I have inherited a high level of anxiety and perfectionism which makes peace difficult to attain in my life. When I was a teenager newly moved to Massachusetts, I learned about ticks and the diseases they carry. I was barely able to leave the house from fear. In College, I was so concerned about my grades that I often started my papers first and finished them last, often cycling through multiple drafts even of short papers. I’ve agonized over career and personal choices in my life and found it remarkably hard to let go. Sometimes, I think I even shock my friends and family members with my indecision.
My anxiety has been strength in my life at times. I take life very seriously because I simply do not know what it would feel like to be a person who did not. During stressful times of life, I have found that a simple aspiration such as “Jesus, I trust in you” or “Thy will be done” works as a soothing balm to my mind. Even if at the time I am desperately caught up in a decision or obsessive thoughts, saying this prayer helps me remember that God is with me and that I can accept whatever God’s will may be.
Often in life, we think we have a decision before us but in reality, the only option we have is acceptance. As I approach my thirtieth birthday, I realize that the passage of time is something I cannot fight. Our death, our birth, and many other things can only be accepted. These overwhelming realities often have more say over the path of life than anything else. Like the rich man in the parable who lays up stores of wheat and goes to bed eager for years to come only to die the next morning, all human life is fraught with the unexpected.
Christians believe that life has order and meaning. God has desired each human being from all eternity, as the words of Jeremiah confirm, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (1:5). Thus, Christians reject the idea of a universe based completely on chance in which death and existence are inexplicable phenomena. Christian acceptance is not like the acceptance non-believers who must accept that there is no meaning. For the non-believer, creating meaning out of life is, in reality, a hopeless task, and, finally, life is a matter of accepting that there is no meaning.
Still, perhaps, much of the meaning attributed to life is illusory. As a 13-year-old, I could only think of getting older and preparing for high school. At 18, I could only think about the next step in my college path. At 22 years old, I was focused on the next stage, getting a good job. Looking forward is part of being human; everyone looks towards the next stage of life with hope and expectation. Doubtless, each new stage of life presented me with much anxiety. I saw myself posed between disaster and success. In fact, I was looking for meaning in these events that they could not ultimately offer. Stages of life are important, but they rarely fill life with the meaning we crave. Often it is more important to accept the present.
Jacques Phillippe, one of my favorite living Catholic writers, warns of the temptation to think life has not begun until I have something I lack. “We would like the things around us to change, that the circumstances would change. But this is often an error. It is not the exterior circumstances that must change; it is above all our hearts that must change” (Searching for and Maintaining Peace). Our forward-looking nature can affect our spiritual lives as well. We might decide for example “I lack good health; therefore I am unable to pray as I believe it is indispensable to do.” Someone waiting to get married might say once I have a family, I will concentrate on living a spiritual life. In fact, the interior struggle is now with all its crosses and blessings.
The Spiritual Life
It is true that the spiritual life is also about progression and expansion. However, the rules seem to be different. In the Gospel parable, the workers in the vineyard who come late receive the same pay as those who worked all day. The movements of the Holy Spirit are rarely linear in the way expected. Prayer and meditation are one of the few moments that allow release from the flow of time and offer entrance in a small way into the eternity of God. They are also moments that draw the cosmic reality of salvation history closer. They offer the opportunity to ponder salvation history, our own and that of the world’s. Granted, they should be states that we carry with us everywhere. Hopefully, after meditation, we bring a little bit of that reality with us.
Prayer and meditation are one of the few moments that allow release from the flow of time and offer entrance in a small way into the eternity of God. They are also moments that draw the cosmic reality of salvation history closer. They offer the opportunity to ponder salvation history, our own and that of the world’s. Granted, they should be states that we carry with us everywhere. Hopefully, after meditation, we bring a little bit of that reality with us.
In times of loss, acceptance of God’s will often bring us peace and hope. In these times prayer is especially important. “Thy will be done” is the prayer Christians make in good times and bad times. It is a prayer said without any expectation. There is no qualification to this prayer. We do not wait for times to be good to accept God’s will. Suffering is accepted with joy since it can become a vehicle of co-redemption.
The Our Father may be one of the most difficult prayers for us to say. We have so many voices in our head telling us that we can solve our situation with just a little work. Even in the best of times, we have a strong sense of a disaster only we can avert. Anxiety makes us cling to things of this world. We refuse to give them up because doing so we feel will put us at risk. Strangely, peace comes when these things that seem so vital to our happiness are released.