How To Stop Worrying So Much

A Little Trick To Experiencing More Peace

(photo by Tim Gouw)

I’m really good at worrying. And I was even better at it when I was a kid. I used to imagine the worst about everything.

If my parents left the house, I knew they weren’t coming back. Either because they would die in a horrible car vs. bus vs. airplane accident. Or they’d simply change their mind about being my parents and head down to Mexico for a few decades.

I was convinced the most awful things lived right outside my door, or under my bed, or in my body. So I worried.

By the time I was 16 I had an ulcer. The doctor said I had a highly acidic stomach, likely due to anxiety. I was concerned to hear that.

As a follower of Jesus, I heard early on that I should not “be anxious for anything”. And that “with prayer and petition”, all I had to do was present my requests to God, and everything would be okay.

So I prayed A LOT over the things I worried about. And soon my prayers were just another way of worrying. Anxiety dominated my prayer life which meant I was probably missing the point.

This pattern continued throughout my 20s and most of my 30s until one day my therapist said something that clicked with me:

“If it’s not happening now, it’s not happening.”

By that she meant, if I wasn’t currently surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves, quicksand up to my chin, the red dot of a sniper’s laser-sight hovering on my forehead…then I wasn’t. Period.

I was worried she had a good point.

So I stopped worrying about things so much. Not because I should. Not because I finally found inner peace. But just because if it wasn’t happening NOW, then it just wasn’t happening. And the truth is, it was never happening. Very few snipers ever took a shot at me (to my knowledge).

I know you worry a lot, too. You worry about your finances. You stress about your kids – the ones you have, the ones you’d like to have, the ones you wish would FINALLY leave.

You worry about what people think of you. And what to wear to parties or work or school or church. You worry that you’ll never amount to anything or that you’ve missed the boat on your divine purpose. You worry about identity and getting carjacked and whether you’re eating too much sugar (you are).

I’m with you, sisters and brothers. I get it.

But if it’s not happening RIGHT NOW, IN THIS MOMENT, then it’s not happening.

That’s why I want to give you a gift today. The gift is called…

PERMISSION TO QUIT WORRYING ABOUT IT.

Sometimes we think we can’t stop worrying about a thing because, if we do, the terrible thing will DEFINITELY HAPPEN. We assume our constant vigilance is required.

But you know what? That’s a lie. A big fat lie with bad breath.

Your vigilance is no longer required. It never really was. What IS needed is your willingness to keep moving, keep creating, keep hoping, keep giving, keep loving.

What IS needed is to constantly take your eyes off the waves and put them on the one who can walk on the waves.

So please accept this gift: PERMISSION TO QUIT WORRYING ABOUT IT.

I even created the graphic below to help you remember. Because I’m all artsy like that.

Just click on the image, save it to your desktop and print it out. Then stick it on your bedroom wall or your bathroom mirror or above your desk.

Yes, I’m worried it looks a little cheesy (it probably does). But whatever. I hope you like it anyway. Click the graphic to download it now! Before it’s too late and something terrible happens!! Snipers!!!

permission-to-quit

The Secret Power Of Selfies

How To Make Them Matter

I recently preached at my favorite church. The topic? Selfies.

To illustrate the topic, I borrowed a friend’s selfie stick. Because I obviously don’t own a selfie stick.

Anymore.

Since mine broke from overuse.

I held my phone close to my face – you know, one of those phones that you can also use to call people, if that’s something you still do. I said, from this distance, all you can really see in the frame is me.

And to be honest, it doesn’t make for a very interesting picture.

I suppose you could try to zoom in for greater detail to make it a little more interesting – wow, his skin is really oily right now. Or, I wonder what that scar is from?

But that’s about as intriguing as it’s going to get from this distance.

If I hold my camera out a little further before I snap the pic, I can squeeze in a couple of friends. We might then take several pictures together and I will post the one most flattering of me, because hey, we used my phone.

Then I said to the audience (or “congregation”, if that feels churchier to you): “But if I put my phone on the selfie stick and extend it as far as it will go…and then reach my arm out as far as it will go…(at this point, I turned my back to them)…there’s just about enough room for all of us in the picture.”

I then snapped a selfie of me with a few hundred of my besties.

My point was obvious (though I rambled on for another 20 minutes anyway).

If there’s only room in the frame of my life for ME, the story of my life won’t be very interesting. Or satisfying. Or compelling – to me or anyone else.

But if I make space for others to fit in the frame of my life, the story of my life can get really good.

