Today I’m happy to have a guest post by a blogger friend, Caleb Suko. Caleb just published a helpful book on worry called, What If: How to Kill Worry and Anxiety Before They Kill You. This is a slightly modified excerpt from his book.
Sometimes worry can be difficult to identify in our life. This is because we often feel like worry is something good! We believe that if we love our child, then we should worry about them, we think that worry over a loved one’s safety is justified and even proof of our love for that person.
It’s easy to ignore and justify our worry, even if it has grown into something so large that it occupies most of the space in our mind and negativly affects the way we live.
So how can you know when your worry has spiraled out of control and become and unhealthy thought pattern in your life? I suggest that you learn to diffrentiate between what I call “healthy concern” and “unhealthy worry.”
Healthy Concern vs. Unhealthy Worry
I like to use the word “concern” to convey the positive aspects of focusing on a potential problem with the intent to solve it in a beneficial way. On the other hand, I use the word “worry” to convey the negative aspects of fretting over the future. I have found that God’s Word also gives us a similar dichotomy.
In the New Testament the Greek word “merimnah” is often traslated as “worry” and sometimes “anxiety” when it’s used in the negative sense. This is the case when Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NKJV)
However when the same Greek word is used positively, it is often translated “concern”. This is the case when Paul writes to the Philippians about Timothy’s concern for them. “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20 ESV)
Below I list least three other passages in the New Testament that use the word “merimnah” in a postive way and the general meaning of the word in those texts.
- Attention and care for your spouse. (I Cor. 7:32-35)
- Focus on serving the Lord. (I Cor. 7:33-34)
- Love and concern for other members of the church. (I Cor. 12:25)
One of the first things that immediately becomes clear as we look at the positive side of the term “merimnah” is that it indicates an unselfish and others oriented focus. It shows genuine care and concern for others and for the Lord.
Genuine concern and care for others is an attribute that we must cultivate in our lives. When we begin to exhibit this kind of positive concern, it naturally helps us to overcome the negative aspects of worry and anxiety.
Let’s look at the differences between genuine concern and worry.
|Characteristics of Concern||Characteristics of Worry|
|1. Focused on others.||1. Self-centered|
|2. Motivates us to serve.||2. Puts up barriers that keep us from serving|
|3. Promotes constructive action.||3. Often paralyzes us.|
|4. Welcomed by others (most of the time).||4. Not welcomed by others.|
|5. Driven by love.||5. Driven by fear.|
|6. Goal is to help.||6. Doesn’t have a goal.|
|7. Strengthens relationships.||7. Tends to weaken relationships.|
|8. Tempered with faith.||8. Overwhelms faith with doubt.|
One of the most striking differences between these two uses of the word “merimnah” is the fact that genuine concern is always focused on others, but worry is not! In fact, worry is one of the most selfish activities that we can engage in.
When genuine concern crosses over the line and becomes worry, it ceases to be motivated by love and instead is motived by fear. When fear becomes the main motivator, the concern is no longer the well-being of the other person, but rather a desire for control and safety.
In tough times, genuine concern asks, “How can I help you?”, but worry asks, “What will I do if something happens to you?” Can you see the shift in focus from “you” to “I”?
How can you know if you have crossed the line from genuine concern into the realm of worry? For starters, I’d suggest taking a look at the eight characteristics of worry that I just gave. If one or more of these factors tend to describe your thinking, then your concern might be turning into worry. If three or more describe you, then you are most likely engaging in worry.
We ought to be concerned about those we love but we should never let that concern grow into a destructive fear. With God’s help we can focus our attention and our concern on others in a way that is both helpful to them and healthy for our mind!
Note: Caleb and his wife Christina are missionaries in Ukraine and live there along with their five children. If you’d like to get in touch with Caleb, he blogs at sukofamily.org.