Planning Not to Worry
by Khouria Faith Potter
I’ve been thinking about this verse a lot this week and repeating it to myself often. For anyone who struggles with anxiety, you know that not worrying is much easier said than done. In The Orthodox Study Bible, one of the footnotes for Matthew 6 makes a distinction between anxiety and planning, reminding readers that Jesus is warning against worrying about tomorrow, not discouraging planning for tomorrow.
September 1 marks the beginning of a new liturgical year for the Orthodox. I’ve become very fond of having a spiritual time of assessment and new beginning at this time of year, when harvests are happening and there’s a sense of abundance and anticipation for the new season approaching. It’s so beneficial to take a step back from and an honest look at your spiritual life, to take stock of what the last year has looked like and to plan for changes you’d like to make. I’ve realized that one of my main spiritual needs right now is my need to plan ahead and make a list of practical ways to follow Jesus’ command not to worry on days that it’s hard. I thought sharing this list might be beneficial for others who also struggle with anxiety.
Get outside and pay attention to the beauty you see. This hearkens back to Christ’s words in Matthew 6. I love how Christ in this passage in Matthew urges people struggling with worry to look at the birds, lilies, and grass. This is such beautiful advice, and there is an ever-growing body of scientific research about the impact that natural environments can have on anxiety and other health concerns. Use descriptive words for what surrounds you. This will help ground you in your actual surroundings and keep you present and engaged in a way that helps displace worry.
Don’t get involved with anxious thoughts. Sometimes you can’t keep a thought from coming into your mind, but you don’t have to let it take root there. When you realize you’re having an anxious thought, instead of mentally and emotionally diving into it, try to just notice it and then gently move on to another, more life-giving thought.
Turn your worries into prayer. When you realize you’re beginning to worry, immediately turn your heart to the Lord and pray a simple “Lord, have mercy.” One thing I’ve realized recently is often when I turn my worries into prayer, I pray in a spirit of anxiety instead of resting in the Lord. It’s been so helpful for me to begin my prayer time asking for peace and then standing silently in front of my icons, taking deep, relaxed breaths before I add words to my prayer time.
Consult your inner voice of wisdom. One of the core principles of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is called "wise mind." The visual for it consists of two overlapping circles, one being "emotion mind" and the other being "reasonable mind.” The DBT principle of “wise mind” says that wisdom is the overlap of the two, where neither one is taking over and neither side is being denied. Find this place in yourself and proceed mindfully from there.
Choose gratitude wherever possible. When you start to worry about what may come, reframe your worry about the future by asking yourself what you can be grateful for in the moment you’re in right now. Gratitude is so healing and beneficial. This doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge pain; it just means that you don’t let it be the only thing you see.
Laugh! Laughter is such a sweet way to dissolve inner tension. Be goofy with someone you love and trust. Maybe even laugh at your worry? Take a step back from it and see how silly worry can be sometimes!
Take things one day at a time. Each day really does have enough trouble of its own, so don’t add more to your load by making up things that have not happened and may never happen to pile on to the things on your plate today.
There is a morning prayer written by St. Philaret of Moscow that I’ve been thinking of recently. I want to make a practice of praying this prayer every morning in this new liturgical year. I first heard it several years before coming to Orthodoxy and was especially struck then and again now by the beauty of the closing line: “Pray You Yourself in me.” It gives such a deeply comforting image of God being so near us that He not only is the One who hears our prayer, but also the One praying in us and is even the Prayer itself.