One Emotion at a Time

Ann Voskamp claims you can only feel one type of emotion at a time.

When you feel thankful, you cannot worry or feel afraid.

That thought annoyed me when I first read it. I think it rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed too easy. I kept seeing those lists of thanksgiving everyone was making all over the internet, and I kept resisting from joining in, without even fully understanding why.

Looking back, I think it was because I didn’t believe I could have suffered through so much anxiety and fear, only to arrive at such a simple solution.

It just couldn’t be that easy.

And was it really true that you can only feel one thing at a time?

I finally gave in to the thankfulness list after reading One Thousand Gifts, and I started making my own list.

It’s been changing me, but it didn’t get rid of the fear in my life.

Where was my cure? I knew it had sounded too simple.

There has been no doubt in my mind that counting blessings makes a difference. It changes my thought patterns. It helps me to stop and notice the little things, the gifts I receive every single day.

But always, the fear remained.

I do not get worried and anxious about just anything. With me, it’s usually health-related. I first started experiencing health problems when I was 21 years old, and at a young age, I lost the ability to think I was invincible. I look around me, and see so many people who seem to think, “Those kinds of bad things don’t happen to me.”

But it does happen sometimes, and so at 21, I started to fear, because it all became real for me. For many years, it was the worst-case scenario for me, and I seemed to get stuck in the habit of expecting it.

But one spring day, I realized how unhappy and pessimistic I had become, and slowly, things started to change.  I decided to choose joy, no matter what. My mind changed, and my body changed, and very slowly, I saw answers to some of those prayers I’d been praying for years, begging God for healing.

But always, the fear remained. Always expecting the worst.

My thankful list didn’t fix it.

I’ve kept on listing my gifts, and I’ve added more joy to my life, and experienced more of Jesus, but this “taking every thought captive” has been slow in coming.

Then, a few nights ago, I joined my Bible study group at church, and I was reminded all over again of the idea that we can only experience one type emotion at a time.

This time it stuck. (This time it didn’t annoy me!)

The next day, I tried the idea out. Every time my mind wanted to go down a worried, anxious path, I mentally shouted out, “One kind of emotion!” I grabbed the nearest positive thought I could find, and hung on.

Over and over, I flexed my mind muscles, stopping the bad, and hanging onto the good.

By the end of day, I was mentally exhausted. It is hard to keep things on track!

But this “one emotion at a time” idea is making sense to me right now. I think it’s what I’ve been missing as I’ve listed my one thousand gifts.

It reminds me of forcing our girls to say “thank you”. I can make them go through the motions, but I can’t make them feel true feelings of gratitude, deep down. That’s up to them.

I was going through the motions of making my list, but I was still choosing fear instead of thanksgiving.

I’ve written about my attempts to control my thoughts, and fight back fear and anxiety, many times before. Things go good for awhile, but somehow, I get off-track, and need to be reminded all over again.

That could be discouraging, but every time, I think it goes a bit deeper. I learn and understand a bit more, and get a little farther along on this journey.

So I’ll keep taking one step at a time, one thought at a time, one emotion at a time!

It seems so small – how does one make progress when inching along like this?

But with perfect timing, I come across these words:

“Be not afraid of going slowly; be only afraid of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

Slow is still progress. And small is okay.

I think it’s supposed to be small. Jesus says to think about today. Today only. Staying focused on what is right here, happening right now.

Oh, that is my challenge and my prayer.

Don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. (1 Peter 3:14-15)

Replace worry with worship. Fear with thanksgiving.

Obviously, I don’t do this often enough, because when I tried singing today as a way of focusing my thoughts, and choosing to worship, Kaylia looked over at me, and said, “Stop singing, Mommy. I don’t need music right now.”

Little steps, right?! We’ll get her used to it.


What are your small steps? Do you think it’s possible to experience fear and thanksgiving at the same time?

A Scar to Remind Me…

I diagnosed myself with skin cancer this Christmas.

And no, I do not have any medical training. Impressive, I know. It’s amazing what Google and I can accomplish when we put our heads together.

Ben is not allowing me to google anything health-related ever again, because I totally freaked myself out, begged my doctor to do a biopsy (he didn’t really think there was much to worry about), and of course it ended up being nothing.

But you know those nights when you’re home alone, and you stay up too late, and you read too much stuff on the computer, and all the pictures look exactly like what you have?

Has this ever happened to anyone else? Anyone?

This whole thing started back in November, and I’ve been stressing/trying not to stress about it since then, and it’s what brought on my sudden desire to get control over my thoughts.

I never realized how little control I had over the thoughts that fill my mind. Quite scary, actually.

So for the last month, I’ve been working and working and praying and memorizing scripture and working on it, and it all felt very similar to when you start lifting weights. Oh, those poor, weak, tired muscles. They do not want to co-operate. But after awhile, you can notice a bit of a change. What used to take so much effort starts getting a little bit easier.

