What is the Best Antidote to Poisonous Worry?

Seeking God’s kingdom is the antidote to poisonous worry. The solution to worry is not to try to think or strategize oneself our of it or to escape from it by seeing tv shows or eating food or drinking liquer, but to perform an action seeking the kingdom of God. When we seek the kingdom of God we become sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence! Then we will not get caught in the quick sand of catastrophizing-worry.

Seeking God’s kingdom is the antidote to poisonous worry.

Sometimes a sense of worry sets in, a worry about future safety. Your Boss was critical of you a couple of days in a row and you worry fearing if this would go south and you will lose your job and if you will have enough money for retirement. Psychologist call this way of thinking “catastrophizing” – meaning one small thing goes wrong and from then on your worry takes over and builds a mountain out of a molehole, before you know it you are dying on the streets homeless!

adult-alone-anxious-568027

The problem with this poisonous catastrophizing is that it robs us from enjoying the grace of the present moment because we are so worried about some extreme future scenario. It is this kind of catastrophizing worry is what Jesus talks about in Matt 6:25-34 asking, “will you be able to add one hour to your day by worrying?” Conversely, by this king of catastrophic worrying you end up loosing hours in the day.

I lost over an hour in my day. I was worried about something and I started try to think my way out of it, which made it worse because it kept making me go down into the quick sand, deeper into my catastrophizing-worry. Then my other strategy was to escape from catasrophizing-worry by seeing 2 episodes of Big Bang Theory, quite mindlessly I should add.

Then I caught myself and asked, what can I do get out of this mind rut?  Good new is that Jesus provides the answer in verse 33, but seek first the kingdom of God.

To seek the kingdom of God is NOT merely a cognitive exercise. Seeking is an activity. The antidote to catastrophizing-worry is not to think oneself out of it – it is to act oneself out of it, seeking God’s kingdom in the present moment. This is what psychologists call “behavior activation.”

Seeking the kingdom at the moment of catastophizing-worry is to do something, even if small, increasing our sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our life. For some of us, this seeking can take the form of going for a quick prayer walk, or listening to a worship son that increases our sensitivity to the Spirit of God, for me, yesterday, this meant reading Mme. Guyon’s book Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.

Matt 6 is a part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, describing the kingdom ethic for Christians. How to deal with worry about future is a key part of kingdom ethic. So Jesus addresses this deeply existential issue of worry by asking us to seek first His kingdom.

Seeking God’s kingdom is the antidote to poisonous worry. The solution to worry is not to try to think or strategize oneself our of it or to escape from it by seeing tv shows or eating food or drinking liquer, but to perform an action seeking the kingdom of God. When we seek the kingdom of God we become sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence! Then we will not get caught in the quick sand of catastrophizing-worry.

 

Examen Prayer – An Discovery of Deep Desires

The Examen prayer is done at the end of each day, as a way of reviewing the day to see how our spirit and desires were moved through the day. It is a way of prayerfully asking a series of questions that help us be attuned to the presence of Christ’s spirit and discover our deep desires.

I find the Examen prayer to be a great way of discovering my deepest desires. The Examen prayer is something that has been used in monastic setups for centuries. Recently, With the popularization of Christian spiritual practices among Evangelicals, the Examen prayer has come into vogue. And I am excited! 

The Examen prayer was started by St. Ignatius as a way of examination of consciousness. I am adding a little bit of a twist to the practice in order to frame it as a way of discovering our deep desires which I believe aligns with the spirit of what St. Ignatius was getting at. 

The Examen prayer is done at the end of each day, as a way of reviewing the day to see how our spirit and desires were moved through the day. It is a way of prayerfully asking a series of questions that help us be attuned to the presence of Christ’s spirit and discover our deep desires.

Prayerfully submit to God and ask for His help in order to spiritually ponder the following questions.
1. When did I feel most loved today?
2. When did I feel least loved today?
3. When was I most aware of God’s presence today?
4. When was I least aware of God’s presence today?
5. What desires for future really captivated me today? Did my desires comport with my love for God and love for neighbor?
Pray for God to strengthen you to face the next day.

