Those words from Canon Jim Glennon still ring in my mind after 17 years. He was discussing the critical need for me to stop focusing on our problems. My wife Martha had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years earlier, in 1997, and it seemed impossible to focus on little else but the symptoms exhibited daily by this disease.
Canon Glennon, now deceased, stayed on point with his message better than anyone I’ve met. We became good friends over the course of our six-year conversation. He led a spiritual healing ministry for decades in his Anglican church in Sydney, Australia. Jim’s message majored on two themes: The absolute need to forgive. And the often overlooked need to realize and accept God’s kingdom in all its richness and potency.
These themes may sound theological and “churchy” to you. And they can be. But Jim thought that their practical value was far more vital. He learned through hard experience that these two themes are at ground-zero for our health and well-being, whether mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual.
A caveat for those not into the spiritual: I’ve mentioned earlier that I cannot tell our story without discussing its spiritual implications. The only sane way I found to deal with Alzheimer’s over 17 years is through a deep exploration of the spiritual. While I have no desire to convince anyone of my thinking, please know that I can talk only about what I’ve seen, heard, and felt—what I’ve experienced.
I’ve shared a good bit about forgiveness here and here, so I won’t go there today. Instead, I’m diving into this “kingdom” that Jim emphasized so clearly in our conversations and in his book, Your Healing Is Within You.
To do that I’m reopening a conversation between myself at 70 and me at 40. More specifically: How did I-at-40 deal with the pressures of running our business magazine, and how am I-at-70 trying to deal with the pressures of getting my book launched next fall? Those pressures are not dissimilar. There are deadlines to meet, stories to tell, copy to edit, plans to promote, connections to make, and never enough time to do all that you think needs to be done.
Me at 70 to me at 40: How did you handle those pressures—the fears, the risks, the successes, the rejections, the too many deadlines, the staff to manage? Not just with the magazine, but also with Martha’s civic and political career and with the children and their activities. Didn’t you like being that “on-the-go couple who could do it all”?
Me at 40: To be honest, no. On the surface, I think Martha and I did OK. But internally I was a mess. With so much coming at me so fast, I didn’t know what to do other than to let it sink deep within. After awhile things got so compressed there was little room for anything else. Anxiety and fear set in. So did irritability, self-righteousness, and resentments.
So what about you, Carlen at 70? How’s that book working out?
Me at 70: I thought I had learned the hard lessons after Martha and I went through what we did. But the emotional stuff you’re describing is returning like some maniacal whirling dervish.
Me at 40: So you’re handling the pressures no better than I did?
Me at 70: Yes and no. Yes, my inept response to these pressures has caught me by surprise. No, I am trying to use the “tools” I’ve learned to help me deal with them. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.
Me at 40: What kind of tools?
Me at 70: First and foremost is the assertion by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness … do not be anxious about tomorrow…” (Matt. 6:33-34). This insight is now pivotal to my efforts in trying to cope with these pressures.
Me at 40: That sounds impractical, not to mention impossible.
Me at 70: I used to think so, too. There’s not enough time or space to flesh out my present understanding. But let me say this: The “kingdom” doesn’t refer to powerful governments, military might, and wealthy resources. Nor does it refer to church theologies, orthodoxies, policies, and the sweet by-and-by.
The kingdom, as I see it today, is the ever-unfolding expression of God’s nature planted within me, within others, and within the world around us. It’s the real and practical applications of life, love, mindfulness, joy, trust, and hope toward every endeavor of my life, every need, and every relationship. I now interpret Jesus’ insight this way: When your problems overwhelm you, stop looking at them. Look instead on God’s character—focus on it, absorb it, rest in it. Then, Carlen, you won’t be anxious about tomorrow, regardless of your problems.
Hearing that you may think I’ve got everything figured out, but I don’t. I’ll be working on this the rest of my life.
Me at 40: What do you mean?
Me at 70: Here’s a recent example. I awoke early one morning with an overwhelming fear that my book won’t reach the people it needs to, and I can’t do anything about it.
Me at 40: Oh, I know that kind of fear well.
Me at 70: Yes, you do. A fear of failing has tracked me throughout my life. This time I awoke, tossing and turning in bed. I moved to my chair to see if that would help. It didn’t. Sitting there, I kept trying to shift from the problems ricocheting through my mind to the Spirit’s peace and power. I was stuck in this mindset. Eventually, though, I sensed the Christ-presence within my imagination, his hand resting lightly on my shoulder. As I relaxed, that rock-hard fear began to crumble. I felt what I can only describe as divine Love trickling in, silently bringing a message: It’s OK to fail, Carlen. I’m in charge here.
A grain of gratitude opened within me, an awareness that I don’t have to be enslaved by such oppression. As this gratitude grew, I sensed this Love streaming through the dark corridors of my consciousness. I cried. Then I crawled back in bed and went to sleep.
This brief experience is a glimpse into my unfolding view of God’s kingdom and its dynamic nature.
Me at 40: Did it accomplish anything?
Me at 70: Hard to tell immediately. I believe, though, that it’s better to let a power greater than me confront those issues in real time than to let those fears slink away into my subconsciousness. Will similar fears return? Probably. But no longer am I forced to let them shape and cement my personality.
P.S. Thirty years ago, Canon Glennon gave a series of talks on God’s kingdom, which were transcribed into 15 daily meditations. If you’d like a free PDF copy, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject line: Meditations.
P.P.S. Congratulations to Anne M. for winning my latest book, Father Matthew Kelty’s My Song Is of Mercy.
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