In my practice as an ophthalmologist I've observed that, from a patient's point of view, the worst part of cataract surgery is the week before the actual procedure. That's when patients really start to think about the procedure and anticipate its effects. Many of them begin to worry at this point about whether the surgery will hurt or whether they will lose their vision. And if they have previously had a bad experience with some other procedure, they will be afraid of the cataract surgery.
The patients' concerns and fears are very important and very real. A patient's attitude affects his ability to relax and cooperate with us during surgery so we can do the best possible job. Therefore, it is essential that we help a patient understand the procedure and that we provide as much comfort and reassurance as possible.
But we've learned that for some people, it doesn't matter how much support we offer. Some patients are going to worry about all aspects of their lives. They're paralyzed by their worries, and they can't enjoy life.
Do you know someone who has been paralyzed by fear and negative thinking? Or have you personally ever been so worried that you couldn't think clearly, couldn't sleep peacefully, couldn't act wisely? This kind of chronic worry is a highly infectious disease that can permeate our inner being.
It can infect our thoughts, attitudes and actions. It can destroy us physically and emotionally. Worst of all, it can destroy us spiritually because chronic worry drives a wedge between us and God.
When we're ruled by worry, we don't have complete trust and faith in God. We don't think we can depend on Him. We feel isolated and alone. We blame God for all the bad circumstances in our lives, and we fail to see the blessings He provides.
I have to confess: I've spent a few sleepless nights worrying about my job, my wife, my children. I know some people who, when they worry, have trouble eating. Others isolate themselves in their homes or offices.
Worry takes its toll in many areas of our lives. Here are several.
Intellect. When our thought processes are cluttered with worry, we can't have creative and energetic ideas. We produce sloppy and inaccurate work. And if we have trouble eating or sleeping, it becomes even more difficult to focus our minds.
We can't process information and decide what's important, so we're disorganized. We can't decide which plans to follow, so we are unproductive.
We're distracted; we jump from one task to another and never have a feeling of completion. We become indecisive; we fear making the wrong decision so much that we can't make any decisions. We can become workaholics, driven by worries about our job or financial security.
Emotions. Our worries produce an uneasiness in us which causes us to be irritable and susceptible to panic attacks. We are tormented by concerns about insignificant issues. "Where did I park the car at the mall? Where are my glasses? Where is that pen? Where did I put the bill that is due today?"
We also can be depressed, negative, critical, judgmental, domineering and controlling. We isolate ourselves and end up lonely. We might be able to force others to be with us, but they don't come around us willingly because we're no fun to be with.
In addition, worry stifles our ability to reach out to others. We don't want to let our guard down and trust others, so worry locks us up in a life of isolation.
We get involved with fewer people and groups. We have problems building genuine friendships. Our emotions seem out of control, and we do not respond normally to everyday situations.
Health. Worry is a progressive disease that can ruin our lives and even kill us. Worry depletes us and has tangible effects on our health. It can cause us to develop hypertension.
It also sometimes destroys our ability to fight against diseases by decreasing our natural immunity. Our decreased immunity permits common colds to strike us, and, if our immune system breaks down further, worry may put us in a position to fall prey to more serious diseases. Certainly anxiety is the basis of many psychiatric diseases and psychosomatic diseases.
Charles Mayo, co-founder of the Mayo Clinic, has pointed out how worry affects the body. It affects the circulatory system, the heart, the glands and the nervous system, to name just a few.
Mayo used to say that he never knew anybody who died of overwork, but he did know people who died of worry. So we can worry ourselves to death, but we can never worry ourselves into a longer, healthier, happier life.
A Simple Cure
Fortunately, we can banish fear and worry. I've seen the treatment work time and again in the lives of my patients. They have shown me that a constant attitude of thanksgiving breaks the grip of fear.
These patients, in addition to facing their own surgery, may have family members who are dying; they may have financial problems; or they may be struggling in a personal relationship. They're certainly sad at times as they grapple with the problems in their lives--but they're not worried.
Instead, they're thankful. They're thankful for God, and they continually feel His presence. They're thankful for all the ways He provides for them, including the surgery they are about to undergo, because they know it will help them.
Because of their faith, they can look beyond their struggles and see God at work. They have the same concerns and problems any of us face, but they choose not to worry. They choose to be thankful.
These patients live the words of the apostle Paul: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:4-7, NIV).
Paul tells us that the thankful spirit is the basis for all of life. He tells us not to worry but to always be thankful to the Lord.
Just like my patients who follow Paul's counsel, we can reject worry. We can rejoice with thanksgiving.
When we're focused on the person of Jesus Christ in thanksgiving, our anxieties and fears are wiped away. Our hearts overflow with a spirit of peace and joy because He lives in us.
What a relief to know that each of us can turn to God and put our lives in His hands! We can be thankful for His blessings and let thanksgiving fill our hearts.
We can be filled with peace regardless of our circumstances. We can be faithful to the one who faithfully provides. We must focus on Him with thankful hearts.
Are you weighed down with worry? Are you filled with fear? There's refuge in the loving arms of God.
He will break the bonds of worry. He will banish fear.
We get His real and lasting peace when we turn to Him and say: "Thank You, Father, for always loving me. Thank You for the eternity that You have given me through the person of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for me." When we turn to Him, we will no longer be consumed by fear and worry.
Jesus told His disciples: "'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.
'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. ... Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid'" (John 14:1,27).
Certainly none of us can avoid the situations that could create worry and fear. But we can avoid the worry itself by having a spirit of thanksgiving.
We can turn to God and trust in His goodness. We can choose His peace rather than the troubles of this world.
It isn't always easy. Worry can sneak up on us. Satan knows that, given the choice, we'd rather have peace than the turmoil that worry creates. So he uses our weak human will and lures us into a lifestyle of worry.
Worry starts innocently enough as a normal, natural concern about our basic needs. Do we have enough money to buy adequate food, clothes and shelter? Is our health good? Are our friends and family healthy and happy?
It is perfectly natural to have these concerns. But Satan uses them to lure us away from our trust in God.
As we become less God-centered and more self-centered, our concerns become worries. We quit trusting that God will provide for us. We think we have to take care of ourselves, and we begin to worry about circumstances and events that are beyond our control.
The way to avoid Satan's trap is to learn the promises God makes in His Word about how He will take care of us. Search for promises that relate to the specific issues and circumstances you face. Then when one of them weighs you down, turn to read His promises and use these verses in the fight against fear.
The Bible tells us repeatedly to "fear not." Often this command is followed by the words "I am with you" (Is. 41:10). It is because God is with us that we do not need to fear. He will always be with us.
May we learn to trust fully in Him, with thanksgiving for His grace. He will destroy fear and worry and give us His peace.
James P. Gills, M.D., is the founder and director of St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute in Tarpon Springs, Florida. He is also the author of numerous books on spiritual topics, including God's Prescription for Healing (Siloam) and Rx for Worry (Creation House Press), from which this article is adapted.