By Morgan Harper Nichols
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. —1 Peter 5:7
I have become curious about some of the feelings that rise up within me when visiting the doctor’s office. Recently, when the receptionist handed me the 12-page packet of new-patient forms, the first thing I wanted to do was rush through, checking off all the preexisting conditions I don’t have.
I wish this weren’t true, but I felt ashamed for not being able to check “no” for every box. I feel the heavy shadow of having seen both my mother and my sister misdiagnosed and struggle to receive proper treatment for their conditions. As a child, I witnessed my sister’s misdiagnosis land her in the hospital. As a result, I fear getting sick. I fear needing help.
What if I’m misunderstood or there’s a miscommunication?
What if something is truly wrong and it gets missed?
What if they see trying to figure out my issues as an inconvenience?
What if they walk away feeling like they’ve wasted their time?
My heart beats faster even as I consider these questions.
Not only do I fear something being wrong, I fear how I might be perceived. When I am not 100 percent okay, it’s a fight within me to speak out about how I feel. I want to seem strong and healthy even when I’m not. Even when the doctor is patient and understanding, my fear of being incapable hangs out in the room with me. Shame beams down through the fluorescent lights. I struggle to speak up. I have a hard time feeling that the reality of my pain is valid.
And I know I’m not the only one.
There are many books and articles about the rise of victimhood, and their message is so strong that many actual victims feel like they are to blame for their own trauma. People who are in pain don’t feel safe to speak about what they’re going through. I didn’t realize how often this occurs until I started to write poetry inspired by people’s stories.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Peace Like a River]
Since 2017 I have invited people to share their own personal stories with me, and I write poetry and make art as a response. There are no “rules” for story submissions, and they vary widely in length and subject matter. I never reveal any details about the stories, but I will tell you a few phrases that my responses often include:
- There’s no need to apologize for that.
- There is absolutely no excuse for what happened.
- No, you’re not bothering me at all by sharing this.
Often when I am reading stories sent to me, I shake my head in anger for the people who were made to question the validity of their experiences. People who are strong in ways they do not know. People who define what it means to survive. I write poetry with the hope of creating space for the words they didn’t feel they had permission to say. I write not because I have answers but because I want to be one person along the journey who reminds them that the shadows they have found on the path are real. And so is the morning sun. And they are not alone in facing any of this.
But realizing that I am not alone has been hard work. When I sit waiting for the doctor to knock on the door to enter the room for my appointment, I take a deep breath and remind myself that the compassionate words I speak to others are true for me too. I am reminded of these words by therapist Aundi Kolber in her book Try Softer: “Suffering is not isolated. It’s common to all humanity. . . . When we recognize that we are not unique in our experiencing of suffering, we are more likely to see ourselves as worthy of compassion. We are also less likely to feel as if we are alone; instead, we feel more connected with the human experience.”
As I work to change my way of thinking, at the core, I am grateful that I have noticed the need to change. For even though my voice shakes when I tell the doctor something doesn’t feel right, I am still breathing through it. I feel anxious, and at the same time, I am breathing through it. I am embracing the reality of something I need to unlearn. It’s messy. I’m not fearless right now. But I am breathing through these shadows that tell me to hide what I’m feeling because I don’t know what the response will be. And I am learning what practicing peace is for me and what it is not.
Practicing peace is the willingness to go beyond initial reactions and get down to the ones that remind us that, amid our fears, the river still flows. Practicing peace is realizing that even when we struggle to open up, bringing those honest feelings and thoughts into the light matters.
Adapted from Peace Is a Practice: An Invitation to Breathe Deep and Find a New Rhythm for Life by Morgan Harper Nichols. Click here to learn more about his book.
When you breathe in all the grace available to you and release everything that is outside of your control, you’ll discover peace that surpasses your circumstances. All it takes is practice.
If you feel overwhelmed with anxiety about the future, you’re far from alone. For many of us, when we’re not worrying about what is to come, we find ourselves wrestling with things from the past. Where does that leave us today?
Morgan Harper Nichols has learned the answer to this question. She has examined stories from her own life and the lives of people around the world and noticed a common thread: we all long for peace. We’re all seeking light and life. But these things don’t happen passively. Peace Is a Practice invites you to become a peacemaker in your own life, starting right where you are, and in some of the most unexpected places. As these words and images inspire you to take daily steps toward peace, you’ll uncover the key to:
- Embracing the beauty of the present
- Letting go of regret of the past and fear of the future
- Developing a path toward meaning and authenticity
- Approaching life’s challenges with faith and a calm confidence
- Feeling peace even in the midst of uncertainty or difficult times
In every moment, there is something as deep and boundless as a winding river waiting to be found—a true peace that flows, beckoning you to rest . . . and be still.
Morgan Harper Nichols, popular Instagram poet and artist (@morganharpernichols), has garnered a loyal online following of nearly two million, and each poem she shares is created in response to the personal stories submitted by her friends and followers. In addition to her burgeoning career as a poet and illustrator, Morgan has also successfully established her reputation as a musician, with her song “Storyteller” amassing more than one million Spotify plays thus far. She and her family live in Phoenix, Arizona.