A few years ago, I was suffering immensely from pains in my stomach. I would awaken two or three times each night, unable to sleep because of these terrific pains. I had watched my father die from cancer of the stomach, and I feared that I too had a stomach cancer–or, at least, stomach ulcers. So I went to a clinic for an examination. A renowned stomach specialist examined me with a fluoroscope and took an X-ray of my stomach. He gave me medicine to make me sleep and assured me I had no stomach ulcers or cancer. My pains, he said, were caused by emotional strains. Since I am a minister, one of his first questions was: “Do you have an old crank on your church board?”
He told me what I already knew: I was trying to do too much. In addition to my preaching every Sunday and carrying the burdens of the various activities of the church, I was also chairman of the Red Cross, president of the Kiwanis. I also conducted two or three funerals each week and a number of other activities.
I was working under constant pressure. I could never relax. I was always tense, hurried, and high-strung. I got to the point where I worried about everything. I was living in a constant dither. I was in such pain that I gladly acted on the doctor’s advice. I took Monday off each week, and began eliminating various responsibilities and activities.
One day while cleaning out my desk, I got an idea that proved to be immensely helpful. I was looking over an accumulation of old notes on sermons and other memos on matters that were now past and gone. I crumpled them up one by one and tossed them into the wastebasket. Suddenly I stopped and said to myself, “Bill, why don’t you do the same thing with your worries that you are doing with these notes? Why don’t you crumple up your worries about yesterday’s problems and toss them into the wastebasket?” That one idea gave me immediate inspiration–gave me the feeling of a weight being lifted from my shoulders. From that day to this, I have made it a rule to throw into the wastebasket all the problems that I can no longer do anything about.
Then, one day while I wiping the dishes as my wife washed them, I got another idea. My wife was singing as she washed the dishes, and I said to myself, “Look, Bill, how happy your wife is. We have been married eighteen years, and she has been washing dishes all that time. Suppose when we got married she had looked ahead and seen all the dishes she would have to wash during those eighteen years that stretched ahead. That pile of dirty dishes would be bigger than a barn. The very thought of it would have appalled any woman.”
Then I said to myself, “The reason my wife doesn’t mind washing the dishes is because she washes only one day’s dishes at a time.” I saw what my trouble was. I was trying to wash today’s dishes and yesterday’s dishes and dishes that weren’t even dirty yet.
I saw how foolish I was acting. I was standing in the pulpit, Sunday mornings, telling other people how to live, yet I myself was leading a tense, worried, hurried existence. I felt ashamed of myself.
Worries don’t bother me any more. No more stomach pains. No more insomnia. I now crumple up yesterday’s anxieties and toss them into the wastebasket, and I have ceased trying to wash tomorrow’s dirty dishes today.
Written by William Wood