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Seeing Your Difficulties Through the Eyes of Providence

Dec 14, 2022

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

It is good to be with you again. Thanks for opening up another weekly reflection from me to you. You and all the other readers are the ones that make this effort possible. So, thank you again for being here and for making the time to take in what I offer you.

Just a word before we begin this weekly reflection — I do intend for each of these reflections to stand on its own. As you likely have noticed, I include lots of links to other resources — those are invitations and suggestions for those who want to review a topic in greater detail or to dig deeper into a particular theme, or to expand on a subject. There is no need to click on any of those links.

Just before Thanksgiving in the weekly reflection titled Thanksgiving: Skin-Deep vs. Profound, I introduced you to the concept of PIECES – the PIECES of your life are those Persons, Institutions, Events, Circumstances, Experiences, and Systems that you find unpleasant, disagreeable, difficult, and burdensome in your experience. God permits you to experience the PIECES of your life in order to draw you closer to Him.

Last week’s reflection titled Moving from Rejecting to Embracing God’s Providence explored how to ROTATE your PIECES. ROTATE is an acronym that describes the progression the saints move through with the PIECES of their lives — starting with Rejection, then moving to a little Openness that God’s Providence might be at work in the PIECES, to Tolerating the PIECES, to Acceptance of the PIECES as they are, to Thanksgiving for them and finally to Embracing the PIECES. In last week’s reflection, I provided two or three practical examples of what each step in the ROTATE process looks like.

In this reflection, I want to discuss in greater detail how we can move through the process more rapidly and completely. Why? Because as I noted last week,

In my experience, the primary difference between Catholics who live lives of profound peace, joy, security, a deep spiritual childhood, with a sense of awe and wonder from those who do not boils down to one primary factor and that one factor is this:

The degree to which you sense God’s Providence in everything that happens in your life throughout your whole being, in all your parts.

In other words, your well-being depends on how much you embrace Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

All things. No exceptions. All things. But they only work together for good for those who love the Lord. No loving, no things working together for good. And that is what usually happens.

So, it is worth spending some more time on how we do this, how we ROTATE our PIECES, so that all things do work together for good for us, because we are trying to love the Lord.

Let us get down to the nitty-gritty of it.

The most critical initial move is from Rejection of our PIECES to a little bit of Openness to our PIECES. We will focus on that transition first, from rejection to openness in the first three steps, so that we can begin to deliberately bring in our faculties of imagination, intellect and will. The first three steps in how to change our reactions to PIECES of our lives, in the moment:

  1. Seek awareness
  2. Slow it down
  3. Reframe the PIECES.

Seek Awareness

The first step is just to be aware – to focus deliberately and intentionally on what is going on inside of you. So many people are so out of touch with their internal experience – unaware of the emotions, desires, impulses, attitudes, and intentions they are experiencing in their moment. For most people, this takes deliberate effort. However, most of us are drawn to reacting as though we were on autopilot.

An example. Let us say you are cut off on the freeway (a circumstance) by another driver (a person) and you immediately feel angry about the close call – “You could have killed me, you idiot! Where did you learn how to drive?!” In the moment, you are not aware that your anger is also a way to suppress fear, a way to try to protect you. The anger pulls you to swear, or if not to swear, to at least mutter imprecations toward the driver under your breath. Or maybe out loud. And perhaps to ponder how rude people are these days.

Those latter responses constitute a rejection of that circumstance and driver (PIECES in your life), and those reactions may seem to happen automatically. In fact, the fear and anger do arise outside of the activity of your will, spontaneously. But the swearing and negative pondering that follow are under the control of will if you choose to intervene and stop the automatic response. In order to do that you have to be aware of what is happening. So, seeking awareness is the first step in the process.

Slow it down

Most of us have heard the adage that “When you’re angry you should count to 10 before saying anything.” And there is a lot of wisdom in that advice.

