Overwhelmed by the Times? Advice for Thriving, Not Just Surviving
Having a healthy perception of our situation is recognizing that although things may not be going the way we want, God is in control.
Scripture is replete with messages to shore up our strength through faith in God. It’s God’s blueprint for us, according to an EWTN priest, a Catholic psychiatrist, and a Catholic life coach who shared their perspectives with the Register on how to not just survive, but to thrive, during these times.
When people approach Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, an author and EWTN radio and TV host, about feeling overwhelmed by the world, he recalls the advice his mother gave him, “Stop whining or I’ll give you something to whine about.”
Father Pacwa explained, “The key starting point is to stop whining or you will never be able to focus on what Our Lord is asking you to do.” The first step, he said, is to analyze what is making you feel overwhelmed so that you can take the proper steps. “For instance,” he said, “if the meaning of life is alluding you, you need prayer. If it’s your kids — a lot of times it is people dealing with their kids being stupid — listen to them, but don’t try to fix their problems for them. If your kids are on drugs, that’s a different situation. In that case, educate yourself and join Alanon to learn how to cope and how the abuse affects them.”
Regarding the culture, Father Pacwa pointed out that getting upset or stunned into inactivity prevents us from discerning God’s plan for us. He provided examples in his own life. “I’m well aware of how little people know the faith, so I teach it on television and in college classes — instead of just lamenting that they don’t know the Bible or the Ten Commandments. I take opportunities placed before me.”
“Recognize the opportunities,” he said. “No one is completely bereft of a skill set, although some are more limited. If you are disabled and can’t leave your house, then you pray and take what opportunities are presented to you.”
And if God shuts one door, go to another, Father Pacwa advised. “An example is that for 17 years Church officials in Australia and New Zealand banned me from returning after I spoke there for six weeks against the New Age movement and enneagrams.”
Instead of shutting down, he persisted through other doors. His warnings eventually became a part of a Vatican document, “Jesus Christ: Bearer of the Water of Life,” which guides pastoral work in the understanding and response to New Age spirituality. “I wrote that segment,” Father Pacwa said. “When the thing they banned me for became Church teaching in 2011, they let me come back. But for 17 years, I went elsewhere. Be as clever as serpents and as gentle as doves.”
Discern Your Charism
Having a healthy perception of our situation is recognizing that although things may not be going the way we want, God is in control, according to Dr. Bryon Herbel, a psychiatrist practicing in Bismarck, North Dakota.
“A friend once said to me to think of yourself as one tiny shining stone in a mosaic,” he said. “But without you, the mosaic would be incomplete. Be content with the color and shape and position you are in the mosaic and do that faithfully.”
There was a time that he thought he should be more public with his ideas but came to recognize his personality is more introspective. “Once I accepted that, I was happier,” he said. “My charism is to be immersed in prayer and to help others see that prayer connects them to a great positive reality. You have to open up your heart and receive it. The virtue of prudence is to seek what God is calling you to do; to know what your charism is.”
Herbel offered other suggestions for thriving in these days:
1) Cultivate healthy relationships with sensible, like-minded people.
2) Immerse yourself in daily prayer, God’s word, the sacraments, and the lives of the saints to live a life of grace.
3) If you are disabled by fear or depression, seek counseling with a medical professional, a clergyman, a good therapist, or a good, trusted friend who has been shown to be prudent and to live a good life.
4) Have a healthy lifestyle with heavy emphasis on exercise, which can be more effective than medication. Unhealthy eating could also be making you sick without realizing it.
5) Every time you are tempted to despair is an opportunity to deepen trust in God and your surrender to him, trusting that “God’s got this.” And be joyful by keeping your eyes on the prize.
Growing in Gratitude and Persist in Prayer
“Sometimes, the world gets us down due to our own negative thinking or by praying for something but not doing the work ourselves,” according to Carolyn Klika, a licensed life and relationship coach specializing in divorce healing at Abounding Joy Ministry. “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you,” she said, referencing advice often attributed to St. Augustine.
If you are grappling with a negative attitude, Klika pointed out that if it’s not clinical depression, it could be ingrained negative thinking. “You might have a super-highway to negative thoughts and just a little pathway to the positive,” she explained. “In that case, you need to actually reroute and put up a ‘Caution’ and ‘Stop’ sign and make that turn to the positive.” She said that the brain can actually rewire itself, but it takes intentionality.
Klika pointed out that depression is not relative to how good or bad things are going. “A homeless man can be thankful that he has a better cardboard box than others while a person in a mansion is depressed that he does not have something someone else has,” she said. “Happiness is relative to our thought pattern. St. Paul, said, ‘I’ve learned to be content in any situation’ [Philippians 4:11-13]. Happiness is really conditional on our outlook and gratitude and seeing the gifts that we have.”
There is also life within our own homes and relationships where we can choose to focus on the good or imperfections. She gave an example of a woman recounting that her husband came home at the end of a day, slammed the door, kicked the shoes in the hallway, didn’t say “Hi” to his wife and sat down in the living room.
“I hear you,” Klika told her, “but what do you see that’s good in that situation?”
“Good? There’s nothing good,” was the response.
Klika replied, “Can I share the good that I see? He got up in the morning and went to work to support the family. He came home to you, not out with buddies. He slammed the door and kicked the shoes aside; he had a desire for order. He didn’t say anything to you, but he didn’t scream or hit you. Was he trying to compose himself?”
That observation was an awakening. The woman admitted that her husband had asked her at least five times in the last month to help the children develop a sense of order to be more successful adults. She later learned that he had a bad day at work and was composing himself so he would not lose his temper.
Something that Klika frequently sees is that when people are depressed, they often feel abandoned by God. A more constructive thought, she said, is to share our pain with God and pray: “Lord, help me. I can’t do this myself.”
“We should engage our faith,” Klika explained. “God, help me to follow you; this is how I feel; I thank you for the gifts that I do have.”
“Are we going to judge God as not doing enough for us or are we going to praise him?” she asked.
“God is the creator of the universe, and I’m a creature,” Klika continued. “When it’s not easy, we complain. There is some suffering that we are called to or that happens to us either way. We have a choice to accept and do what we can; like the Serenity Prayer, ‘accept the things I cannot change.’”
We can also consider ways that we can be agents of change in difficult situations, Klika explained. “I can pray and ask God if I am being called to something else. Many things we can’t do anything about, so we need to choose to be close to Christ. It may get harder for us, but we need to win the small battles so that we are prepared for the larger battles.”
Regarding the Church, Klika noted that becoming disenfranchised with it can get us off track. “We cannot base our faith on a human person. We need to cling to the rock of Peter and understand that the storms will come.”
“Our Church is a field hospital for sinners,” Klika said, referring to a favorite description of Pope Francis. “Our clergy are also striving and messing up at times, like all of us. We can’t stake our faith on them being perfect. We need to let go of the human element and see that the Church is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ; and in it, we are the closest to Jesus that we can be.”