My friend, Leah was overwhelmed, except the worries weren’t her own. She was overwhelmed with worries about her adult children. One was experiencing a second, unplanned pregnancy and another had neglected some serious legal issues and was looking at jail time.
Leah told me that she promised money, time, and energy to help her kids get through their situations. But she also admitted that her cycle of being stressed out and bailing out had been going on for years.
Leah was struggled with what I call “secondhand worry.”
You might be suffering from secondhand worry if someone tells you about his or her problems and you end up struggling with worry symptoms like sleepless nights, nervousness or anxiety. Another symptom of secondhand worry is when you assume responsibility for someone else’s problem by either bailing them out or keeping them from experiencing the consequences of their decisions.
Here’s the thing: Love is sacrificial, not suicidal. It’s not wise for us to let someone else’s worry wear us out. Don’t your life at risk because another adult doesn’t want to claim responsibility for themselves.
Years ago, I was overcome with worry about a loved one. My counselor presented me with a powerful challenge. He said, “We have to let people discover their need for God.” How many of us are blocking our loved one’s need for God because we’re playing God in their lives?
The cure for secondhand worry begins with knowing the difference between worry and concern. When our worst-case thinking is in control, we make ourselves sick with worry. As a result, we can lose sleep, fret, get angry, lecture, block natural consequences or give money irresponsibly. These behaviors don’t work and they undermine our loved one’s ability to see the reality of their situation.
Concern is identifying specific issues and engaging in behaviors to demonstrate unconditional love without taking responsibility. For example: listening without advice or judgment during a phone call, fasting or praying, making a meal, sending a card or saying “no” to another bailout.
When it comes to our loved ones, it’s so hard to distinguish between helping and hurting, so hold onto this final thought: I can show love and concern without letting someone else’s worry wear me out.
** Portions excerpted from Barb’s new book, Winning the Worry Battle, available wherever Christian books are sold.
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