Yesterday my day went off the rails, right around 2PM.
We all know how these things go: a text arrives, and as you read it you feel the adrenaline kick in, and all of a sudden your heart rate is accelerated, and your breathing is erratic and shallow.
No one can really predict when this is going to happen, and no one is really immune from them.
Now, this was not a life-or-death situation. It was something that I have to navigate, but regardless, it triggered me badly.
What’s more, I also was planning to go to the hospital to visit a person from our community who’d asked me to come and pray with them. Hospital visits are neither my strength, nor my forté, and that visit alone would normally be a stressor for me; now with this trigger, I could tell my stress and anxiety was red-lined.
The proverbial crap had hit the fan.
So what did I do?
First, I named it. I was honest—first with myself, and then with a few other people. I created a bit of a boundary: “I can’t really talk about this other thing, because I’m really triggered right now and I need some space.”
Next, I took just a minute or two to breathe and pray. For me (like for most of us), fear and anxiety have a physical manifestation, and I know that one of the ways that I can create space to receive the peace that is available to me is to calm myself down. I learned a technique called “Box Breathing” that is very effective for these times: I breathe in deeply for four beats, hold the breath for four beats, exhale slowly for four beats, and then wait for four beats, and then do it again. Even doing this for 3-4 repetitions can significantly reduce the physical reaction to anxiety. After that I spent a few minutes in centering prayer, where I try to open myself up to the will of God. I don’t ask God for anything; I just try to put myself in a place where I am open to His will, and am silent and available to Him and whatever He has for me.
Then I called some wise people. There are a very small number of people in my life whom I trust implicitly for counsel and advice. So I picked up the phone and shared what was going on. They let me talk and vent, and then also gave wisdom, advice, and encouragement. In these times, I try to go beyond just venting MY emotions and also LISTEN to whatever it is they might be trying to tell me.
So I was more calm at this point, but I still had to drive to the hospital, and I knew that was still going to be a challenge for me. Plus, I wanted to be in as good of a head space as I could be when I got there: after all, THESE folks were experiencing a crisis and trauma as well, and I humbly wanted to help them as best I could.
I was still pretty sideways when I got out of my truck at the hospital, but as I walked up to the entrance, I said a short, simple prayer. I said, “Father, this morning I told you that YOU were in charge, and I would do what you told me to do. Well, I’m trusting that this situation is what you have for me right now, and so I’m here, and I’m going to trust that YOU are here too. I believe that you will give me whatever I need in order to offer something to this family.”
And THAT gave me the strength and courage to walk through the hospital door, take the elevator to the 6th floor, and to walk into a room full of people who were both scared and relieved, anxious and hopeful.
You see, every morning I try, as best I can, to put myself into God’s hands, to commit to doing HIS will. To letting Him be in charge.
After a time of centering prayer, and praying some of the Psalms, I use these words. The original version appears in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I slightly modified them for my life.
“Father, I offer myself, today, to you, to build with and do with as you see fit. Relieve from the bondage of self, that I may better serve you and serve others. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to your love, your power, and your way of life. I am ready now, Father, that you would have all of me, both good and bad. Remove any defect of character that would stand in the way of serving you or serving others. GRANT ME STRENGTH AND COURAGE to do your will. Amen.”
The truth is, I didn’t really get myself through that afternoon. Sure, I took some basic steps, but those actions merely created the space for God—at times through other people—to remind me of who I am (both good and bad). THEN, when it mattered most, I was able to remind myself that MY JOB is to do whatever it is that God has for me in a given moment.
(Which involves ACCEPTANCE that, in a given moment, whatever is happening JUST MIGHT be God’s will for me.)
Do the work He has for me, as best I can, and trust that He’s there, doing whatever it is that ONLY HE CAN DO.
As we say, “That’s the gig. THAT’S the job.”
Especially when the stuff hits the fan.