My son's temper is a powerful and beautiful thing. When I'm up close it feels too large, too massive, like it's going to tsunami me and the entire family . But when I watch it from a distance or recall it in the past, I'm grateful for the power of his emotions. I'm grateful he feels things so deeply. And I know that his temper and his unique sensitivities and ability to love deeply are all one and the same. When he loses his temper, we've been learning to offer him some tools to calm down. We're learning that, instead of responding to his intensity with our flaming emotions, we can calmly offer him some options. When he rages he can: 1) Take deep breaths (We practice this every night before prayer time so he learn to put it into action in the hard moments), 2) Hit or squeeze a pillow, or 3) Sit alone.
Those tsunami moments still can feel out of control. But, the more we practice offering him his tools, the more he's learning to calm himself down. Our moments of emotional chaos are becoming shorter and shorter.
I'm learning to recognize that I need some tools as well. I am a complicated thing: Full of God's image and worth and goodness, and also a mess of insecurities, vanities, and selfishness.
The deeper I go in my own pursuit of wholeheartedness, the more I recognize the depth of my need. The wild thing that rages in me is as beautiful as the temper in my little boy. It is proof that God has made me capable of feeling great and powerful things. God has made me to feel deeply so that I can love deeply.
I fail often. But I am learning, to paraphrase my friend and one of my favorite pastoral writers/speakers, , that
The ongoing task of learning to live with gratitude and in the presence of God begins with discovering the tools already in our toolboxes.
How do we pray in moments of anxiety, rage, and fear? How do we learn to calm down when we find ourselves screaming in the faces of our children? How do we learn to breathe in those moments when the tasks of the day feels crushing and we feel too vulnerable to leave the house?
Here are three prayer practices in my tool box. These aren't the end-all/be-all of the praying life. But tools that I hope might help you as well.
3 Ways to Practice God's Presence in the Wild Moment:
This is a simple exercise that is helpful for those of us who struggle with anxiety. This is also an excellent tool to help you pray en route to somewhere else. I try not to make this too complicated. I don’t make myself come up with names of God or even promises from God. I just keep it simple.
Breathe out the anxiety, breathe in gratitude.
Breathe out: Lord I’m worried about this appointment today.
Breathe in: Thank you for my kid’s messy hair and sweet smile.
Breathe out: I feel overwhelmed by my deadlines.
Breathe in: Thanks for the sunshine and the song on the radio.
The Jesus Prayer
Often, when I’m frustrated or angry, or sense that I’m about to lose it with my kids (or even when my three-year-old is insisting on buckling himself in the car seat and I’m sick of standing there, waiting!), I come back to this prayer. It helps me slow my anger or my anxiety down and it reminds me of the reality of Jesus’ nearness and his love for me.
Take your time to pray these words, in this order. Pause between lines and meditate on the emphasis of the phrase. For instance, if the passage ends with a simple “have mercy…” you may want to mediate or acknowledge some places in your life and the world that are desperately in need of God’s mercy.
Let yourself pray these words slowly and deliberately, even if it feels a little weird.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.
Lord Jesus Christ.
Imagine Jesus talking to you with the kindness you offer the tenderest people in your life.
I am far from perfect in my mothering, but there are moments when I know I've gotten it right, when I've been able to say the thing that counts or be the mother I most want to be to my little ones.
Imagine Jesus sitting with you. (It may help to start with a scene from the Gospels. Imagine yourself in the scene of the woman at the well, or sitting beside Jesus at dinner.) Start a conversation with him, the sort of conversation you have with your child at night before bed: gentle and loving and tender. Let yourself tell Jesus about your fears and then allow him to respond to you the way you would respond to your own child or to a child in your life.
This may be difficult for you. Don't worry about putting words in Jesus' mouth. Just think about what you most want to hear. This is a prayer using your imagination. Maybe what you want to hear isn't necessarily what God wants to say to you. But this is a way that you can confess your needs to God in a safe, vulnerable place.
I'd love to hear from you. What helps you calm your heart in the wild moments?
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