By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I fight this fight over and over again. In one corner sits my constant companion – worry. In the other corner, there is faith. When the bell rings, they approach each other warily, circling, anxious to see who’s stronger – who’ll win the match. And I feel like a spectator sitting ringside, watching the struggle and sometimes wondering whose side I’m really on.
I’ve always admitted to being a worrier and often joke that it’s in my DNA, as my mother and grandmother were both world-champion worriers as well. If worry was an Olympic sport, we’d have more medals than Michael Phelps.
But when you worry so much that you find yourself worrying about the amount of time you spend worrying, you know you’ve taken it to a whole new level. And even worse is the realization that perhaps all this worrying collides head-on with the claim that you’re a person of faith – which I am. So if I have faith, why can’t I stop worrying?
Worrying has always come naturally to me, but it got worse after my brother died 10 years ago. I was newly pregnant with my first child when it happened, and the sudden loss of someone so close made the already tenuous pregnancy that much more complicated and scary. A few weeks after the funeral, Tom insisted I go see a grief counselor. We didn’t know it at the time, but the counselor we made the appointment with also happened to be a trained nurse who had worked for years on the maternity floor of a hospital.
Her name was Pan (nope, not a typo), and she helped me through the hardest year of my life. And she taught me a lot about worry. One day in her office, I mentioned something that was really worrying me. I can’t remember what I said I was worried about, but I’ll never forget her reply: “Haven’t you figured out yet that you’re not God? Do you realize you’re not in control of everything?”
The look on my face must have told her how horrified and embarrassed I was that she thought I could ever think of myself in those terms. I stammered around trying to explain myself and then she put her hand on mine and said softly, “It’s okay. I understand. You’re just worried that God isn’t always on the job, and that maybe he wasn’t on the job when your brother died.”
Upon hearing those words, fresh tears stung my eyes because I knew she was right. I was having such a hard time imagining how God could let it happen. Deep down, in a part of myself I would have never admitted to, I thought something disastrous might happen again if God went on coffee break or stepped away to help somebody else. So I worried. And on some level, maybe I used the worry as a superstitious immunization against catastrophe. If I worried about something enough, maybe it wouldn’t ever happen. My big worry monster would scare it off before it had a chance to knock the wind out of me.
If this were a perfect world and a perfect column, this paragraph would be the spot where I describe how I finally conquered my worrying problem and how I now skip merrily down the street and never lie awake at night. But it’s not. And if you’ve read this column even a few times before today, you already know I’m a tad neurotic. Writing is good therapy for people like me because it lets us sort out our mental stuff on paper and try to make peace with it.
I’ve accepted that worry is a part of who I am. Everybody has something they grapple with. Some people are diabetic, and some people are anxious. I am anxious – probably always will be. I can work around it for the most part as long as I remind myself that, even when things don’t go according to plan, they are still – somehow – part of God’s plan. And no matter what, the plan is good.
In that mental boxing ring, where worry and faith are locked in battle, I won’t lie and say the good guy always wins. But I am rooting for faith, and I believe it is stronger. And despite my worrisome nature, I can fight the good fight.