Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Practicing God’s Presence
by Kelly Irvin
In 1988, Bobby McFerrin’s version of the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” won a Grammy for Song of the Year. The song was also nominated for a Kid’s Choice Award for Favorite Song of the Year. Looking back, it’s easy to see why it had such widespread popularity. We all want to be happy-go-lucky.
If only it was so easy to simply stop worrying and be happy. Few probably realize the song’s lyrics are spiritually sound. The songwriter points out that in every life there will be trouble. Sound familiar? John 16:33 tells us, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”
The Bible also tells us repeatedly not to worry. To have faith. “Give all your worries to him because he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Learning to do this has been a long journey for me. I still haven’t quite arrived, but I’m getting there. In January 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. I was in the process of retiring and changing insurances. Because of insurance issues, I had to go to the hospital and be admitted once a week for chemotherapy. I couldn’t switch to outpatient treatment at the oncology center until the insurance issues were worked out. I worried constantly about my diagnosis, my treatment, my insurance and about my chances of survival.
As the situation progressed, I found myself rehearsing conversations in my head with insurance folks and my health care providers. If they said this, I would say that. If this happened, I’d do this. Or if that happened, I would say this.
In other words, worrying today about something in the future over which I had no control. Making myself crazy instead of praying and relying on God, who does have control. I had these internal dialogues while I exercised. I had them when I lay down at night and tried to sleep. Often, they were the first thoughts in my head when I awakened in the morning.
I was sick with worry instead of at peace knowing my Heavenly Father would use everything for my good.
I did pray. I laid my fears at God’s feet every day. Only to pick them up again a few minutes later. How do we lay our worries at God’s feet and leave them there? In all my fantasy conversations, I was solving my problems. I was in control—or trying to be.
Max Lucado, in his book of devotions called Grace for the Moment, tells us to do it one step at a time. “God isn’t going to let you see the distant scene (either). So you might as well quit looking for it. We do not need to know what will happen tomorrow. God is leading you. Leave tomorrow’s problems until tomorrow.”
Easier said than done, I know. I began my search for peace by reading Max’s devotional every morning, along with Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Any devotional study based in Scripture, as well as reading the Bible itself, helps us begin our days focused on the truth of the matter. God is in control and He loves us. He will hold my hand and your hand as we walk through dark valleys.
In Jesus Calling, it says, “If you must consider upcoming events, follow these rules: 1) Do not linger in the future, because anxieties sprout up like mushrooms when you wander there. 2) Remember the promise of my continued presence: include Me in any imagery that comes to mind. This mental discipline does not come easily, because you are accustomed to being god of your fantasies.”
One of the practical ways I used to implement this discipline in my daily life was to create verse cards. When I’m tempted to fall into a one-sided imaginary conversation, I read the cards, repeating Scriptures that remind me who is in charge. These are some of my favorite go-to verses:
“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” (Psalm 31:14)
“He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3-4)
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)
“I cried out, ‘I am slipping!’ but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” (Psalm 94:18-19)
Other ways of stopping those negative recordings in your head: Begin each day by thanking God for blessings. Remember those blessings when the anxiety about the future creeps in. Pray for others so your thoughts become outward facing and not focused on you.
When the negative thoughts arise, call on Jesus. Ask Him to be present in this moment.
It truly does take practice.
Fast-forward to present day. On Friday afternoon recently, about 4:45 PM, I opened a letter from my prescription insurance company saying it couldn’t approve a new drug for me because they didn’t have it. Concerned, I called my health care provider to discuss our options, but the lateness of the hour resulted in connecting with the answering service.
That meant I had to wait all weekend to talk to someone. Did I spend the weekend worrying and entertaining imaginary conversations regarding this new obstacle in my treatment? I’m thrilled to say I did not. I refused to let it hang over my weekend like a funeral pall.
Every time I started to worry about this situation, instead I called on Jesus to be present with me in that moment. I reminded myself that I’m not in control of my future. I have someone so much better leading the charge. Someone who loves me as His child. I reminded myself that no matter what happens, He will carry me home. Worrying about the future serves no purpose.
As the devotion said, this is not an easy mental discipline—at least not for me. I don’t want to relinquish control. Because of an independent streak a mile long, I want to solve my own problems. Even when relying on God is sure to have much better results. Even so, I’ve managed to make progress. I’d like to think God sees and applauds my effort, like a proud Father.
If I’m sure of anything after two years of cancer treatment, I’m sure that God is good and He is in control. I can do nothing on my own. Including solve this insurance problem. As I wait for the “experts” to resolve the situation, I’m relying on the Great I Am to know what to do. Whatever happens, He’ll be there.
As Sarah Young points out in Jesus Calling, each moment, we can choose to practice God’s presence or to practice the presence of problems. I know which one I choose. What about you?
Bestselling author Kelly Irvin has published a dozen Amish romance novels, including critically acclaimed The Beekeeper’s Son and her newest release, Beneath the Summer Sun, the second book in her Every Amish Season series from Zondervan Publishing.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.