There’s been plenty to worry about over the last couple of years. In recent months we’ve added the war in Ukraine and still more mass shootings in the U.S. The headlines and conversations with others about them can amp up our fear and anxiety. In addition, we all have plenty of personal challenges to face day to day.
In the midst of this, three faith leaders, two non-Christian and one Christian, one living and two long-dead, have taught this Christian minister some valuable lessons.
The Dalai Lama at the beginning of the pandemic said this: “I take great solace in the following wise advice to examine the problems before us: If there is something to be done—do it, without any need to worry; if there’s nothing to be done, worrying about it further will not help.”
Much longer ago, the 13th-century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi said, “The news we hear is full of grief for the future, but the real news inside here is that there’s no news at all.” Wayne Teasdale comments on this quote: “Like ours, Rumi’s future was clouded by a bombardment of disturbing news. While the external world is replete with such news, the real news is the inner journey. The demands are the same, and nothing ever changes in what God expects of us.”[i] The work inside is the same—to stay connected with God. We can attend to this work no matter what is going on around us.
As the Dalai Lama notes, this does not mean we do nothing in the external world. We are called to do what is in front of us to do, whether it is to wash the dishes or to take action for justice in our community. Of course we’ll be afraid, have worried thoughts, be uncertain what to do from time to time. But the call is the same: to come back, to center ourselves in God’s love, and to thoughtfully consider what to do next.
These wise words are antidotes to the inevitable anxiety we feel through these uncertain days. The danger from COVID-19 is much less than it was, and most of us don’t face the threat of imminent violence. Yet our bodies respond as though we are under threat when we read the news or watch images of violence from near and far.
We may feel helpless. And of course, wide forces are at work in our world that affect our lives day to day. However, we still have God-given agency, the ability to live out our call right where we are and choose our responses day to day.
Reflecting on what my choices are and what choices I want to make lowers my anxiety. Instead of making up a story about an unknowable future, I can think about what I know to be true here and now, and then act on it.
I still worry. But at least I understand more deeply that it is a waste of energy. God gives me the ability to make choices in the present to make at least a small difference in the world.
You can practice being grounded in the presence and love of God by day and by night. When you feel your anxiety rising, simply breathe and remember that God is as close to you as your breath. Imagine the Holy Spirit breathing into and out of your body. Then think of one—just one!—thing you can do: Drink a glass of water. Walk around the block. Imagine what your most beloved or capable family member would do (even call them if they are living). Text someone and ask for prayer.
A final quote I count on comes from the Spanish Christian leader and mystic Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). This is a prayer I say every day, usually at mid-day: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you; All things are passing, God never changes! Patient endurance attains to all things; Who God possesses in nothing is wanting; Alone God suffices.”[ii]
Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.
[i] Teasdale, Wayne. The Mystic Hours: A Daybook of Inspirational Wisdom and Devotion. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2004, p. 240.
[ii] Skinner, John T. (editor). Celtic Daily Prayer: A Northumbrian Office. London: Marshall Pickering, 1994, p. 18 (language modernized).
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