Once upon a time there was a little girl who worried. She didn’t worry about practical things, like fires and robbers; she trusted her mom to handle things like that. But she worried about heaven, and how to know what happens when you die. She worried about wanting to be alone and making her friends feel hurt. She worried about being the littlest and the last and being left out because she was too late. She worried about losing her stuffed bunny that kept her company in the dark at night.
When she grew up, her worries didn’t really leave; they just changed to fit her new grown-up circumstances. She still worried about death, and wondered just what she would find after passing through that painful door. She worried that her introversion made her less of a good Christian by crippling her witness to Jesus’s love and grace. She worried about never measuring up to the people around her; she worried about missing out on something important by showing up late to anything. And she worried about losing the people closest to her, the relationships that mattered most, the love that kept her feeling safe in the dark at night.
This little girl didn’t realize, for years and years, that she worried about all these things. She thought that because she didn’t care about what other people thought of her, and wasn’t anxious about the future, and didn’t get nervous for doctor appointments or tests, and could handle large crowds and speaking in public (although it wasn’t enjoyable), that she wasn’t a worrier. She prided herself on her ability not to worry, to trust God with the outcome, to embrace new situations and attack new problems with confidence. But the worries were always there, in the dark corners, ignored but not silent.
They were there in the moments she wanted to speak but couldn’t open her mouth for fear of saying the wrong thing; they were there in the Psalms of trust and strength she memorized and would recite over and over again before getting out of the car and walking back into the relationships that mattered so much they hurt; they were there in the nights lying sleepless in bed aching over a careless word that might have damaged a friendship; they were there in the years and years of picking away all the bumps and scabs and scratches on her arms. But it wasn’t until they grew so strong that she couldn’t leave her house without physical panic that she admitted they were there, and that she wanted to let them go and help them rest in peace.
Worry grows like a climbing plant, wrapping its tendrils tightly around the support bars of your heart, cracking stone, weakening foundations, inserting itself into every nook and cranny and taking hold. Removing it is not the task of a day, nor an effort for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, this grown-up girl worried that it would be an futile effort, not worth the time and energy it demanded. But now that she knew how deeply it could incapacitate her if allowed to grow freely, she could see that even just keeping it fought back and somewhat maintained was a necessary (if unrewarding and unending) task. Left to itself, it would destroy everything else.
Worry builds unseen walls around the tended places of your heart, sealing them in, claiming to protect them from danger and harm. But all the time, as it builds, it pricks and pokes and pierces those vulnerable and intimate areas with images all the possible scenarios that could bring about your devastation and despair. You may be safe from the actual event you fear, but you are locked in a dungeon with your worst tormentor of all. It took years of patient love, proving the worries false and unfounded, to open doors in those walls and coax the frightened areas of this girl’s heart out into the wild and beautiful free world again, and still she finds herself drawing back into those confines in moments of fear or anger. But now she knows the feeling of warm sun, fresh air, and flowing water in the deepest part of her being; now she knows the peace that comes from leaving behind worry’s dark and fearsome fortress.
Worry tried to convince this girl, through all these years, that she was unable to control the forces surrounding her life, and that events were sure to overwhelm her at some point or another. It tried to tell her that she could never hope to be enough, to break her spirit and close her in. But the deeper story, the more lasting truth, is that worry has trained her to be a warrior, fighting for her own joy and peace and love and beauty, and for all those things for the world she lives in: a warrior who will never give up, who knows her enemy is a liar and a coward – a warrior who fights with hope.