Worry and the Tobacco Stick

Worry and the Tobacco Stick

Jakson came to my office last night. That statement is not a HIPPA violation. Jakson is not a client. He is my grandson. Six years old, absolutely packed with energy and vinegar, Jakson is all boy and all activity. Now my office has some interesting things. There is a native djembe that someone gave me. It sits in the corner just begging a six year old to beat on it. There is a pair of old, wooden tennis rackets that are a testimony to my love for tennis and a conversation starter for many appointments. I have thee hula hoops because, well, doesn’t every counselor? And then there is a five foot long, old Kentucky tobacco stick, complete with a red painted reference to the grace of God and the date that a grateful “friend” left my office for the last time.

The problem with all of that and a six year old is that Branches is pretty busy at 7pm and needs to be fairly quiet. The other counselors are kind of funny. They don’t appreciate pounding djembes or smashing tennis rackets in the hallways while they are dealing with people pouring their problems out and hoping to receive some help. When you’re dealing with someone who is dealing with fear and anxiety, having a hula hoop come rolling into your office in the middle of a session is not a good thing. So Jakson gets a lot of, “SHHHH, Jakson. Not so loud.” Or, “Put that down Jakson. You’re going to hurt somebody.” Or, “Come down from the top of the bookshelf Jakson. I KNOW you are a good climber.” It’s really too much to ask of a bouncing, bounding, six year old.

Jakson did great for the better part of an hour, but then I had to go out into the front office to help a new client. I was sitting quietly, taking down some information, when we were both startled by a huge crash. I stepped back into the hallway to see Jakson, flat on the floor, with one of our counselors standing over him holding the tobacco stick. Our hallways are about five feet wide but there are a couple of door frames that are only four feet. Jakson had decided to hold the tobacco stick horizontally, like airplane wings, and take off down the hallway. He almost reached lift-off velocity before he came to the four foot door with the five foot tobacco stick. Daniel said he saw the whole thing. Jakson clotheslined himself, flipped over his makeshift wingspan, and ended up on his back in the middle of the counseling office hallway. When I got there, he looked up and uttered those words that thousands of grandsons have said to their grandpas, “I’m alright!”

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27) Worry in my life usually brings me to a screeching halt. It is like trying to take a five foot tobacco stick through a four foot door. I am running along at a good clip, enjoying God and enjoying life, then worry kicks in and I end up flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me, wondering what happened. Of all the things that Jesus says to me, “Don’t worry,” seems to be the hardest to live by.

I am coming to believe that worry is also one of the most disappointing things I do to God. Sin He forgives. Stubbornness He fixes. Anger, selfishness, jealousy, all those things He corrects in me. But worry grieves Him and hinders His ability bless me. When I am doing something wrong He usually sends something into my path to change my direction. When I have some spiritual slip-up, He lovingly speaks to me and makes it a teachable moment. But when I worry, I have a hard time hearing or feeling Him. He seems far away from me. It is as if He says, “I have told you not to worry. I don’t know what else to do.”

You see, worry is about a lack of trust, about losing confidence in Him and His ability to act on my behalf. The Bible is full of statements like, “If you have the faith like a mustard seed you can move mountains.” Or “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” At the heart of God’s working in my life is my trusting Him to do so. And the great thing is I don’t even have to trust a lot. Remember the father that comes to Jesus asking Him to heal his child. Jesus says, “If you believe, all things are possible.” (There it is.) And the father, honestly and courageously responds, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23-25) It only takes a little bit of belief but when I worry I am saying, “I really don’t believe.” Worry is proclaiming to God and to anyone listening that we either don’t believe that He is able or that He is willing. It ties the hands of God and we end up like Jakson, flat out on the runway.

So, what do I do about worry? Well I have three suggestions. (You knew there would be three didn’t you?)

First, you make a decision to stop worrying. That seems simple enough. “If I could do that we wouldn’t be having this conversation, Mike,” you might be saying. No, grasshopper. I didn’t say you stop worrying. I just said you make a decision to stop. “Lord, I know worry is not pleasing to you. I don’t want to be a worrier. Help me right now to quit that. I am going to stop.” The father was doing that when he said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I have found it helpful to make that decision out loud. I’m going along great, tobacco stick in hand, just about ready to take off, and worry comes sweeping in. I recognize it and I say, “Hey, this is worry. I don’t do that. I am going to stop right now.” Speak that out. Let God and the devil hear that. It makes for some interesting conversations while Doris and I are driving down the road.

Second, you rehearse all the times that God has come through for you. If necessary, start journaling about those many victories in your life. Pull out that list and start going over the events and situations that seemed hopeless and God intervened. The Jewish way of preaching and teaching was called midrash. Midrash was going back and looking at the commentary and interpretations that other rabbis had given to a story or a scripture. Peter and Paul started doing that when they would preach in the New Testament, but they went back and listed all of the mighty acts of God. Every sermon would begin by retelling how God had delivered them out of Egypt, taken then through the Red Sea, fed them with manna, and given them the Promised Land. Do that in your own life. When worry tries to creep in start telling and retelling the stories of what God has done for you. (Here’s a shameless plug: That is EXACTLY what Simply Free is all about. It is a weekend to celebrate again how God has worked in our messes.)

Here’s the last way to defeat worry, move. Take action. Start working. Start walking. My dad used to say, “Don’t just stand there, do something, even if it’s wrong.” You might not have all the answers, you may not see the end of the road from where you are, but I bet if you take the next step it will become clearer. Just get up off the ground and start plodding ahead. Before you know it, you will be running again, and the worry will be way behind you. We have added a whole new endeavor to Branches with weight loss and nutritional counseling. There were so many times that we would not be sure of how it would work, and worry would creep in. One of us, Josh, Bob, Tracey, me, would say, “Well, let’s just take the next step and see what happens.” Worry produces paralysis and then it thrives there. Movement breaks the stranglehold of worry. So, the next time you get sidetracked by worry; say you are not going to let that happen, recite the many things God has done in the past, and take the next step. Oh, and if there is one around, pick up a tobacco stick.


Thanks for letting me spend these forty days with you. We will do it again soon. If you need something to read in the meantime go back through the ramblings on my blog site, www.branchesblog.com (if you subscribe there you will be informed when the next series starts) or better yet, buy a copy of one of my books, The John Book. (Speaking of shameless plugs.) Hope to see you at Simply Free tonight.


2 Responses to Worry and the Tobacco Stick

  1. I have enjoyed every one of these devotionals and hope that you will continue with them. Oh, how I wish I lived closer to Mufreesboro so I could take advantage of your counseling, especially in the weight loss area! But alas, I do not, and I won’t worry about it! God is my hearler!

  2. Mike, Thank you for these devotions. I have thoroughly enjoyed them! My problem isn’t worry, it’s trust. And I don’t know why! I had a wonderful childhood and have now a wonderful husband who has always been too good to me. A counselor said it was part of my personality type to have to double check and see for myself. But after reading this I wonder. It sounds an awful lot like how you described worry. I’m not a worrier but please pray for me to trust more what I can’t see- Gods goodness and faithfulness and Don’s goodness to me. I am going to apply what you said about saying it aloud and let’s see where this takes me! Love y’all! Enjoy sleeping in!

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