When Believers Stumble: Worry


WorryNormally, I post about four times a week. I write on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, posting just after midnight so that the posts run Monday through Thursday.

I was shy a post last week because I ran up against my own failure. I stopped to write on Worry about a half dozen times, but every time I crashed into writer’s block—not a typical problem for me.

Over this weekend, I confronted my blockage and realized what had monkey-wrenched my gears. The reason I suddenly found myself at a loss for words is that worry is the single biggest sin in my own life.

I didn’t start out being a worrier. I don’t believe that any Christian who struggles with worry does. You can’t get sidetracked unless you’re already on the journey.

No one thought of me as a worrier, quite the opposite; I was the quintessential optimist. Still, I had my share of setbacks as I entered my twenties.

One of my friends took special note of the particularly harsh events that followed me around for a few years. Going for a drive together one night, he confessed to me that the reason he wasn’t a Christian was me. I was shocked. Hadn’t I been a good witness? Where had I gone wrong? He told me that it had nothing to do with how I lived out the Faith. My friend explained that he could not understand how God could treat one of His followers—me—so badly. If that is how God worked, he didn’t want any part of that God. Of course, I tried to sway him, but he didn’t want to hear it.

I shook off the funk of that night, but something had been planted in me that took root. I started noting how I fell into worst case scenarios quite often. Didn’t know why. That’s not the way that I prayed.

So I started worrying. I started thinking about the worst thing that could happen. I worried when I considered decisions. I learned to ignore shock when the worst possible thing actually came to pass. I didn’t become a pessimist as much as a disillusioned optimist.

But I’m a Christian, right?

We all know Abraham as one of the patriarchs of the Faith. Abraham was a worrier, though. Like most worriers, he envisioned the worst possible outcome. Think about this: Abraham worried that as he traveled, foreign kings would think his wife was such a hottie that he’d be killed and his wife wife-napped. So he hatched a plan to pass her off as his sister. Strangely enough, his worst case scenario came to pass. Twice!

Elijah fled into the desert, fearing that Jezebel would hunt him down and have his head. God fed him by ravens, yet Elijah still wallowed in his worry.

The Bible doesn’t have nearly as many verses on worry and anxiety as some other issues believers face. Jesus’ well-known words on worry, lilies, and sparrows is one of the most direct passages. Most of us know Philippians 4:6-7 by heart.

But as someone who struggles with worry, I’ve wondered why so many other Christians are tripped up by this problem.

Christianity is a faith that has strong roots in the past and a vision always looking to the future. Both the past and future play into worry. We can worry that choices we made in the past will somehow culminate in heartbreak later in the future. Worry, by its nature, fears what might be coming around the bend. Worriers prepare with hopes to prevent the future they don’t wish to see. Worriers, therefore, are people who can never live in the present.

Because there is such a strong emphasis in Christianity on eternal reward, Christians who struggle with worry are always fighting to ensure they are laying up treasure in heaven, fretting when that goal isn’t being met. And for Christians who worry, self-examination is never the issue. They are always keenly aware of each and every sin, every lack, every area that needs growth. Sometimes it seems overwhelming

Was what I did enough? Why did that happen? I did as God said to, but I failed. Why? The Bible says this, but the experience was just the opposite. I must have done something wrong since the Scriptures are always right.

Do any of those sound familiar?

At the heart of worry is fear. At the heart of that fear is loss.

You’d expect churches to deal with loss better than any other group, but in America that is often not the case. I think the Church does well with death in most cases, but other kinds of loss are bobbled. I know from personal experience that job loss is not handled well. Downward mobility is also problematic for some churches. I’ve known widows and widowers who received plenty of comfort within weeks of losing a spouse, but a year later their support had vanished. And for every heartwarming story of church support for those who have lost their health, there are others that border on horrifying.

So some Christians who face those issues worry.

For me, all I want is to be in God’s will because I know that being in His will means that I am living life to the fullest this side of heaven. I want with all my heart to go the Scriptures and find the answers for each situation I find myself in day by day.

What makes this harder is when the message of American Christianity intersects with that desire and crushes it.

As most of you know, I’m a stay-at-home dad. I do have a writing business, but my wife works outside of the home. Life is tough in Ohio right now. Our unemployment rate (from what I read a couple days ago in the local paper) is running 7% above the rest of the country. That means that a little more than one out of ten people in this state are unemployed. Many people we know are struggling and all the couples we know who were vehement about not falling into a dual-breadwinner household are finding that reality and theory aren’t intersecting any longer.

From where I sit, parts of the Godblogosphere and many portions of American Christianity have tried, convicted and sentenced to hell folks like us. There are a lot of Christian voices out there, many of them quite wise, but when they come down on your own little noggin, it’s hard to avoid worry for those of us who want to be doing the right thing. I don’t know how many times I’ve just wanted to burn my computer and forget blogging or reading blogs because yet another person I respected told me I was as bad as an unbeliever because I wasn’t the primary breadwinner.

