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Imagining Ourselves Away from Anxiety and Into the Arms of Christ

Imagining Ourselves Away from Anxiety and into the Arms of Christ
If you spend time around children, you know they tend to have vibrant imaginations. Anxiety does not riddle them. They use their minds to create or immerse themselves in something that they cannot see. They simply imagine a setting, characters, and situations, and they are able to transport themselves into a game or an environment that exists only in their minds. Then, something which previously was not, comes to life. I would often admire my own children’s ability to imagine almost anything and to participate in it fully, and I’d think, I wish I still had such an active imagination.”
 

AND THEN…

 
Then one day something hit me. It turns out that I have an excellent imagination. As someone who often crosses the border into hypochondria, and always has, there are times when I bring something out of nonexistence and give it life and power over me.
 
No imagination?
 
I cannot begin to count the times I had a new or odd physical symptom, and within 10 minutes of letting my imagination run amok, I thought myself to be knocking on death’s door. And I do not limit myself to hypochondria; I can worry about almost anything if I put my mind to it.

The Effects

Over the past couple years, I have recognized the negative effects of this pattern. Using my imagination only for the worst-case scenario takes me out of the present moment. I allow myself to be smothered by fear and hypothetical woes, thus disengaging with the actual gifts before me. This draws me away from my family, and even more so, from God. When I realized that giving into my anxiety through my active imagination is an impediment to holiness, I knew I had to train myself out of it. It’s a work in progress, but progressing I am.

But first, a DISCLAIMER

Before I continue, let me say that I am talking about anxious tendencies rather than a medical diagnosis of anxiety. (I firmly believe in seeking professional or medical advice when it is appropriate.)

Strategies that helped Anxiety

Now, back to my particular experience. I developed a strategy to intentionally reduce my anxiety, and it is simple. First, when I notice myself imagining something rooted in fear, I tell myself to step back and acknowledge reality.
 
What is my actual reality at this moment?
Is there any action I must take right now with regard to that reality?
 
If not, then I ask God to help me let it go and I try not to waste any more energy or imagination toward it.
 
A second strategy helps me in my quest to resist worry. That same over-active imagination which had previously been operating at full strength, though to my detriment, needed an outlet compatible with the desire for holiness. So I resolved to use my imagination not for anxious purposes, but toward getting to know Jesus”, a phrase that has long intimidated me.

Rest leads to prayer

I am no stranger to fatigue. I often feel the need for rest and comfort. So, for prayer time before going to bed, I began imagining myself resting with Him. Maybe He would be seated and I would rest my head on His lap. I could imagine myself letting go of all fear because Jesus was on watch while I slept. Eventually, I would imagine us walking together, looking at beautiful things, or I would speak my heart and let Him be an empathetic friend. This led to wonderful surprises.
 
I started to feel drawn to His Sacred Heart. Out of the blue, it seems, I would imagine myself approaching His Sacred Heart, becoming completely enveloped in it. The Sacred Heart is now a familiar weapon against fear and one which brings me peace and calm. The other surprise is that after significant time imagining myself with Christ in simple, brief moments, I one day heard Him speak to me. Not an audible voice, but one my heart understood clearly. I’d been doing some housework, silently offering my prayers before Christ as I did so. I remember exactly where I was, walking across my bedroom. I heard Him say, I ask that you desire only Me.” This was such a gift! After all these years of wanting a personal relationship with Christ and wishing I could hear His voice, my imagination was the instrument that made it happen.
 
I can tell you, I was mighty proud of myself for coming up with this stuff about imagination, Jesus, and anxiety. For a hot second I applauded myself for the discovery, but a face-palm moment quickly followed. After giving this just a little more thought, I recognized that the notion of prayerful imagination is deeply nestled into the heart of the Church.

What the Church encourages

Here are a few instances the Church encourages the use of imagination to attain holiness:
 
Jesus taught his disciples (and us) through parables. A parable is simply a story. By teaching a lesson in story form, it encouraged the use of the disciples’ imaginations in order to find the meaning in his words. We can imagine these rich stories which illuminate the way to God.
 
Ignatian Spirituality: St. Ignatius invites us to engage our senses through imagination to deeply reflect on the life of Jesus. We might pick a Gospel passage and imagine ourselves to be a character. What sights, smells, sounds are present in this scene? What is my role in this passage? How would I feel if I experienced this event? This can help us to gain more insight into the life of Christ so we may know him better.
 
The Holy Rosary: Our Lady gave us these prayers to recite while we meditate on the mysteries of the life of Jesus. By immersing ourselves into the scenes of His life, we can grow our love for the Son and honor His Mother. Our imagination can take us to a new level of intimacy with Jesus and Mary as we seek to increase our faith, hope, and love.
 
There are countless other ways we can use our imaginations for the good of our souls. If we take time to train ourselves in using our imaginations prayerfully, we can more naturally tend toward the good, the true, and the beautiful, rather than every hypothetical that is decidedly not. 
What are some ways you can think of that uses our imagination for the good of our souls?

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

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