This exercise, when done daily over a period of time helps achieved the following
1. Greater self-awareness – just knowing the different influences on your life.
2. Greater sensitivity to God’s presence, in the form of the Spirit of Christ in our lives. The Spirit of Christ is always with us – our awareness of it goes up or down based on what we are paying attention to at a given time. 
3. Discovery of deep desires: This exercise helps us to see how our desires move based on events of the day. For example, a deep desire to quit your job may have strongly moved you during the day. Then, at the end of the day, you do the examen prayer and you will remember that the moment when you felt least loved was when your co-worker was mean. Then you may realize that your desire to quit your job came our of the anxiety of dealing with a mean co-worker. So it may not have been God’s voice speaking to you prodding you to quit. Rather, it may have just been your own anxiety sowing the desire to quit. (Of course, it is possible God is speaking to you through your anxiety… if the trend is consistent over a period of time then it has to be taken seriously). You will discover some desires come up within you when you are in a state of spiritual tranquility* – these are the desires you want to pay attention to. Pay attention to how your desires move when your sensitivities are greatly attuned to God’s presence in you – these are likely to be your deepest desires. For example, for me when I am prayerful the desire to write to bring glory to God and love neighbor is kindled in me. The desires that God has placed in you and the ones which get kindled when your spirit rests tranquilly in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.

As you keep doing the Examen prayer over a period of time. You will begin to notice patters – you will begin to see that when you are anxious your desires move in one way (quitting the job in the example above) then when you are in a state of spiritual rest/consolation your desires moved in a different way (writing to glorify God in the example above). Seeing consistency in these patterns will help you to parse through the desires that arise out of fear or compulsion in order to truly discover what your deepest, God created, desire is.

*Spiritual Tranquility – I will need to do a different post on the topic of spiritual tranquility.

Reality is Hard, Truth is Sharp

Reality is hard, truth is sharp and facing it head-on broke me and cut me deep but I know (better) who I am.

Reality is hard, truth is sharp one who faces it head-on will be broken and cut deep but he/she will know who he/she is.

I had a room mate for a brief period. One day he bought himself a bottle of liquor and was treating himself to it. I asked him what was up. He said that whenever he went through stressful or sad times he liked to have some liquor to soothe himself. For this friend liquor was a coping mechanism.

There was a phase in my life where I was going through some very lonely times. It then occurred to me that because I did not want to depend on coping mechanisms as liquor or wine, I was faced with the prospect of facing life head-on. It meant I may realize how fragile I really was. It meant that I might get depressed. It meant that I might break down. 

I had two options, 

1. Use a quick coping mechanism, of that sort that helps me escape reality, to get by the rough phase.

2. Use this experience of getting close to the edge to map out the pathos of my psyche – it longings and disappointments – by journaling and praying so that I get a better sense of who I am.

I chose the latter, and so I know myself better than I would have had I chosen the former. Reality is hard, truth is sharp and facing it head-on broke me and cut me deep but I know (better) who I am.

Prayer as Union with Christ

prayer gives us union with Christ, the greatest gift. In union with Christ we can face any reality. Without union with Christ we cannot face any reality. Without union with Christ we can do nothing.

Prayer makes the Christian (read here). Prayer making the Christian means prayer prepares the Christian to enter into new unexpected realities, whatever it is. 

When we pray, in our mind’s eye, we see a reality of life situation we want for ourselves. Prayer moves God’s heart. So we may have our prayers answered. However, sometimes the reality of life that unfolds in front of us is unexpected, not desirable. At such times, our prayers prepare us for whatever face, by the strength of the union with Christ. 

Ultimately, prayer gives us union with Christ, the greatest gift. In union with Christ we can face any reality. Without union with Christ we cannot face any reality. Without union with Christ we can do nothing.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 

Prayer and Transcendence

We leave the obsessiveness and anxiety of finite time that culminates in ending and death, and enter into eternity. 

In the introduction to Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karmazov’, Prof. Marie Jaanus writes describing the experience of reading Dostoevsky…

We leave the obsessiveness and anxiety of finite time that culminates in endings and death, and enter into eternity. 