Pick any aspect of Christianity and there’s a person laboring under a millstone of worry because they aren’t stacking up to the “accepted standard.”

I started out this post by saying that worrying is a sin. It’s rooted in fear and lack of trust; there’s no excuse for it.

But to all those Christians who don’t struggle with worry, I ask that instead of making it harder for worriers to triumph over worry, come alongside them. I know that I try very hard not to create burdens for people who come to Cerulean Sanctum. Millstones are plentiful in the American Church, unfortunately, and when we’re not placing them on each other, we’re often failing to help others remove the stone necklaces the world adds.

Some days are better than others for me. I pray that every day I shake off more worry. I know I’m not alone. As much as we talk about trusting God, there are more people like me in American churches than I could count in my lifetime.

We say that faith is like jumping off a cliff, but we don’t have a good answer for folks who wind up like Wile E. Coyote, nothing more than a poof of sand and a crater at the bottom of the canyon. If we did a better job backing up people, perhaps we’d have a lot fewer worriers in the Church.

17 thoughts on “When Believers Stumble: Worry

  1. Standing_Firm

    It gives me little comfort to know that there are other Christians who have been suffering with the same struggles that I have been battling for years now. Don’t get me wrong, I thank you for your post. I needed to hear what you have to say and there is a camaraderie that I feel with those of like struggles. Almost like it is validating my reality but that reality is difficult and harsh. The thing of it is, I cannot fully express what I feel because I don’t want to create a division or a problem within the body so I have to keep quiet about my experiences. I am so glad that your situation is different tham mine and you are able to express yourself so clearly without pointing a finger at any one group. That is what is making my posts sound bitter. Yours does not by the way.

    I don’t know if this comment is making any sense to you but your post sure made sense to me. Thank you.

  2. jwise

    Was what I did enough? Why did that happen? I did as God said to, but I failed. Why? The Bible says this, but the experience was just the opposite. I must have done something wrong since the Scriptures are always right.

    How often this very thought has sat in my mind. I’ve stayed up entire nights trying to make sense of how Promise followed by faith leads to “poof of sand and a crater at the bottom of the canyon.”

    And in my more cynical moments, I’ve wondered why I, willing to take chances in hopes of God’s promises being true, go ker-splat, while those who merely pay lip-service to God go on so happy-go-lucky.

    When all is said and done, I must admit the disgustingness of the flesh. I confess how little my faith really is, and beg God to grant me more according to his unfailing mercy. I remember always Job, so confident of the Lord’s righteousness. And Asaph’s words in Ps. 73, whose patience was finally rewarded with vision of the wicked’s destiny. And Jesus, who took upon himself the cross for the joy set before Him.

    Dan, I’m right alongside you. I have no answers. Only an unending assurance that when all is said and done, wickedness will be purged, we will be made pure and complete, and our Lord will be glorified for his incredible work. Cling to the cross, hold to the word planted in you, and let’s continually endure hardship while we wait for our crowns of life.

  3. Darla

    Wow, Dan. I can’t believe how much your experiences mirror my own. I, too, am a worrier, but I am learning.

    We moved to this city so that my husband could attend seminary. But we did our research first. We made the dicision to move here after we were assured that there was plenty of work in his trade and because the cost of living is lower here. We moved here just about the time the stock market crashed six years ago and we lost most of our investments nest egg.

    My husband was determined to be the wonderful provider he had always been while pursuing his degree at seminary. We even bought a home considerably less “fancy” than the previous one in anticipation of smaller paychecks due to his school schedule. And he was determined I would continue to be a stay at home mom. He really wanted to do it all and have it all. And that ideal was entirely possible – if he had been able to find work in his trade, which he was not.

    Although it has been a humbling experience for him not to be the primary breadwinner of the family, there have been incredible benefits we could never have imagined. I have learned new skills that enable me to provide the primary financial support for the family – and I do it from home, just as you do. He earned his master’s degree without ever having to work a full time job since he did seasonal work in his trade. He has been able to be at home for our son’s formative years (he was an infant when we made the move). And, not the least important, he was around for those extremely difficult years when our oldest child was a teenager.

    Was it difficult? No doubt. Was it humbling? Without question. Was it worth it? You betcha!

    We certainly would be more comfortable if he made more money, but more money would not have been the solution to the serious difficulties we have faced in recent years. We have learned invaluable lessons that will help us to be more understanding, more compassionate people once he returns to full time ministry. And he will never again be one who condemns the other guy for not being the big breadwinner of the family.

    I do not think less of him for not being the primary breadwinner in our household at this time. In fact, I honor him for sticking with it and doing what needed to be done for the family first, and then for his education. Life happens. It’s our response to God and toward our family and neighbors that’s important when life does happen.