My mind is still nowhere near where it needs to be, but we are getting somewhere. Ben actually expressed how impressed he was over how little I mentioned the situation over the last few weeks. My biopsy was done right before Christmas, and I had to get through all of the Christmas festivities while waiting for the results. I knew that I was extremely capable of completely ruining my Christmas by worrying and panicking and imagining worst-case scenarios, if I let myself.

So I got to work.  I did all that I could to stop my mind from going into “forbidden territory”.

And when the doctor gave me the results, and said everything was fine, the first thing that popped into my mind was this:

I am so thankful for all the time I did NOT spend worrying about this.

I wish I had not spent ANY time worrying, but that would be a stretch for a beginner. All in all, I feel kind of proud of myself for the progress I made. We will work hard, and carry on.

The verse I keep hanging onto continues to be,

Do not worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough worries of it’s own.

And I can handle what’s on the plate for today.

In her book, Loving God With All Your Mind, Elizabeth George writes about how that verse gives us God’s boundaries for our thoughts. That is all we are allowed to think about. Very simple, no grey areas with those boundaries. He made us, and so He knows what we can handle.

So although this last month has been a little tough to go through, I am so extremely thankful for it, because it has been extremely eye-opening, and a very effective wake-up call.

Know what my favorite thing is about this little episode, besides the fact that it all turned out fine? I’ve got a lovely scar in a very visible place that will forever remind me of this experience, and my desire to keep my thoughts on today.

My doctor was worried about an unnecessary scar, but I felt like it was completely necessary.

Embrace today, live it fully, and don’t allow your thoughts to wonder to tomorrow. I want to remember that forever. Bring on the scar.

While We’re Still on the Topic of Worry…

I just read a blog post that I loved so much, I needed to pass it on immediately to all of you. It pretty much sums up why I’ve spent the majority of my life worrying about stuff:

“I’d rather think the worst thing is going to happen and then be pleasantly surprised when it didn’t.” (Jon Acuff)

Ha! We think alike, Jon Acuff and I.

And he found the best way to overcome those thoughts. Head over here to find out what it is…

If You’re Trying to Change a Habit…

As promised in my last blog post, I am here today to tell you about the little secret I’ve learned to living a worry-free life.

It’s actually not a “secret”, because I’ve heard it a million times before. I just didn’t fully understand what it was supposed to look like in real life. Thank goodness for Elizabeth George and her fantastic explanation which finally made things hit home for me.

She writes a lot about this verse:

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own. (Matthew 6:34 )

That verse has never been a comfort to me – each day has enough trouble of it’s own? It sounds like each day is so full of trouble that there will always be lots to worry about. I’ll be mentally busy for the rest of my life…

So I have always just ignored that verse, and worried about whatever I chose to worry about.

But what Elizabeth George writes about in her book, Loving God With All Your Mind, is that this is a command from God. All that we’re allowed to think about is today. He doesn’t want us filling our minds with worries and concerns about the future. He wants us to trust Him, and live today.

Do you know how many thoughts are eliminated by only thinking about today?

That means no thoughts about mistakes I’ve made in the past, and no thoughts about annoying things other people said or did. And it means no fears about the future, no concerns about things that haven’t even happened yet.

Obviously, it is necessary at times to plan for the future, and to be responsible in our preparation for the days to come.

But what I was doing a majority of the time could not be classified as necessary or responsible. On my first day of attempting to “only think about today”, I could not believe how many times I had to remind myself that I was mentally heading into forbidden territory.

“Oh, that’s dwelling on the past.”

“Oops… that’s worrying about the future.”

“Nope, that’s still worrying about the future!”

All day long, I was constantly reminding myself that my thoughts needed to stay on that day only.

And the strangest thing started to happen! I had so much “space” in my head that I hardly knew what to do with it. I had no idea what to think about all day. I could definitely see how it would be about twenty times easier to pray or memorize verses if I didn’t constantly have all that junk whirling around in my head.

For someone who doesn’t struggle with worry, that probably sounds really silly. How could it take me thirty-three years to figure that out? I guess we just get stuck in sinful habits, and for each of us, we have our areas of weakness that seem to get us every time.

So now what? It’s been a week since I started to give my “mind muscles” a workout. I can see how this will take some time to get used to. I’m getting better at recognizing what I’m doing, and seeing my thoughts for what they are. But I think it will be a while before this becomes natural or easy.

There are a couple of things that I keep thinking about:

1) Because it’s sinful to worry, and God commands me not to do it, I will be able to resist temptation, with His help.

