I’m one of the many Americans who has been a walking ball of nerves since the 2016 election, and that baseline of anxiety has made it difficult to bear other unsettling and troubling aspects of life at times.
While I’ve managed to deal with my anxiety in the past through a mix of prayer and exercise, some days 20 minutes of silence or a 20-minute run just don’t cut it. I still feel the pull of anxiety and the temptation to check out from life to avoid it and the fears driving it.
Telling an anxious person “Do not be anxious about anything…” is just about the least helpful thing. The body is reacting to something. That reaction is completely understandable.
Unfortunately, the alternative to denial is often evasion. Turning to social media drama or a television show becomes a quick way to check out. There’s no need to face the darkness afflicting my soul if I have the pleasant glow of a computer or tablet in front of me.
I have been practicing contemplative prayer for quite some time now, but reading the book Into the Silent Land has offered a few helpful dimensions to my approach to prayer. These were things I had partially uncovered of in the past, but the author, Martin Laird, spelled them out in a very helpful way.
For starters, the practice of contemplative prayer is rooted in stillness, sitting upright and breathing deeply in your nose and out of your mouth, meeting each thought with a simple prayer word or phrase. Laird speaks of three doors into contemplation, as we begin to meet our thoughts with silence, enjoy the vast space of silence before God, and gain greater control over our thoughts.
Toward the end of the book, Laird specifically addresses the ways that contemplation can help us face our fears and anxiety. This approach is the complete opposite of denial or avoidance.
Laird suggests that we meet each fearful or anxious thought with stillness and silence. The discipline of contemplative prayer teaches us to shut down negative or fearful thinking loops with a prayer word, letting go of the fears and thoughts as they come to us. However, building on that discipline, we can begin to look at why we are fearful and what is behind our anxieties.
Staring into the darkness of our fears and anxieties is no easy task, but over time, I have found a greater capacity to disarm them as I meet them with silence and faith.
Some days I’m more tightly wound up than others. These are anxious times, and while there are people and events that we may rightly fear, there also is no need to let these fears overtake us.
In the daily practice of contemplative prayer, I’ve found a lifeline where I can release my fears and anxieties to God. I still bear them to a certain degree, but I can at least face them now with faith that the loving presence of God will bring healing.