A mini-retreat to revive your heart: Ukraine and war-related anxiety

Do you feel ready to face weeks, months, perhaps years of uncertainty and anxiety as the war in Ukraine plays out before us? Are you overwhelmed? Tired?  After two years of pandemic anxiety do you feel angry that just as we were getting a respite, we are thrown once again into a dangerous situation?

I feel exhausted and not ready to be there for others, even across the world in prayer, as a Christian, as Christ. I’ve been drawn into the tragedy, the heroism, the injustice playing out in the invasion of Ukraine by Putin. I’ve been drawn into it through prayer for peace, my heart breaking for those who are hurting, transfixed by the amazing leadership of President Zelenskyy, but also burdened—and at times drowning—in feelings of fear, powerlessness, anger…. But what I want to be a person of hope. I want to be certain of the mercy that is flowing through the world even in this agony. Instead of fear, I want to think, act, and speak the love of Jesus. In these desperate days, I need support. My emotional and spiritual reserves are low.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

This invasion is being played out not only on the battlefield in Ukraine, but also in social media where President Zelenskyy is battling for everyone’s attention, everyone’s empathy, everyone’s sense of responsibility and justice, everyone’s humanity. He has rallied everyone who honors the values of human dignity, freedom, and peace around the cause of the Ukrainian people. “Glory to Ukraine!” And suddenly in the space of five days, I’ve become committed to standing with the people of a country that I never really thought much about before. I feel that I’m doing something for the future of humanity by caring about the people of Ukraine.

However, watching war play out on our computers and phones is exhausting. On social media, the Ukrainian citizens broadcast their fear and worry to a global audience as we hear explosions in the background. I feel helpless. I watch a baby sleeping at her mother’s side in a bomb shelter and I feel sad. I read conflicting information and I feel confused. I see an explosion in a civilian neighborhood and I feel angry. I see Russian military vehicles abandoned because they ran out of gas and I feel something in my heart say, “It serves them right.” And I am ashamed. I see unarmed citizens standing in front of a convoy of military vehicles driving into their city, preventing them from passing, and I feel myself wanting to cheer them on. I read the last message texted to his mother by a Russian conscript who thought he was on training exercises: “Mom… I’m afraid. We’re bombing all of the cities….” And my heart breaks. For him. And for her. And for us all.

Yes, I’m not just watching; I’m emotionally involved in this war. And so are you.

On top of that, I’m not so sure I’m happy with all that is happening within me. I know I needed to find something to support me in responding from a deeper place to the tragedy of this war, so I turned to music. I recently stumbled upon the artists Kimberly and Alberto Rivera, and I have found especially the songs on their albums From His Heart to Yours and The Father Sings so helpful. I want to share some of these with you, and I invite you to take some time for your heart.

A mini-retreat to revive your heart

So take a deep breath and let the dust settle. Let your heart receive the tender love of the Father…. There has never been a moment in time when you weren’t Mine. From the very first breath that I breathed into your spirit, you were Mine….

Close your eyes and listen to Kimberly prayerfully sing words from the Father’s heart to yours. Notice what you feel. Remember. Wonder. Rest in the Father’s heart.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

I’ve started reading the news while I am listening to the Rivera’s music. Rooted in the goodness of my God, I can hold the chaos and tragic sorrow of the world in hands uplifted in prayer. Instead of offering up prayers as if God needs me to tell him exactly what needs to happen, I remind him that he has promised to be faithful, I remember that he has been faithful to us his creation, and am absolutely certain that he will be faithful forever to us, even as the powers of evil rage.

Trusting in God, abandoning ourselves into his care for us, doesn’t preclude us caring deeply about those suffering the horrors of war in Ukraine. We can be confident in the God who holds each of us close to his heart, and at the same time deeply grieve the injustice and commit ourselves to do something to help. The difference is that we are following our heart which now rests in God’s heart. We love with the deep knowledge that we have been loved, as has everyone else in this dreadful situation. We have a message, not just anger. We are prophetic, not reactive. We are at peace and can bring peace.

Finally, as I have reflected upon the actions of Putin, I have felt deeply convicted of my own sin. Yes, maybe only in small ways perhaps, I too have used people, demanded my way, run over others to keep my place, and so on. But I know that I have been forgiven. It is this forgiveness that I believe is possible also for Mr. Putin. Fr. Alexander Laschuk, a Ukrainian Catholic priest ministering in Toronto said, “Forgiving doesn’t mean being a pushover. It means loving [adversaries] and desiring their salvation and seeing they too are created in the image of God,” Laschuk said.

“And in the specific case of Mr. Putin – this is something a lot of people obviously struggle with, even before this most recent move. But he says he is a Christian. I believe he thinks about his faith. And for me, that is something the Holy Spirit can work with. I tell people to pray for him.”

This Lent, we are challenged to take on a Christ-like love for the world, to feel toward the world as God feels. Beneath the cross, we learn to pray for the salvation of the world with Christ’s own heart. These forty days of more intense repentance and renewal will focus our prayer, self-knowledge, and repentance, as the events in the world challenge us: the heroism being displayed before us by the Ukrainians challenges us as much as the tragedy of the invasion.

Father Zacharias, a monk at the Monastery of St John the Baptist, England, assures us that the energy of prayer offered ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23) never fails or degenerates. It remains in eternity before the Lord. It may fail in its ultimate goal because people possess the divine gift of freedom which God will always safeguard. “The people loved darkness better than the light” (John 3:19). Therefore, we should not be surprised that prayer often meets with resistance. Father Zacharias writes: “Although the desired change in the spiritual state of the world does not come about, notwithstanding, this prayer checks the advance and dominion of the ‘power of darkness’ (Luke 22:53). In their prayer for the whole world, the saints become pleasing to God, and because of them, the blessing of God descends on the earth. A saint who intercedes for the world is a phenomenon of exceptional value, an ‘event’ of cosmic scale. In his person, evil suffers defeat, with beneficial consequences for the whole of humanity” (Christ, Our Way and Our Life, page 252).

Now, I can breathe again, the fresh air of the resurrection, the fragrance of the Kingdom, the hope of eternity, the promise of mercy for the world. Now, instead of my mind running in circles of fear, instead of my heart being pulled to watch the news of the war as if it were some video game or wrestling match where people cheer on the winning side or their favorite team, I can breathe in the love of the heart of Jesus for each and every human being caught up in this tragedy, can mourn the devastation of a country and it’s beautiful land as a mother mourns for her only child. Now I can believe in hope, offer hope for a future of peace because I myself have been restored in hope, filled with hope, renewed with hope. And, after all, isn’t that the highest purpose of Lent.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

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