You and I are made by Love and for Love, and we need to take care that we are nourishing ourselves with beauty, the visible fingerprint of Love, on a regular basis. In a globalized world where so much is at the tips of our fingers, just a few presses away, what are we bathing our souls in?
This is about more than just what we are consciously, willingly watching. We are inundated by media, images, information, disinformation, and sensationalism – it’s called the news. Local news, national news, international news, business news, sports news, political news, 24-hour cable news… Charlottesville, Harvey, disasters, suicides, murders, accidents, corruptions, scandals, abuses, with some rays of sunshine sprinkled in, just so we don't get too depressed. How much beauty do we really see? We wake up: news. Get in the car: more news. At work, pull up the headlines on the browser. When newspapers were prevalent, at least you could put them down!
You’ve probably heard of sensory overload, such as when in a club with strobe lights, deafening music – it’s just too much to process and we get overwhelmed. I have worked with some people that have had what I call information overload. I’m not even talking about the news, but even seemingly good information. Podcasts, audiobooks, blogs, self-help books, productivity apps, etc. But with so much information about what we should do to become more productive, how we could improve our lives in this way or that, or 10 things that you need to know about what you’re really eating, we can reach a place of paralysis. It’s impossible to do everything, so what is most important?
Maybe it’s time to hit the "s-news" button. Events that happen in our world affect us in many different ways. Many people have experienced trauma in their own lives and can be triggered by stories of others’ trauma. These events cause emotional reactions in us, whatever our personal situation may be. Our emotions are given to us by God (among other important reasons) often to alert us that something important is happening. Many times they are meant to lead us to action. But what happens when I see images of a massive mudslide in India? Perhaps I feel angry at their lack infrastructure that failed to protect the people in its path. Or I feel sad at such loss of life. We need to be careful to ensure that emotions such as sadness and anger have a place to go. When such emotions remain without a destination, so to speak, they remain with us, and there is often nothing we can do about the situations that aroused them. Depression has been defined as anger turned inward. Perhaps anger with nowhere to go can eventually be turned inward or at least morph into frustration when there is little that can be done.
So am I saying that praying is useless in such situations, or that we should simply strive to remain ignorant of the plight of our brothers and sisters? Certainly not! The well-known words of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr come to mind:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
With all that you have going on from day to day, and the duties and responsibilities you have on your shoulders, it is wise not to take on more than you are able to handle. Sometimes, all you can do is surrender. Other times you can take action, and give a voice, a vehicle, to those emotions to effect some change.
The rest of the Serenity Prayer is less well-known:
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
So, know yourself, and reflect on how the things you let into your soul are affecting you emotionally. This will help you to see when an information overload might be inciting feelings of helplessness, sadness, grief – feelings that often have no place to go. Only you can decide what you can and cannot do or handle. Naming those emotions, and then making a conscious decision – either to act when possible, or surrender when action is not – can provide some resolution to those emotions, and help to prevent emotional scars from building up.