I am a work in progress, you could say I am unfinished. Praying every day is not something I do because I was once told to. It is part of my survival strategy.
I live with a degree of anxiety, it is not as great as some people I know, I manage it with prayer, meditation, and spiritual direction. I should add regular exercise to that mix, and in the past I have, but not so much recently. I have a great deal of respect for those who need more help than this.
In recent months most of the pastoral conversations I have had have shown me that anxiety is something lots of people in the Bay Area live with. Perhaps it is the aftermath of an election that did not go the way that many in this area hoped for, but I think that may just be a catalyst for them talking about something that has always been beneath the surface. The Bay Area generates anxiety, we have to constantly keep up, work hard to get ahead, and dig deep to be able to afford to live here. Anxiety is certainly not just limited to life in the Bay Area, I think it may be a condition of modern American or Western culture.
Recently I was talking to someone in my support system. I wished that my feelings of Anxiety could just go away. He looked at me and said, “oh no, you don’t want that, anxiety is your warning system that something needs looking at.”
His comment made me pause to think. Anxiety is a normal part of life and invites us to focus on its cause in order to understand it more deeply, and perhaps make changes in our behavior. The problem is, I have learned over the years to just ignore the niggling feelings that invite me to change my behavior until they grow and become more powerful. When they manifest as anxiety it feels like they may be too big to cope with and I just try to avoid them further.
Which is where my prayer life comes in. It is the place where I can encounter anxiety and do something meaningful with it. I used to pray because it was what I was meant to do, but I didn’t really understand why. Over the years I developed an approach to prayer that helped me see it as a safe space within which I could encounter the God of Love who cherishes me. In that space I can think about those things that cause me anxiety and look at them in a new way.
Prayer is less me examining things in my life, it is more like God is exploring and examining them in front of me and I am just invited to observe. God is far more patient than I could ever be, and every so often God reminds me that other people are living with anxiety also and I could give them a break if they over-reacted to something I said.
So I manage to carry out the work of a priest, I listen to other peoples problems and I pray with them every day. As I do that I try to model the kind, thoughtful voice that I believe God uses with me. I fall short, but I keep trying. My resilience in life doesn’t come from being tough, it comes from recognizing that I am actually quite soft and that I need to return regularly to God’s love in order to be constantly renewed.
My own resilience is a work in progress, sometimes I feel like there is no progress at all, and I wish that I could just turn the anxiety off. But then I am reminded that it is there to help me if I will just listen to it and react a little sooner within my prayer life. I am a work in progress, you could say I am unfinished, but I have faith that God will bring to completion the work of love begun in me.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.