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Some call it “catastrophizing.” It’s taking a small trial and blowing it into the worst possible scenario. And I think we’ve all done it when we cave into worry. Your boss wants to see you this afternoon. You have no idea why, but your first thought isn’t because he or she is pleased with your work. Instead you envision getting fired, facing the family with this news, having to sell the house, losing your spouse over it, and finally living under a freeway off-ramp.
And we know it’s crazy even while we’re doing it. Your daughter wants you to meet the young man she’s been dating. Already you picture him as unworthy of her. He’s going to be listening to some kind of inferior music on earbuds, his head bopping to it as he walks into the house. He’ll be unkempt. He’ll want her to run away with the circus, even though there isn’t a circus anymore. He’ll get her addicted to drugs. They’ll have a string of children, all of whom will eventually be wanted by the FBI.
It’s laughable, but this is how we think when we unplug from faith. We even do it with small challenges when we hear a funny noise in our house and assume an appliance has broken. What now? springs to mind, as if life has somehow singled you out for every lousy turn of luck.
Even going on vacation doesn’t sparkle the way it does for others, because worriers know the flight will get delayed, the room won’t be available, and on and on.
Sometimes early incidents in our lives make us distrustful, like the wife who is certain her faithful husband is cheating on her, and becomes a stalker at his work, on his computer, and everywhere he goes. This tortured thinking can be helped with therapy, but many of us engage in only slightly less exaggerated panic when we assume the worst and live basically frantic lives.
Often parents feel swelling panic when they have children who have strayed. We imagine futures (and future grandchildren) living without the gospel light. We anguish over the choices of those we love, both friends and family members. We fast for them, we pray, but then we forget to hand it over to the Lord. We cling to our fright as if will actually help (which it won’t), and we spend years just trying not to collapse in despair. And, compounding this problem, we are exactly where Satan wants us: Panicked.
Picture yourself walking along the top of a fence. Okay, I was never very good on the balance beam, so for me it wouldn’t take long to fall off. But we’re just imagining here, so picture yourself stepping carefully along, with faith on one side and panic on the other. Why does the wrong one pull harder? Why does panic appeal more than does faith?
Perhaps it’s a matter of ease. Worrying is much easier than exerting faith. Plus Satan is loud, where God is strong, yet quiet. There’s also the influence of the world around us, including friends whose lives appear blissful (stop comparing!) and “friends” who are always ready with a discouraging word and would do well to move out onto the range where such things are seldom heard. Or so they sing.
I love what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “My dear brothers and sisters, there will be days and nights when you will feel overwhelmed, when your hearts are heavy and your heads hang down. Then, please remember, Jesus Christ, the redeemer, is the head of this church. It is his gospel. He wants you to succeed. He gave his life for just this purpose.” These are the truths we need to remember when circumstances seem crushing, when despair is mounting.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said that faith is the antithesis of fear. So how can we turn our back on the fear side, and fully face and embrace the faith side? I have compiled a list of things I have actually tried, when my imagination has gone wild, kept me up, and blocked my view of heaven:
- Refuse to lie awake, ruminating. The minute you catch yourself doing this, pray for help to stop. Take deep breaths until you fall back asleep. If you can’t sleep, get up and read scriptures or prepare a lesson, something that will get your mind back where it belongs.
- Get a Priesthood blessing. If worry has all but consumed you, allow God to replace that fear with peace.
- Make a list of your blessings. Read it frequently and add to it. Like a gratitude journal, it will restore balance and keep you from focusing on the negatives in your life. You can use hymns and your Patriarchal Blessing the same way.
- Be proactive to solve the problem if there’s even anything you can do. And if this is one of those situations in which you are helpless to help, give it to the Lord. Believe that he knows your suffering, he knows how to succor you, and accept his grace and healing. The atonement is for mortality, as well as for the next life.
- Reach out to others who can buoy you up. Draw close to friends with strong faith. Find others who share your struggle, who can cheer you on and be supportive. We are not supposed to shoulder every care all alone.
- Find people in the scriptures who have weathered similar storms, and keep them in mind to give you strength. Which sort of leads to:
- Maintain perspective. Often the things we panic over really aren’t as monumental as we think. If you’ve looked for a scriptural counterpart to your problem (granted, some of our issues are not always found in holy writ) and can’t find one, it may be because this setback isn’t the huge mountain we’ve made it into. Very often people worry over small issues and “first world problems” that would make many shake their heads. A good way to keep our own trials in perspective is to engage in service. Often we quickly learn that our woes are woefully petty.
- Watch out for self-pity. The minute we feel like a victim, we become weak. Satan is happy to ladle hopelessness and resentment into the holes in our hearts.
- Remember this scripture: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:6–7.) I think the word power is there for a reason. Each one of us has the power to fight the circling clouds of worry, and to drive them away.
- Take the Sacrament with full faith that if you always remember Christ, you will have His Spirit to be with you. You are not meant to feel lonely or doomed. You are meant to feel loved and joyful. Accept Christ’s amazing gift, and bask in the light and glory you are meant to feel.
Hilton’s new LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.