Dear Fr. Joe: It Feels Like the World is Falling Apart
Dear Fr. Joe: It feels like the world is falling apart. I have so much anxiety right now, I simply don’t know what to do. Please help.
GOD BLESS YOU. As a person who struggles with anxiety at times, I have some sense of what you are enduring, and I am so sorry.
Right now, for so many people, everything seems just awful. More and more, I see your words reflected in the faces, words and voices of so many, and it breaks my heart. I’ve brought this heartbreak to prayer a lot over the last half-year, and it is my fervent hope that, by sharing how God has helped me in it, I will be able to help you.
One of my favorite tools to deal with my incessant worry is to take those worries and turn them into prayer. Let’s start with our worries about our country. Imagine if, every time we are going to complain or post about how bad liberals or conservatives are, we instead asked God to heal and convert us. Next time we are tempted to enter that world of fear and anger about our country, let’s agree to pray: “Jesus, heal our country. Draw us closer to you. Protect the most vulnerable and help me be an instrument of your healing and peace.”
It’s the same with our Church. I fight a state of indignation overload at our struggles within the Church and the organizations attempting to make money from those struggles. It drives me nuts, angers me, prompts fear in me – all of it. What if, each time I felt that fear or anger, I turned it into a prayer? “God, heal our Church. Drive out the darkness. Make me holy.”
With just these two prayerful responses to anxiety, can you imagine how much prayer would hit heaven? I laugh a bit thinking about us flooding the lines at heaven’s switchboard, but I honestly believe that if we prayed instead of complaining, posting or raging, our country would be as close to heaven on earth as we can get this side of the Second Coming.
Second, we need to recognize and combat the human tendency to respond to worry and fear by attempting to control. It is an easy but wildly unhelpful response. As a general rule, what we are called to control is a very small area, but what we try to control is pretty big. When you are tempted to anxiety or fear about how your school is doing things, ask yourself if that’s your job. If you are tempted to get angry at work for management’s response to something, take a moment and ask, “Is this mine to control?” If not, it’s time to make a concerted effort to focus on what we are called to control, and let go of that which we aren’t.
I also think something that can help us is to limit our intake of news and/or social media. Never in the history of the world have we had so much information at our fingertips. You wouldn’t believe it from what you read and hear, but you are actually living in the least violent time in human history. Yet, even with that, every bit of bad news is right there available to us and our brains were not meant to process this much.
The people who make money from the news have a vested interest in keeping you looking at it, so it is up to you to stop the train. Limit your intake of news. Limit your intake of social media. Make a habit of not letting these things define you. As long as we immerse ourselves in the ocean of information, we will always get wet.
This next point may get me nasty letters, but here goes:
Politics are not meant to save us. Politics and politicians are supposed to serve us, not the other way around. If you are ending friendships because of politics, you are doing both of those things wrong. God did not set it up so that you, me or the country are saved by politicians. We are putting way too many eggs in that basket.
Another thing that helps me is to accept my limitations. It absolutely breaks my heart to fail to help everyone who asks. It’s overwhelming to me how many people want/need/ask things of me, and any rational person can look at that reality and tell me “You can’t do all that.” Well, I’m not entirely rational, so I have to keep reminding myself that I am a limited human who can only do what I can do.
Finally, I want to offer you the absolute best weapon God gave us to help with anxiety: gratitude.
Gratitude may seem like a small or even somewhat cheesy answer to our anxieties, but it’s not; it is a mighty weapon.
By being grateful, we are allowing God to open our eyes to the innumerable blessings that we ignore or, more likely, take for granted. To be grateful takes a prayerful effort and a bit of work, but in the end, it yields incredible fruit.
Not too long ago, in a homily, I invited the people listening to send a thank-you note to someone in their lives. I asked them to take the time to think of why they were grateful for that person and then share it with them in a note.
It’s been a couple weeks since I asked that and I cannot believe how many people have told me it helped them. I did it, and it helped me a lot. It’s easy to have grateful thoughts or feelings, but to articulate those and pass them on is an amazing experience.
Take some time to write God a thank-you note. Let God know why you are grateful. Be specific in your thanks for your life. And enjoy another day in God’s presence.