There are plenty of “hard sayings” in the Bible, but one I often puzzle over doesn’t tend to make the lists offered for our reflection. It’s Christ’s directive to have no anxiety. What? I protest. Anxiously.
A spiritual director once asked me point blank, “Why are you so anxious?”
Momentarily stunned, I responded with a question. “You mean right now or in general?”
The kind priest smiled ever so slightly as he suffered my wordy theories on anxiety. I’m a counselor, well aware that intellectualizing is a way to avoid personal growth, but it’s my still favorite way.
When I finally let him get a word in, he offered me one to ponder.
At the time, I didn’t see myself as distrustful toward God; I’d been a follower of Christ pretty much my whole life, beginning each day with Bible reading and prayer, endeavoring to practice the things I’d read there. Yet after decades of effort in following Christ, my anxiety was more evident to this friend of my soul than it was to myself. He urged me to ponder the word trust.
That little word, trust, returns to me when I catch myself anxiously ruminating about how to solve my problems.
One of the most helpful books on my path to trust was Fr. Jacques Philipe’s retreat on The Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Way of Trust and Love. The podcast episodes about this book at Discerning Hearts were an important help in moving me toward greater trust.
We often labor under the illusion that we must do something first and then God will be pleased with us.
Thérèse’s Little Way reveals that the truth is a reversal of this order. God loves us first because we belong to him. We are his idea, truly, and not our own. We don’t have to do anything to earn his love.
In one episode, Donna Garret recalls seeing her husband hold their baby daughter, crooning softly to her, “I love you so much.” Garrett realized she was seeing a picture of God the Father.
The helpless infant couldn’t do anything to please her dad. And she didn’t need to. She was his daughter and that was his delight.
Thérèse was blessed with a father who loved her like that. So was I. And I’ve begun to return to that infant image of myself when my trust in God fails. The Little Way, writes Father Philippe:
is no less than the revelation of God’s tenderness, God’s mercy toward each of his children, illuminating the laws of life that lead to happiness. The heart of Christian life is to receive and welcome God’s tenderness and goodness, the revelation of his merciful love, and to let oneself be transformed interiorly by that love.
Slowly regaining my equilibrium after the stress of quarantine, I’ve been recovering my habits of health and wellness. In the process of attending to both my physical and mental health, I discovered Dr. Greg Bottaro’s book, The Mindful Catholic and began praying The Novena of Divine Surrender included in the appendix.
If you’re a Christian who is anxious about Christ’s command to “be not anxious,” The Mindful Catholic is the book for you. Bottaro has created a straightforward 8-week path to help you understand how mindfulness can help you find a deeper surrender to Christ (more here).
From my counseling background I was aware of secular approaches to mindfulness and the research around its stress-reducing benefits. They are real, yet I’ve been put off more than once by mindfulness proponents who begin with simple stress reduction and then direct the client to the empty path of pantheism.
In The Mindful Catholic Dr. Bottaro reveals how this “robust, accepted, and validated treatment protocol” can help us open our heart more deeply to the “ever-present” God who longs to commune with us. He recommends beginning each practice by opening to God’s presence and ending one practice a day with Fr. Don Dolindo Ruotolo’s Novena of Surremder to the Will of God.
This prayer keeps me returning to the book.
It turns out that Father Dolindo was Saint Padre Pio’s spiritual director. Various adaptations of the prayer can be found on the internet, including a beautiful video version from Discerning Hearts.
In this prayer we open to the presence of God and “let every problem and worry wash away in the flood of God’s infinity.”
Then we open to the message of Christ in nine specific daily prayers, in which he asks us to let him take care of everything. One of my favorite lines is from Day 2:
‘Surrender to me’ means do not worry, do not be upset, and do not lose hope; it does not mean offering me a worried prayer and asking me to follow along with your worry.
How well this reminder fits the mindful practice of bringing the “doing mind” back to the present, understanding that everyone’s mind leans in this direction and that we have the choice, once we notice the thought stream, to follow it or to come back to Christ and rest in him.
At the end, we quiet ourselves and ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us right now with whatever else we need to surrender.
It’s amazing what comes up here, very specific to my need: How I will work out various time demands. What a particular person may think of me. My family relationships. The troubled national situation. The children I work with.
Jesus, I surrender myself to you; I trust you to take care of everything.
As I pray this prayer each morning, I find myself comforted with reminders not unlike those given to St. Thérèse. I don’t have to do anything to please God. He loves me right here and right now.
He feels exactly the same way about you.
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Have children? Dr. Bottaro has co-written a wonderful book with his wife. Sitting Like a Saint: Catholic Mindfulness for Kids is a beautifully illustrated compendium of 14 saints and their unique mission in the Church. Each story has an exercise that will help calm and refocus little ones while enriching their own relationship with Christ. I am crazy about the Joan of Arc entry. Just delightful!