Editor’s note: Article originally published on September 7, 2017.
Dear Fellow Souls and Pilgrims on this Earthly Journey,
Hopelessness seems to cover the world. Hurricane Harvey decimated large parts of Houston. South Asia continues to experience chronic flooding. People suffer across the globe in large and small ways. Today, I wish to share my recent episodes of depression, I am not writing to complain about my situation, rather I hope to unite my suffering [albeit quite small in comparison to others] to others in great need. I want to be in communion with my fellow man.
According to Helen Keller,
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
I cannot grow as a decent human being without learning from the school of suffering.
Depression Strikes Often
Depression hit me again the past few weeks. Similar to an ocean, anxiety and sadness move in waves with brief periods of respite before the next deluge of depression comes crashing onto my shore. I feel a sense of hopelessness.
What is going on with my life to trigger these feelings? To be frank, I am not sure. Life appears to be going well: I have an amazing wife, family, good shelter, and a job. I had a recent change in anxiety medicine and changes are occurring rather frequently at work. Still, these concerns should be minor compared to people suffering loss due to the recent natural disasters. Depression shrinks my perspective. I see through narrower glasses.
Perhaps, you are similar to me. If you suffer from depression, whether it is severe or mild I want to unite myself to your suffering. I wish to take up my cross if only it may help widen my scope. Prying open a narrow gaze is painful. However, authentic and natural development involves growing pains.
Share Your Suffering with Others
If you are downtrodden, as I am currently, share your experience. Talk with people you trust. Talk to God—it works. Prayer is effective because it is communication with Him who created the universe. Oftentimes, I need to fall unto my knees and become downtrodden before I am able to gaze upward in prayer. Saint Mother Teresa once said,“Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”
Although, I know my depression may likely come back again, I am aware of a strength to get me through the valley of tears—prayer. Prayer ultimately leads me toward an even-keeled path in my pilgrim journey on earth.
With great love and hope to alleviate your downtrodden soul,
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 31, 2017.
July 29th was my 30th birthday! More importantly it is the Feast Day of St. Martha the friend of Jesus Christ and sister to St. Lazarus and St. Mary. I have always shared a special connection to this ancient Christian role model. My own personal journey to overcome anxiety, worry, OCD, and constant movement in both my daily and spiritual life. Here I want to share a couple ways by which Martha is a perfect person to share July 29th.
Action, Action, Action
Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, I remember always being in motion as a kid. I know that sounds cliché to talk about children moving around, wiggling, and lacking focus. But for me that was and still is true. I struggled with sitting still. I seen this trait passed on to my own children as well.
My kids rarely are able to sit down for a complete meal. In fact they have a tough time sitting still for more than a couple minutes at a time. The action and constant movement of St. Martha appeals to me on a personal level.
“Martha [Matt], Martha [Matt], you are anxious and worried about many things”
Another reason the patron saint of homemakers is a perfect person to share my birthday with is due to her anxiety. Martha complains directly to Jesus about her sister Mary in Luke 10:40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
Martha’s tactless manner upon which she communicated her frustrations about her sister to Jesus negated her hospitality. Jesus calmly replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
How often do I experience similar frustrations when I think I am doing more to prepare for guests than my wife or other members of my family. Preparation and hospitality are good in and of themselves. Where the trouble lies in Martha’s situation is she worried about something fleeting [the itinerary of the feast] instead of cleaving to the eternal [sitting at the feet of Christ].
Along with both the personal limitations Martha struggled with constantly and the focus on the minutiae of daily life, her initial doubt of Jesus’ ability to help Lazarus reminds me of my own frequent self-doubt. According to John 11, Jesus heard about Lazarus’, the brother of Mary and Martha, severe sickness.
I always found these two sentences in this story interesting and bewildering: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was” (John 11: 5-6). Wait. If Jesus really loved his friends, why in the world did he procrastinate the equivalent of a weekend’s worth of time?
To be honest, this passage was a difficulty for myself. It is reading the entirely of the chapter—and reading it in light of the Resurrected Christ—that I realized John is preparing us for a tremendous miracle—the raising of Lazarus.
Trust Follows Doubt
Martha’s reply to Jesus entering the city of Bethany is similar to something I would say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!!” (John 11: 21). I often lament to God saying, “If only you answered my prayers timely would I not be suffering at this moment!”
St. Paul reassures us that even in the face of suffering, doubt, and strife, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This was actually the first line in the second reading of the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 30th). I planned to write this post on Saturday. I am grateful that my friend took me to see the newest Spiderman movie in theaters for my birthday. God allowed the simple occasion of a movie to help make the connection between Paul’s message and Martha’s anxiety. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This timeless message also reminds me of this Lauren Daigle’s Trust in You
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Martha is known as the patron saint of housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers, and servants. While I am not a great cook, I am a clean-freak. As a result of my OCD, I tend to do the majority of the household cleaning chores [I have control issues that I am currently working on].
