By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Special Contributor | Published January 6, 2005
Now that the New Year has begun, I am pondering my usual resolutions, which include losing weight, exercising more, being frugal—and, oh yes, being a nicer person.
Unfortunately, I seem no closer to fulfilling these dreams now than when I first envisioned them as a teenager.
This year, I resolved to have a different set of resolutions. I am going to ask God to help me hunt down and destroy the troubling thoughts that run through my brain and wreak havoc on my peace of mind.
I think of these negative thoughts as demons.
For me, the ringleader is the demon named fear. Some mornings I’ll be sitting quietly at my desk in the library, looking peaceful, no doubt, to the students passing by, while inside this evil spirit is shouting.
He is well versed in every possible worry you can think about, with health issues first on the list. He is happy to remind me, at every opportunity, that I am still not “out of the woods,” so to speak, since I have not reached the five-year mark on my cancer diagnosis.
The fear demon is a big fan of the Internet. Invariably, he tempts me to check out medical Web sites and delights in leading me to some scary report that claims my everyday habits are lethal.
If you spend enough time wading around in these Web sites, you will find studies claiming that women should not drink wine, with others pointing the finger at fried foods and ice cream.
Such reports make the demon of fear quite jubilant because, if you let fear dictate your actions, you will be unable to join the joyful dance of life—and you will be turning your back on the One who said, “I have come that they may have life—and have it abundantly.”
If you let fear rule your heart, you’ll be too busy figuring out how many carbohydrates there are in a bean sprout to actually savor each moment of life.
Fear has a roommate in many people’s hearts, and his name is guilt. This demon pushes us to do things from a heavy-hearted sense of obligation, rather than because of love.
Don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not saying all obligations are a bad thing. Obviously, if we didn’t fulfill our duties to God, children, spouse and friends, we would be in dire straits.
But the demon of guilt stretches his tentacles into every part of our lives. He whispers to us that if we don’t send thank-you notes, return every phone call, and dot our Is and cross our Ts just right, then we are bad people.
Sadly, the guilt demon thrives on promoting an image of God as an angry old man in the sky, just waiting for us to stumble, so he can smite us with a mighty spear.
Worse yet, the devil of guilt deludes us into believing that no one could possibly love us with all our flaws—and that includes God too.
Many of us also struggle with the demon of regret. This fellow stubbornly refuses to stop hounding us for the sins of our past, even if we have confessed those sins and received full absolution for them.
Problem is, regret pulls us away from the present moment, which may feature a glorious sunrise or a dazzling flower, and yanks us instead into the past, where we find ourselves obsessing over something we did 20 years ago.
We all have regrets, of course. We all can look back on our younger years and wince when we see the nutty, dangerous and downright immoral things we did.
And surely, at one time or another, all of us regret that we married or stayed single; entered the religious life or didn’t; had children or didn’t have them—or didn’t have more of them.
The dark spirit of regret ignores the stunning fact that Christ came into the world to redeem us from our sins. This means that, once we are forgiven through the sacrament of reconciliation, God does not hold a grudge.
St. Mark tells us about the time that Jesus’ disciples were upset because they tried casting out a demon but failed miserably. When they asked Jesus what they had done wrong, he told them, “This type can only be cast out by prayer.”
We all have our own personal demons to cast out by prayer. And we can identify them by asking ourselves a simple question at the end of each day.
What were the thoughts and temptations I had this day that troubled me? What recurring mental static kept me from enjoying the present moment?
Perhaps you found yourself spinning a web of greedy thoughts about outdoing your neighbors by renovating your house. Or maybe you were plagued by angry thoughts when you started dwelling on things that happened last week, last month or last year.
Perhaps you are so obsessed by your job that, even when you are home, you are still mentally at the office.
We can’t easily banish our dark spirits by brandishing a crucifix, like folks do in the vampire movies, but we can take to heart Christ’s advice to his disciples.
All these years later, prayer remains the most powerful force in confronting our personal demons. In the Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Church, there is a very powerful prayer, known as the Jesus prayer, which calls upon the name of Jesus as a healing power.
“The remembrance of the Name of God utterly destroys all that is evil,” writes Kallistos Ware in a book about this prayer, which is called “The Power of the Name.”
The Jesus Prayer is simple enough: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Shortened versions are: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” and “Lord Jesus.”
This prayer is especially helpful when you feel overwhelmed by darkness. It is important to repeat the prayer not in a mechanical sense, but with reverence, adoration and love, and with the thought of Jesus held in your heart.
My major resolution for the year 2005 is to confront my bleak spirits of fear, guilt and regret—and overcome them with something that is empowering, beautiful and hopeful. Which is, of course, the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Lorraine Murray writes a column every other Saturday in the Faith and Values section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has written two books: “Grace Notes,” a collection of stories about her faith journey; and “Why Me? Why Now?” a Christ-centered guide for women with cancer. E-mail her at email@example.com.