For as long as I can remember, I have been a worrier. I have spent a ton of my life living fast forward in the future, thinking of things that could possibly go wrong, but that haven't happened yet. Not like winning the lottery thinking, but negative thinking.
People dying. Houses burnings down. Kids being kidnapped. Car wrecks. Mass shootings. Wars, Illnesses, etc. etc. etc. You know, all the things you see on T.V. every single day (if you watch). I'd see them on TV or hear about them and then BOOM! my mind would be on repeat, except with my family members.
For a long time, I was a functioning worry-aholic, but then God blessed me with a husband and a bunch of kids. While they each brought happiness and joy, it also multiplied my worry/fear load. What if something happens to Mike???? What will I do? How will we survive? What about my babies? I can't live without my babies.
I'd tried all kinds of medicines, except I really cannot take anything. My body has an adverse reactions to EVERY prescribed drug. I tried talking to different people, but no one seemed to get me. Or, I didn't seem to get their take on how to fix me.
I tried to just keep tight control on everything. I hated when the kids friend's asked them to go places. That meant car rides. And car rides could mean car wrecks, and it just didn't feel like it was worth it. What if a trip to the movie ended in something terrible? Mike would often talk me into letting them go here and there, but he could go on with his business. I would go about my day too, but with a constant stream of "What if the worst case scenario happens??????" It was awful!
I would do the same with him. In my mind, if everyone stayed in my sight and played it safe, I could breathe.
I hated living this way. I hated it. I absolutely hated it. Why couldn't I just be like Mike? How could he be so worry free? He loved the kids just as much as me. He loved me as much as I loved him. But he had Peace that I did not have. I couldn't get him to explain to me how to change my thinking. He'd say things like, just turn off your thoughts, but seriously?!?!?! Is that really possible? I don't believe it.
I had kind of accepted my anxious, worrisome ways. This is just how I'm wired up, I thought. I shifted my focus elsewhere. I started going to a different church and I'd hear verses like, Jesus replied, "Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matthew 22:37.
I really wanted to do that. I mean, if I couldn't figure out how to settle my weary mind here on Earth, I could at least try to get into Heaven, right? But then how in the world to do you Love an invisible God? I mean, I see his works all around me, but how exactly do I "Love" him with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength?????
And then I read the book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voscamp. She talked about how we show Love to God. What I got from the book was that we can show Love with Gratitude. In other words, when we pause and thank God for everything that we have been given, He will see that we love him.
And that made sense to me. When my kids have huge smiles on their faces and say with all the gusto in the world, "Thank you SO much mommy for ___cleaning my room today____" I truly felt so loved and appreciated by them. Those moments of their expressing gratitude really made me feel so good as a momma. So I thought, if that is how I feel loved, maybe she's right. Maybe that is how God feels loved too!
So, I started consciously practicing Gratitude. I'd say Thank You to people surrounding me for everything. Teachers, neighbors, friends, family, colleagues, etc. I was always looking for ways to show appreciation. I did the same for my every day life to God. "God thank you for the food and the clean water to bathe my children with." When the door would open and Mike returned home from work, I'd silently say, "Thank you God for getting him home safely." I looked for ways all day, every day to give thanks.
And the craziest thing happened. Without me trying to get rid of my worry/fear/anxiety, I got rid of a TON of my worry/fear/anxiety. I started being so focused on what I was thankful for right in the moment, that my worries and fears started getting drowned out. I was living in the moment. Not consumed with what might happen ahead.
I'm not saying I'm completely worry free! Please don't think that. Trust me when I say it's still the thorn in my flesh. It's a moment by moment choice to choose gratitude over worry. And sometimes, worry still wins.
I also don't want you to think I'm always joyful. I mean, I know you know better, but some of the BEST parts of my life came out of my struggles. It's more than okay to feel sad or afraid or worried or lonely or angry sometimes. Those feelings often propel us onto a better path.
But, I do have Joy. Not to be confused with happiness. Happiness is good too! Happiness happens when good things happen. And that's super important too. We should certainly work hard for Happiness as well. But Joy can be found in any situation.
You can be on a walk and filled with gratitude for legs that are moving you, for the people walking alongside you, for the sunset, for trees, and even the fresh air. You could take the exact same walk and be so consumed with worry and fear that you miss the sunset completely. Or take the people walking with you for granted. It really is a conscious shift in your thinking. You have to train your brain to constantly be on the look out for goodness.
It's tricky in America because we are so surrounded by goodness that we kind of even forget that we are. I read the book Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis several years ago. It described her life in Africa without heating, air, fresh water, grocery stories, a variety of food, closets full of clothes and toys, air filled with mosquitos, children without parents, sick people without medical care, etc, etc, and while it was no means a mission trip, I can't shake what I read. I can't imagine seeing that lifestyle with my own two eyes. But it made me aware of how other people live in the world and how incredibly wealthy we are here in America. It helped me see what I should be thankful for, but it also helped me understand that those people have so much Joy, in spite of their living conditions. And if they can have Joy living like that, I better figure out how to have Joy here!
If you switch your brain to gratitude, and practice it, you may find that your ordinary chaotic life can be filled with Joy too!
My new thought process....
*Yay! Mike is home! Thank you God for getting him home safely.
*Yes! I have been given another day with a healthy body. Get up! Enjoy this day! What can I do to love others well today.
*I can bounce through the grocery store with more Joy than anyone else. (unless, of course, Boss Baby in tantruming) I realize that shelves full of a variety of clean, fresh food are such a blessing!!!! Where I would gripe about grocery shopping before, I now view it as such a gift!
* I see church as a gift. I realize that not everyone can worship freely around the world.
* When I wash my hands, or my kids hands, or do dishes or laundry, I can pause and remember that fresh water that I'm not hauling home from a well is a gift.
* When I take my babies to the doctor, I don't worry so much about the inconvenience, or time, or cost, but feel incredibly thankful that people are trained, willing and able to take care of my babies. I type this as a stack of medical bills are staring up at me. I know that one by one, they will eventually get paid. I can cry over the debt, or be grateful for the people who helped with our boy.
*When we go out to dinner we realize what a gift the servers are to us. We don't take them for granted. When your life is consumed by cleaning up after people, the gift of someone else washing your families dishes and cleaning the table feels like a miracle! We always want to express loads of kindness and thankfulness to them. Generosity even!
* When I drop the kids off at school, we stop and pray. I thank God for all of the people there waiting to teach them and love them and honestly (Give me a little break! shhhhh! Don't tell my children I said that.)
* When we bathe, we are so grateful for the water.
* When we eat, we are truly so thankful for the food.
* When we take walks, we notice the clouds and sunsets and trees and critters along the way. I want to always remember to thank God when I see them running, riding their bikes, skate boarding, jumping on the trampoline, etc. I don't want to take their healthy/able bodies for granted.
*When friends, neighbors, family show up at our door, we want to stop and be grateful for them. For the conversations,the help, the playmates for the kids, the memories, the honesty of friends who will help me problem solve or hear about our day.
I could go on and on. Everyone has their own things to be thankful for. And while I'm here, I might as well say it. Jealousy is a thief of JOY. Admit it or not, we all feel it from time to time. When I feel like... oooooooooh I really wish I had ______ too, I have to go back to gratitude. God help me to take my focus off what I want and put it back on what I already have.
I really want to spend my days in gratitude. I know my days may look different from your days. But I challenge you to look for every opportunity possible to be grateful. To thank God and to thank the people who surround you. And you will definitely add Joy to your Chaos! :-)