It was nearly 9 p.m., two hours after my husband, Dana, had driven down our winter darkened road to pick up Chinese food, and he wasn’t home. When I called his cell – for the third time – and he didn’t answer, my mind dove off a cliff of worry.

What if our 15-year-old station wagon had broken down?

What if Dana had slid off an ice-glazed road?

What if he was lost, driving in circles around the unfamiliar back roads of the little Maine town where we’d moved just two days before?

With each passing minute, my anxiety increased. Then, just when I was beginning to wonder how I’d raise our children on my own, the bright orbs of headlights swung down our drive. Only, instead of being thankful that he was home, I was angry. “Where were you?” I hotly demanded as Dana stepped through our front door, arms loaded with steaming cartons of food. “I’ve been trying to reach you for more than an hour. Why didn’t you call?”

Dana stared at me in confusion as our youngest children swirled around his knees. “I did call,” he said. “I told the kids to let you know that the closest Chinese place was closed, so I had to drive to the next town. They didn’t make our order until I got there.”

“No one told me,” I snapped, unwilling to let go of my fear and anger.

Instead of telling Dana how happy I was that he was safely home and laughing over the phone mix-up, I turned what was meant to be a family celebration of our new home into one big, grumpy dinner. Not only was I miserable, I’d made everyone else miserable, too. Maintaining a healthy outlook in the face of fear and anxiety is a challenge for me. In two decades of marriage, I have learned that how I frame my feelings has the ability to change my experience.

Imagine that moment my husband walked in the door as a family snapshot. There he is, arms loaded with bags of food, stepping into the kitchen. And there I am, wondering why he is so late. Now imagine a picture frame around that image, like one you might buy at the store. I can either frame this moment with pink fuzzy hearts – love and concern – or I can frame it with lightning bolts – anger, fear, and blame. Either way, the picture is the same, but the emotional context is completely different.

The first frame expresses the attitude that Paul encourages Christians to have in his letter to the Ephesians. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:31-32).

The frame of mind that Paul encourages emphasizes love rather than fear. When I frame a simple family mix-up this way, the picture is much brighter. How do I do this? By pausing to pray. When I am worried or afraid, I intentionally stop and ask God to help me picture a difficult or upsetting situation through the frame of his love and grace. Instead of leading to anger, this frame of mind leads to healthy concern and care.

So, the next time I am confronted with fear, instead of diving off a cliff of worry, I am going to ask God to help me reframe the situation with love and kindness. It makes for a much brighter family picture.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of “Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores,” writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Connect at www.meadowrue.com

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