Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't worry... seriously don't

8th Sunday of OT year A 2017:
I think you just have to love the message from today’s gospel: don’t worry.  And yet, if we are honest, this is one of those easy to hear, hard to live kind of messages.  And we all know it’s 100% true.  Not one of us has ever been able to help anything by worrying.  Jesus says that we cannot add a single moment to our life span by worrying.  So it’s very counterproductive.
But, I meet so many people who are really struggling with worry, with fears, with anxieties.  Believe me, I’m not exempt either.  This was a really crazy week for me.  I found myself worried and anxious about many things.  I’ve experienced anxieties throughout my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and it’s great.  But, I feel a lot of pressure sometimes too.  I mean, my job is basically to get people to heaven.  So, I really, really don’t want to mess that up.  Plus my job entails many different kinds of things: I might be bringing communion to someone in the hospital, then baptizing a baby, celebrating a funeral, meeting with a couple preparing for marriage, attending a school board meeting.  So it’s easy for this to lead to anxiety for me, because there are just a lot of things in the air, and lots of them can be quite heavy and serious.
So, I don’t pretend to be an expert.  I’m not a mental health counselor.  If you have serious anxiety you really might consider some counseling.   But, I thought I would just share with you some of the techniques I’ve learned over the years to deal with anxiety.  Also, at this point I should say: the rest of this homily is only for people who face fears, anxieties, struggles, and difficulties in your life.  But, if you never face these things, everything is smooth, easy, peaceful, and you never worry… feel free to take a little nap, we’ll be back in a moment.
First, learn right from Jesus.  Toward the end of this gospel he says: seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  So, relationship with God is primary.  Having him for a rock really makes it possible to have something to grab onto when life is crazy.  We all know this instinctively, but it helps to be reminded.  Yet, if we aren’t praying, we won’t have that relationship, that rock that we need.  You know, Lent is starting Wednesday.  Take up some daily prayer, scripture, or rosary, something that you like.  Open your heart God, and he will help you with those things that cause worry.
Second, it’s so important to externalize your fears and anxieties.  I find that if I keep the anxious thoughts bottled up inside my mind and heart I never find peace.  But, if I can get those thoughts into the outside world, they seem much less scary.  I like making lists.  If I’m anxious about having too much to get done, I just write down everything and do those things one at a time.  Much less scary when they are on paper.  Also, let’s say you’re are being affected by some negative thoughts or fears, write them down in a journal.  Then read it out loud.  Believe me, nothing is as scary when it’s down on paper.  But, if those thoughts are kept bottled up inside, they become unbearable.
Third, and this is similar to externalizing, connect with someone.  This sounds so basic, that I’m always surprised how often we simply forget to do this.  Not one of us can make it through this life alone.  We need friends and family to help us with our struggles.  Yet, how often are we hesitant to share our anxieties and fears with others?  We might think: oh, he will think less of me, or she will make fun of me…  But, that doesn’t happen.  Talking out your fears and getting some great feedback from a friend will totally change your connection to stress and anxiety.
Fourth, try to add some mindfulness.  Now, you might all be ready to run me out of here.  What is a Catholic priest doing talking about mindfulness meditation?  Isn’t that New Age or Buddhist?  Well there are new age people and Buddhists who practice mindfulness, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it.  The also eat and sleep and we don’t say there is anything wrong with that right?  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of becoming aware of the thoughts and feelings that are present inside of us.  Normally we just let our thoughts and feelings run rampant.  When we are feeling afraid and anxious this can actually be quite detrimental.  Mindfulness helps us to connect with reality, to step above our thoughts and to find that we are actually in charge of our thoughts and not prisoners of our thoughts.  If you think I’m a whacko right now, just go do a search for Catholic Mindfulness and you will see a number of great articles that support being mindful in Catholic spirituality.  I find that practicing this mindfulness has really helped me to see when my thoughts and feelings are getting carried away.  I simply pause, take note that my thoughts are going crazy, I lift my mind up to Jesus, and I try to live in the present moment.

Those are my 4 tips for anxiety.  First, connect with God more every day.  Second, externalize your fears with a journal.  Third, connect with a close friend or spouse.  Fourth, practice being aware of your thoughts and feelings.  These things have really helped me to put into practice the command of Jesus today: don’t worry.  This is a phrase easy to say, but hard to live.  Let’s pray that with God’s grace, we can all trust him more and be free from fear and anxiety.

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