I would like to begin this reflection by asking you, my dear reader, a question that may be a little hard to answer:
Would you say that you ever get… stressed?
If for some reason, that question isn’t easy for you to answer (it certainly — and unfortunately — was simple for me), then let me aid you in determining whether or not to diagnose yourself with occasional to frequent anxiety by offering the following symptoms:
- Sometimes it seems like there isn’t enough of you to go around.
- You tend to worry about problems that don’t even end up happening.
- You often second-guess decisions you have made or actions you have taken and think about ways you could have made or done them differently.
- You don’t always trust God to take care of you completely.
- The problems you face during the day can drain you of energy.
- You sometimes find it hard to relax, because you are thinking about tasks you must complete or problems you are facing at home or at work.
And, from personal experience, I can say that the list goes on…
In fact, even reading the list makes me a little anxious.
It is no surprise that in our modern over-connected, over-worked, non-stop-busy culture we find that all-too-many of us are living over-connected, over-worked, non-stop-busy lives. But because we are so “busy,” we hardly stop to think about what a great detriment this busyness is to us and to our spiritual lives!
St. Francis de Sales called anxiety the greatest evil that can befall the soul, excepting sin, because it causes us to lose the strength necessary to maintain virtue. That’s heavy stuff. Stress is one of the devil’s most-used tactics to get us to fall away from a close relationship with God in our day-to-day lives. But how does stress distance us from Jesus?
It causes us to lose our peace.
The more the soul is at peace, the more God is reflected in it and the more one can feel the peace of God’s reflected presence. Achieving sanctity is impossible without achieving peace of soul.
But cultivating and maintaining peace can be quite challenging, as we notice through our frequent inability to grasp it, which is why we must begin by taking small steps toward gaining interior peace in our daily lives. Pope St. Gregory once told Augustine of Canterbury, who was anxious about a mission on which the Pope had sent him: “He who would climb a lofty height must go by steps, not by leaps.”
Maybe today you can commit to starting with these two essential steps to help you begin ascending that lofty height toward peace of soul:
- Cultivate a disposition to “purity of heart.” A person with purity of heart is determined more than anything to love God, to say “yes” to him in all things and to never refuse him anything He asks for. One of Blessed Mother Teresa’s secrets was a private vow that she made to Jesus that she would never refuse him anything. Well, the Bible tells us not to worry, right? (See Matthew 6:25-34, for example.) What if we too tried to love God by giving Him that for which he asks? Not only would we deeply please God by giving up our anxieties, but we would greatly benefit ourselves too!
- Be not afraid. Father Jacques Philippe, in his beautiful treatise, Searching for and Maintaining Peace (which inspired this article), explains, “The most common reason for which we could lose our sense of peace is fear. Our great drama is this: Man does not have confidence in God.” It is said that the words “Be not afraid” occur in Scripture well more than 300 times. Clearly there is a message that God is trying to deliver to us. We want to believe in God’s Providence over stressful situations in our lives, but we don’t. And this disbelief really backfires on us! St. Frances de Sales tell us, “The measure of Divine Providence acting on us is the degree of confidence that we have in it.” With that said, why would we ever want to have any less than perfect confidence in God’s will?
It’s the little things that make a big difference. So now we arrive at the truly small steps (since the above steps are more like hops than steps) that will help us climb our lofty height.
- Implement at least 15 minutes of meditative prayer in your day. Spend time in quiet reflection and prayer so you can simply be with Jesus and take a time-out from your hectic day. Numerous studies have shown a tremendous impact on anxiety when a person has regular meditation each day. It may help to read from Scripture or a spiritual book to kick-off your meditation.
- Pray instantly when anxiety begins to creep in. A short prayer will suffice. Some of my favorite on-the-spot worry-reducers are the Petrine prayer (“Lord, save me!”) and the Memorare.
- Make a commitment to celebrate the sacraments at least a little more than you do now, and try to commit to doing more Eucharistic adoration too. Nothing less than Christ’s efficacious grace can help us achieve the peace that will make us saints.
- Read and meditate on Scripture, specifically the many passages that address worry and peace.
- Take advantage of sacramentals (they confer a real grace!) to keep anxiety at bay: holy water, scapulars, icons, medals.
- Cultivate joy. Peace and joy are very tightly interconnected. My fiancé and I made a commitment to one another to always try new things that stretch us out of our comfort zone. Keeping life interesting makes daily life and relationships joy-filled, and nothing cultivates peace like authentic joy. (This city girl will be reminding herself of these thoughts when I’m on my first-ever backpacking excursion, which I’m sure will be replete with bugs, dirt, and a whole lot of out-of-comfort-zone experiences.)
Overcoming anxiety isn’t just pie-in-the-sky thinking or some lofty dream that you’d love to attain but know isn’t realistic. It is actually a central tenant of our Catholic spirituality! Getting rid of stress in your life is necessary for maintaining peace of soul, without which you cannot be a saint or help others become saints.
God acts in the peace of one’s soul.
Is God acting in your soul? If you can’t tell, maybe it’s because of your answer to this question: do you have peace?
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