pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances…
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
I ain’t a Christian, but them’s some wise words for how to tackle the challenge of living a happy and meaningful life. For some, the “always,” “without ceasing,” and “all circumstances” parts might present a problem. Actually, they’re problematic only if we segregate our spiritual life from the rest, as if the little things we did all day had nothing to do with our spirit. The fact is, they have everything to do with it! Our spirits are just as present when we’re comparing cans of beans at the store as when we’re kneeling by our bedside doing what we label “prayer.” We’re just too caught up in piddly-shit to be aware of our awareness – to focus on what we actually are.
In the rooms of AA, we often hear the advice to use two simple prayers – Please and Thank You – to forge a relationship with our higher power. This is an excellent start! For newcomers who have no idea what might be entailed in talking to their god, these instructions open the door. It’s suggested that when we wake up, we ask god to “Please help me to stay sober today.” When we go to bed, we pray, “Thank you for keeping me sober today.”
But there’s a whole lot more potential behind these two simple prayers. They can change your life. Just as step 1 is the only one to spell out the word “alcohol” while the remaining 11 deal with the matters that made life so painful we needed a damn drink, so the lens of the Please and Thank You prayers can be dilated from mere drink avoidance to apply to all of living.
Please. By all means, when we wake up, we can ask god to keep us sober today, but we can also expand that request to “ask God to direct our thinking.” What I ask is, “please guide me today,” by which I mean not only my thoughts and actions, but my level of awareness. I might even say, “help me stay awake.” What I mean is, god, help me to stay in contact with you all day long; help me remember this life is not about my little fears and agenda, but about being the best human being I can be today; help me know that whatever’s going on right now is just a single pace in the journey of my life, so when it gets tough I can hang onto hope.
As I proceed through my day, my biggest challenges all center on emotions. Not what happens, but how I feel about what happens. I’m a wa-ay codependent child of an alcoholic, which means that, left to my own devices, I tend to be a “reactor” more than an “actor.” Boy, do I hate that! It sounds so wussy, but it’s true. Most of the time, what you think (or at least what I think you’re thinking) carries more weight than what I think or do. I need you to be okay with me. Better still, I’d prefer you be favorably impressed. That way, you’d hand me a chit of personal worth I could add to my lowly little scrap heap.
But, damn it, I don’t want to live that way! So I pray pretty much “without ceasing.” I ask god, not to strike me well, but to show me, “If I were well, how might I see this?” My experience has been that god nudges me toward compassion – for myself and others – which helps me reframe what’s going on and strengthen new neural pathways so that my thinking will change over time. And slowly, gradually, it’s been working, which brings us to…
Thank You. Again, it’s fine to start with the matter of whether I swallowed any booze today. Even after 20 years’ sobriety, I still hop into bed some nights and think, “Geez! I didn’t drink or even think about drinking all day!” I still get this little image of my insides as all clean and healthy compared to that slimy feeling from back in the day. And I thank god for it, for having let me be just one of Earth’s creatures, a gizmo fit to walk the planet exactly as I was made.
But I also “give thanks in all circumstances.” What a trip it is to be alive! What a freaking awesome world this is to cruise through, filled with miracles we can take for granted any time we switch to autopilot. Bits of nature (outside my window, a finch just landed amid the gently stirring leaves of a cherry tree), goodness our culture has produced, signs of caring between strangers, and my chance to be part of it all – I thank god for this over and over. Sure, there’s plenty of darkness; just read the news. But there are also many who unite in trying to combat it, connecting in their commitment to… love.
I am a tiny bit more aware. It’s how we grow in sobriety.
At the core of my consciousness is my spirit. It’s not my body: my body includes all my brain’s thoughts, all my body’s issues, and all the emotions they stir up between them. I love those guys – don’t get me wrong – but they’re not my spirit. My knowingness, my receptiveness, the live wire of my presence – this is the essence that sprang out of my body during my Near Death Experience, but it’s also the core of what I am as I brush my teeth or drive to Goodwill. I am a little piece of god. So are you. And that reality becomes slightly more vivid to me with every clod I break as I plow through the lumpy terrain of being alive. I am the plowwoman, the driving force behind one individual human experience. I need help to push on (please), but with every step taken, I see a little better what a tremendous privilege I’ve been given (thank you)!