The Trouble with “Let Go and Let God”

In one Peanuts cartoon, Lucy-the-psychiatrist tells Charlie Brown that if he wants his stomach to stop hurting, “You’ve got to stop all this silly worrying!” Sound enough advice; but when Charlie Brown asks, “How do I stop?” the only answer “the doctor” can come up with is, “That’s your worry!”

I know how Charlie Brown must have felt at that moment. I have memorized all the Scriptures about casting one’s cares on God, not worrying or fretting, praying about everything, seeking first God’s Kingdom and remembering He cares for the sparrows and the wildflowers, etc., etc. (See 1 Peter 5:7Philippians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:25-34.) I have read and reread Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. And still it comes down to telling myself, “Just do it!” and promptly screaming back at myself, “I can’t!!” 

My frustration with being unable to “just stop” worrying actually springs from the same root as the worry habit itself: the craving for order and control. Too much trying to force God, the world, and even yourself to conform to your idea of perfection–starting now–can have tragic consequences. When friends and family are shocked by the suicide of someone who apparently “had it all together,” odds are the motive was exhaustion-to-the-point-of-despair from trying to keep it all together.

If I’ve never been tempted to such extremes, I can say from experience that becoming a Christian–even a committed one–won’t automatically save a person from ultra-organized perfectionism. Those of us who fit that description tend to approach spiritual growth with the same attitude we have toward all of life: we want to see everything fall neatly into place. We want to hurry to the destination; God wants us to get the most from the trip. We want to put our struggles behind us; God wants us to grow through them. We want ten clearly defined steps; God wants us to follow Him one step at a time.

But if I can’t offer ten clearly defined steps to kick the worry habit–or any other unspiritual attitude–I can at least think of three principles for keeping the worst despair at bay:

Go slow. If your body or mind is constantly racing, you may be trying to run ahead of God. Cut some things from your schedule; take regular breaks; have at least fifteen minutes of pure prayer time every day (not as one more item on the schedule but as a vital part of planning your schedule). And accept that God usually works slowly to bring about significant change in His children’s lives.

Let go. This is the hardest of advice for the perfectionist/control freak to follow. Hence the title of this post–the “trouble” being that we have a special tendency to think that anything that sounds simple should be easy, adding to our discouragement when we realize it feels more like major surgery. (Everything on the schedule or in our emotional grasp represents something within our proud control; cutting loose can cut deep.) It may help to first let go of yourself; let your muscles relax and your hands fall open; breathe slowly and deeply; repeat your favorite Bible verse. Then go through everything that is important to you–your responsibilities, your possessions, your family–and with each, repeat, “I entrust __ to Your wise care, Father.”

Just know. Know that God is in control; know that He knows better than you; know that nothing takes Him by surprise and no plan of His can be thwarted; know that He is working all things out for your good.

Even if I never master all this consistently, short moments of peace may accumulate to great spiritual benefit.

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