When Everything Is Too Much

 

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Recently we have received a lot of emails and messages from people who feel everything is becoming ‘too much’. They are disheartened by many of the decisions taken by President Trump and his supporters; they are worried about the direction, or lack of direction, they see in UK politics; the E.U. and its policies are regarded as something of a nightmare; they do not trust President Putin; China is a mystery. Add to this, for church-goers, an uneasy sense that the Church they thought they knew is riven with all kinds of disagreements, and it is no wonder that many feel they cannot cope. When everything around us looks bleak, trying to deal with personal problems — family worries, financial difficulties, health concerns — can be overwhelming. The conventional religious response, urging us to pray, is fine as far it goes. We know it is true, but how do we pray when everything inside feels either dead or raging?

At the risk of landing myself in a sticky interview with the Vatican’s CDF, I’d say that one of the big problems here is how we see prayer. If prayer is an escape from reality rather than an ever-deepening plunge into reality, of course it is going to seem useless — because it is useless. Prayer that doesn’t start with the situation we’re in, with the person we are, with who God is, isn’t prayer at all: it is a fantasy, and not a very helpful one.

I am very fortunate in that, when I feel life is becoming too much, I usually have the option of going into our oratory and just sitting there before the Blessed Sacrament, inwardly raging or crying or whatever. Sometimes I don’t have that option: someone needs to be seen or I have a duty I cannot put off or, as now, builders are at work and the oratory is out of bounds for the duration. That is much more like the experience of most of our correspondents. Where can we find comfort, in the sense not merely of solace but of strength, at such times?

There is the comfort of knowing that there are other people (the Communion of Saints here and now) praying for us, even if they don’t know of our particular angst; but while we know that intellectually, we don’t often feel it. There is the comfort of the world around us, whether it be cityscape, landscape or seascape: all have their beauties, and if we can allow ourselves a moment or two to register them, they can have a very calming effect. We can read, play the piano, take the dog for a walk, do something we enjoy or which, at the very least, demands so much attention that we cannot dwell on our sorrows, however transitory they may actually prove to be. Well and good; but none of these is a cure in itself, not all of them are available to everyone, and modern life adds another dimension to the mix. If we use the internet or are involved in Social Media, there is the great weight of anger and derision constantly pressing upon us. The inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the USA and the judgement of the Supreme Court regarding the role of Parliament in the Brexit process has increased rather than lessened the outpouring of negative opinion. What can we do?

There are times when, for our own good, a certain degree of withdrawal and the cultivation of silence are the best thing we could do. We do not have to read everyone else’s opinion on this or that; still less do we have to reply or engage in what often seems a fruitless discussion. We have a right to be quiet. We do not need to win every argument, nor do we need to point out where others are wrong. That is not opting out, it is being sensible. It is saying, in effect, I must put up a little circle of thorns to protect my own inner peace, not because I want to be selfish but because without that peace, I know I shall have nothing to give others. I am running on empty and out of kilter, for now I will give myself time to regain my balance. Not everyone will agree, but those who object may not yet have discovered how drained one can become. May anyone who reads this post and thinks ‘that’s me at the moment!’ know that we are praying for you here at the monastery. The feeling of emptiness and strain will pass eventually. In the meantime, you are not alone, nor is what you are experiencing unusual. It is part of being human, and being human is a very wonderful thing to be.

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27 thoughts on “When Everything Is Too Much”

  1. Well said Sister….very sound advice. My prayers are with you and your community as you field all your incoming communications and as you wend through your own in-house upheavals. Be Blessed. Shirley.

  2. Your post resonated very loudly with me and I suspect with many others among your readers. Online life can take on too great a role and prevent us achieving the stillness we need to pray. Or even to notice the needs of others around us. Mea culpa (or new cuppa as auto-correct wanted to write!)…
    Thank you so much for this post which I will use as food for thought today.

  3. Thank you. I feel consumed with rage at the moment – mostly in relation to Trump & Brexit and it’s the feeling of powerlessness that adds to that. A bit of withdrawal is a good thing I think. I’m trying to immerse myself in books to achieve it. And when it’s less cold I have half a ton of manure to spread round the garden which will (oddly) make me feel better. In fact, concentrating on, and giving thanks for, the small things does help. I’m reminded of the Sassoon poem “Child at the Window” and, in particular, the line “For you must learn, beyond bewildering years, that little things beloved and held are best”. Thank you for your prayers. I shall try to do better!

  4. Thank you for this encouraging piece! There is indeed some degree of hope. The constant bombardment with trivialities (fake or real, I don’t know which are worse) and increasingly absurd work demands in all domains (we used to be artisans; now we must turn into robots) is real, and it has become so overwhelming that more and more of us “snap out of it” and turn to prayer, and the kind of attitude you describe so well. Strange as it might sound I find consolation in Systems Theory which talks of “loose coupling” and “countervailing forces”. Our feelings of oppression give us a real reason, and new urgency, to turn to God. Not, and thank you for making that clear, as an escape from reality. But as a source of a new perspective on reality. As a window on meta-reality. Some faiths offer “escapist” ideas. I pray that our Church can offer a clear-eyed perspective on what it means to be truly human- in the world and in spite of the all-too-worldly.

  5. Romans 8 26
    In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.…

    (Saint is a reference to all who are in Christ Jesus and rely upon his righteousness rather than their own)

  6. Right on target and very soothing to know that what we are feeling is at this time is being felt by many.You have always been so insightful. My Pastor spoke of silence being good for the soul last Sunday.Thank you.

  7. I so enjoy reading your blog and your insightful commentary. It truly is a little of island of peace I can retreat to from our crazy and uncertain and angry world here in the U.S. Thank you for these lovely words. Blessings to you all.

  8. On Sunday we shall hear the Beatitudes. Those who flocked to hear the Lord were the sorrowful, the disregarded, the gentle, poor in spirit and those who hungered for justice. He told them they were blessed, loved ,and valued ..It often does not feel like that. Let us hold fast, gaze on Christ who is the answer to all our desolation.

  9. Any servant of Jesus Christ that is getting all fired up about politics is not doing it right. We are called to pray for the nation and its leaders, no matter who that is, for the same reason we put our trust in God and His Kingdom. Stop being of this world, for your own sanity.

    • I don’t think you can have read many of my earlier posts on political subjects, nor perhaps fully understood what this one is about (which isn’t politics). My apologies for not being clear, but I think your dismissal of engagement with the world we live in is unBenedictine and, in fact, fundamentally unChristian. To order others to ‘stop being of this world’ implies both knowledge of how others think and act, and authority over them. Forgive me if I’ve read more into your comment than you intended. The written word isn’t always the most precise medium of communication.

  10. Thank you so much for that post. I too am trying to withdraw to re strengthen myself and your blog brought this passage to my mind –
    “1 Kings 19:11-13King James Version (KJV)
    11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
    12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
    13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?”

  11. Human existence is full of anxiety, hate, passion and despair. As a Christian, if I am feeling any of these or other emotions, I ask myself and God why I am feeling so.
    I concentrate on His grace and our Saviour’s message of peace and love. This is my form of prayer and mostly I am restored by the answers I receive. If I love my Lord and my neighbour, I lose my anxiety, hate and despair. I may still be passionate but I have grace to carry on.
    There is a message on the beach on the south side of Morecambe Bay which reads – ‘Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos.’ Not a bad way to live.

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