Sometimes we use all the most appropriate approaches to face both systemic and personal anxiety, but a deeper angst lies beneath it all.
“Eddi07Textures” by Eddi Van W. courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.
For example, one church faced a tragic car crash that killed several members on the way to services on Christmas Eve. Another struggled with conflict involving sexism directed against a beloved female priest. In another congregation, many people recognized mental illness in a highly disruptive member.
They tried to bring God’s love to the situation, but things only got worse.Situations like these often stir up profound questions such as: Why is this happening to me? Or, why is it happening to these good people that I love? What really matters in life? What is the purpose and the role of church? If God can’t or won’t change this, what kind of God do we have? What does it mean to be called to ministry?
We can use all kinds of techniques: breathing, relaxing, reframing negative thoughts, acting non-reactively and managing emotions, but it won’t take away the existential tension at the root of some of the most difficult situations.
At this point, there’s only one place left to turn: spiritual tools.Spiritual responses depend on personal values and beliefs, so not every tool I list will work for every person. In addition, there will be important tools that I’m not aware of, or that I overlook.The following tools can help you identify and remember what works best from your own spiritual perspective. Please help other readers by sharing additional tools and ideas in the comment section below this article.
- Present moment. When situations are complex and don’t fit into our understanding of how the world should be, it can be easier to long for the past when things were better, or to imagine a future time when the situation will improve and resolve. But life takes place at only one point, the present moment. Bring your attention back to what is going on here and now, within you and around you. Allow yourself to live in the moment, even if it is difficult.
- Pray for guidance. When nothing makes sense, and there is not a clear way forward, turn to your higher power and pray for wisdom and guidance.
- Turn it over to God. When you can’t do think of anything more to say or do, and you don’t know which way to turn, or you desperately need a rest, it’s time to let go and turn the situation over to God. Personally, I like control, or at least the illusion of control, so turning things over, even to God, isn’t always easy to do. I remind myself that final outcomes are not in my hands, and that I only have one part to play in a larger whole. Usually that part is much smaller that I would like to think it is. Often I am not able to see or understand the bigger picture. This is when I acknowledge what I have done and can still do, then turn the rest over to other people and to God.
- Seek wisdom in scripture. Turn to scripture from your religious tradition for comfort or insight. Familiar texts may bring comfort. Reading one passage over and over may offer new insight. Sometimes turning to a less familiar text from your tradition can open up new perspectives.
- Seek wisdom and comfort in song or music.
- Serenity Prayer. This prayer which is central to 12 step addiction recovery programs, is also very appropriate for stressful and confusing situations in daily life. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and, the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Talk to your clergyperson, or to friends in a study group or support group at your congregation. Belonging to a religious organization involves being part of something larger than oneself. Often we need the guidance and support of others. If you are the clergyperson, make sure that you have colleagues or mentors who you trust and can turn to in times of need.
- Engage in a service project. Recognizing the substantial needs of other people in your community and around the world, and working to make a difference in their lives, can bring one’s own concerns into a different perspective. Reaching beyond oneself can help to focus on us on what is of ultimate value and importance in life.