by Joanie Butman
This week an enemy army attempted to invade the happy place I recently wrote about. I felt like I landed on Normandy Beach, only the bullets aimed at me were emotionally-laden words. They were familiar opponents I’ve battled before and came from a place of self-pity, bitterness, anger, resentment and discontent. These formidable foes require a strong defense. Often, they attack from within, but this wasn’t one of those times. Even so, the lessons I’ve learned battling my own internal demons fortified my defenses when the bullets started flying. The Dalai Lama calls this “mental immunity.” As Christians, we know it as inner peace, which we find in Jesus Christ.
It's taken much time, hard work, conscious submission to the Lord, and years of practice to develop an inner peace that can’t be shaken by circumstance. Even so, I’m sorry to say the bullets I returned weren’t all filled with grace and compassion, despite my best efforts. They too came from a place of anger and hurt. Inner peace doesn’t guarantee you won’t be momentarily shaken by people or circumstance. You just choose not to remain in that state. My solution is always to return to the foundation I’ve spent years building so that I can withstand any attack internally or externally. Does it hurt any less? No. However, I know exactly where to deposit my hurts – at the foot of the cross. Christ is always waiting to lift the burden of my pain and replace it with His healing love and peace of mind. “He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6).
According to The Book of Joy, a dialogue between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, “So much of our unhappiness originates within our own mind and heart – in how we react to events in our life…Mental immunity is just learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop positive ones.” Sounds simple, but nothing could be further from the truth. I could never accomplish that herculean task on my own. I need to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to adjust my focus.
After decades of therapy, Bible study and lots of prayer, I still struggle to keep my mental immune system healthy. It’s a daily practice, a daily choice – to grab onto The Armor of God, to enter into His presence; that’s the best Kevlar we can wear to deflect whatever bullets are aimed at us, regardless of who’s doing the shooting. Some days I succeed, some days I don’t. On the days I fail, I have to practice self-compassion and remind myself that progress not perfection is the goal. It boils down to one undeniable reality: your mental health and well-being are determined by what you choose to focus on. You will find whatever you look for. If you choose to look for the worst in people, that’s exactly what you’ll find because "we do not see things as they are, we see things as we are."
Choosing to retreat to my happy place in the arms of Christ is always the wise choice when under attack. It's where He nurses my wounds and fortifies me with the truth of His everlasting love and my worth as His child – even when I am the author or participant in my own pain. It is there that I am reminded of the words of St. Paul, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Plenty of people. What was Paul thinking? Simply that “none can separate us from the love of Christ. Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
God’s unfailing love, mercy and compassion is what I’ve chosen to build my foundation on. It's also what I choose to rely on in my ongoing effort to develop and maintain mental immunity.