2) The body naturally want to do what feels good for it. A while back, I shared this link to a message entitled “A Beautiful Mind”. The speaker talks about how our body begins to think, “Hey, this is a good choice. It makes me feel good. If I continue to repeat this action, I will feel good in the future.” And a new habit is born. Bad choices can feel good, in a different way than good choices do. If we continually focus on the good feeling that comes from good choices, our bodies will help us in the habits we are trying to form.

You know what? It feels so good to have less worry in my life! Who knew! Um, God did. (And Ben did, too! Man, I wish I could naturally be as calm and easy-going as he is!)

3) God created our bodies to function best without worry. Jesus tells us not to worry because He knows it’s best not to. It’s not just a friendly suggestion. It’s a command because He knows what’s best for our lives, and He knows that we were not created to carry that burden, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically.

4) Changing a habit is hard, but I can do it for today! When I think about the thoughts that pertain to today, the load looks really light. I can carry the load for today! Changing the entire way I think sounds daunting, but…I only have to do it for today!

So maybe worry is not your area of weakness. But most of these thoughts could probably apply to any area that we struggle with.

What’s your area? What do you struggle with that’s sucking the peace out of your life, and making you feel worn out and defeated? I wish I could share of burst of energy and encouragement with you today! God knows! God cares!

We say those things in such a glib way sometimes, and yet that’s what it all comes down to. It’s what I base my life on.

Want to share? Any struggles and/or words of encouragement you want to pass on to the rest of us?

Killing the Worry Habit

Keeping my thoughts under control is the biggest struggle of my life. By far.

It’s such a slippery thing, because I can be going about my day, appearing for all the world as though I’m a completely normal person, capably living life, and yet inside I can be following thought patterns that are rapidly spiraling out of control.

For me, it’s worry and anxiety that have held me captive for many, many years.

Sheesh, that sounds dramatic. And yet recently, as God has been convicting, teaching, and enlightening me over the last few months, I’m thinking that words like “captive” are pretty accurate. I keep begging for freedom.

There are a few reasons why I have felt it is absolutely necessary for me to develop a healthier thought life:

1. Worry is sin. It doesn’t seem as sinful as some of the other things I could be doing, but I’ve been seeing that it is just as destructive for my life.

2. Worry is the root of most of my health issues. I’ve been told that the stomach holds the stress. I don’t have any kind of series illness, I just have a lot of issues with digestion, as well as tension throughout my body that is inhibiting me from function in a normal, relaxed way.

3. Worry is holding me back from where I want to be in my life. I want to be in a place of trust. I want my prayer life to grow. I want to be growing by leaps and bounds in my relationship with God. I want to be fully present in my life as a wife and mom. I want to be relaxed and happy.

I used to think that I would easily be able to stop worrying once my problems went away. I had legitimate reasons for feeling worried and anxious. Surely anyone would feel anxious if they found themselves dealing with the stuff I was dealing with.

Uh, hello. My life will never be free of problems. It would be much easier to deal with those same problems if I wasn’t mentally freaking out all the time. I make my problems about twenty times bigger than they actually are.

Absence of worry does not equal absence of problems. It just means absence of worrying. I will stop worrying when I stop worrying, not when I stop having problems.

Because if worrying is a sin, and Jesus commands us not to do it, that would mean that we are fully equipped to stop doing it RIGHT NOW.

Yes, please. I would like some of that.

How do you get it?

Which brings us to the fantastic book I promised to tell you about.

It is presently changing my life. That also sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

It’s called “Loving God With All Your Mind”, by Elizabeth George.

My sister gave it to me awhile back, and I started reading it, but I usually have about five books on the go, which means I don’t get anywhere fast. My goal is to finish one fantastic book before I delve into another one. After I finished “So Long, Insecurity”, by Beth Moore, it was time for Elizabeth George’s book to get a little love.

Oh, my word. If you struggle with worry, go get that book.

Funny thing is, my first impression was, “This is kind of basic. I know this stuff already.”

But I don’t. If I did, I wouldn’t be worrying about everything from morning until night.

It’s time for that to stop. I’m feeling motivated, convicted, challenged and inspired. So off we go.

It’s hard work. There’s a reason why they say, “Old habits die hard.” Yes, they do.

But I’m ready to dig in. And I’ll tell you all about it next time!

Right now I have an old habit to kill… And a fantastic book to read!

What Happens When We Worry

I have a new massage therapist. His name is Nigel, and basically, I pay him money to beat me up.

I have no idea why he uses the word “massage”.

I lie on a table fully dressed as this huge man chops at my body, and beats me with those little hammers that doctors use on your knees to check your reflexes.

I experience pain like I have never known. Childbirth seems mild, in comparison.

And yet I go back, week after week.


Because it is helping my body in dramatic ways I didn’t know were possible.

Nigel says that sometimes, in order to help people, he has to take them beyond what they can bear. If he stayed within their pain threshold, the body would never heal.

And so I am repeatedly taken over my pain threshold.

