How to be alone with yourself
(and find healing)
By Reverend Laura Messamore
I recently heard a pastor say God has put us all in a global time out. And oh, how my inner toddler resists being given limits. Once my tantrum has been thrown, and the dust settles, and I look around, I find I am left with… myself.
In the face of these turbulent times, Pastor Janine recently posed the question, “What can we do to help people who are struggling with anxiety and even PTSD?” At first, I didn’t have an answer for her. My answer for helping struggling people has always been to walk right into their struggle and be present to them until the storm passes. The challenge, of course, is that “walk right in” is the one thing we aren’t allowed to do right now. (Although a phone call, text, or zoom meeting is not a bad second choice.)
But perhaps, providentially, there is a gift to be found in the isolation. Maybe, alone with ourselves, we can begin to find freedom from the old patterns that have so often tripped us up, or the new catastrophe that has freshly arisen, or both.
We all have different circumstances, and therefore have been presented with different trials in the face of the pandemic. Whatever difficulty you are facing, God longs to carry you through it. The place of your connection with God is inside of your own spirit. The way you connect with your spirit is in stillness.
But guess what else is inside of you besides the voice of God and your own true self? A whole lot of yuck (read: pain, difficult emotions, traumatic memories, destructive thought patterns, etc.). So most of us jump outside ourselves and stay busy because going inside is too hard. But when we don’t go inside, we miss God too. Such a conundrum. What’s a gal (or guy) to do? We are going to have to be brave. We are going to have to get still.
So, here’s how to do it:
- Whisper a little prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help you. He’s super glad you asked, so he will.
- Next, just observe, without judgment, whatever is going on with you. Ask, “what is true of me these days”? And notice the answer you receive. The trick here, is to stay with whatever rises and to refuse to be afraid or ashamed. God is guiding this process: you are quite safe and fully accepted. Here are a few examples of what you might notice:
- Your body: My shoulders are tight. My stomach hurts. My breathing is shallow. I’m sleepy. I want a snack. I want a drink.
- Your mind: I forgot to pay the electric bill. I can’t quit singing “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. My neighbor is such a moron- I hate that guy. I remember a horrifically painful memory.
- Your heart: I feel a powerful emotion. I feel unsettled. I want to run. I have a deep desire for ___.
Whatever rises in you, see if you can feel it fully. A therapist once assured me that powerful emotions usually only last about 15 minutes. You will not get swallowed whole.
- Now, get curious about whatever rose in you. What does it have to teach you? How can it guide you? What would God like you to know about it? Do you need to respond in anyway?
- Lastly, let it go.
You may have to repeat this process several times, but eventually, your insides will get quiet, your peace will return to you, and you will find yourself aware of God’s presence which has been there all along. You will have tapped back into the source of life, and found your “ever present help in the time of trial” (Ps. 46:1).
Having said all that, I have 2 disclaimers.
- Usually I am aware of having connected with God and I receive what I need in these quiet times, but not always. Sometimes I feel worse afterward. Sometimes I feel nothing. BUT, your feelings aren’t facts, and getting still and reaching inward for God always yields fruit, even if not right away. If it wasn’t what you thought it would be, shake it off. Be kind to yourself. Go about your day and trust that God is still working in your life. And when you feel the nudge, try again.
- Being alone is the jumping off point, and the returning point, for your journey. But we also need each other. We need each other in the big things and little things. So, if you find you are overwhelmed with something: despair, depression, addiction, panic, the temptation to self harm: REACH OUT. Sometimes the inner wisdom you receive in your time alone is that you need to call a friend, or a pastor, or a therapist, or the rehab center, or 911. There are people who care for you and love you deeply, even if you haven’t met them yet.
So dear friend, this season is terrible, and wonderful, and everything in between. But you have within you and within this church body everything you need to sustain you and even to help you flourish in the valley of the shadow of death we are walking through. Take heart and fear no evil, for the Lord God is with you and there is goodness and mercy to be found.