When your house is on fire, the recommendation is often to get out, not pray. First move your ass to safety, then offer up some words of gratitude if and when you get out. Thats pretty much how it works. That’s not what I did. My mind is wired and conditioned differently now. Prayer not panic. It’s my idea of the evolutionary concept of fight or flight.
Prayer was my first instinct because I had woken up panicked way too many times and I was tired of feeling that way. So I worked hard to change that about myself. Now instead of myself get panicky, I just talk or listen or focus on God (whatever that looks like in that moment). I would try to breathe slowly and purposefully. Eventually the panic disappears, but not without doing the work. Now whenever I feel it return my first instinct is to realign my focus onto God. It’s a spiritual practice that nearly every religion uses, because it really works.
You might be in a place of panic right now. Your job has been shuttered, your investments have sunk, and you’ve been sequestered in your home with nothing but news of things getting worse before they can get better. You read social commentary that freak you out even more and pretty soon your panic become its own pandemic.
My suggestion? Pray. Say something to God, or if that’s not what you believe in say something to the air, the sky, the ground, or your dog. (We can debate later whether or not God is present in all those things). Just pray. Open your heart and begin the conversation. Call up what you’re feeling and have a chat with it. Let it know how you feel, or what you want. Talk to it instead of running away from it. I call this prayer, you might call it therapy. It doesn’t matter what it’s called as long as you do it. Trust me, it works.
What I have learned is this: prayer takes my focus off my fear and moves it towards my faith. I don’t pretend that this is some magical remedy, just a way to recalibrate and realign my head and heart to the place of peace I desire and deserve. It’s a spiritual practice that takes time to become instinctual. Well, you have the time!
I don’t want to get your blood pressure boiling but in California we’re in lockdown mode and will be for at least another 40 days. There’s a lot you can do to change the way you think in that time.
Maybe it's not such a surprise that this pandemic hit at a time when Christian churches are celebrating the sacred season of Lent. A holy time before Easter when believers are called to give up something for 40 days as a way to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness overcoming temptation and discovering his truth as the Son of God. Lent is a time to “fast” from something that will challenge, push, and bring you closer to God. What better time to work on something positive and life changing than today.
I have written extensively on this Lenten practice and why it is also important to “feast” on something as well to help celebrate the coming closer to God. As I like to remind people, Lent is a time when it’s okay to fail. In fact it’s necessary. That goes against all that we have been taught. When most people fail with their fast, they give up or abandon it altogether. I say instead of giving up remind yourself what you’re feasting on.
For example if I am fasting from judging others, I will feast on excepting all people. Therefore, when I judge someone, I quickly think about excepting them. I repeat this action as necessary. In fact, this particular one I had to repeat over and over in every minute of my awake stage. I'm all but positive I also did it in my sleep. Behavioral Psychologists believe that most behavioral changes can be made in 40 days if you put in the effort to make those changes. You might have done this with a 40 day diet, or 40 days to a better body. In 40 days we can change our eating habits, and have an exercise routine that sticks. Same is true about prayer. No surprise then that in the Bible the number 40 is significant (look it up here).
Jesus took 40 days of fasting, having had nothing to eat or drink. He not only survived the wilderness and tempation by being in prayer, but he also was enlightened to what he was being called to do in the world and how to do it. Or take Gandhi who made fasting a huge part of his philosophy of Ahimsa or Non Violence. During these fast, he focused his attention on the kind of meditation and prayer that would inspire changein himself and in others. This practice helped India reclaim their freedom from British colonist.
I would incurage you to take the next 40 days to rewire your thinking by keeping your eye not on the fast but on the very thing you want to feast upon. You will fail, but not really. Because each time you mess up you are reminded of how you are to succeed.
Think of a scale where there is a bucket full of fear weighing down one side, and an empty bucket of faith on the other one. It could be buckets of panic and peace if you want. The point is, each time you fail with fear or panic, remind yourself of your faith or the peace you desire. And each time you do that...take a little from the fast bucket and put it in the feast bucket. Before you know it, the scale begins to balance out. And then they begin to tilt in favor of where your head and heart desire and deserve to be.
You can use this time to panic or learn how to be at peace. You can spend the time in flailing in fear or practice ways to fortify your faith. It’s up to you to decide what you want to get out of your life and what you want to put into your life.
Not sure what that is?
May I suggest you don’t panic but take a deep breath and pray on it. Talk to your heart. The answer is already in you.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”