While I was reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder how this describes prayer so well. In our normal life, we are caught in the prison of timely anxieties, and crave for the “two seconds of pure joy”  like Ivan Karamazov. Prayer lifts us away from the suffocating anxieties of everyday living. Prayer is a vehicle of transcendence that draws us into an ecstasy giving us a taste of eternity, from within the present life. This ability for transcendence frees us to enjoy our present life enriched.

Sincere Prayer & Responsible Action

Bonehoeffer, “…(God) responds to sincere prayer and responsible actions.” Jesus in His humanity had prayer and obedience as his primary values was He walked through suffering (Heb 5:7-8). If we are to be conformed to His image, our values should be His – Sincere Prayer and Responsible (obedient) action.

Bonhoeffer, a few months before he was imprisoned wrote to his best friend Eberhard Bethge…

I believe that in every moment of distress God will give us as much strength to resist as we need. But it is not given to us in advance, lest we rely on ourselves and not on God alone. I believe that God is no timeless fate but waits for and responds to sincere prayer and responsible actions. – Letter and Papers from Prison – Vol 8

Sincere Prayer and Responsible Action should be the two values that sustain us and help us overcome life’s travesties. 

Upon facing life’s vagaries the temptation most people give into is to rely on oneself too much; very few err on the side of too much praying. Nevertheless, we need both sincere prayer and responsible action in obedience. In His humanity, Jesus’ primary values were prayer and obedience as He walked through suffering (Heb 5:7-8). If we are to be conformed to His image, our values should be His – Sincere Prayer and Responsible (obedient) action.

Dementia of the Other Kind

I pray to God that, my demented self, which remembers the vain trivia of this world but forgets the Lord would be turned to the dementia of the other kind, the blessed one, like that of this lady of old faith, which forgets the vain things of the world, but as the Philosopher of ‘vanity of vanities’ commends, “remembers the Lord”.

My Saturday afternoons are normally my book reading time – I like to crawl up in my introvert shell and meditate on timeless wisdom of the ages. This week, I had to debate on whether I had to change the plan to be involved in a ‘service project’ instead. I decided to get out of my introvert bubble and risk extroversion by helping out on the ‘service project’ because of two reasons – One, I feel strongly about ‘acts of unconditional compassion’ being one of the key ‘fruits’ of a Christian life. Two, the service project plan, to go door to door and offer to help with anything in house that may need ‘fixing’ is something that has deep historical precedence in the tradition of the Christian monks of the medieval world.

The Christian monks, the modern caricatures not withstanding, were in many ways than one, the ‘social safety net’ of the Medieval world. The monks who were into compassion ministries, helped poor widows cut firewood, established good agricultural practices and turned their monasteries into hospitals to take care of sick. I strongly believe, that the modern civilization, fragmented and dysfunctional as it is, needs a reinvigorated application of the principles of medieval monastic ministries of compassion. Enough of my rationale for dragging myself away from my world of books on a quite afternoon.

Anyways… a few of us, friends from First Presbyterian Church go together and split up to groups 3 groups of 4 each (yes, were were a total of ‘twelve’… surprise, surprise). My group went knocking door to door. None of the residents wanted our help. Some were suspicious, some skeptical some were pleasantly surprised and wished us well. So much for my exalted rationale of giving up my time with books to sow seed for recreating a new monasticism (Parched humor if you will… :P). As our group did a full circle and was getting close to where we had started, we found another group toiling hard in the yard of a house that looked kind of old.

The front and back yard was covered with dry leaves. The group that was working there told us that there was an old lady in the house who did not seem to have anyone around to help her clean her yard. It looked like none had touched the yard in like 10 years. As we started work on the yard, further details were filled in. The old lady had dementia. She kept forgetting what she had just said and kept asking the same question again and again. She had to be reintroduced to the person who she had met just 10 minutes ago.

