Dear Older Self,
Remember the time you stood at the kitchen counter, grinding coffee beans as your mind whirled with the grinder? You were managing the care of an elderly widow and her needs were in a rapid state of change. Your mind was spinning, trying to anticipate what to do, when to do it, how to find the resources. But your mind came up blank. And the coffee turned out weak and undrinkable.
Your whirling brain produced nothing but anxiety. And the work of your hands was abandoned as you left the present moment and visited the imaginary land of the worry-filled-future. You are well acquainted with the land of the worry-filled-future. You have lived there much of the time. This accounts for a great deal of the stress and the distress you experience in life.
It turns out, that no matter how worthy the cause you are worried about, the worry is not only a waste of time and energy, it is worse. It is an activity that robs you of the awareness that God is with you here, now, in this present moment. It blocks you from resting in God’s presence and from receiving the many gifts of God’s loving care and provision.
You realized then that it was time to give up your attempts to “figure everything out.” It was time to begin to trust that God would show you what to do one day at a time.
In a different situation you were determined to find a home care facility for an elderly family member. His own children did not join you in this hunt because they were not ready to have him make this move. But you continued the search anyway. The truth was, you were not simply gathering useful information in case the family decided it was time. You were really trying to manage your own anxiety.
When you realized this, you let go of trying to be in charge of the outcome and began to entrust the whole situation to God’s care. As a result, you were freed up to be much more helpful to others.
Trying to figure everything out or trying to control what we cannot control are common human responses to anxiety. Neither of them are helpful. So the question is: “How do you move from instinctive fear-based reaction to letting go and trusting?
The answer, dear older self, is not to talk yourself out of your fears, or to shame yourself for experiencing them. Trying to push your fears away will only send your fears into hiding where they will continue to stress your body and lead to growing anxiety.
What you have been learning to do is to bring your fears, your needs, your concerns to God. Rather than dismiss them you have learned that you can name them. You have learned that you can allow your fears and worries to remind you of your need for God’s help. You have found that the path to peace is to bring your fears and concerns to God.
I want to remind you to do something you found helpful earlier in life. I want you to write out an inventory of your fears from time to time. This practice can keep you aware of your anxieties and keep you engaging in finding a meaningful way to entrust your fears to God.
One way to do this inventory is to divide a piece of paper into four columns. In the first column make a list of your fears. In the second column briefly explain why this issue is creating anxiety. In the third column write a comment about how this fear is impacting you, what reactivity does it create in you? And in the fourth column, write a comment about how you are relying on yourself and how your self-reliance is failing you.
For example, when you were afraid your in-law needed a different care facility, your real fear was that his care might fall on you or your spouse. That was your fear. You would write this in the first column. In the second column you would explain that this was a concern because his care would have been overwhelming for either of you. In the third column you might write about how this fear was driving you to try to control other people by pressuring them to take a certain kind of action. And in the fourth column you could acknowledge that self-reliance failed you when you tried to be in control—that all you accomplished was to add pressure to other peoples’ lives, all in the name of “helping.” This only made you more anxious and caused others to become upset.
Once you have written out your inventory take some time to notice how your reactions and actions in relation to your fears have often created additional suffering and distress for you and for others. Your self-reliance is not the path to peace. Your self reliance is making a mess of things.
The path to sanity and serenity is the path of entrusting ourselves, our lives and our wills, and all that holds our hearts, to God’s care.
So, dear older self, follow this wise process. Take inventory of your fears. Talk about your fears and concerns with others and with God. Let go of trying to figure things out on your own. Release your fears to God, offering the simple prayer, “Thank you, God, that you will show me what to do.”
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com