What, me worry?
When I was a boy, this slogan was made famous by the fictional character Alfred E. Neuman, who graced the cover of Mad Magazine. Many years later, Hilary Clinton used the now-famous slogan to caricature President George W. Bush’s approach to economic policy, clearly implying that disaster was looming and Bush was ignoring it.
Whatever you think of Clinton, Bush, Obama and US politics, the slogan suggests an unthinking, uncaring approach to life. What, me worry? What could possibly go wrong?
Although I found Neuman’s carefree approach to life appealing, as a young man I was never much good at the “not worrying” thing. Looking back, I realize that much of my thought life in those days was negative. I worried about many things. In my case, it wasn’t so much that I worried about things that would happen to me. I worried about bigger things. Before I had children, I worried about the state of the world, poverty, environmental problems, war, peace and so forth. Once I had children, I began worrying about their lives. I wanted to be a good Dad and felt responsible for how their lives would be affected by powers that I had no control over – sickness, war, economic problems and so forth.
Some people will tell you that you can conquer worry by making a decision not to worry. I never found that worked very well, because for me, worry was linked to my over-developed sense of responsibility. I felt responsible for everything. For this reason, I was also constantly plagued by feelings of guilt and failure. Slogans like “What, me worry?” or “Don’t worry, be happy” might have been appealing, but they weren’t how I lived my life. I was much too responsible for that. Far better – so I thought – to go on living under my cloud of worry, doubt and fear than to be an irresponsible fool.
As you can imagine, I became very difficult to live with (just ask my wife). Not only that, all this worry, guilt, doubt and fear wasn’t doing much for my ability to actually do something constructive about the things that I worried about. Of course, I would have denied most of this if you had asked me. I was addicted to worry, and that’s what addicts do – they deny their addiction. It’s part of the Devil’s deception – although I didn’t see that the time, because I didn’t really believe in the Devil – or in my own need for help, either. I came from a line of strong-willed, capable, opinionated Dutchmen. Others might have problems, but not us. Others might need help, but not us.
Whenever I met people who had a simple faith in Jesus and were full of the Holy Spirit, I recognized that they had a joy and peace that I craved. I wanted the joy and peace, but mocked and caricatured the simplicity of their faith. Yet the mocking voice wasn’t the only one inside my head. There was another voice too – a voice that told me, with increasing insistence, that what they had was exactly what I needed. Eventually I met someone whom I would allow to help me, and under his influence, I surrendered control of my life to Jesus. I didn’t understand all that was happening at the time, but I knew this was something I had to do. It was at that moment that the worry and fear, anxiety and guilt began to lose control over my life. A few months later when I was filled with the Holy Spirit, I took another big step forward into freedom. Some time later, I was baptized in water. This was the death blow to my old identity as a worrier. I now understood that I was a new person with a new identity, and that the old Peter had been put to death and buried.
Still, it sometimes seemed that he wouldn’t stay buried. I wish I could say that the change was immediate, but that wouldn’t be truthful – and maybe it wouldn’t be all that helpful either, because I’ve found that many people are just like me. At times things seemed to be getting worse before they got better. Looking back, I now see that in reality the Holy Spirit was showing me things that had always been there, but which I previously had been unable to see, admit or face. I was like a new recruit who has left civilian life behind and joined the army. From the time he puts his uniform on, he is a soldier, but he still has to learn to think like one. In the same way, as a former addict to worry, I had to train my mind to think in new ways, and this was not an instant process. Learning to think like a believer takes time. Surrendering to Jesus, and allowing His Spirit to rule and guide my life, were the keys to my freedom.
Today, many years later, I can truthfully say that worry no longer has any control over me. Does that mean I never worry? No, that would not be honest. All of us are tempted at times, and one of the main ways we get tempted is by negative thoughts. So, at times I am tempted to worry about various issues, and occasionally I don’t recognize the temptation right away, so I have to battle with worry for a while. But I no longer spend most of my time worrying, because I have learned that it is unproductive and unnecessary. As soon as I realize that the demon of worry is rearing its ugly head, I know what to do. When I recognize what voice I’ve been listening to, I can change channels, and listen to the voice of God instead. I can do this because I now have a new identity. My identity is no longer that of an insecure, anxious worrier. My identity is that of a warrior – a conqueror, a son of God who is destined to live and reign with Jesus.
But what about that overdeveloped sense of responsibility? What about all the things that I once felt responsible for? Well, one of the amazing freedoms that has come from walking with Jesus has been the ability to distinguish between things that I am truly responsible for, and things that I am not responsible for. I now know that I do not have to fix the universe. Jesus has already looked after that. He has paid the necessary price for all things to be restored. I do have people and situations that God has assigned to me, but I don’t have to handle them on my own. In every situation that I am truly responsible for, I also have authority from Jesus to do whatever He directs me to do.
This is so wonderfully freeing. There are many things that I can’t control, but every time I am tempted to be anxious, I only need to remind myself that I have a good and trustworthy Lord, and the future is in His hands. I am a child of God. If you have put your hope in Jesus, so are you. Jesus and the Father aren’t sitting in heaven worrying about how they are going to manage things. Victory over the darkness has already been won. Even though the battle is still ongoing, the outcome is certain. Everyone who trusts in Jesus gets to share in that victory.
What, me worry? No way. I’m not playing that game any more. I have better things to do. I get to be like Jesus, share in His life and His victory, and invite others – like you – to walk in His freedom. Even after many years, I am still learning to walk in this new way, but I have found that it’s way more fun than worry, and way more productive too. Wanna come along? You’ll never regret it.