“On an airplane, as a flight prepares to depart, the flight attendant tells the passengers that, in case of an emergency, oxygen bags will drop from overhead. Those passengers with infants will receive two masks. The adult is to put his or her own oxygen mask on first, and only then put a mask on the infant.
For me, as an Italian grandfather, those instructions are counterintuitive. I want to give my life for my grandchild, to care for her first, and then myself. But—and this is a big but—if I truly love my granddaughter, I will put my own oxygen mask on first, then hers. The sequence is vital to my granddaughter’s survival. If I don’t take care of myself first, both of us might be lost.
The oxygen mask example is a model for becoming a healing presence to others. If I don’t take care of myself first, I have nothing to give to others. People seek me out as a counselor and expect that when they come into my office, I have time and energy for them. They don’t need a tired, grumpy, sleep-deprived, inattentive, and self-absorbed counselor. The only way I can have something to give is if I have allowed Christ to care for me first and foremost. There is no other way.
I begin to care for myself by centering my being, my soul-mind-body. I allow Christ to center me by gradually becoming still inwardly, which is no small task in today’s environment.”
– Albert S. Rossi, PHD, Becoming A Healing Presence
Inevitably, there will be times in our lives when our world as we know it will become unraveled and the rug, upon which sat precariously all our best laid plans, and assumptions about how things “should be,” will be ripped out from under us. The entrance of chaos and upheaval into our previously ordered-ish existence can be faith shattering. It is not at all unusual in seasons of crisis to fall prey to bitterness, disillusionment, anxiety, and disappointment in our own lack of willpower to defeat those passions and spiritual afflictions that ail us.
Speaking from experience, digging oneself out of a rut of despondency where anger, fear, and discontentment also abide, like loud and slovenly roommates all up in your personal space and business, is impossible using mental gymnastics. There is no reasoning your way out of enslavement to negativity and despair. In my own case, I equated freedom from my emotional and spiritual illnesses with “answers” and the changed behavior of others.
If I could make sense of my present trials, and if people would stop disappointing and misunderstanding me, and if God would remove from me the thorn in my flesh revealing to myself and to others my own weaknesses and depravity, then I could once again experience joy. If I could cure myself of my own brokenness, then I would start praying again and turning to God for comfort … but not now, not while I’m neck deep in vices I cannot shake, and battling resentment I can’t overcome; it’s too shameful. I’m too lost, too unworthy. In this dejected, prayer-less state, I am cut off from healing, for myself and from being a source of healing for my neighbor.
The mysterious thing about trials and sufferings is that they can be incredibly effective at knocking down barriers to profound inner growth and transformation. What I’ve learned, and am learning, is that prolonged comfortableness and “success” make me complacent, flimsy, and judgmental. Pre-upheaval, I had lots of answers and little empathy for the destructive choices made by others. My fulfillment was all wrapped up in my outside circumstances; when my home life was orderly, and I was approved of by all, and everyone in my inner circle was acting as I thought they should, and the social climate wasn’t quite so viciously divisive, and God seemed graspable and His mercy somewhat fathomable, I could function pretty smoothly. My joy and faith were contingent on everything being just so.
Suffering has stripped me of those contingencies and brought me to the end of myself where I have been forced to grapple with the hard truth that people and circumstances are neither mine to control nor capable of truly filling the emptiness in my soul. Struggling and enduring has lead me to an alternative path to healing, one so narrow it has required a painful amount of letting go, as I cannot carry with me down that path any conditions or stipulations, any pretenses or presumptions, only a longing to abide in the eternal, unearthly peace that is Christ.
This narrow path has been a fruitful path, in that mountains are being moved in my soul. When I finally stopped waiting for life to make sense, and to be worthy enough to fall at Christ’s feet, sparks of enlightenment began to light up the darkness with snippets of hope. See, healing isn’t at all about the removal of trials (which I really wanted it to be and pouted about for a good long while). Healing is Christ. Not Christ AND… anything. Well, wait, I take that back; healing is Christ AND a mustard seed sized faith that I am profoundly beloved by Christ right now, “as is,” exactly where I’m at, vices, worries, weaknesses, despairing doubts and all.
Healing is acknowledging the image of God within myself, accepting His great love for me, and being moved by that love to become a better steward of my body, mind and soul. Healing is the realization that through abiding in Christ, I have all the tools I need to procure peace in the midst of any situation just by tending to my hunger for what is eternal, beautiful, and good. One of my favorite words, and states of being, is “rooted.” Not brittle or inflexible but pliable and ever connected to the Source of all life, despite the winds of change that sometimes breeze gently by and other times rage though my here and now like a hurricane.
Healing these days looks, for me anyway, like daily walks in silence where I listen for God or just bask in the nearness of Him; like ceasing to over analyze or trying to figure things out; like filling my head, body and heart with that which will nourish instead of poison me; like practicing gratitude; like both intentional hard work and intentional rest. I find that when I’m diligent about humbly and expectantly taking tender care of myself (honoring the Christ in me), and rising early to greet God each new morning with “Thy Will be done” on my lips, I am braver, and wiser, more patient, and more attentive to the needs of others.
“Acquire the Spirit of Peace,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov, “and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” May my peace become your peace, and your peace my peace. May we be gentle with ourselves, and forgiving of ourselves and one another. Broken as we are, God loves us and leads us through our trials to liberation from earthly cares and passions. It’s up to us to trust the journey, though we might not understand it on this side of reality, and to choose in the midst of it, as Dr. Rossi said, to care for ourselves and allow Christ to center us by becoming inwardly still. We have all the strength and stamina required to do the next right thing in front us, with hope, with gratitude, and with joy independent of our circumstances.