Healthy Concern or Wearisome Worry?

Every heard this one before?

"I’m not worried; I’m not afraid; I’m just concerned."

Really? Is it healthy concern or is it really something more insidious?


When we boil them down, there are really only four emotions: glad, sad, mad, and scared. We can use all types of synonyms for them, but they all come back to one of those four. Some of us are experts at hiding how we truly feel by using other words that don't seem so stark. Instead of being angry, we're "frustrated." We're not sad; we're disappointed. One of the words we sometimes use to mask the fact that we are scared is “concern.”


There is a legitimate difference between worry and concern, though the line can sometimes be very thin. I may be concerned that my daughter is struggling in science class. This concern can lead me to pay closer attention to her homework, keep tabs on her test scores, and regularly encourage her to do her best. This is a healthy concern. I’m not freaking out. I haven’t turned into a helicopter parent, micromanaging every aspect of my daughter’s life. I’m not catastrophizing the issue, believing if she gets a poor grade in 5th grade science she’ll never get into a good college, never find a decent career, and end up living on the street. No, I’m just concerned and that concern has led me to take some action.


On the other hand, this same concern may easily slip into worry. A few low test scores and suddenly I’m convinced it’s the end of the world. So here’s the question, is it worry or is it concern? How can I tell the difference? There is legitimate concern that doesn’t morph into worry. When do I know I’ve crossed the line? The secret to determining if concern has slipped into worry is to ask yourself, “Who bears ultimate responsibility for the result?”


If the burden is on your shoulders to make sure things get worked out, it's probably worry. If you're lying awake at night trying to figure out how to fix it, it's probably worry. When you find yourself distracted throughout the day because your mind is trapped in the hamster ball of playing out every possible scenario again and again, it's definitely worry.


Concern lays its head on the pillow at night and gives its problems to God. Concern recognizes that while I may have responsibilities, the end result is up to him. Concern rests in the truth that only he is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful enough to invite me to cast all my cares on him because he cares for me. You don't need to waste away in worry. You can learn to trust. It starts by allowing him to take responsibility. It continues by allowing him to take responsibility. And it ends by allowing him to take responsibility -- over and over again until it's totally natural.


This post adapted from the upcoming book God Confidence: Cultivating Courageous Faith in Jesus Christ, by John Barcanic.

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