Yesterday I got an email from a reader who is struggling with the pain and drudgery of everyday life (which I used to experience often — I call it “existential angst”).
“Too bad I can’t just relax and trust God,” she said. “I know worrying doesn’t help and I should be grateful for each day, but I don’t feel happy. I overthink things and feel anxious for no reason. My husband died three years ago and I’ll never get over it. I pray for healing and peace but I never get it. Not for long, anyway. I believe in God but don’t feel close to him at all. I feel empty most of the time.”
Sometimes I think this world is so broken and full of wounded people and animals, I wonder how the earth can bear the weight. Other times I’m so filled with God’s presence, power, mystery and majesty that I feel like I’m coming undone! And I am, in a way. Research by Massachusetts General Hospital (Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks) shows that meditating literally changes our brains…and that changes who we are.
Those mountaintop experiences with God make the irritations, anxieties and grief of this world fade into the background. The world and wounded people still exist — my own sorrows and weaknesses are still part of me — but they’re secondary. God is more real.
What burden are you hauling around?
For 10 years I carried the burden of shame, guilt and abandonment. My sister stopped talking to me without giving me a reason. We grew up with a schizophrenic mother, moved constantly, and lived in various foster homes. My sister was the only home I knew; her rejection was the biggest, most painful loss I ever experienced.
My difficult, crazy childhood was easier to overcome; I knew my mom had little control over her disease — not to mention the shock treatments and anti-psychotic medications! But my sister chose to leave me. That was a burden I carried for a long, long time.
What burden are you carrying? Maybe you’re anxious about your daughter’s cancer or your husband’s drug addiction. Maybe you have a terminal illness, or you lost your soulmate, or you betrayed someone you love. Maybe life is just drudgery; you feel old, tired, and unhappy. Empty.
Whatever your burden and however long you’ve struggled under its weight…is it possible that you’re making it heavier and carrying it longer than necessary?
How to lay down your burdens
Last week in Your List of Misdemeanors – Echoes of Forgiveness I mentioned my contemplative prayer group. Since then, I learned an actual reason silent contemplative prayer is so powerful.
When you sit in silence with God you’re bombarded by thoughts and sensations. You think about your fears, worries, loved ones — you think about what you had for lunch and where you’re going after this. You think about your last vacation, and how you pulled Suzie’s hair in first grade. You think about the stupid thing you said yesterday, your foolish mistakes and deliberate insults. Your nose itches, your bum gets sore, your guts gurgle.
And you think your silent prayer isn’t working because you don’t feel connected to God or sense the presence of Jesus. There is no peace or joy, no power of the Holy Spirit. There’s just you and your crazy monkey mind.
Guess what? Simply noticing your thoughts and returning to God is the thing that makes the difference. That’s what changes your brain: the act of noticing of your thoughts and turning back to God. It’s not about “succeeding” or “doing it right.” And that’s why meditation and contemplative prayer is a practice. You are literally practicing God’s presence, peace and joy…and He then naturally spills over into your daily life. He changes who you are and how you carry your burdens.
And the best part is that it’s a natural, organic, simple process. If you show up and spend time with God in silence — without asking Him to fix this, heal that, solve this, make that better, tweak this, move that to the right just a tad — you will notice a difference in your daily life.
Next week I’ll share a Contemplative Prayer exercise. I’ll describe what I learned at the Silent Retreat and Contemplative Prayer Conference I went to in August. I’ll also tell you what difference it’s making in my life.
In 3 Easy Ways to Stay Focused When You Pray I describe one of my favorite ways to pray — it’s a way to literally be in prayer all day long. It’s incredibly relaxing and uplifting, and oh so simple.
You are in my prayers. May you start releasing your grip on the burdens you’re carrying. May you choose to give them to God, and trust that He will take care of them in ways you never could. May you surrender your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit, and give Him time to heal and transform you.
And may you realize that your relationship with Jesus today will echo into eternity.
With His love,
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