessed, it’s my dream, and its biggest adversary is this:

Perfectionism.

Ugh.

Even that word is pointy and ugly and harsh, isn’t it?

Back to the moment when I froze at the keyboard.

Perfectionism does that, doesn’t it?

Makes you freeze.

Paralyzes you.

Ever heard the phrase, “paralyzed by fear?”

Yep.

Fear and perfectionism go together.

They are like the mean, ugly stepsisters in Cinderella.

(I relate most things to Disney movies, by the way.)

Like the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella, fear and perfectionism see beauty and hope and creativity and boldness and God’s glory – and they don’t like it.

So they try to sabotage it.

Remember when the mean, ugly stepsisters see Cinderella in her mother’s dress, getting ready for the ball, and they rip the beautiful dress to shreds so she can’t go and display all her God-given beauty?

Terrible!

Horrible!

Putting that moment in writing is even worse than watching it happen.

It also makes me want to go watch Cinderella again.

Can’t you see that’s what happens to us, dear friends, when fear and perfectionism attack?

Let me put it in non-Disney terms for those who don’t see things quite like me:

Perfectionism is:

  • When you’re afraid to start something – simply because you’re afraid you won’t be good at it. If you procrastinate, then there’s no opportunity to fail, is there?
  • Quitting something because it’s harder than you thought and you were supposed to be good at it, right? But you weren’t perfect right off the bat. So you stopped.
  • When you’ve worked for hours on a presentation and you’re smart and you’re ready, and then you get to the front and start sweating bullets and wondering how you look to the people in the room. What if they don’t like what you’re saying? What if you get something wrong? You get distracted and you fumble your smart words.
  • When you’re teaching, and you teach every day with those kids in mind and you plan for hours and your heart is all in and yet the minute your principal walks in your room to observe, you doubt. You fear. Are you perfect enough in her eyes? What if she sees you make a mistake? What grade will you get on your evaluation? You get distracted and you forget what you were even teaching in the first place.
  • When you don’t want to go on that date with the nice person or agree to a relationship with the nice person who has given you no reason to doubt, simply because you don’t want to get hurt if it doesn’t work out.

I think all these examples can be summed up in this one kicker of a paralyzing lie:

“I want to do everything perfectly, I want to be perfect — so I don’t get hurt or disappointed” (in your job, in your marriage, in your friendships, etc).

Dear hearts, this is no way to live.

Perfectionism isn’t living.

It’s striving. It’s frustrating.

It’s also impossible.

And yet, perfectionism and fear are so commonplace we don’t notice them for what they are most of the time.

But they’re there.

And like the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella, they will rip to shreds our beautiful gowns of creativity, beauty, intelligence, success, and any God-given glory we have if we let them.

Dear friends, perfectionism does not protect. Fear does not protect.

Rather, they stifle.

I am glad Thomas Edison was not a perfectionist.

He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

I like him already. Refreshing, isn’t it?

He’s not saying he doesn’t ever fail, he’s just saying he uses those failed attempts to keep trying.

And I’m glad he did! (He invented light bulbs, for those of you who are scientifically unaware like I am).

Isn’t that what God tells us to do, dear friends? (Not to invent light bulbs, ha!) – but to keep trying?

We cannot pick back up and try again by our own strength, but here is why we can pick back up and try again:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

His mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23, emphasis mine.

You see, He picks up back up each time. And so we can try again.

Because like the rising of the sun each morning, so does the Lord’s grace fall upon and bless and strengthen the hearts of His children.

And so, we try again.

Because our Father separates our sins from us so far as the east is from the west, we try again (psalm 103:12).

And then, we try again.

We are loved as high as the heavens are above the earth (Psalm 103:11). And so we pick back up and try again.

And when a group of Pharisees (a.k.a perfectionists, if you ask me, because I see my own weaknesses in their flawed perceptions) ask Jesus why He is eating with the “screw-ups” of that society, if you will, he responds with this:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17.

I suppose that is why Paul says to boast about our weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9). Because when we are real about our weaknesses, about our imperfections, the humble sacrifice of realness sets a beautiful backdrop for Christ’s light to shine brightly into our weaknesses and into the hearts of others, setting hearts free to abide in His love.

So let’s do this, dear friends.

Let’s love Christ without fear. Let’s love others without fear. Let’s stop trying to be good enough for God.

Because we never will be.

But because He sent His Son, we are.

We are.

Take a breath.

He’s got you. And He loves you.

“Relax! Be silent and stop your striving,

and you will see that I am God.”

Psalm 46:10, passion translation.

So go put your Cinderella dress back on.

Let the God who loves you most stitch it back up.

And don’t let those ugly stepsisters Fear and Perfectionism sabotage your ball anymore! 😉 

Peace, blessings, and fresh mercies to you in Christ,

Robyn