Smooth sailing on stormy seas

For a good bit of my life, I’ve been a worrier. My take on the “power of positive thinking” / “look on the bright side” philosophy was, “Bah, humbug! That kind of advice is for wimps. I’m a realist. When the going gets rough, I worry about it! No apologies.” It’s not that I’m a pessimist; it’s just that I’d fret when things happened that I couldn’t control. (I have to admit that I’d fret a fair bit over things I could control, too.) It should come as no surprise then that over time I had unknowingly developed an ulcer, which then became aggravated.1

I first noticed the symptoms on the eve of an expedition into “uncharted seas” with a fair amount of risk and stress involved, but I managed to muddle through. My ship was leaky, but I was able to bail the water out and keep sailing.

This went on for several years, until one day when instead of tapering off and going away on their own, the symptoms came on stronger than ever—and then intensified some more. I couldn’t manage them the way I usually did, and I began rapidly losing weight. My ship was sinking! The doctor’s diagnosis was a bleeding ulcer and severe gastritis. He prescribed antibiotics and told me to watch what I ate. After a time in “dry dock,” the leak was patched, the symptoms cleared up, and I’m happy to say that they haven’t bothered me for about eight years now.

But I don’t think this voyage would have ended so happily had I simply limited myself to the doctor’s advice. The state I was in drove me to look to God as well, and His message to me was direct: “Get with the program, sailor! Stress management is for you too.”

And here’s where the story gets interesting. My life went on without any major revamping. I still get hit with worry, but instead of continuing along on that tack, I catch myself and realize I’m getting off course. Then I either get my bearings on my own, or ask my wife or someone else to pray for me, and that does it. The first step was accepting that I needed to change—that no matter how careful I was about diet and exercise, large helpings of worry and stress were harmful, like trying to navigate and scuttle the ship at the same time.

It’s like the story in John 6 about the disciples having a hard time of it, trying to row their boat in a strong wind, with rough waves, in the dark. They saw Jesus walking toward them on the water and were terrified. But He said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were eager to let Him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!2

Not long after, Jesus told His disciples that He would leave them His peace and told them not to be troubled or fearful.3 The apostle Paul gave his readers the following formula for peace of mind: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”4

Paul himself certainly spent a lot of time in a variety of very stressful places, from raging seas to prison and more. Once, he was set free by an earthquake;5—but no matter what happened to him, he was never left comfortless. God always saw him through. Though my tale is nowhere near as harrowing and thrilling as any of his, I have experienced the same peace—my deliverance from being a chronic worrier is proof that Jesus can do it for anyone.

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Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose.—Maureen Killoran

The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances.—Andrew Bernstein (b. 1949), American author and philosopher

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength.—Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892), British Baptist preacher

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.—Lily Tomlin (b. 1939), American comedian, writer, and producer

It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there’s nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized.—Wayne Dyer (b. 1940), American author and motivational speaker

  1. Note: Stomach ulcers are caused by different things, including the bacteria H. pylori or overuse of painkillers. Stress can be a contributing factor.
  2. See John 6:16–21.
  3. See John 14:27.
  4. Philippians 4:6–7 NLT
  5. See Acts 16:23–34.] other times, he had to tough it out for long days and nights [[See Acts chapter 27.