Worry and Ruminating

Worry can be described as a distortion and misuse of our God-given imaginations. It is giving a small thing a big shadow (Swedish Proverb). Edward Hallowell says worry is vulnerability + powerlessness.  In our culture, and especially in the parental demographic,  excessive worry dominates thoughts and constricts relationships. Rumination is defined as persistent or repetitive worry. The word “rumination” actually comes from the action of a cow chewing its cud- chewing, swallowing, regurgitating, and chewing it again. That’s a grotesque picture which I find fitting in relation to worry.

Most worry is not a passive affair. Although one may not realize it, most people actively seek worry. It can be enlightening to assess how often worry actually saved you (or those you worry for) from something. Generally speaking, excessive worriers were often conscientious, inhibited, and highly sensitive children. There are some infant and in utero studies that suggest some people are more “hardwired” for worry than others. Though this might be true for you, this does not negate that fact that you must take responsibility for this propensity and learn healthy ways of managing this toxic thought process.

Some typical beliefs and assumptions that can fuel worry include:

  • Intolerance for uncertainty (Need to control and/or have certainty)
  • Intolerance for discomfort
  • An inflated sense of responsibility an culpability
  • A distorted assessment of potential risks
  • Perfectionism
  • Worry is overvalued (Examples: “Worrying prevents bad things from happening.” Or, “Worrying shows my children I care.” “Worrying allows me to focus on worst case scenarios so I won’t be surprised by life.” And even: “I can anticipate and avoid discomfort by worrying.”)
  • Worrying about worry (Example: “I’m going to make myself sick.”)

There are many ways to process and deal with worry. It all takes practice and processing to understand what leads to your specific worrying tendencies and how to change them. Some worrying is a part of other mental illnesses but have varying, and specific, characteristics (like with Depression, OCD, or Panic Disorder, to name a few).

A properly trained therapist can help you learn healthy ways of reframing your thoughts, practicing mindfulness, understanding cognitive distortions and themes in worrying, and identifying irrational thoughts. Understanding one’s view of God has major impacts on how one worries as well. If God is not believed to be sovereign in all things (i.e. have complete control), or if God is not believed to be good, these assumptions/ beliefs (among others) will impact our thoughts and thus our behaviors in our relationships with family, friends, and God himself.

Worry is a chain that binds and constricts, preventing us from living truly free lives, and allowing others to live free lives. It can give a temporary sense of (false) power and control over various situations, but in the end leaves us feeling exhausted, discouraged, and burned out on life.

Memorials

American culture is noted for its busyness. Friends of mine who have lived overseas in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain are fully aware that life is lived at a much slower pace. Here in America we rush around, often impatiently, trying to get on to the next event, haircut, or simply the grocery store. When we have downtime, it tends to be filled with any number of electronics which serve to numb out and distract, or mindlessly entertain. What might it look like to allow quiet space in to your life for the purposes of reflection and remembrance?

We are fickle people who easily forget, especially when it comes to God. A new challenge in our lives confronts us and the stress mounts. We think about what we can do, what more we can do, to overcome or accomplish in our own power. What Jesus asks of us is to rest in him and trust him. We are asked to remember the good things we’ve experienced from him in the past.

Reflect on past stressful circumstances and think through what you:

  1. Leaned on for comfort
  2. How you derived a sense of control
  3. What lies you believed (I’ll never make it; I’m not good enough; I don’t deserve it, etc.)
  4. What unhealthy behaviors you reverted to (over/under-eating, porn, drugs, anxiety, etc.)

When we look back at hard times and easy times, it’s important to assess what we did and how we thought and the consequences of our actions. It’s also important to note how God worked in the midst of those things. How circumstances may or may not have worked out.  Take some time to think through what God did in the midst of a previous nerve-wracking situation.

When difficult and stressful circumstances arise in our lives, it’s easy to hone in on them and allow the weight and the fear of their imposition to overwhelm us. When we remember, we can choose to shift our focus off of ourselves and our stressful situation and onto the goodness, mercy, grace, and kindness of God. We can choose to see how he is carefully orchestrating every scenario of our lives to make us more holy, and bring him more glory.

Many have heard of Moses parting the Red Sea, but not as many have heard of Joshua parting the river Jordan. In Joshua 4, to show that God was with Joshua, he parted the Jordan’s waters for the Israelites to cross into the Promised Land.  Joshua then instructed the Israelites to create a memorial of that event so that they would be sure not to forget the power of God, his presence with his people, and that he is worthy of honor and worship. They were to stack up some rocks taken from the bottom of the Jordan River. “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4: 5-7).

We can so easily forget things that were hard, but also things that went well for us. Reflecting gives us the opportunity to give honest thanks for what has occurred in the past, acknowledge what has happened in the past, and create our own memorial. Remembering shifts our focus from our own striving to the one who is in complete control of all things. Remembering and giving thanks can bring us to a place of rest, freedom, and greater understanding.