We were sitting at our airport gate. People shuffled back and forth, lugging their backpacks and carry-ons as quickly as they could. The horrid voice on the loudspeaker announced a gate change, and a whole section of travelers across the way grunted simultaneously in contempt. And over all that noise, I could still hear my son's cries from the other side of the terminal. He yelled:
"A mama, a mama, A MAMA!"
He’d been squirming with restlessness in his stroller after undergoing the eternal process of air travel: returning the rental car, checking in the luggage, going through security, and finally finding our gate. Luckily, we ran into family friends sitting nearby, waiting to board our same flight. Kindly, they offered the magic words every parent longs to hear:
“Let us walk him around a bit.”
Sighing with relief, I’d handed him over and fallen into my seat, ready to relax for a few minutes.
Off they’d gone to show him the dozens of planes and trucks visible through the tall airport windows. But before they could show him much, they’d returned with him reaching his arms out to me in a plea for comfort and crying out:
"A mama, a mama, A MAMA!"
As I took him into my arms, he quieted down immediately, nestling his face in my neck. I laughed at both the disbelief and the satisfaction that I could comfort him just by offering him my embrace, wondering out loud:
"I'm so curious what he feels when he's back in my arms?"
One of our friends replied:
"It must be like hugging God."
* * *
Whether or not you believe in God, at some point or another you've felt that "hugging-God" type of bliss.
Maybe you feel it when you go hiking and find an amazing view of the wilderness. Maybe you feel it when you paint and get so engrossed in your creativity that time stops ticking. Maybe you feel it when you have a heart-to-heart with a friend that understands you. Or maybe you feel it when you hold your children.
Every experience with it is different, but every single person knows what it feels like to look out at the world and think:
"How is life this amazing?"
The only problem? It doesn’t happen often enough. Because our disordered loves get in the way.
This is how Fr. James Martin S.J. explains "disordered loves":
"We become excessively attached to persons, places, material possessions, titles, occupations, honors, and the acclaim of others. These things are good in themselves when ordered and directed by the love of God. They become disordered attachments or disordered loves when they push God out of the center of our lives and become key to our identity."
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may recognize another term I've been using to describe this: the ego. But this description makes it clear that all these things are not inherently bad—only we can make them so.
Nobody is devoid of disordered loves. Not even the Pope, who constantly asks everyone to pray for him.
Over the years, I've personally attacked some of my disordered loves by doing things like not shopping for an entire year (except for essentials like food or replacing busted up gym shoes) or giving away half of my clothes and books. I also chopped away at my colossal disordered love for achievement when I closed my business in the start of 2015. But, for all the progress I've made in many areas of my life, there is still so much further to go. (More on that in a bit.)
No matter how many new disordered loves you discover inside yourself, you must always do what it takes to detach.
Because when you're caught up in honoring these attachments, you're too busy to give God much attention. If you're filling your thoughts with how many Instagram likes your photos get, how your child compares to the other kids at the playground, or whether or not you can afford to buy those new jeans, there's no room for the peace of mind you're seeking.
If you want to feel like you're hugging God, you have to do the work of detaching. You have to make room.
* * *
At the start of 2016, I chose one word to guide me: serenity. Looking back on the past twelve months, I’m confident I succeeded.
I joined a prayer group, I explored books and exercises related to serenity on topics like mindfulness and the ego, and I even meditated more than I ever have. (Though I didn’t do it every single day, like I hoped.) I traveled less than ever—apart from a wonderful trip to Boston, I mostly traveled to visit family in Miami. I didn't work much, either, because I'm consciously going slow in the money department to avoid tying my self-worth to my achievements. (Not to mention a debilitating bout of morning sickness in the second half of the year.)
All in all, 2016 was slow and steady. On paper, it was borderline boring compared to past years—but it felt refreshing and relaxing. Consider it part of my curriculum to healing.
That curriculum is expanding to 2017—but with a little more practice mixed in.
In 2017, my word will be practice—namely, practice in securing freedom from anything holding me back from God or that "hugging God" feeling. While this upcoming year will be hit with a springtime storm named Nicolás (also known as Baby #2), I have high hopes for the progress I’ll make in terms of meditation, prayer, and creating. I'll focus on one habit each month, starting with these:
- January: 20 minutes of centering prayer every day (similar to meditation)
- February: the Jesuit Daily Examen every night
- March: detox from my phone
And I'll go from there.
I'm choosing practice because freedom from my disordered loves won't come easily. I'm ready to do the work—whatever is necessary—to grant me that freedom.
Through consistant practice and dedication, I'm aiming for freedom from my disordered loves.
It won't be easy. There will be days when I'll think I'm too busy or too tired or too anything to do what I've committed to practicing, but I won't let that stop me. If I don't do this now, I'll always find myself too frazzled, too anxious, too annoyed to give God his rightful place.
* * *
I've heard people say that babies are lucky:
"All they do is eat, sleep, and poop. And whenever they need something, they just let out a cry or two. That's the good life."
If you've ever been around a young child, you know it's true. For an adult to tend to their every need, all a baby has to do is cry. That's why my toddler was screaming for me from the other side of the airport terminal. I'm hard-wired to respond to his cries, and so I did.
But babies aren't the only ones who have this ability...
Just like babies cry when they need comfort from their parents, we have ways to receive instant consolation, too.
Meditation. Exercise. Getting out into nature. Putting your phone away. Journaling. Cooking. Clearing your mind. Hugging a friend. Reading a story. Truly listening to someone we love. Giving something away to someone who needs it more.
And the list goes on.
There are infinite ways the universe offers us consolation. If we're open to it, of course.
If you want to feel like you're hugging God, that life-is-amazing-kind-of-bliss, every single day, then I invite you to practice, too.
It's time to put in the reps. Are you ready?
What will you do to feel more serenity this year?