In my last blog, I mentioned my resolution to place my trust in God instead of allowing fear to take hold of my day. I also shared my It’s a New Day mantra, which was an inspiration and continues to be a supportive foundation on which to anchor my day. And when I remember to lean into this freeing and positive thought, I am indeed less vulnerable to the tailspin of negativity and fear.
The trick, however, is to remember. My “No Fear New Year” resolution was born out of a new awareness that I tend to linger in the negative instead of attending to the positive aspects of life. In his book The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr states:
Brain studies have shown that we may be hardwired to focus on problems at the expense of a positive vision. The human brain wraps around fear and problems like Velcro. We dwell on bad experiences long after the fact, and spend vast amounts of energy anticipating what might go wrong in the future. Conversely, positivity and gratitude and simple happiness slide away like cheese on hot Teflon. Studies like the ones done by the neuroscientist Rick Hanson show that we must consciously hold on to a positive thought or feeling for a minimum of fifteen seconds before it leaves any imprint in the neurons. The whole dynamic, in fact, is called the Velcro/Teflon theory of mind.
Hanging onto my New Day gift, I am actually encouraged by this fact. I can train my brain to turn things around. I see hope in this concept, although I acknowledge the challenge.
Write it Down
This is where my journal comes into play. As you know from a previous blog article, I place a high value on journaling. I see it as a form of prayer. It may be informal and unstructured, but it is a deeply personal place where God and I hash things out.
That’s not to say that journaling doesn’t have its struggles. Over the years, I have had many concerns: fear of putting anything in writing (what if someone reads this?), seeing myself in a new way (what if I see something I don’t like?), it takes too much time, I have no idea where to begin, etc. All of these ideas have plagued me over the years. And consequently my journal collects dust from time to time. Overall, however, the pros far outweigh the cons in this endeavor.
Because I see the value of sticking with journaling, I have collected some creative ways to address my concerns:
BURN IT: When I want to get some heavy things off my chest, but would never want anyone to read it, I have given myself permission to get it all out on the page and then burn it. If you choose this option, I recommend reading it several times before you destroy it. Take time to notice how you feel while reading and remember how you felt while writing. Does this show you anything? Is God in this? You may then be able to reflect on what you learned in your journal while maintaining your privacy. Even if you forget the content of the destroyed entry, the reflection part, the part you keep, will most likely be of greater value.
SHORTHAND: I use my own shorthand in the form of initials or nicknames that have meaning for me. I also give concepts a title so that one word or phrase will bring multi-tiered ideas to my mind.
LIST IT: A great way to avoid the slippery slide of negativity is to keep a gratitude journal. You simply write down a few things a day for which you are grateful. It becomes a special resource for the inevitable days when gratitude is lost among the fear.
JUST DO IT: When I think of all the time I spend avoiding journaling, it is considerably more than the time I actually write. I am happiest when I just pick up the pen and begin. My journal is filled with useless agenda driven entries: I will solve this problem in the next 50 words. Please learn from me and don’t waste your time with agendas. Just acknowledge God’s presence with you and begin.
LETTERS: When I was pregnant, I was encouraged to journal about this special time in my life. I liked the idea but was hesitant. I imagined myself keeping a list of all the discomforts and fears rather than the joys. (As I write this, I notice that I was aware, even then, of my tendency toward negativity and fear, another grace of writing things down). So I chose to write it in letter form to my baby. I figured that I would keep things pretty upbeat and I did, especially after I found out I was writing to twins! I have a great chronicle of that happy time.
The interesting thing is I kept writing after they were born. I was inexplicably drawn to it. At the time, I thought I might share it with my adult daughters when they were ready to have a baby. This was partly true, but I know now, writing these letters helped me through what I later found out was postpartum depression.
My experience with postpartum was of utter loneliness and darkness. I had no idea what was happening to me. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't describe it. My only clear memory is that I was convinced my husband and daughters deserved someone better than me. This filled me with a shame I hid from everyone, even those closest to me. This loneliness was the most painful part of my experience.
Years later, I asked God with anger - WHERE WERE YOU? I didn’t get an answer until my girls’ 21st birthday when I decided to give them the letters, and re-read them. At that point, I saw something amazing.
Sometimes I wrote to my tiny little girls as a mom and sometimes I gently shared my struggles with my imagined adult daughters. My letters gave me someone to talk to. I didn’t plan any of this. But in re-reading, I saw the grace of God inspire a confidant with which to share my darkness. Twenty one years later, I got my answer. Where was God at the darkest time in my life? In my journal.
In many ways, that journal of letters saved my life. I wish I could say that was a dramatic statement. But those letters to my daughters forced me to search for happiness and to dream about a future. Things were so dark that I couldn’t describe any of the pain. But in re-reading, I was brought back to that pain and saw the grace of healing.
I can’t say enough about letters. Be creative, write to yourself, your loved ones, your enemies, and especially to God. Why not imagine what God would say to you in a letter?
RE-READ: I often learn something about myself or my relationship with God while I’m writing. But the grace continues when I re-read old journal entries. Obviously, the above example is profound, but more subtle graces can also be found as I look back and I treasure them just as much.
With my “No Fear New Year” resolution in mind, I have come to notice patterns of negative thinking as I re-read. And recently, my noticing extends to my daily life outside of journaling. Albeit painful to notice, I see it as an opportunity for eventual freedom from the fear that fuels the negative thoughts.
With the first quarter of the new year almost gone, I am still discovering the many dimensions and depth of this project. It doesn’t seem time yet for solutions, just noticing. Somehow, I remain undaunted and my New Day mantra remains a source of energy and hope for me, most of the time. And when the mantra just isn’t enough, then my journal fills in the blanks.
So for now I am grateful to be aware and supplied with the tool of God’s grace in my journal and your companionship as I journey on.