"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Of Wrinkles, Lines and Enduring Peace

By Micky Wolf

Sorting through the day’s mail is a simple routine—items for the trash, bills to pay, things to place on the ‘to read’ stack. One particular morning I couldn’t help notice the headlines on two very different publications. Both mentioned age, looking good, and getting older. Curious, I looked further. There the similarities ended. Each had a photograph to go with the article. One was of a woman describing her efforts and regular attempts to defy the aging process, almost at any cost. The other depicted a craggy, deeply-lined face exuding peace and joy. Each wrinkled, yet both very different.

The second woman was captivating. Her sparkling, brown eyes and the hint of a smile invited you to get to know the person behind the exterior covering. Gazing on her face, the wrinkles and lines were irrelevant—if anything, they complimented rather than detracted from her glowing demeanor. And that is as it ought to be, but seldom is the case.

We place so much emphasis on getting rid of wrinkles and lines along with other signs of “getting older”. Oh really, not another crow’s foot? And what is that little giggly thingy under my chin? The first gray hair or two might be intriguing, even distinguishing. After that, we bemoan, it is all downhill. Sound familiar? Sadly, not even the twenty-somethings are immune from the pressures to look forever young.

Not a one of us, even with the most advanced medical procedures, can stop the aging process, yet, there is one choice we can make that will most surely have a positive impact on our outward appearance. It begins on the inside—we need to make a conscious choice to avoid falling into the fear, worry and anxiety trap as much as possible. 

Sacred Scripture contains over 400 verses on the topics of worry, anxiety and fear. Most of those include variations on a consistent theme of ‘fear not, trust in the Lord’. [Example: Romans 8:15] It is certainly no surprise our Triune God is aware of the devastating effects unhealthy fear can have on day-to-day life. 

Maintaining an enduring sense of peace is not something that magically happens simply by willing it to be so. Peace manifests when we intentionally choose to cooperate with God’s grace, placing our trust in Him. Peace permeates when we begin to believe that not a single event or experience that touches or enters our lives is apart from the awareness of God.  Once we choose to embrace the fullness of that Truth, peace not only germinates in our spirit, it flourishes and blooms within our hearts. Unlike the peace that is of the world—temporary and shallow at best—this kind of peace endures, becoming stronger and more sustained with each breath we take.

We can choose peace rather than fear, but what next?

Choose to believe you are not helpless or a victim…

A sustained, life-giving peace will elude us as long as we opt to be complicit with and immobilized by fear rather than allowing it to motivate us to meaningful action. Why? Anything, everything and anyone is capable of inciting us to be fearful. A torrential rainstorm may develop into a tornado. My local banker may deliver an unequivocal no to the loan I need. For many people, the mere thought or feeling that any event or circumstance will occur in its darkest form is more than enough to serve as a cementing weight to spirit, mind and body. 

Being able to imagine the worst case scenario of events on any given day of our life is not an indication of intelligence or wisdom—and entertaining fear in any degree will not diminish or eliminate afflictions or distress. Bad stuff is going to happen. The question becomes: as a Christian are you going to believe you are mostly powerless to deal with these kinds of situations and circumstances?

Succumbing to a negative, potentially defeating fear begins by buying into the disordered thinking that ‘if I worry long enough and well enough’, scary, troublesome things will not happen to us or those we love. God’s Truth? Pain and suffering are part of life. What we need to remember is that God has given us the best possible tool we could ever hope for to displace fear—the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and comfort us in all things, regardless of how the experiences of our days unfold.

Fear as worry defeats…

Fear by any other name is worry. “Worry lines and wrinkle frowns” often exemplify what they represent— outward signs of an inward belief. 

Noticing fear when it stirs, then letting go of it by a process of conscious detaching will allow it to dissipate. On the flip side, attending to the fear by nurturing and obsessing over it will only cause it to mushroom, spreading through our spirit, mind and body with numbing effectiveness. The doom and gloom eventually becomes the unsettling boarder who resists most attempts to be dislodged from the soul where it has found a familiar dwelling place.

Authentic peacefulness of heart and spirit alone is not the determining factor in whether our faces are furrowed with crinkles and creases. By the same token, there is little doubt the truly peace-filled person exudes a sense of serenity that transcends the lines of time. Literally.

Inside and outside…

Moving from day to day enveloped in even the palest shades of fear is to carry within self the bad fruit that results from turning aside from God as our life-support system and all that means.

The story surrounding the craggy, deeply-lined face with the glowing eyes and complexion enumerated many instances in her life of uncertainty, pain, and suffering—from birthing premature babies, to personal illness, death of family and friends, and broken people in collapsing family relationships. The striking point—she repeatedly chose to ignore opening the door when fear came knocking. Her advice was simple: stop fretting and worrying about what happens and even more importantly—avoid falling prey to illusions of what you think will happen. Instead, give all your stuff to God, pray, and then do what you are able to do in any given moment.

Lines and wrinkles—in many more places than on our face—are inevitable if we live long enough, which is often in the vicinity of puberty. They reflect the natural and normal process of aging. However, what need not be inevitable is the formation of lines and wrinkles in our hearts and spirits that materialize on the outside as the fruit of our complicity with unhealthy fear. 

As we choose to let go of our unhealthy fear, we discover a new peace and beauty—within and without. Our life becomes an endearing witness to God’s great work in creating a masterpiece of living art, wrinkles and all. 

How do you feel about your wrinkles?

What do those on the outside reflect? On the inside?

Can you embrace a different choice? Let go of the unhealthy fear?

Call upon Father, Son and Holy Spirit as your peace-support system?

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