Being older, I can confirm that the playgrounds of my childhood were somewhat less safe than those at present, and one encounter with a particularly unfriendly beast provided me with a lasting memento. It was made of iron — a large, round platform with scattered rails. While those who sat on it held on for dear life, others ran alongside pushing, for it spun like a monstrous top. It was a dizzying confrontation with the concrete laws of centrifugal force. Beyond a severe blow to my shin, it impressed on me two valuable lessons — the obvious one in physics, the other far more subtle.
The latter lesson is applicable to every generation, for the world has always been like the playground toy, though we are sensing it somewhat more keenly today as present events serve to disorient and destabilize us. In addition to sensing an increasing speed, now the invisible pushers seem to have added a new twist, for the iron platform won’t even stay horizontal. That to which we cling has begun to rock and tilt, adding more strain to an already precarious grip.
If we will simply acknowledge this great Christian truth, God is to be praised. In response, we should begin with the prayer familiar to those who have spent any time with 12 Step programs: the prayer for serenity, which calls to mind the perpetual need to sift through the circumstances in one’s life to separate that which can be changed from that over which we have no control. And even though we find ourselves at the mercy of large, uncontrollable forces, there are many things that we can take in hand if we wish.
Indeed, the easiest part of our life to control is prioritizing prayer. This task can be done anywhere and everywhere if we only discipline our thoughts and tear ourselves away from the distractions — no doubt the very distractions that are making us restless and despondent. St. John Henry Newman speaks firmly of the need for daily prayer, which “breaks the current of worldly thoughts.” His insistence that lifting our minds to God “keeps us from being drawn into the great whirlpool of time and sense” speaks specifically to this agitating time that God is allowing us to endure, and by entering into the calming routine of prayer we will have a clearer sense of just what is at stake.
Moreover, rather than engaging in a chaotic conversation with God Who may seem quite distant, prayer over His very words in the Bible would be time well spent. I remember at a time of intense personal loss, when I turned to Scripture the words practically leapt off the page — for that is what is different about this book. It is not merely a matter of plunging into long familiar words or dusty old ideas. It is truly a means of hearing God’s voice, spoken gently, personally, as by a friend — a Friend Whose voice is ever ancient and yet ever new.
This, truly, is the Friend Who knows every detail of your lock-down, from its petty annoyances to the full-blown anxieties that keep you up at night. God sees it all, and has it all well in hand. It is not that there are no serious consequences to our situation, but that it has been allowed as a time to sift and rattle us so that we see the world with a purified vision. It provides a setting in which we must ask ourselves, What exactly are we clinging to?
Serenity will only come when we have the wisdom to know what lies in our power to be changed, and the rest is given to God in trust. The witness of countless saints reminds us to hold fast, for nothing can separate us from the love of God — but attend to what lies beneath those white knuckles.
Sometimes what we stubbornly cling to keeps us from God’s more perfect will in our lives. In that case, ironically, it’s a case of letting go and falling into His powerful arms. Let go, He’s got this!
Anchor columnist Genevieve Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius.typepad.com.