Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Day's Own Trouble and How to Deal With It

"Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day." -- Matthew 6:34, Revised Standard translation

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."  -- The Message translation

- Jesus of Nazareth

Observing the suffering of someone you love with a mental illness is an extremely painful thing. The nature of the illness is that the symptoms come and go unpredictably. You never know what to expect.

You're likely to experience a wide range of emotions as well as a tendency to rummage through the past to see if you can figure out what went wrong ... and a dread of the future. Last night the telephone rang at 1:14 a.m. and I awoke in instant and escalating panic. This time, it was a wrong number.

Night can be rough. It is easy to wake up and spend hours on the "what ifs" and "if onlys."

What would Jesus say about this? He said we only need to worry about one day: this one.  It can be easier said than done. But it starts with the acceptance that trouble will come.

In a commencement address based on Matthew 6:34 and given at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in May 2009, the Rev. Dr. Robert Allen Hill told a group of soon-to-be-pastors that, much like caregivers of people with mental illness, they will see trouble.  And often. His rule: "Expect it. Accept it. Address it. Forget it."

Several classic Christian practices ... and I think of them as treats rather than disciplines ... can cultivate attentiveness and awareness of what God is actually doing in your day: recollection (meeting God inside yourself) and the practice of the presence of God. A third practice, Christian mindfulness, will be covered in the next blog post.

Recollection is the habit of "centering down" and becoming still.  The best description of it is in one of my favorite books, "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth" by Richard J. Foster.

He describes an exercise called "Palms Up, Palms Down" in which you sit quietly with your palms down on your lap and offer God all the things that upset you, one by one.  Then put your palms up and ask to receive the graces you need: the serenity to accept the illness, the love to be a force for good in the person's life, the peace to trust God with the situation and on and on.  Then sit quietly for a moment and listen. Maybe you'll get an impression from God, and maybe not.

The practice of the presence of God is often associated with Brother Lawrence, a humble cook from a long-ago monastery who learned to spend every day, moment by moment, with God. Many people use cues, such as the ringing of a telephone or the passing of hours, such as 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., to remind themselves to focus for a moment on the presence of God with them.

Now is all we have. And it is also where God lives.  The people, actions and events of right now are the medium through which God comes. So whatever you are doing, focus on it and see God's presence. It's the only way to find inner peace.

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