The other day as I was lying there with the tears and sweat flowing, trying my hardest not to scream as he chopped away, the thought that remained stuck in my mind was this:

I did this to myself.

All of the pain which I have to endure, is pain that I have inflicted on myself. I don’t say that in a “beat myself up out of guilt” kind of way, but rather a “let’s get real about what’s going on here, and take some responsibility” kind of a way.

Because here’s the deal: Whenever my muscles hurt really badly and I ask Nigel what causes that kind of pain, he says…


I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have struggled with worry and stress for years.

Worry is sin. And all sin has a consequence.

These days, I am being reminded in a very physical sense what the consequence is for my worry.

But it gets even more serious than that. I came across an article awhile back that offered the following statistic:

87% to 95% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life.

I don’t share that to make you start worrying about what kinds of illnesses you are bringing upon yourself by worrying. I share it because it kind of amazes me that we’ve let it get to this point.

As Christians, we know that we’re not supposed to worry, or have negative, critical thoughts. But we continue to do it anyway, and it flows into every area of our lives.

I want to change. I’ve spent years trying many different things in order to improve my health, and yet what is becoming more clear to me all the time is that health is not the root of my problems, it’s worry.

Obviously, I do not have all the answers as to how to deal with that, because I’m still needing to get tortured by Nigel every other week.

But I have  found some really fantastic resources to pass on to you so that we can muddle through this together.  Be sure to check them out, and let me know what you think! (We’ll start a support group!) Or let me know if you have any other resources that would be great to share!

1) “Why Worry” – Sermon series by Andy Stanley (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three)

2) Thought Life” – Article by Dr. Leaf

3) “A More Excellent Way: Be in Health” – Book by Henry Wright

How to Stop Worrying and Enjoy the Ride

I’m pretty good at worrying. It’s one of my skills that I’ve been practicing for most of my life. I also put a lot of effort into getting worked up about nothing.

I realize that Christians aren’t supposed to do that. So in addition to “worrying” and “getting worked up about nothing”, I am now working on “surrendering everything over to God”, and praying a lot for “peace that passes all understanding”.

Given my experience with the skills of worrying and getting worked up, I found it funny that the story I read in my Bible last night has never stuck out to me before. I was reading in Mark (chapter 4:35-41, to be exact), about the time when Jesus and his disciples were in a boat, and there was a huge storm. The disciples are freaking out, but Jesus is asleep. (I really enjoy my translation: “Jesus was asleep on a cushion.” Sounds very comfy, and reminds me of a cat.)

Anyway. Jesus was asleep, so they woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

I actually burst out laughing, because I’ve totally said something like that to God before. I have these needs that could definitely be qualified as emergencies in my mind, and I’m praying about them like crazy, and it feels like God is doing NOTHING. So because it feels like He’s doing nothing, I get all frustrated and impatient, and finally burst out with, “Don’t you care?!! Why aren’t you doing something? Don’t you hear my prayers? Don’t you see my suffering?”

As I read further in the story, I found that Jesus simply got up from His cushion, “rebuked” the wind, and made the storm stop. Just like that, everything was suddenly calm and peaceful.

In the midst of the storm, it seems to go on forever. But how long does it take for God to move and act, and accomplish the impossible?

About two seconds.

And when everything is suddenly calm and peaceful in my own life, and He’s got everything under control, I find myself sitting there with my eyes still red from crying, my nose running, and suddenly feeling incredibly foolish for getting so worked up about… nothing. It’s over, just like that.

Why is it that whenever I have to wait awhile for God to move, I immediately jump to the conclusion that He’s not going to do anything?

So the storm is gone, they’re sitting there in the boat in shock, and Jesus says to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Reading that story, it all looks so simple. Of course Jesus was going to do something. Of course they would be fine in the storm. What’s the worst that could happen – the boat would capsize, and they would all drown? God in heaven would say, “Well, Jesus was supposed to die on a cross to save the world from their sins, but before that could happen, He drowned in a storm. Oops.”

Ridiculous. We know better than that.

But do I? In that particular story, I do. But if I truly knew better than that, I could stop worrying. Forever.

David Livingstone wrote, “I am immortal till my work is accomplished.”

There is  nothing to worry about, nothing to fear, nothing to get worked up about, because the storm in my life will stop the second that my Father sees fit. My circumstances can change in an instant, if that is what He wills.

And so I am free to go about living life and following Jesus with reckless abandon, because my life is in His hands.

What is stopping me? My lack of faith.

Fortunately for me, that’s something that God can help me with too. I’ve always loved that verse about the man who asked Jesus for more faith. We often think we have to muster up more of that one on our own, but we don’t.

So that story last night reminded me to pray for faith, and then hang on tight and enjoy the ride.

photo   © 2008   Josh Giovo , Flickr

Anyone else out there who’s with me in the struggle to have faith and trust God?