If you are like me, then you wake up every morning with some amount of anxiety. I feel it right in my stomach. It's a little knot of tension, which has tremendous power to pull me into its terrible trap of worry.
I worry about a lot of things: The quality of our kids' education, my mom's health, paying the bills, whether I am doing my job well enough, sick people in the community, you name it. I just read that kids growing up in the smog–filled air of Los Angeles have only 75% of the lung capacity of kids growing up in healthier environments. So now I worry about that too.
Add to these personal worries more global concerns such as the present crisis in Israel and the general state of the Jewish people, and I could be a wreck before I have even brushed my teeth.
Worry without constructive purpose is associated with many physical and emotional maladies.
We all know that worry is a bad thing. It has no constructive purpose and is associated with many physical and emotional maladies. And yet, most of us spend considerable time and energy ruminating about all the things that could go wrong in our lives.
Let's not confuse worry with concern. Worry cripples us, while concern has a more positive focus. When I am concerned about something I can feel empowered to do something constructive. When I worry I waste my valuable personal resources of time and energy needlessly.
So how do I win the battle against worry? Here are my key tools.
SAYING THANK YOU
My first tool is saying the Modeh Ani prayer in the morning. The first words out of a Jew's mouth in the morning, before beginning conversation with anyone else, are supposed to be, "Thank you God for giving me another day of life. Your faith in me is great."
This prayer gives me the focus I need to start my day without anxiety. Thankfulness is a good focal point for worriers. Instead of going into the worry spiral, I focus on all that is going right in my life. After I say this one-line prayer I add few of my own thank you's. Thank You God, for giving me a good husband, beautiful children, health, my new minivan, and for giving my friends a baby after 10 years of marriage. Thank You for giving me the opportunity to be a constructive member of my community. Thank You that we can live full Jewish lives without fear of persecution. The list is endless.
This routine is more than just counting my blessings mentally. It is actually verbalizing them. The act of speaking is a totally different experience than thought. When I speak I feel more of the reality of there being a listener. Therefore, I put feeling into it that wouldn't be there if I was merely engaged in a mental exercise.
Once I start to say a few thank you's I open myself up to the possibility of being overwhelmed by all that is going right. I am straightening myself out to start the day rooted in reality. The knot of tension begins to loosen and feelings of calm and gratitude start seeping into my system. Sure there is still some worry, but I can start my day feeling that life is very good. What's going right far outweighs what's not.
TRUSTING IN GOD
My next best anti-worry tool is reviewing the "Gate of Trust" in the classic Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Ibn Paquda.
Rav Paquda begins by listing the ideal qualities a person should have in order for others to trust him completely. He answers:
- He should be compassionate, sympathetic and loving.
- He should not overlook any requests of his fellows; their concerns should be always on his mind.
- He should be capable of fulfilling the requests of others and will not be overwhelmed by them.
- He should know what is inherently good for his fellows, and can discern the difference between that which is truly good and that which only appears to be good.
- He should have a great track record.
If we analyze these requirements for trust (this is not the full list) we find that human beings possess none of them and God has all of them. My best friend may love me dearly but if I tell her all my needs she is likely to become overwhelmed, and she surely isn't capable of fulfilling even a few of them!
God loves me, cares about me and listens sympathetically to my concerns.
God loves me, cares about me and listens sympathetically to my concerns. He knows me intimately and knows what is good for me. He has the power to do anything. And He has a great track record.
When I worry about meeting next month's bills I say to myself, "Has God let you down yet? Have you gone hungry? Had a day without shelter? A sick child who you could not buy medicine for?"
I think of my parents and how much they cared for me day after day, providing for my every need. Did I worry as a child that maybe one morning I would wake up and they would say, "Sorry, we decided not to take care of you today"? They had such a great track record that it was unthinkable to worry that they wouldn't be there for me. So how can I doubt that God, who is really worthy of trust, will let me down?
Trust in God does not mean that I am sure that He will feed and shelter me every day just because He has done so in the past. Maybe He won't. It does mean that whatever happens I know that it comes from a loving God who knows my needs intimately and will do what is best for my good and my growth.
THE MAGIC WAND
Last Friday night at our Shabbos table my husband asked our guests, "If you were offered a magic wand which you could use whenever you wanted to change anything in your life, would you take it?" No more financial woes, difficult relationships, health issues. You name it. Would you take it?
Would you want to have that type of power over your life? Would you trust yourself to make better decisions for yourself than God is making for you now? Choosing the wand would be tantamount to saying I trust myself more than I trust God.
If I had the wand I would make myself rich so I wouldn't have to worry about money. I wouldn't have to work, but, of course, I would volunteer because I do need to have something useful to do with my time. I would use my wand to make the troubled happy, the poor wealthy, and the sick healthy. After a day of wand work the world would already look very different. Everyone would be so blessed with everything that no one would need each other for anything. We'd all be independently wealthy, healthy and happy, so much so that there would be no volunteer work for me to do. No one would need my services for anything. I'd end up poolside with a tall lemonade, a nanny, and nothing to do.
No, I don't think I would trust myself with that wand.
No, I don't think I would trust myself with that wand. Thinking I was doing good, I would really be checking myself and everyone else out of life. I'd be checking out of the challenges and difficulties of life which force us to grow and reach our potential.
When I start to worry I think about the wand. I say to myself, "Okay, Chana, do you want the wand so you could wish it all away?" I refocus and feel thankful that God is in control. I try to shift from unhealthy worry to positive concern, make whatever effort I need to make and leave the rest in God's hands.
The person who trusts God submits to Him contentedly and surrenders himself to God's judgment. I am not there yet but using these tools helps me feel happier in the moment and happier in my own personal life circumstance.
We are all familiar with the saying that if we were given a choice to have our troubles or our neighbor's we would chose our own burden hands down. As Rabbi Paquda says, "In worldly matters (the person who trusts in God) will not favor one thing over another, or wish he was in a different situation than the present one. As one who trusted God said, ‘I never arose in the morning in one place and wished I was someplace else.'"
Try saying thank you to God out loud for some of the blessings in your life. Feel the presence of a God who loves and cares about you and is more deserving of your trust than anyone you have ever known. Review His track record with you and try to see your life as a tapestry of opportunities for growth. Use your energy to find creative solutions for what you can change and let God worry about the rest.
Heaven on Earth.
Buy it now!