I struggle with anxiety. Less today than I did one year ago, or five years ago, but I still have my days. I struggle in spite of the truth that I know: that God’s Presence is all around me. That the Holy Spirit is a person who will never leave or forsake me. His comfort is available to me at every moment of every day, if I will only hear Him.
Years ago, I was selected to lead a group of teens overseas on a mission trip and head up their evangelism efforts. A wise friend knew how far above my pay grade this was and gave me some good advice. “Kimmy,” he said, “you are going to get overwhelmed. It’s going to happen. When it does, I want to go to you room, close the door, put your head in your pillow and pray. You stay and pray until you are not overwhelmed anymore”.
It was good advice. Prayer automatically disciplines our minds toward peace, and brings us to a place of recognition of the Presence of God. The Catholic mystics were on to something, as are our Pentecostal brothers and sisters who “tarry” in prayer.
Contemplative prayer is generally silent prayer, focused mostly on God Himself and becoming aware of His Presence. Definitely something that is still trial and error for me, but in case it wasn’t a big part of the faith tradition you grew up in, here are a few things to try:
There are a few songs and psalms that instantly set my mind straight. The first strains just put me in a place mentally where I can experience God’s presence and love for me. I was walking in the grocery store today and walked past a man humming an old gospel favorite. My heart was instantly uplifted, and I spent the rest of the morning humming that same song.
Getting out into nature often bring me to a place of awareness. I am learning to immerse myself in the moment: feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, hearing the river, differentiating the birdcalls, noticing the play of light on the leaves. My breathing slows. I become aware of His Goodness all around me.
This is a newer one, for me. The idea is to totally immerse oneself in a story or passage of scripture, noticing your responses and reactions with curiosity. Why does the story of the money changers make me uncomfortable? What is God teaching me in this? What can I learn from my response?
One of the books I am reading now is a book of spiritual exercises by Ignatius of Loyola. It’s intense. The dude spends an entire week encouraging one to meditate on the foulness of their own sin. Not something most American Protestants do a lot of, but surprisingly, if done in the presence of a loving Heavenly Father, capable of turning the heart towards love and gratitude.
Speaking of gratitude…there was this one season of overwhelm when, every time I’d complain to God about how HARD my life was, the song “Count Your Blessings” would come on the radio. EVERY. STINKING. TIME.I didn’t really see what one thing had to do with the other, but over time my prayers changed a little. Psalm 100 says to “enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise”. When I start to list the things I am thankful for, I often become more aware of God’s work in my life and more aware of Him.
Expressing the unutterable back to God. Not everyone has this gift, but it is an option for some. It’s in the Bible. MRI Studies have shown that the practice directly accesses the limbic (emotional) part of the brain, in a similar way that dreams access the subconscious. A study done in England also reported that clergy who practice this tend to have lower levels of depression.
Quiet and Stillness
“You will keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”(Isaiah 26:3)I know one or two mature Christians who excel at this. They are peaceful just to be around, and they bring a sense of God’s presence wherever they go. Maybe someday when I grow up…and become less of a frenetic ball of giddy spasticity…
Anyway, these few practices are just the tip of the iceberg, and I’ve got to run…