I also helped my mom with her cleaning business as a kid and I worked in the fast food industry cooking and serving food for almost seven years during high school and college. Little did I know God was using my experiences with menial jobs to forge a relationship with one of the New Testament saints.
Going into writing this post, I had some anxiety about how I would finish it properly. What I have learned is that God will transform the ordinary. In this case, God took my anxiety and work experiences and raised it to a newness of creation. Sharing my birthday with the feast day of St. Martha of Bethany is an honor and a privilege. While I can wait to get another year older I cannot wait to celebrate this wonderful saint’s feast day again next year!
Every day we have a choice. We either give into the pressures of daily living or crumble under the weight of stress. The constant flux of life makes stress inevitable.
This year taught us all about the importance of mental health. Pandemics. Racial inequalities. Economic shutdowns. Adjusted graduation celebrations (or none in some cases). Public Mass suspensions.
Even the best fiction writers couldn’t write a more complicated and despairing storyline than 2020: Reality is Stranger than Fiction.
I understand the need for precaution in slowing down COVID’s spread (in April I contracted the virus and it was a miserable experience). But mental health must be a priority in overall wellness.
Even though stress will always surround you in some way, shape, or form don’t despair. I have learned to shield myself against the pressures of this world and the snares the Devil lays out to try to entrapment. Here are seven ways to arm you against anxiety:
***NOTE: These are only suggestions. Some of the strategies may not be applicable to your situation at this time in your life. Please use these shields against anxiety as it suits your needs/situation.***
1 Peter 5:7 states, “Cast all your worries upon Him because he cares for you.”
Prayer is communication with the Divine Creator of the Entire Universe. It involves a dialogue not a monologue. Much of my spiritual journey has had me focus on my end of communication—asking God for my wants. I did not always listen. Something I have done to open communication is to be more deliberate in my gratitude.
Along with prayer, song safeguards me from anxiety. I used to listen to rock music; however, four years ago I made a shift in the type of music that played in my car. Because the words we hear impact our daily living, my shift to listening to positive and uplifting Christian music protects me from the chaos life throws my way.
Together with prayer and encouraging music, monthly counseling appointments protects me from the foray caused by the foibles of myself and my fellow neighbors. Counselor is a title given to the Holy Spirit as well. Between my professional counseling sessions, I can rely on the aid of the Holy Spirit to console me against daily anxiety.
A fourth shield in my armory against anxiety is frequent reading of good books. According to Frederick Douglas, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” While this quote is not necessarily an absolute truth, I will attest that reading can be a doorway to freedom.
As I journey into the literary universes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, I am afforded respite from the toils of work. Through the written word I am also able to travel—in a sense—back in time to meet holy men and women and learn about how they existed in a world that was not their home.
St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 provided a timeless example of the spiritual life, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” I joined cross country in high school and my passion for running continues today. During a stressful week, I defend myself from the snares of anxiety by taking my children out in the jogging stroller for a short run. During my neighborhood circuits, I am able to reflect on how my day went and how I may be able to improve on my shortcomings.
Anxiety medicine does not work for everyone so feel free to disregard this point. However, pharmaceuticals for stress help me to limit the anxieties I impose on myself. Consistent usage of doctor prescribed anxiety medication is beneficial to my unique situation. It took me a long time to acknowledge that outside help was necessary to help relieve intense stress.
God loves humanity so much that he implemented a support system for his adopted children to use to shield against the prowess of the Devil. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1436,
Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. “It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.35
The Holy Spirit absolves me of my sins when I have an authentic contrition. Along with forgiveness, I receive grace to stave off future temptations. Often the sacrament of Confession is the only thing that bring me back to the life of faith when I face despair and doubt in the Divine Providence!
Whether you are in the shadows of desolation or experiencing consolation, these seven shields form an effective defense against the constant assault of anxiety. Continue to fight the good fight. Aim to be the best version (holiest) of yourself. Trust in the Lord and don’t give impatience, anger, or doubt the final victory. I pray that you take up this challenge daily.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 19, 2019.
“Ow, ow. My pants are wet! My pants are wet!” I woke up to this sound of my three year old crying in the basement. Remembering the constant thunder and lightning that boomed and flashed throughout the night, I jumped up and rushed down the stairs. Immediately, my fears were confirmed. Water. Pouring. Through. The. Window.
I wish I was more composed initially. I want to say I remained calm and did not curse. Sadly, that is not true. Frustration seared through my veins. I quickly brought my son upstairs and had my wife attend to him. Next, I zoomed outside to start vacuuming up the raising water with the wet-dry vacuum. A full moon +a teething baby +flash flood= a bad start to the day!
According to author Margaret J. Wheatley, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way.” If I did not reflection on my situation, I would have meandered aimlessly for the rest of the day. I want to share three incredibly simple words to remember when stress slams you down.
