Live for today
Don’t dwell on “what ifs”
“The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”1C.S. Lewis
The expression carpe diem might be loosely translated “live for today.” It’s a great motto to live by. But for most of us, living for today is difficult because we’re worried about tomorrow.
Even though the statistics say 80% of what we worry about will never happen, we often find ourselves anxious and apprehensive. Missionaries are no exception. In fact, missionaries often feel they have more to worry about than most. We’re concerned about transitions and separations, children’s education, making language and cultural mistakes, financial support . . . the list goes on and on.
Here are helpful hints on how to let go of worry and live for today.
Control worry, don’t let it control you
In a recent counseling session, a woman shared with me that she worries about everything. When I asked her what worry did for her, she responded, “At least I feel like I’m doing something.” Unfortunately, in the case of worrying, the opposite is true. Worrying only gives us a false sense of control. One helpful way to stop a worrisome thought is by asking the following questions: What is the worst thing that could happen? Is this outcome likely? Is the outcome a real problem? If it is a likely outcome and a real problem, make a list of solutions. Evaluate each solution, then choose the best one for this problem.2
Differentiate realistic concern from worry
A realistic concern is self-explanatory. It is something actual and concrete. It could be a situation that you are facing without all of the resources you need to deal with it—like transitioning to a new ministry, your children adjusting to a new school, or juggling language study and a ministry. These are all causes for realistic concern. Worry, on the other hand, is something that might or might not happen with little or no evidence that it really will happen. People who live for today realize that if they worry about whether something “might” or “could” happen, it’s probably worry rather than a realistic concern.3
Don’t let your “what ifs” escalate
Like that proverbial snowball, worries often escalate, getting worse and worse over time. For example, raising kids cross-culturally is a big challenge. Common concerns for missionary parents include: Will my kids be normal? Can they adjust back to their home country? Will they resent their parents for raising them overseas? To prevent your worries from escalating, stay away from imagining all the worst-case scenarios. Instead, stay in touch with the most realistic possibilities. Follow some good advice: deal with “what is,” not “what if.”4
Put boundaries around worries
We missionaries often find ourselves second-guessing past decisions. If only we had tried harder, prayed longer, or strategized better! Then this or that person would have gotten saved, the church would have stayed together, the church members would be further along spiritually, the kids would not have left their faith . . . This is an all-too-common cycle of regret that missionaries find themselves rehashing over and over. Learn to put a healthy boundary around those past decisions by saying, “I made the best decision I could under the circumstances.” Also, by remembering God is in control, the practice of looking back at the past can become one that comforts rather than one that leads to worry.5
Missionaries have many concerns that can lead to worry. But they don’t need to stay stuck there. The best solution for worry is contained in the familiar verse from the Sermon on the Mount, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27 NASB). Or put in simpler terms: live for today.
1. C.S Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. (HarperSanFrancisco: 1980), 59-61.
2. Drs. Leslie Sokol and Dr. Marci G. Fox, “How to Put Boundaries Around Worry,” beliefnet.com/Health/How-to-Put-Boundaries-Around-Worry.aspx (accessed Oct. 16, 2019).
3. Ibid. Sokol and Fox.
4. Ibid. Sokol and Fox.5. Ibid. Sokol and Fox.