In my October blog, The One Thing, I shared an imaginative contemplation that revealed to me the role fear played in a cringe-worthy parenting moment when my children were younger. It was such an informative experience that I promised myself (and Jesus) that I would always put my trust in God before fear.
The spiritual tool of lingering asks us to stay with a powerful moment or idea so that we may see God’s message through it. That could be a message of love, hope, and encouragement. Or it could be an instruction about God’s will for you.
Through such lingering, I remembered more moments influenced by fear in my life. In fact, since October, God has been relentless, through dreams, memories, and reflections which display a through-line of fear throughout most of my life. God’s message is quite clear: my promise to Jesus and myself must be kept. So, when it came time to think of a New Year’s resolution, the phrase, “No Fear New Year” naturally popped into my mind.
The How To
The logical progression after my firm determination was the mechanics of how to do this, to live in a place of trust and not fear. This seemed a much more difficult task. I imagine that this is where most people get stuck. It’s one thing to acknowledge room for improvement in our behaviors or mindset but quite another to take on the task of changing ingrained habits. I couldn’t help but notice how humbled I felt to be in this place. I knew, just as in the first big step of acknowledging, I cannot accomplish this next step without God’s help.
My prayer was simply to be close to God and to ask for the strength to put my trust in Jesus’ love and guidance. Slowly over time I came to a few conclusions. Much of what I came up with will not be new to you, nor was it to me. As a matter of fact, I have heard it all before. But this time, I could feel the ideas in my bones, and old platitudes became new for me. I hope to unveil each one in a series of articles not surprisingly titled: “No Fear New Year”.
God Speaks To Us Through Our Desires
After being in spiritual direction for some time, I noticed that my prayer time was not confined to the hours of the week I devoted to prayer. My whole life has slowly become a prayer. I still take time to pray, but I notice God’s work in my circumstances and within me all day long. For example, in my journal I noted that I was feeling a persistent fatigue, and when I looked at it, I wondered if it came from my being sucked into negativity all around me, and even inside me. My journal is mostly in the form of a conversation with the Holy Spirit, so in these musings I asked for relief from this kind of fatigue.
Over the next few days, I kept noticing more instances of losing myself to the same kind of ugliness in the form of anxiety and fear. I noticed that it weighed me down. I saw an image of me dragging a permanently attached millstone around my neck as I tried to accomplish my daily tasks. I desired relief from this millstone. St. Ignatius teaches us that God speaks to us through our desires. I am convinced that is true because of what happened next.
Not A Pollyanna
Recently, as I was getting into the car to start my day, I noticed many of my negative thoughts. I then heard “It’s a new day.” It wasn’t a booming voice from the sky, but merely a thought which surprised me. It surprised me because I didn’t consciously choose to put those words in my mind.
A technique called Mindfulness is an ancient eastern and Buddhist philosophy that has been embraced by western medicine and psychology. One of its lessons is to live in the present, letting go of the past and the future. It teaches that now is the only moment we will ever have and much can be gained from staying in this moment. I have studied this technique and embraced it intellectually. I’ve even felt changed because of this understanding. On this particular day, however, I experienced this phrase in my body, not just my mind. What might seem like a pollyanna statement “It’s a new day!” was infused into my being leaving me with a deep, quiet sense of freedom.
I felt free to let go of the regrets of yesterday and determine to live better today. I felt free to focus so well on today that there was no room to worry about tomorrow. This freedom was new to me, one that gave me a fleeting, yet clear, feeling of lightness and energy.
This freedom also afforded an objective viewpoint. My journal states:
“I see that when I wake it has been a habit to review my regrets of the previous day and be weighed down by them. What an awful way to begin a day! I begin this day with gratitude instead of regret. I see a self-care in this, one I didn’t realize I needed”
Can you see God’s hand in my experience? I felt guided by God in that moment. As I lingered in that moment, I learned more about God’s will for my freedom. This freedom lead me to a closer relationship with God. Absorbing all the negativity around and within me was getting in the way of my relationship with God. I didn’t see this. All I saw was the fatigue. I asked to be freed from that, and God opened up the rest to me. I was also given a reminder which can keep me from sliding back into old habits: It’s a new day.
Notice I said “can” and not “will” keep me from sliding back, because I accept my humanity. I really am not a pollyanna. I know how hard it is to stay the course of change. Indeed, I have already slipped more than once. But when I take the time to linger in the moments surrounding God’s recent “new day” gift, I am bolstered to weather the storm and try again and again with positive, not negative energy.
I hope by now you notice the varied and numerous gifts of spiritual direction. If hearing my story has brought something from your life to your mind, please take the time to linger there with the Holy Spirit. Who knows what will emerge?
I also hope you notice what a mistake it would be to compare your prayer life to mine or anyone else’s. Our path is as unique as we are, and God’s love for us surpasses all obstacles. We are met where we are. In my experience as a spiritual director, I have been blessed to witness God’s unmistakable desire for oneness with each directee through the beautiful prism of their personal sharing.
May God continue to bless us all in 2023. I for one will cling to this blessing as I journey to my “No Fear New Year.” And come what may, I promise to share what I learn in future articles.