Listening to Maine Public Radio this week, I heard a report that one-third of us are carrying so much pandemic-related stress that we are tossing and turning in our beds at night, unable to sleep. While sleep comes easily to me, I too feel the weight of worry caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
Exercising, eating healthily and making time to relax all help. But when those aren’t enough and I find my mind spinning with worry, I’ve also started playing a little game with myself. I’ll call it, ‘What’s Mine to Control?’ First, I mentally draw a line down the middle of imagined paper. On one side of the line, I write my name. On the other side, I write ‘God.’ Then I picture myself writing down what I’m worried about, putting it on either God’s side of the line or mine.
Stopping the coronavirus? God’s. Washing my hands, wearing a mask and social distancing? Mine. What will happen if I or someone I love gets sick? God’s. Loving and praying for the people around me? Mine. Providing for my family? God’s. Managing the resources God provides? Mine. You get the idea.
Invariably, I’ve discovered that the tasks on God’s side of the line are far greater than those on mine. More importantly, determining whose side of the line they fall on, helps me erase many items from my mental list. What’s the sense of worrying about something like, say, weather, which I have no control over? Far better to plan ahead, drive slowly and leave the rest to God.
I’ve found that this works well with people too. Determining what’s mine to control and what’s not can help reduce interpersonal conflicts. Friends who make choices that seem unwise? Not mine to control. Choosing how to respond? Mine. Worry, however, does nothing but rob me of the blessings God has for me today.
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Jesus asked his followers in Luke 12:25-26 (NIV). “Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the next?”
So if worry is useless, what can I do instead? In the verses that follow, Jesus gives the answer. First, seek God’s kingdom – in other words, focus your mind on Him (31). Second, don’t be afraid (32). Third, give to the poor (33).
What? Give to the poor? Specifically, Jesus says to sell your possessions and give to the poor, which is in keeping with a lot of other things he said about caring for those in need. How is this an antidote for worry? When I become more involved in helping meet others’ needs, I become less concerned with my own. If one of your worries is money – which is pretty common right now – consider additional ways to give, like helping provide child care or running errands for a neighbor.
The length of my life? God’s side of the line. Seeking Him, choosing faith over fear and helping those around me? Mine.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Christmas Cradle and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith.