Those of you who read this who are naturally Nervous Nellies will sympathize with the dilemma I face daily:
On the one hand, the Bible clearly tells us to be anxious for nothing, to cast all our cares upon the One who cares for us. We also are not supposed to fret ourselves because of evildoers. We're also (general Biblical principles) not supposed to obsess, or rant, or wallow in anger. (The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.)
On the other hand, we are supposed to be prudent, responsible, canny, and not fools. (See Proverbs, passim.) We're supposed to be good stewards of our time, talents, and treasure. (See the Parable of the Talents.) We're supposed to try to give good advice to those for whom we are responsible. We're supposed to be hard-working rather than lazy. Sloth is one of the seven deadlies. (See the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul.) We're supposed to remember all the gazillion details that are our responsibility to remember. (Tautology.) We're also supposed to work hard at praying for our needs and the needs of others. Men ought always to pray and not to faint.
To a naturally worrying person, these two sets of injunctions are almost psychologically impossible to satisfy simultaneously. It is simply true that some of my best ideas have come during fretting sessions. "What can I do about problem x? Surely there must be something that one can try!" And lo, a constructive idea appears after some period of otherwise fruitless head-beating. Focused prayer sometimes becomes nearly indistinguishable from painful worrying. "Dear Lord, please, please deal with issue x. Please show me what to do about x. Please show me what to advise so-and-so to do about x. Please show so-and-so what to do about x." And so forth. As for "being prudent and responsible," well...If you're a hyper-responsible person, you know what that means. "Okay, what's the next thing I need to Google in order to deal with the next of five million things about which I have to be full of up-to-date, perfectly accurate information, both for myself and for every member of my family, from here to the end of time?"
Not doing any of these things, or, God forbid, forgetting something or making a mistake that harms someone else, brings a crushing feeling of guilt. Yet at the same time, one feels guilty for getting all wound up and not "resting in Christ." Then one has to add to one's list of things to do sitting down and figuring out what is false guilt and what is accurate. Because remember: Thinking aright about all of one's deeds and thoughts, in order to confess sins and make changes where necessary, is also a duty--the examination of conscience.
If you are reading this blog post and are waiting for the Big Reveal that will tell you how to wend your way through this dilemma, you can stop reading now. There isn't going to be a Big Reveal, because I don't have any brilliant answers. In fact, the idea that there is an Answer with a capital A out there for every problem is one will-o'-the-wisp that I've finally learned not to keep chasing. At least I try to remember it. That, at least, can prevent some late nights--the realization that, in the inspired words of economist Thomas Sowell, there are no solutions, only tradeoffs and compromises. It's simply not true, a lie of the Enemy, that if you stay up late enough you will think of the solution to some problem or other. Not even the problem of not worrying or how to worry more constructively.
So all I have are a few tips that may help someone else. By the way, I'm not including "learn to say no" in this list of tips, though many over-conscientious people do need that advice, because I'm actually pretty good at saying "no" to other people's demands. So if you're looking for advice on how to do that, I'm probably not the best person to ask. That isn't where my overactive conscience happens to operate. (Maybe it should. Am I a selfish jerk who says "no" too often?? Huh. Better think about that some more...)
1) Take fun breaks from whatever you are laboring on or worrying about. This side of Glory, we anxious pilgrims are unlikely to achieve a saintly calm at all times. Our lives are probably going to alternate between fretfulness and rest. But make sure at least that you do alternate. When it's nothing but tension and fret all the time, you're headed for disaster. Take a walk, during which you think about something enjoyable, not (not) the latest Thing. Sit on the porch. Watch a sunset. Listen to good music. Do something you actually feel like doing. It's not a sin. It's important. If necessary, tell yourself that you have a duty to take breaks. That'll do it. You know it will.
2) Learn to recognize when you are really just spinning your wheels and burning up your motor, and learn to stop yourself. Yes, it's true: It's logically possible that if you continue to stay awake thinking about the Thing, you will come up with some smart idea about the Thing that will actually help. But that's not the way to bet. And probability is indeed the very guide of life. Stop and go to bed. Break off. Do something else. If it isn't bed time, then right now do something different, profitable, and attention-requiring. Bonus hint: If you're married, your spouse can help you identify these times. If you're engaged or dating, that person should be able to help you. Otherwise, see if you can get a friend to help you with it.
3) Offer it up. I'm not going to write a whole blog post here and now about the psychology, theology, and metaphysics of offering it up, but I think it's okay with God, and I think it's a spiritual exercise worth engaging in. Recognize that your sense of psychological burden over the current Thing is a kind of suffering. (No, that's not too melodramatic. It's okay. And it's true, isn't it?) Once you recognize it as a kind of suffering, then you can recognize that God can use that suffering, maybe even in wholly mysterious ways, for His glory. Get rid of resentment (that's the hard part), and tell God that you offer up your psychological pain over X, to Him, for the furtherance of his kingdom. If you really want to be somewhat Catholic or High Church about it, you can get really daring and tell God that, if it's His will, you want to offer up your suffering with this worry for so-and-so--someone whom you want to help or bless. It doesn't even have to be someone connected with the worry in any way, though it might be. Does it "work"? Does it have metaphysical meaning? I'm not, honestly, certain, and I'm too much of an analytic philosopher to pretend certainty where I don't have it. But I think it might, and I don't think it's wrong. What I do know, as a psychological matter, is that offering up one's feelings of anxiety to Our Lord for someone else is quite helpful mentally. Nor does it seem to have the effect of making one try to generate more unpleasant feelings in order to have more to offer up. It's not like that at all. It is, rather, a calming thing, leading one to a sense of acceptance of one's teeny little cross and to a feeling that things aren't just pointless. Then you can stop fretting and turn to something more profitable--sleep, for example.
4) Take spiritual breaks. It's fine, even important, to pray for a list of needs. The Bible tells us to. But that shouldn't be all of your prayer life. Not even pleading with God, wrestling with God, for some serious and urgent matter should be all of the Christian's prayer life. No doubt Martha felt like giving a smart answer to Jesus. I've often written her answer for her in my own mind: "Hey, Lord, if everyone were like Mary, how would your supper get cooked?" But the fact remains that Martha does need to play Mary's role sometimes. Regularly.
When you pray, leave time for thanksgiving, for remembering His mercies with joy, for meditation, and for interior silence in the presence of God--coram Deo. Do this intentionally. We worriers have to come to the Lord with our frets and follies, our contradictory demands of conscience, our emotional incoherence, and present ourselves to Him. It's a thing in itself. It isn't just praying in a generic sense. It's telling the Lord, "Here I am. Show me yourself. Use me as you see fit. Make me in your image. I shall be satisfied when I awake with your likeness." And then being quiet for a while.