When you are in a time of intense suffering; grief, dread, or emotional overload, when you are walking around the house just staring at things, when getting through the day seems impossible, and you don’t know what to do with yourself, read this:
1. Do the next right thing. This might be eating a sandwich, sweeping the floor, going for a walk. Do one thing at a time. Do the task, and then do the next one. My mother used to say, “Wipe your table, sweep your kitchen floor, make your bed, and call me back.” It works.
2. Section off the day into manageable pieces.
You don’t have to suffer the way you feel, or the situation you are in forever, only for today. Divide the day up into sections. Think of something you are going to do at the end of each time period to mark its end and transition into the next one.
I have used:
- calling a friend
- reading a daily devotional or thought for the day
- a novena prayed every hour instead of once a day
- praying the Liturgy of the Hours through the day
- a short walk
These little things are anchors and dividers in the day to help re-center, reground, and chop a long, difficult day into chunks you can manage. This helps a lot.
My mom used to say, “Brush your teeth, wash your face, say your prayers, and start your day over again.”
Restart you day, she would say, any time, and as many times as you need to.
3. Master your thoughts. In times of crisis the mind becomes crowded with speculative, negative, or questioning thoughts that are very unhelpful.
These thoughts might be about blaming yourself or others, trying to figure out how or why something happened, why or whether God allowed it, or going over and over possible outcomes to a frightening situation you may be in.
These lines of thought, and others like them, are tricks of the well meaning brain, trying to problem solve, predict the future, or give us a sense of control or order.
This not only wastes precious energy, it overloads us emotionally and mentally, and can block us from accessing real wisdom and strength which would help us to peace. As my dad says, “There’s no truth in those thoughts.”
When you find yourself spinning your wheels this way, try to catch yourself and dismiss unhelpful thoughts. Don’t be mad at yourself, don’t be mean about it, just say to the mind, “Nope. Not today.”
Routinely stopping and observing your surroundings, and saying a set, short prayer, might help you let go of the offending train of thought.
I like to imagine putting all my fears and problems into the hands of Jesus, or putting them in Mary’s lap to pray over for me.
If you dismiss unhelpful thinking over and over, it works surprisingly well to help you feel better, make room for grace, and give you a sense of true empowerment.
4. Be your own best friend. It’s hard enough feeling horrible, but you can make it so much harder by being disappointed in yourself, and by what my psychologist sister-in-law, Jamie, calls, “negative self -talk.”
One day I was so mad at myself for not being further along in my grief (whatever that means,) for not getting anything done, for being a wimp.
I felt that the Lord asked me if I would treat my friend, Jocie, that way if she came over feeling like I did.
“No, I would never talk to her like this.”
I would love her, encourage her, and take care of her. I understood that this was how Jesus wanted me to treat myself for His sake.
Please be kind and accept yourself. Be sensitive to yourself. Understand that some days you’re doing well just to make it through the day and let it be that kind of day, if it is that kind of day.
Do for yourself what you would do for a best friend. Think of it as a way to practice surrender and humility. Because it is.
5. Pray. You will feel like you can’t pray sometimes. The 11TH Step of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions prayer as “conscious contact” with God. That is always possible.
It’s OK if you don’t feel prayerful. Today, focus on what St. Therese called a “simple look toward Heaven.”
Some things I have done in times of shock, fear, trauma, or grief, are:
- clutching my Bible to my chest
- simply holding a rosary
- making some physical gesture of prayer without forming any thoughts or words
- offering my pain to God in union with Jesus on the Cross
- visualizing putting my head against Jesus’ chest
- just being in the darkness, knowing, with “naked faith” (St. John of the Cross) that God was with me.
Holy music can really help. Try playing spiritual music that centers you, on these kinds of days. This is setting up and environment of prayer for yourself.
Strangely, prayers of praise in the midst of suffering can be a powerful catalyst for peace of heart.
“Blessed be God.
Blessed be His Holy Name.”
~ The Divine Praises
May God’s transforming love be with you in your suffering, as we, the Church, are with you, and may the Holy Spirit comfort you and give you peace. Right now. Today.