Stop. Wait. Halt. Either way you describe it does not matter. Just make sure you pause. Stressful situations keep us moving and moving. Faster and faster until our emotions blow up! Pausing to stop the seething sea of stress coursing through my body and mind definitely helped. I took a short break to compose myself.
The second key word to think about during stressful times is perspective. According to American psychologist William James, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Perspective allows us to pick a different thought over the negative ones that flood your mind during stressful times. The natural result from pausing during a stressful situation is the ability to develop a perspective. Perspective actually derives from the Latin perspectus meaning “of sight, optical” or perspectiva, “science of optics.”
Perspective also relates to being able to view things from a different point of view. Setting a moment or even a couple minutes of time aside to take a break or simply closing your eyes to reset your mind helps in developing perspective. For instance, I started to develop negativity at work today. When I sensed negativity gnawing at me, I left my desk and took a short bathroom and water break. That small break gave me the opportunity to reset my attitude—shifting my perspective.
The third simple word to remember to help overcome stressful situations is plan. Unlike pausing and taking time for changing your perspective, planning does not always occur instantly or at the same time anxiety hits you. Pause and perspective are offensive tactics to fight stress. Planning is more of a long-term and defensive in nature.
Planning takes time a bit on effort on your part. There is no one size fits all shield of a plan to combat anxiety. I am reminded of Captain Cold’s quip in the CW’s The Flash, “Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan!”
Pause. Perspective. Plan. Two weapons and a guard to battle anxiety. While these are incredibly simple tools you need to utilize these daily. Life does not take a day off. Neither can you! I guarantee that if you consistently use these tactics your mentality will change. You will gain more stamina to stave off negativity. You will be more hopeful, confident, and grateful. I hope you found value in this article. If you have any additional thoughts, tips, or tactics to battle stress please share in the comments section!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 18, 2019.
Opening my email inbox I noticed a correspondence from a resume-building website titled Your Resume Review is Complete. Quickly, I clicked on the email to see how I compared to other job seekers. Needless to say, my feedback shows that I have much room for improvement. My initial reaction to the review included feelings of dejection, inadequacies, and defeat. On top of these negative feelings my toddler son began a 10 minute tantrum. “Today is going to be one of those days,” I thought.
Author Erwin McManus wrote, “Attitude is an accurate monitor of where we fall on the spectrum of pride and humility.” Normally, my virtue-vice needle points closer to the pride side. Today was different though. Although my natural reaction tended toward despair which is a product of pride, that soon dissipated towards a desire to learn and improve on my resume — I realized I’m not the smartest when it comes to professional resume building!
According to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” The old me would tend toward despair with any type of constructive criticism. My primary focus has been to improve my spiritual life—I need to limit my impatience, pride, and anger when things get outside of my control.
Reading St. Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosary deepened my devotion to Mary. Aside from Jesus, no other person exhibits humility as much as the Queen of Humility. Along with spiritual benefits of humility this virtue provides practicality and reliability to daily life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson plainly wrote, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” The times I most often get angry is when something does not go MY way. Whenever I have the prideful audacity to believe that I am in 100% total and utter control of my day is usually the day that nothing I want gets done. Humility is the antidote to pride. Patience is also a cousin of the virtue of humility. During the more stressful parts of parenting, I noticed that whenever I exercise patience I actually end up saving time in the long-run.
Along with saving time, the virtue of humility helps and strengthens relationships. One does not need to look far to see how the virtue of humility helps. The department for the company that I work for holds a monthly meeting to detail the progress over the past 30 days. Together with the business achievements, managers recognize employers who excelled that particular month. Without exception, the workers who receive Team Member of the Month have been dutiful and humbly going about their work without the promise for recognize. Such individuals have strong relationships with their peers.
Not only does the virtue of humility apply to healthy and successful profession relationship, but it is essential for family life as well. St. Teresa of Avila declared, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.”
All the books on marriage preparation or counseling will strengthen your marriage as much as your willingness to humble yourself before your spouse. St. Paul details the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. While he does not specifically use the word humility it is clear that exercising that virtue will only benefit spouses.
Buoy during Life’s Storms
Together with helping you move on from stressful situations easier and fostering relationships, the virtue of humility acts as a benevolent beacon to guide you through all of life’s storms. A common reaction toward the pressures, woes, and calamities of life is to flee. Developing the strength to withstand the maelstroms of misery takes time and patience.
The great Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote, “Humility is the foundation of all virtues.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux recognized the importance of humility as well as he famously declared, “The three most important virtues are humility, humility, and humility!”
From my own experience the instances where I weathered the storms best occurred whenever my wife and I were both on the same page–sharing the same goal and purpose. Through humbling myself to recognize the merits of her insight was I able to lift her up [and she lifted up me] during the tumultuous times.
No matter what stage or circumstance you are at in life the virtue of humility will always be reliable and practical—on a daily basis! A trusted resource I use whenever the tentacles of pride try to take over my life is theLitany of Humility. Be prepared for this powerful prayer to change your life!