Slowing down gives you a chance to be more deliberate in your choices, to switch out of your “autopilot mode,” which is driven largely by your impulses, passively allowed by your will. Slowing down also allows you to engage your intellect more fully, to consider various options in responding.

Let us say that you are aware of your reaction to the other driver – you have realized you are angry at the motorist who cut you off on the freeway. The next step is to slow it down, to slow down your responses. How do we do that?

  • Breathing: Intentionally breathing more slowly communicates to your nervous system that things are all right now, the danger of impending collision has passed
  • Counting works for some people, as it provides a structure to gain a little internal space, a little distance from the intensity of the experience.
  • Acknowledge that you are feeling what you are feeling – you might say inwardly “I am scared and angry about what just happened on the road, about the near miss.”
  • Move your body: From your seated position in the driver’s seat, tightly squeeze the steering wheel and release your tight grip several times. If your jaw is clenched, open and close it repeatedly to work out tension. If you notice your shoulders are hunched up, intentionally focus on relaxing them, adjusting your posture to release shoulder tension, letting them lower back down to their normal position.
  • Prayer: A brief prayer to reconnect with God, to reorient to bigger realities will be helpful to some at this point.

Reframe the PIECES

Slowing it down allows us a better chance not to immediately reject the circumstance of being cut off by the other driver. Slowing down your responses creates a little space for you to move toward just a little bit of openness toward understanding how being cut off might be a gift to you.

In our freeway example, slowing it down allows you to consider how there might be a possibility that your experience of being cut off on the freeway could be part of God’s providential plan for you – that is the reframe.

Here is the critical question to ask in reframing your PIECES:

“How might these PIECES of my life be a gift to me right now?”

The more genuine interest you have in as-yet unconsidered possibilities, the more likely you are to find new answers. Remember Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

There is so much that you do not see with your limited, human vision. If you ask the question, in humility, in childlike curiosity of how these PIECES in our life might be a gift, you will get answers. “Seek and ye shall find,” our Lord tells us all in Matthew 7:7.

Answers may come to you immediately, once you ask the question, “How might these PIECES of my life be a gift to me right now?” Answers may be obvious to you by the natural light of your reason, if you just take the time and space to ask the question and be open to answers.

Also, if you ask the question as a prayer, you may be enlightened by grace. God Himself may respond to you immediately. But sometimes the answers take longer to come.

And, in fact, it may be that you never fully understand in this life how one of your PIECES was a gift.

In that case, the best course is for you to make an act of faith and assume that that the disagreeable, unwanted person, institution, event, circumstance, experience, and/or system is a gift in some way that you do not yet grasp.

The major problem for us is not that answers to how our PIECES are gifts are not available. They often are. The problem is that we do not ask the question and listen for the answers.

Asking the question about how your PIECES could be a gift makes it easier for you to Tolerate the PIECES because you have created a little internal space to begin to work with the PIECES differently. There is hope that there are answers.

Be prepared for answers to come in unusual ways – in this 3-minute video, Not a Tame Lion, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams discusses how in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, God surprises us in what He asks and answers.

In our freeway example, any number of answers may come up in response to “How was being cut off on the freeway a gift to me?” Possible answers include, but are not at all limited to:

  • An opportunity for you to grow in patience. For you to practice greater self-regulation, including regulation of your body, so that you are not so reactive to your PIECES – including that “difficult” person who is in your daily life.
  • An encouragement to see how stressed you are about other PIECES in your life, how revved up you are in general. This might be a realization point, a tipping point for you to take better care of yourself and not be so on edge.
  • An invitation to pray for the other driver, a man who needs your prayers badly. God chose the near miss to point him out to you, to grant you great dignity by inviting you into the man’s process of salvation by means of your intercessory prayer.
  • A realization that not all of the fault lies with the other driver. You were doing 18 mph over the speed limit. And you were not monitoring your mirrors. You were far from innocent in this near-miss. The gift in the near accident could be a warning call from God to you with this message – drive more prudently.
  • Memento mori, which, roughly translated, means “Remember that you will die.” The gift in the near accident might be a wake-up call for you to remember your mortality. If you had died at that moment, what would you have wished you had done prior to your death? What is your unfinished business? How long has it been since your last confession? Since you last revised your will? Since you last told your loved ones how much they mean to you? Since you last considered trying to heal the rifts with others in your life?