As a final illustration, I threw up a selfie-style picture of my friend, Bob.

bob goff selfie 1

Bob is a famous author and humanitarian and is living some of the best stories I’ve ever heard. We’re friends because we once had lunch together and because I have his cell phone number.

To be clear, I had lunch with Bob because his host that day was a friend of mine (a friend who once brought Don Miller to see me…in my office…but that’s another story). This generous and well-connected friend hosted lunch for Bob and a bunch of other folks, and he invited Katie and I to join them.

Oh, and I have Bob’s cell number because he put it at the back of his best-selling book. So maybe you have it, too. But so what. I’m over it.

I told the congregation/audience/crowd/throng of worshippers that Bob always takes a great picture because he has a great smile, but despite his great smile, the picture wasn’t super interesting.

Then I zoomed out to reveal the rest of the picture.

bob goff selfie 2

This is Bob and some of his friends. Bob and his team have built several schools in Uganda and a few other places (there’s even one in Iraq!) that serve kids without families.

It’s a lot more interesting picture. It’s a more satisfying picture. It’s a picture that inspires me and reminds me there’s a whole lot more to my story than me, me, me.

What was the key difference between the two pictures?

The second one simply had more room in the frame for others.

The throng got it. They always do. They’re a bunch of Bob-like folks who have graciously included me in their shot.

So I finished my sermon like I finish all my sermons: by dropping the mic and strutting off the stage to “Jesus Walks”.

I snuck back later to retrieve the selfie stick. In case, you know, I needed it for something.

How To Survive Holy Week With Your Faith Intact

A Busy Christian's Guide To Not Missing The Point

This is Holy Week, a time where we Jesus-followers go to church even more than usual (for some of us, we’re finally getting back in the door since LAST Easter, which, apparently, is OK with Jesus).

And if you’re part of a church staff as I was for most of my career, Holy Week can also be Holy **** Week.

There are SO many details to prepare for all those extra services and the many returning church-goers (in hopes of getting them to stick around).

And if you happen to also be part of the music team, like I was – Lord, have mercy. You can pretty much forget about sleeping well or making healthy food choices or not getting in massive fights with your spouse and/or children and/or contracted flautist.

I used to rail against the fact that for us church-staffers, Holy Week seemed to be such a frenzied scramble, but then I learned two things:

  1. Much of the frenzy was in ME and I had been projecting it on to others. There were many fellow staffers who could handle the extra load AND be mindful of the rich significance of Holy Week. They weren’t better than me, but they were certainly living better than me.
  2. A week saturated with mundane details, full to overflowing with to-dos and impossible-to-get-dones…is exactly the place Jesus seems to delight in working.

I’ve never been a big fan of reality. I would much rather live in my head than, you know, do stuff. I’d rather fantasize about how it could be, what could have been, or – more often than not – what I’d look like with six-pack abs (I’d look good).

People I trust tell me that’s all a way of avoiding responsibility for my life, and I’m starting to believe them. But still, reality isn’t naturally the place I want to plant my flag.

But it was for Jesus.

The mundane and ordinary. The messy and ugly and boring and exhausting. The non-6-pack, this-is-how-it-actually-is stuff of life. That’s exactly where Jesus is living and working. And where I’m invited to live and work with him.

To practice that, here’s what I’m doing:

I’m turning back to him every time I feel like I don’t have what it takes to be with the boys a little longer, or the energy to get through all my “starred emails”, or the hope to remember there are blue skies out there, somewhere beyond my Pacific northwest horizon.

I’m praying simple prayers like, “Jesus, help me see what you see” and “What are you up to here?” and “Help me to do the hard thing.”

As I do that, I’m finding that reality’s not a half bad place to live. Sometimes it’s even great. I’m serious – my life feels different simply because of this steady convo with Jesus throughout the day.

On Palm Sunday, my pastor and friend, Scott, preached on why the mundane can be so life-giving. He talked about the guy who lent Jesus his donkey so he could ride into town and people could wave palm branches at him and say “Hosanna!”

All the guy had, said Scott, was his donkey. So he gave what he had. It was a great day for that donkey. And probably for his owner (“Hey! That’s my donkey! You go, boy!”)

So here’s some ordinary words from an ordinary guy. Here’s my attention and energy and to-do list. Here’s my half-donkey attempts at becoming the best version of me.

Take it all and make it holy, useful, impactful, transformative. For me and everyone around me.

And help my church musician friends make healthy food choices this week. Amen.