    Paul, in 1Thessalonians, described how much he wanted to see those folks for himself. He had warned them there would be difficult times, even persecutions, but he encouraged them to remain strong in the faith. He sent Timothy to visit them and bring word directly back to Paul about their circumstances. When Timothy reported on the faith and love of the Thessalonians, Paul sends this message: For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted abut you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord (3:7-8).

    Be encouraged, Dan! God honors the work you are doing for your family. And it isn’t about how much money you make. You, Dan, are a testimony that we can stand firm in the Lord even in adverse circumstances. We are comforted about your faith and now we, too, can really live having witnessed your example.

    God bless you!

  4. rev-ed

    Dan –

    What would you consider “coming alongside”? I am blessed that worry is not a problem in my life. Of course that’s only by the grace of God. But still, I’ve never been able to fully understand it. And my mother is a professional worrier! I’d like to be able to help, but frankly it’s hard for me to see worry as being much different than doubt. It’s understandable to doubt our own efforts, but why would we doubt God’s ability to use those efforts to His glory?

    So I guess what I’m asking is, how can I help a worrier?

  5. Anonymous

    Just this morning my wife and I were discussing worry. We need to remember that, although the Kingdom of God has come and we are living in it, we are also living in this evil age. So we are subect to both worry and non-worry until Jesus comes again. We need to remind ourselves that Jesus knows everything about our situation, even more than we do; that he loves us unconditionally (even if we worry); and that he is working on our behalf 24/7 even if we can’t see it yet.

  6. Standing_Firm

    You prayed and I thank you.

    Worry is not necessarily about doubt in Him but a possible lack of confidence in our ability, as mere humans, to respond to a situation as He would have us respond. What we perceive in the supernatural is at odds with our perceptions in the natural. That dichotomy is expressed as “worry” for lack of a better term. It is merely the way we express this lack of clarity. In other words, we would love to do the will of the Father but when we are unsure of the way we are to walk we “worry” because we so want, above all, to do His will. Does this make sense?

  7. Rev-Ed,

    That’s an easy one!

    God put the Church on this earth to work His will. In the case of widows and orphans, God used His Church to feed, clothe, and protect them. Could He have taken care of them by some other supernatural means? Sure. But He chose the Church to do that work.

    We no longer live in a society that has adequate relational buffers to help people in time of need. Extended families scatter all over the world, people don’t know their neighbors, people in church are always busy with something else.

    Our normal social safety nets are gone and that only compounds worry.

    A few for instances…

    My wife and I moved to Silicon Valley shortly after we were married. I took a job with a well-known computer firm, but the company had troubles and my entire department was eliminated. I’d been on the job five months.

    We didn’t know anyone in a place where who you knew made all the difference in the world. Cost of living was extreme, and though my wife had a job, it barely dented our financial needs.

    This move had been a great concern for me, but I’d mitigated worry knowing that we’d be able to get help from our church that we’d started going to from our first Sunday there. But when we turned to the church for help, we got nothing. Not one iota of help of any kind. Nothing.

    We didn’t stay at that church.

    We had assumed the church would help be our safety net. We were wrong. No one came alongside us.

    When my mom was terminal, my dad went into an alcoholic funk. Every day was a living nightmare. He fought with paramedics who’d come to stop a gushing gash he’d gotten from a fall. He fell down the steps almost every day. We moved mom in with us and tried everything we could to get dad help. Where was the church? Nowhere to be found. No one helped us. Neither my parent’s church nor mine did a thing. Every day was a trial in wondering what disaster we were going to find when we went over to dad’s house. We took away his keys so he couldn’t drive drunk, but he had spare ones he hid from us. We worried he would kill someone. But a lot of worrying would never have happened if someone had been there alongside us. As it was, he drank himself to death and left an atrocious mess behind that we had to clean up months afterward. It took me three years to finally get their estate settled. I lost my health through all this.

    My mom was a pillar of her church, but when she needed someone to visit her in her final months, hardly anyone came. We had to beg someone to take her to her church on Sundays, and even then that was spotty. Our son was just born and both my job and my wife’s were uncertain. No flesh and blood person was there for us. No one drew alongside so that we didn’t have to struggle and worry. Plenty of worst case scenarios played out despite hours of prayer.

    When we had moved into our first home and then lost our only means of income two months later, we went to our church and asked what kinds of help we could get should we fall short on our mortgage. Answer? Nothing. Could they help us find work? No. Once again, we were alone and on our own.

    See the cycle here? See how that compounds worry when there’s no flesh and blood person you can go to for help? See how worry compounds when the Body of Christ fails to draw alongside hurting people?

