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Using prayer to deal with negative emotions

Have you ever felt like you were so accustomed to hearing about something you forgot the information is new to others? That’s me...with emotions. I don’t want to say I’m numb to emotions, because that’s not true. But I realize my job is to sit with people dealing with really tough emotions. I’m not afraid of them. If you think of it, would you pay me to sit with you through a difficult situation if I was afraid of what emotions might show up? I think not. I'm just not surprised when someone has tough emotions- it's SO normal!


Last night as I was reading from one of my books before bed titled “Into the Silent Land” by Martin Laird, I was reminded of how tricky it can be to learn how to process difficult emotions. They described a situation so beautifully of how the emotion of fear no longer took over an individual’s life. Difficult emotions really can take over if we don’t know how to process them. Fear, for example, can change our behavior, our thoughts, our ability to say “yes” and “no” to the right things for us.


The book described the process of identifying the emotion and being aware of the emotion as “watchfulness.” There were three main types of watchfulness described:


1) “One type of watchfulness consists in closely scrutinizing every mental image or provocation.” This is not about being watchful as a means of shaming ourselves for feeling what we feel, but of peaceful acceptance of our emotional state. It’s not to get ourselves to conform to an ideal state of holiness, either. The goal is to “awaken and refine the silent witness within each of us.” This watchfulness grounds us when we feel off center from a difficult emotion.

2) “A second type of watchfulness consists in freeing the heart from all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still, and in praying.” This part means actually letting go of the thoughts, not trying to cling on to each thought that arises with the emotion. It’s diving further into inner stillness.

3) “A third type consists in continually and humbly calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help.” This can mean witnessing emotions and thoughts, but not being captive to them. This also means working with a prayer word, which is a part of centering prayer.


While going through these types of watchfulness, fear was dismantled for the individual. It was not required that fear was gone. That’s a key here. Often we think we have to get rid of the difficult emotion to be able to make it through our desires. This desire to completely get rid of a difficult emotion is what causes problems because we either run from the emotion or pretend it’s not there. But when we realized we can co-exist with it, the emotion loses power. We can be still in the midst of pain and suffering. When we can get to the point where we are not in reaction to the difficult emotion we experience freedom. In the example of in the book, the person they described no longer feared fear. She just let it be without having constant mental commentary on the fear.


The biggest takeaway is to remove our discomfort with experiencing certain emotions. When we do that, we dismantle them. If you need a practice that helps you focus attention elsewhere, I’ll again include the link for centering prayer. Emotions are just emotions. They can teach us about our wellbeing, but they don’t have to take over. Happy rooting, everyone!

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