As we were toiling along, one pragmatic observer said, “you know, we do this cleaning up, but she may not even remember this at all”. It was indeed a discouraging thought. Not that the point of helping is to be remembered, for to expect that would be ‘conditional’ compassion, but to ‘remember’ is to have a relationship. All relationships are a form of remembrance. When we think about someone we love, we do not so much have some ‘abstract’ thoughts about the person as much as we remember something we did with them in ‘concrete’ terms – like the one time we took a picture posing like crazy in a photo booth, or that of having a drink over a meal and funny conversations, or the time when we lost track of time talking about the happenings of life.

As I was toiling away, I wondered what it meant to not have memory and the meaning it brings. After all, there is no meaning without memory. Memory of events and people gives us the context to find meaning within. To have toiled at cleaning up the yard, but to be unable to give the old lady a ‘memory’ of this seemed to sap away the meaning of this act of compassion. On the other hand, an act of compassion for the sake of an act of compassion was good enough too, so I kept tarrying on… As were the fellow toilers.

Every now and then we stopped to chat a bit about how sad the state of existence of this lady was. Her house had holes, the roof was cracked etc… etc… Someone was hatching plans to find more about the lady by talking to the neighbors to see how else we could help her. After all, the poor lady couldn’t be trusted to remember her own story. The pity of the old lady became the fuel driving us harder to clean up the place.

As we were in this pity induced mission work, one of the ladies in our team who had met the old lady said something that brought a paradigm shift. Apparently the old lady had prayed that morning to Jesus that He would send someone to clean up the yard. And we were an answered prayer. I couldn’t help but wonder that in spite of all ravages that dementia had brought upon her, she had not forgotten to pray. At that point, my pity of the old lady turned into admiration for her. This old lady who forgets left, right and center still remembers to pray. She remembers the one relationship that truly matters. She remembers the one thing that truly makes life meaningful – her memories of her relationship with the sweet Lord.

This paradigm shifting revelation was one of those powerful moments in life when you pity someone and condescend to help them, only to realize that you are the one to be pitied. If there ever was a dementia in which one would forget everything except the Lord and what He does for us, then that would be the most blessed kind of dementia. In fact, if one thinks about it further, one realizes that everyone is demented in someway or another. A few weeks back Facebook and Twitter were buzzing with the people’s thoughts on the Emmys and then it was about NFL and now it is about Sochi Olympics next week it will be about Valentines, all this remembering is great, but if all these distractions lead us to a place of not remembering to pray, and consequently about forgetting the Lord, then that would be the kind of dementia that is the worst of all.

As people get older, they are increasingly consumed by fewer and fewer things. At that point, it is blessed to be possessed by a ‘remembrance’ of ones relationship with the Lord. The lesson to me from this experience was that I needed to build my life-memories around my relationship with the Lord, so that when I get old and senile and forget everything that I have read in my books or talked with my friends, that I would remember my relationship with the Lord.

At the end of our clean up by which point we had filled up 30 thrash bags with dry leaves and twigs, that old lady walked up to the door to thank us. As I beheld her tiny hunched physique, all I could see and be astounded by was the burning Spirit of the living God in her. If I had spent my 4 hours of Saturday afternoon with my books, warped up in my world of eternal truths, I wouldn’t have been any close to encountering the sort of real life wisdom that I found manifest in the faith of this old lady who has dementia, but of the other kind, the kind that reduces all distractions and focuses her to truly ‘remember’ her Creator and find meaning in that sweet memory. The sweet lady of old faith may not remember us, but her ‘remembrance’ of the Lord would be sweeter for her prayer was answered through the work of the twelve on a Saturday afternoon.

I pray to God that, my demented self, which remembers the vain trivia of this world but forgets the Lord would be turned to the dementia of the other kind, the blessed one, like that of this lady of old faith, which forgets the vain things of the world, but as the Philosopher of ‘vanity of vanities’ commends, “remembers the Lord”.

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them” – Ecclesiastes 12:1.
 

Ps: As I gathered from a note today (Monday) sent by one of the girls who had arranged for this service event, and who visited with the lady today, the lady whose house we cleaned had the fondest memories of our help and had ‘gushed’ about all that we had done to her family. This good news makes the whole experience sweeter still. 🙂