In Part 1 of What Not to Do This Summer, we learned to not be preoccupied, and give ourselves fully to the present moment. In Part 2, we learned to not be hasty, to allow summer to slow us down. The third hindrance to diligence (and making the most of our summer) is anxiety, for, as St. Frances de Sales suggests, “the time spent peacefully is doubtless most usefully employed.”
- Don’t Be Anxious
The saints call it Interior Sweetness, that deep and gentle peace that comes from a trust that all is in God’s hands. Says St. Jane Frances de Chantal, “So if you desire your work to be better and less burdensome, you must correct this anxiety and solicitude, striving to work with fidelity but, at the same time, with calmness and spiritual sweetness.”
Thanks, Jane, but if you’ve ever dealt with anxiety, you know that “being calm” is easier said than done.
Our little cottage at the beach that was supposed to be a place of rest and enjoyment has, year after year, provided us with an endless list of problems. One year it was a leaky roof that needed replacing; the next, an entire family of obnoxiously loud and smelly raccoons had moved into the attic, requiring the dismantling of multiple “latrines” and replacing of the entire ceiling. This year the ancient septic tank has finally collapsed and needs to be upgraded. And these are the simple problems that make me anxious, the ones that take time and money and effort to sort through but, in the end, are fairly solvable.
On top of those are the more complex issues that tug at my heart and whose solutions are not as easily apparent. The constant bickering between my children. The stress that my husband experiences at and brings home from work. The serious medical concerns of my parents. The mental health of my teenagers in a culture where depression and suicide are becoming increasingly and frighteningly common.
Unfortunately, I’m no stranger to anxiety. After my fourth child was born, I struggled in a way I thought was normal for a nursing mom of four children under the age of five. I was exhausted and unproductive – sitting on the couch and watching my children play took all the energy I had. This continued longer than it should have, and it wasn’t until I began to have feelings of panic, dread, and paranoia that we realized this fatigue and emptiness I was feeling was more than simply a natural consequence of caring for so many little ones all day long. With a diagnosis of Prolonged Post Partum Depression and Panic Disorder – and the right medication – I was slowly, but surely, on the road back to good mental health. And although I no longer take medication to stay panic-free, I certainly do utilise the tools of my faith to reduce my anxiety and seek the peaceful sweetness of which the saints speak.
I recently came across an adorable trick Pope Francis uses in times of stress: he writes his problem on a piece of paper and places it under a statue of the sleeping St. Joseph that he keeps in his room. “Now he sleeps on a mattress of notes!” says Pope Francis of his little Sr. Joseph, while he, the pontiff, who carries the weight of the world’s souls on his shoulders, sleeps well!
I use a similar trick, placing all my stressors in the hands of another of Pope Francis’ favourites: Mary, Undoer of Knots. When a situation seems particularly hopeless, and when I’ve exhausted my own abilities and feel particularly helpless, I offer the “knot” to Mary (writing it in my journal), knowing that she never fails to hear and attend to our concerns. In this way, I can follow the advice of St. Jane France de Chantal: “Perform faithfully what God requires of you each moment, and leave the thought of everything else to Him. I assure you that to live in this way will bring great peace.”
Can I find a practical and tangible way to try to relinquish my anxieties to God, so that I can experience the sweet peace He is offering me this summer?