    I firmly believe that God uses the Church to meet those kinds of needs. I also believe it angers Him when Christians don’t live out being the Body. It goes beyond just preaching the Gospel to living it. The world doesn’t give a rip about what the Church in America has to say because we can’t back up our talk with the walk. More often than not, we’re not there for worried, hurting people when they need help, and the world sees that.

    But that’s not what I see in Acts. I see a real community that ensures that people are not in need for anything. And that goes a long way to killing worry. That first century world saw the difference, too.

  8. Vicki

    This post spoke to my heart in ways I’ve never experienced before. Thank you.

    I come from a long line of worriers, and yet in my extended family circle, I’m probably considered the most optimistic:-) That’s no consolation, since the bible is clear that we’re not to worry—”see the lilies, neither do they toil or spin.” Ah yes, but I’ve toiled and I’ve spinned. Worry is a sin alright.

    It sometimes seems that people who claim they’re not worriers also exhibit a teensy bit of pride about that, and lack understanding for those who might struggle more with their brain chemicals. It’s still no excuse, just makes it harder when your brain is misfiring or unhealthy. The nurse in me just HAD to mention it only as a consideration to help understanding among Christians. When we’ve been under a lot of stress, it’s easier to worry about the other shoe dropping..:-)

    Once I worried like crazy and eventually discovered it was symptomatic of my underlying depression, which at that particular time, turned out to be due to chronic sleep deprivation. My brain couldn’t handle surprises. After some medication for awhile, my brain responded nicely and soon the things that once had me tied up in knots, no longer worried me. I have to take care of my brain much the same way a diabetic has to change her diet, or a heart patient needs regular check-ups. But the same things pertain to me as any other Christian—for healthy living, I need to steep my heart in the scriptures and give my fears to God, putting full trust in Him to equip and enable me to carry out His will.

    I’m not sure I agree with Standing Firm, even though I appreciate the thoughts. We’re to put no confidence in the flesh anyway. We face decisions in life every day, yet I never feel adequate in myself. The proneness to worry is something I have to continually give to God, and trust in Him to guide and enable me.

    Dan, thanks for a wonderful blog. Great posts. I enjoy my visits even though I don’t always comment.

  9. Standing_Firm

    Dan, this post is exactly what I am dealing with right now. This is exactly why I have no church home for the moment. I am not sure Vicki, at what point you disagree. I ask becuase this is what I wrestle with so I am interested in your thoughts. Thank you Dan again for bringing this up.

  10. Peyton


    I see this topic, Worry, and the previous one, Perfectionism, as being closely related. Perfectionism is a striving for what has already been accomplished, and Worry is fear that our striving will fail! Both come from what might be called Performance Orientation — wanting others, and God, to see what good boys and girls we are. Flesh seeking approval!!

    The way with Flesh, as my pastor pointed out some months ago, is the Cross. We have to give up our “right to be right.” The fleshly desire to be perfect in itself must be killed. The worry fear of failure – past, present, or future — must be brought to death, by us. Of course, we need a friend to help — one cannot drive in that last nail by oneself!!!

    There, now, I’ve submitted this; but I worry that maybe it’s not good enough, and hope that next time I’ll do better!!!!!

  11. Weekend Fisher

    Dan, I had no idea you were ACOA. It’s strange, I’m kinda going through that too. 5 years ago Dad died leaving Mom and her two very elderly parents, who died 3 years ago now. Mom has been drinking herself as close to death as she could manage ever since Dad died. Now she’s living with me for the time being, has no car keys (or spares), isn’t drinking but still has no life … Oh yeah, and my dad’s estate and her parents’ estate are disasters.

    Fortunately, worry is kind of alien to me. God said we’d have troubles so that’s just the way it’s going to be. There’s no such thing as being so spiritual that your struggles go away; that’s not the world we live in.

  12. ambiance-five

    Dan! lol…True faith would never have us jump off a cliff! That would be like tempting God!

    Now I won’t worry that I wrote the wrong thing to you. I will simply pray God’s will for us both and trust that His will outcome will be good only.

    Love in Christ

  13. Larry Who

    I was giving my “Thou shalt not fear” speech to a young Christian when a mouse ran over my foot. I jumped onto a chair while his feet remained on the ground. Oh well – so much for only talking the gospel and not walking it. Right?

    Every believer fights fear and worry in his life. I guarantee it. If we don’t fight it in one arena, we will in another. (Mice and rats – yipes!)

    Let me say one thing about the church: You and I are the church. It’s not a building or an organization. It is a living organism. And at some point, the church (me) will hurt when people like you hurt. But because I (the church) am not there yet, I can only ask your forgiveness and hope to more sensitive in the future.

  14. Larry Who,

    I don’t care what it is, you don’t want it running up your pants leg. My dad had a skink (a harmless, speedy little lizard) run up inside his pants leg and that was a hoot, though no fun for Dad.

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