How to Keep From Expecting the Worst

How do you wake up in the morning? With joy and peace? With dread and discouragement, expecting the worst to happen? Or is it something in between? Are you even aware of how you feel in the morning? Deep down inside?

I wasn’t. Not really.

Some time ago, I read Dr. Carolina Leaf’s book, Switch on Your Brain. Leaf is a Christian neuroscientist who studies how the brain can physically change with directed mind input (neuroplasticity).

Her book explains how capturing your toxic thoughts IICorinthians 10:5 and replacing them with healthy thoughts (especially scripture) actually changes the physical landscape of your brain.

Kind of like doing your own brain surgery!

I know it sounds a little out there, but it’s based on proven science and supported by the multitude of scriptures that tell us we can renew our minds by changing our thoughts. Romans 12:21,  John 8:32, Philippians 4:6-7, Isaiah 40:31, and many more!

For a long time, I had been working on corralling my tongue.
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

But I was struck by Leaf’s statement “Everything begins with a thought.”everything begins with a thought

So, I decided to pay more attention to my thought life, and in doing so, I discovered that I was waking up most mornings with what I would call “low-grade” anxiety. Kind of like a “low-grade” fever. You hardly know you have it. You’ve learned to live with it, so you don’t pay a lot of attention to it anymore.

But because I was being “intentional” about paying attention to my thoughts, I began to examine this early-morning malaise.

What was causing it?
Why did I feel this way?
When did it start?

Those who have read my short memoir The Surviving Child: Living With My Mother’s Grief are aware of the battle my mother had with mental illness after my nine-year-old brother drowned in an irrigation ditch. I wasn’t yet born when Arlen died, but his death hung like a cloud over my childhood.

When I was nine, my mother had a complete mental breakdown and had to be institutionalized for a short time. Although she recovered enough to be functional, she had underlying anxiety that she projected onto me.

If I went into the water, she stood on the shore, wringing her hands, hollering, “Don’t go out too far!” When she taught me to drive, she made both of us nervous wrecks. I picked up on her paralyzing fear of spiders. How I ever came to live in Arizona, the tarantula capital of the world (well, the US anyway), is a miracle in itself.

But there was another, more subtle thing she did that—until I began this self-examination—I hadn’t realized had embedded itself so deeply into my own thinking.

My mother tended to imagine the worst.

She would read things into situations or conversations that were just not there. Her imaginations were based on only the slimmest bits of reality. If there was a worst-case scenario floating around in her brain, she would overlook all the positive possibilities and latch onto it.

I would often shake my head and ask myself, “Where in the world did that come from?”

Because my mother’s “worry-gene” fired on all eight cylinders, I didn’t recognize that there was a little negativity running my engine as well. Maybe more than a little!

mop bucketWe may think that our minds sleep when we sleep, but when we start the Z’s, our minds are just kicking into gear. Studies have shown that during REM our minds sort out information, make creative connections, form and consolidate memories, among other things.

Kind of like the nightshift cleaning crew that cleans and sorts our daytime mess.

You can see why it’s so important to think correctly during the day. Our night-time minds can only work with what we give them! No wonder I was waking up with low-grade anxiety. I was worrying in my sleep!

Worry is the opposite of faith.
Hebrews 11:6 says “Without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

When the scripture says it’s impossible to please God without faith, I don’t think it’s talking about God being upset with us. One of the definitions of “please” is “fully agreeable.” We have to agree with what God has said in His Word to see it come into existence. Hebrews 11:1 That’s what faith is, according to the Greek definition of New Testament words: persuasion, moral conviction of the truthfulness of God.

We have to believe that God is telling the truth when he says:  ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

When He says, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Hebrews 13:5 

When He says, I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Me Isaiah 26:3

We have to expect good at the hand of God—not evil.

That was my problem throughout much of my Christian life. I wasn’t expecting good from God. I knew He had redeemed me, but I wasn’t expecting Him to answer my prayers, so I woke up worried. And why wasn’t I expecting good? Because I didn’t think I deserved it.

The great news is—no one deserves it! We have to change our thinking! We have to believe God wants to do us good, not harm.

