When I was about 2 years old, maybe 3, my dad was pulling the basket out of our swimming pool filter. It was dusk and we were leaving for dinner in a few minutes. I was wearing a cute little jumper and my dad had on a nice collared shirt (which never stopped him from tinkering with high-risk shirt-ruining activities). He leaned down and, as he did, I leaned over to watch him grab for the basket. I remember leaning just far enough to hear him say the beginning of the word, “Oh!” Then I heard a big swish. My eyes were open and I remember a feeling of spinning. Before I could really figure out that I was under water, my dad’s huge arm plunged into the water behind me. His hand wrapped almost twice around my little arm and yanked me to the surface. He stood me up and my mom was screaming.
Keep in mind, I’d been swimming since I was about 6 months old. I regularly swam all summer long in Ohio, so there was no real chance of me drowning.
My mom immediately wrapped me in a towel she apparently always had within arm’s reach and my dad kept semi-shaking me asking, “You ok? Y’alright?” I think I nodded I was fine, but either way they knew I was ok.
Most importantly, I knew I was ok. I knew from the second I fell from the edge into the pool, while I spun down into the water, when I opened my eyes and saw the white wall…I knew that within seconds my Dad’s hand would wrap itself twice around my little arm and I would be back at the surface. I didn’t worry or panic, not even for a second.
Growing up, I usually gave up a food for Lent – one that I liked. Sometimes I gave up something I didn’t like because I didn’t feel like giving up anything I actually liked, but most of the time it was frozen Snickers bars or cookie dough. As an adult I didn’t observe Lent. In fact, I haven’t observed it for about 15 years. So this year, while standing in church on the first day of 40, I prayed hard. This is going to have to be a good one, I thought to myself. I prayed and I listened and I didn’t get the answer until the car ride home.
What do I give up for Lent in exchange for bigger faith in God?
Worry. You give up worrying.
How in the hell am I supposed to give up WORRYING?!
There weren’t any answers after that…
Having a dad for 7 years who was my protector, was my savior, was my personal God (yes, we went to church but he was still sort of God-like to me), it never even occurred to me to worry. About anything! I didn’t worry when it thundered, I didn’t worry in the dark, I didn’t worry when he was late coming home, and I didn’t worry if a bully on the school bus picked on me because I knew my dad would size the 9-year-old up in an ice cream shop and tell him, “Never go near my daughter again.”
My dad’s favorite song was, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He used to call my mom on the house phone when it came on the radio in his office and put the phone up to the speaker, shouting, “This is that song! This is it!”
The night he died was the very first night that I ever experienced worry.
I have probably experienced worry every single day since.
The idea of not worrying for 40 days was completely impossible, but I felt really driven to at least figure a way to try. I decided that when I began to worry about something, I would actively pray for God to take it from me. Take my money, my self-esteem, my career… I’m turning it over to You. Take it from me.
In other words, “You figure it out.”
I probably prayed that prayer 1,000 times in the first two days. I tried to rationalize away fear, I tried to write about it, I tried to sit with it and let it take over my body (I would not reccomend this if you don’t know what you’re doing…I don’t know what I’m doing). The ONLY way I could stop worrying was to turn around and walk away from it. If I was balancing our budget and I started feeling panicked, I would set it down and walk away. I’d come back to it later and if I felt the same way, I’d walk away again. I just kept doing that until the fear subsided enough that I could get something done. Sometimes it took hours, sometimes it took days. But eventually I walked away praying my prayer enough times that I could come back and face whatever was worrying me.
I was successful at this about 70% of the time.
There were still days I completely lost my mind. There were still days I crawled into bed and stayed there. But a 70% improvement is damn good coming from where I was coming from.
I think if you grew up for any period of time, be it 18 or 7 years, with parents who made you feel safe and protected, worry isn’t as ingrown in your DNA as it is in mine. You have natural worries. But you don’t worry constantly that no one will pull you to the surface if you slip into the water; you assume eventually you’ll float to the surface and breathe again. I don’t have the innate ability to trust I’ll breathe again. In fact, most days I just assume it will be the last day I could truly breath.
So what happened after 40 days?
I now have longer stretches of breathing. I still panic or remind myself that I haven’t worried in over 27 minutes sometimes. I get myself back into the routine of waking up and beginning a list of things I have to worry about before I set the list down and try to wake up again with a different list, or just a prayer. I am still turning and physically walking in another direction when the all-too-familiar gut punch threatens to reverberate for an entire day. I’m practicing replacing worries with best-case-scenarios, and writing my ideal day out in my notebook at least 4 times a week to focus my energy on something I do want instead of something I don’t. I’ve even caught myself letting loose as if there’s NOTHING to worry three or four times!
But the best part is, in 40 days, I never once drowned. Even when I fell in, I just bobbed up to the surface like an invisible hand was lifting me back to safety. I’m still here, and still breathing.