I have been taught many things over the past two-plus years about self-management and self-care. I know with a fair bit of precision what will make me anxious and irritable. I have a good idea what I can do to choose positive feelings and experiences. I know lots of techniques for self-soothing, self-motivation, and self-activation. I am grateful for all the training and experience that makes life better.
I know that when I am anxious, I need to check my level of glucose-hunger. And I probably need a healthy snack. When I am ruminating, I need to break that cycle of dark thinking. I can do that with exercise. I can do that by reaching out to my spouse, other loved ones and/or friends. When I am feeling sorry for myself, I can refocus on all the blessings I receive. Giggle all you want, skeptics of the "touchy-feely"--gratitude lists have demonstrated and documented short and long term benefits. When I am wondering about meaning and purpose and goals, I can find someone to help.
Personal growth and development have been powerful side-effects (benefits) from working through the first few years of bereavement and pain. In many ways, I am a far better person than I ever was before.
The temptation at this point is to treat all the self-management and self-soothing as ends in themselves. I have spent so much time and energy learning how to feel better again that it can seem like that is the goal and end of existence. It is now such a habit that it may seem like feeling good is the purpose of daily life. That is a dangerous path to follow.
I have been given these gifts in order to become a better person. I am being formed into a better person in order to benefit the world that God loves and for which Jesus died. It is an awesome fringe benefit to be able to feel good in even the worst of circumstances. That is not a life goal, however. That is a tool that allows me to continue to love and serve, to live and hope, in times when things are difficult and dangerous.
One of the temptations is to become anxious every time I feel a bit bad. If I have done or not done something I should have, then self-soothing may prepare me for action. But it is not the last thing to be accomplished. I must follow up on the wrong I may have done. If I am worried about finances or work or relationships, I can do things to manage the worries. But I must also do things to address challenges and opportunities in my life. Feeling good is a marvelous path toward better functioning. If it is a goal in itself, however, then I am just as self-absorbed as I was when I was feeling bad.
I continue to return to the wise words of St. Paul in Philippians 4:
"I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
On this Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, I pray to approach my days with that same contentment and the same sense of purpose.