Practicing precaution is a loving act of care
By Jason Whitehead | Presbyterians Today
Sometimes a great disruption provides the catalyst for change. Sure, disruptions can be painful, causing grief and anger. They can tear at the foundations of safety and security that we’ve built to sustain us in the world. Disruptions, by their very nature, rupture our lives.
Let’s be clear from the beginning, though. Disruptions are not put into our lives by God. They aren’t tests of faith or punishments for sin. Disruptions are facts of life. They are a part of being human in a really complex world. If you care about something, then you will experience a disruption at some point in your life.
And, while a disruption is not a cosmic message, it is a powerful moment that requires care and attention. In the interplay of grief and anger and anxiety, there might be something worth learning given enough time, distance and reflection.
I live in a home with my spouse and two young girls. I recognize the privilege of a roof over our head and food on our table and (mostly) meaningful work we can (mostly) do from home. At the same time, I’m constantly aware of the recent disruptions on all our lives. While writing this short piece, the 8-year-old has: made a smoothie for breakfast; argued with my spouse about putting spinach in it; made a poster for school and needed help spelling words; rinsed dishes; loudly proclaimed her intentions for the day; annoyed her sister; and, wandered around the house singing and seeking our attention for one thing or another.
While this happened around me, I could feel my anger rise and fall. My fist would clench, and my chest would tighten. Words, some harsh and some soothing, formed in the back of my mind. Of course, these were natural reactions to my disrupted schedule. They were also unfair to my 8-year-old. She is only doing what she does best — being 8.
Reflecting on this, I see the struggle within me. It’s a conflict of belief between what’s good for me and what’s good for the community and our relationships — my need for quiet and concentration and my daughter’s need for attention and affection. So, I try and take a moment to acknowledge my feelings. I let the experience of pain, anger and grief of the disruption have some space, and then try to understand her needs as well. Mentally, I like to think of it as a perceptible pause. Spiritually, I am taking precautions. Taken together, I am trying to develop a faithful response to a new reality, which takes practice.
“Precaution” is not a word we often associate with a bold and risky faith. Yet maybe we should. Precautions are preemptive acts of care, like wearing a mask out in public when necessary, agreeing to sit apart from one another in the church sanctuary when returning to worship in a building, and refraining from large group gatherings. Precautions aren’t about what is being taken away or limiting us. When seen as a spiritual practice, precautions take us beyond our heads and hearts in order to expand our awareness to the world around us. They require us to think and imagine with empathy, then adjust and act accordingly. Taking precautions means being a “care-full” presence in the world. By practicing precautions:
- We place all these needs in conversation with ours rather than one overtaking the other.
- We act out of empathy and imagination rather than control and self-focus.
- We place the pain of others alongside our own, and act with curiosity and compassion.
- We seek the Spirit’s movement within and between us.
To use precaution as a spiritual practice is to co-create with the Spirit an integrated sense of our place in the world. It considers our emotions, thoughts and practices, as well as how those things intersect with the world around us. It calls us to respond, rather than just react. When we take in and allow ourselves to be affected by the world around us, we become aware of the Spirit and how that can help shape our responses.
In short, precaution as a spiritual practice might be the riskiest thing we could ever do. It means taking stock of how we react and respond, lamenting our struggles and celebrating our successes. It means that what we say and do matters to the world around us. It means living into a relationship with the Spirit that moves in and around us, and allowing that relationship to shape the choices we make in response.
Jason Whitehead is a therapist, pastor, educator and coach at Mosaic Insight in Denver.
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