That’s why we need to memorize scriptures. Yes, memorize! I’ve been a Christian a long time, and I thought I knew the scriptures better than most. I probably did, but I actually had not intentionally memorized many scriptures (with references). Something changed in my life when I started memorizing the Word. Read our post 3 Unexpected Benefits of Memorizing Scripture. 

One of my favorites is Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I knew most of this scripture long before I memorized it. But when I broke it down and really studied it, then committed it to memory (including the reference) and rehearsed it several times a day, it became part of my arsenal against nighttime anxiety. I didn’t have to get up and read the scripture. It was embedded in my brain.

I recited it in my sleep!

Really! How do I know?

Because I would wake up quoting it! The same is true of many other scriptures I’ve memorized.

Another great benefit of memorizing scriptures is it’s good for your brain!

I’ve always had trouble remembering things, which made me worry about developing Alzheimer’s. When I told my doctor about it, he gave me a test, which I passed just fine.

He said, “I think your problem is that you don’t pay enough attention to what you’re doing and what’s going on around you.” That stung. But it was the truth. We have to pay attention! Especially to God’s Word. I actually had convinced myself that I just couldn’t memorize scriptures.

On top of the many individual scriptures I’ve committed to memory, I’ve memorized most of the 22 verses of Psalm 103. I’ve got a few to go.  I can memorize the Word! I just wasn’t making the effort.

Psalm 103:1,2 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”

Memorizing His benefits: forgiveness, healing, deliverance, mercy, and many more have helped me to capture those toxic thoughts that assault my mind and replace them with the Word of God.

Here’s Rebecca to share a little about her own experience with capturing her thoughts. Take it away, Rebecca!

Hi, my name is Rebecca and I’m a recovering worry-wart.

Thanks, Mom and Grandma, and Great-grandma and….well, you get it.

Worry kind of runs in the family. But are we really just a carbon copy of our parents’ DNA? Please tell me it isn’t so! Sorry, Mom.

Years ago I thought that I was genetically inclined to have a fluffy belly and thinning hair.

Wow! That sounds so sexy, doesn’t it? Ha-ha!

It was a nice excuse for overeating anyways.

I also thought that my tendency to worry was something that I was stuck with. That I would forever think the worst in every situation.

Like my mom, I started reading Dr. Caroline Leaf’s books about the mind. THIS IS NOT A COMMERCIAL! We’re not getting paid! Carolina Leaf doesn’t even know we exist! Actually, God said all this stuff before Dr. Leaf was ever thought of. But in her book, I learned that what you think changes your brain AND your body! Hope at last!

The doctor explains that we are designed (by God) with the power to switch on our brains. And the mind is that switch! We have the extraordinary ability to determine and maintain optimal levels of intelligence (your IQ is not a set number!), mental health, peace, and happiness, as well as the prevention of disease in our bodies and minds! We can, through conscious effort, gain control of our thoughts and feelings! And in doing so, we can change the programming and chemistry of our brain. Of course, God already told us that in the Bible! Read the scriptures in my mom’s article.

I began to practice her methods of “switching on the brain.” And it really helped. But I’ve had to do it over and over.

Practice, practice, practice! But it’s paid off in my life. I’ve profited hugely from her guidance through these methods.

Now don’t get me wrong. The worrying didn’t completely go away. I’m still working on it.  My belly is just a little less fluffy by using some of these techniques, and I’m not going to win a bikini competition anytime soon but I now have tools and methods to help me turn off the negativity in my brain and have some control over it. And over my body.

Remember what my mom said about faith being the opposite of worry? Well, I also remind myself daily that I can choose to trust that my Heavenly Father wants good things for me–because He does! He says He does, and He keeps His word. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Now when I wake up in the morning, before my feet even hit the ground,  I say, “Thank you God for another day to be alive! Thank you for another chance to CHOOSE how I’m going to react. I know that You are my Father, and you have my best interest at heart, so I’m going to remind myself of that all day long.

Wow! What an incredible brain and body God created us with! And He’s given us the ability to control them both.