Next week, we will continue with these themes – how we can push further along the process to ROTATE our PIECES. But first, a word from our sponsor…

The Resilient Catholics Community and you

The RCC came into being for two primary reasons:

  1. To help Catholic men and women claim their identities as beloved little sons and daughters of God the Father and Mary our Mother.
  2. With that secure identity to enter a deep, intimate, trusting, and loving relationship with God our Father and Mary our Mother, our spiritual parents, our primary parents.

To enter contemplative union with God our Father and Mary our Mother as their beloved little sons and daughters. That is the “Why” of the RCC.

How do we do that? In the RCC, we work toward contemplative union by removing the barriers in our human formation and psychological development, our barriers in the natural realm that keep us from deep, intimate, trusting, and loving relationships in general.

In the RCC, we assume that anything that keeps you from relating well in the natural realm will also hold you back from relating well in the spiritual realm. That is what makes us different. So many “spiritual problems” have their roots in the natural realm – they are essentially human formation problems with spiritual consequences. Shame. Self-protection. Distrust. Poor boundaries. Trauma. Fear. Bitterness. Despair. Disconnection. The list goes on and on. This is our corner of the vineyard.

In the RCC, we go back and we work on our human foundations in a structured, deliberate, step-by-step way, through a whole year, drawing from the best human formation and psychological resources I have found in my 21-year career as a Catholic psychologist. And you do that work together, in community, in a company of 7-10 other Catholic pilgrims, all on a journey to better human formation so that you can carry out the two great commandments: To love God, neighbor and yourself with your whole being, with all your parts, with every fiber within you. And when you do that, you experience peace and joy and the deepest sense of well-being imaginable. I want that for you.

What the RCC is not: The RCC is not a place to get therapy, counseling, spiritual direction, or spiritual formation. We don’t offer those things. The RCC is also not a magic bullet – it takes effort, dedication, and discipline to work our program. But if you do, the benefits can be amazing. Our first cohort just graduated with stories of personal transformation that were astonishing to me.

Check out the RCC landing page for more details, including what our members say about the RCC. Work through the 19-minute experiential exercise designed to help you decide about whether to apply to the RCC. Watch the 69-minute information video or listen to the audio here.

If you still have questions about whether the RCC is a fit for you, call or text me at 317.567.9594 or email me at crisis@soulsandhearts.com. Registration opens twice a year: every June and December.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Check out Dr Gerry and me bringing in psychology and human formation in our discussion of the Mass readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in our 37-minute Be With the Word episode titled Letting Go of Self-Sufficiency.

In Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S. Many of us are gearing up to spend time with family over Christmas. And that is not always easy or pleasant, especially when there is longstanding family tension. If you struggle to know how to be with family members who are challenging to be with, you might benefit from the July 27, 2022 reflection titled Loving a Parent Who Doesn’t Love You.

P.P.S. Sharing is caring. (Really, Dr. Peter, did you have to put that hackneyed and trite phrase in, right at the very end? Could you not resist?) Well, I probably could have resisted, but I didn’t, and I do not even feel bad about it. Please share this weekly reflection to those who you think might benefit from it. You know somebody that might benefit. Let that person know. Forward this email. And thank you.

P.P.P.S. Get in touch! Don’t forget that as a reader of these weekly reflections or a listener to the Interior Integration for Catholics Podcast, you are welcome to contact me by phone (317.567.9594) during my conversation hours, every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time. Or reach out via email at [email protected].

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