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What I Do When I’m Sad and Blue

I love life when things are going along well and I’m feeling that I am in sync with God and my inner calling. But there are many times when that is not the case, when I face conflict, when I lose someone, when I am anxious about health or finances, or when I don’t feel adequate. At those times I forget most of those well-intentioned practices that work well in times of calm. How can I find my way back to a place of calm, even in the chaos?

I decided to make a list of the things that I have found useful in bringing me back to a state of assurance or less anxiety. I use this list when I’m in a dark place, just to remind me that I don’t need to force myself out of the dark but look into the dark and see where God is and what I am learning.

Seek prayer as my center point: I seek out my quiet place inside, my inner hesychia, the place where God dwells. I may need to go to prayer several times a day when I am in a fragile state, lest I get too far down the path of self-pity, self-hate or blame. I take whatever emotions I have to prayer; anger, sadness, fear, abandonment, revenge. I tell God all about it and journal my feelings. Sometimes I’m mad at God and I need to vent directly to God about my life. What matters is that I am real and vulnerable and authentic while at the same time not wallowing for too long in these emotions.

Experience gratitude: There is always something that I can be grateful for, even in bleak times. Maybe I’m grateful that the sun came up or that my cat sat in my lap. Whatever it is I need to name it so gratitude becomes the foundation of hope in my darkness. I believe in a God who acts and heals, who teaches me how to live while in the darkness. When I look for examples of what God has already done in my life I feel a boost of gratitude.

Keep eternity in view: I try to remember that the big picture of my life may feel very different from the little picture I am living right now, that this dark time is part of a much larger view of my life. God’s view is the long view, the eternal purpose, not just the current mess I’m in. So I ask God to show me how this time is part of that larger purpose so I can stay with this process of growth and healing. As a result I develop more compassion for others.

Expect miracles: There will always be pain. That’s a given. But I can look for and expect joy in the midst of pain. Joy and miracles; people helping and even sacrificing for others; healing and restoration; a willingness to endure for a larger purpose; love growing at a deeper level. If I look for the joy it is more apparent, sometimes in humorous ways, like finding several coins in one day, hearing a song with a special message just for me, or getting a surprise gift.

Reach out to others: I can get out of touch with reality if I get too isolated or too busy. Either is lethal for me! I’ve found that reaching out to others in a loving gesture, like baking for someone, or responding to someone’s needs help put my life in perspective. One day when I was particularly anxious about my life and work I had a call from a person who had just gotten fired. I talked to her for thirty minutes and at the end, I felt better, just because I was able to be present to her.

Secure a team of supporters: It is vital for me to have people I can go to for support, love and care. They need to be good listeners but also a source of accountability and honesty. It helps if they know me well enough not to let me get caught in unhealthy behavior from my past. I need a variety of kinds of support, which include a spiritual director, soul mates, a small support group, a spiritual direction group, church groups, and a centering prayer group. These people hold me accountable without judging me, support me without bolstering my ego and encourage me to take radical risks for God’s sake.

Develop oases: I need places, activities and people that are respites from the storm. I will just list what oases I have developed that work for me. Sanctuaries in nature, intimate friends, quilting, baseball, beauty, creativity, writing, reading, cat-on-my lap time, coffee shops, being with twenty somethings, music, and retreats.

Pursue self-care: Especially in times of great loss or stress I need to up the ante on my self-care. I’m fortunate to have several practices of self care in place so it is just a matter of doing them more, but I’ve found when my body knows that I’m caring for it, it responds better to all the stress around me. These need to be low cost, like walking, exercises, rest, healthy food, quilting, movies, rest between activities, silence and prayer, therapeutic message, back rubs, humor, being with friends.

Practice forgiveness: I try to work continuously on letting go of resentment, remorse, and revenge. These emotions result in various bodily aches and pains. I process the feeling and the person, pray over it, and let time help me heal. Sometimes I go more deeply into the experience and use a ritual of healing to complete the work. Then I can either release the toxic people or make amends. The most important person for me to pray for and forgive is, of course, myself.

Finding God and healing in the darkness: I find God most in the darkness when I cease striving to just get out of the darkness. These are the paradoxes that have shed the most healing light on my path. It all begins in my own heart and soul, nowhere else. That is the place to begin the process.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflecting on this essay
When you get sad and blue what do you do that is most helpful?

Which new things do you think would be useful to you?

What is most likely to trigger your sad or blue times?

How do you experience God in these times?

Dear Subscribers,

I sincerely hope that all of you had a most meaningful Christmas filled with loving experiences and deep joy. But I also know that, for most of us, it just isn’t totally the case. While we may experience moments of sheer delight in the  beauty of the candles, the gift giving and the music, there is usually something that haunts us at this holiday time. That usually has to do with our exceptionally high expectations and with memories of past Christmases that have been hard.

Counselors will tell you that it is the time of year that is hardest for most people and that their offices fill after the holidays are over. So if you had some difficult times over the holidays let me offer you this essay focusing on some ways to process the difficult times and take good care of yourself. It’s called What I Do When I’m Sad and Blue.


Are You Going Home for Christmas?

One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, told a story of a Christmas sermon he heard that moved him to tears. The minister used the most common question of the holiday season; “Are you going home for Christmas?” This question moved Buechner because he was longing deep in his soul to know where home was.

This question has haunted me for years, too, because it raises a painful recognition; I don’t go home for Christmas because I have no home to go to. My parents have been dead for years, and my stepchildren and my other “adopted” family members all have other places where they celebrate Christmas. So all the usual images of home are not relevant for me. Not relevant, yet painful. Over the years I’ve learned how to redeem Christmas in a healing way but the cultural pressure to belong somewhere still arises whenever I hear that perennial question, “Are you going home for Christmas?”

I’ve become aware of a larger sense of home, of belonging, that I’m also missing. I feel it in a variety of ways in my life. In my work life I am involved in a number of endeavors; teaching, connecting mainstream people with people in the inner city, spiritual direction and writing. These are all vital and life-giving but it’s not the same as going to one place every day and being part of one consistent community.

Then there is my spiritual side, which is central to my life. I need a lot of support and collegiality to maintain balance and to stay grounded. I get that through spiritual direction, small groups, supervision and close friends. I go to two churches because I’m called to be a bridge between a suburban church and an inner city church. So my spiritual support life feels a bit splintered.

Last, but not least, my living situation is not fixed. I am planning to move some day to a smaller and simpler place, so my sense of home will shift. But as yet, I have not moved and I am in limbo in this aspect of my life as well.

I do not feel totally homeless. I feel more homesick. At times I long for a cozy home, a committed community, a place to really belong. But it does not seem to be part of my experience anywhere in my life. It may seem strange but I sense this homesickness is God’s calling in my life. It’s not a fluke, it is part of a plan. All of the aspects of my work and spiritual life are life-giving. So it feels like a paradox that none of them feels like “home.”

So where, really, do I feel most at home? This is my burning question. Where do I feel at home, if not in any of those places that are the most obvious and the ones I long for most fervently?

I asked God this question.

The truth God brought to me, the truth that rings in my soul and brings me peace in this conundrum is this: I feel at home where God is. When I really listen for God, I feel at home with whatever God brings me, wherever God sends me as long as God is with me. I make my home in God. I will spend my Christmas Day in God’s presence as a retreat day. And I feel most whole when I am in communion with God.

So, whether I am in my condo or a café, God is my nest. I carry this nest with me wherever I go. When I feel homesick I can go to this new home. I can stop looking outside of myself for God and home. God brings me belonging, joy, courage, love and healing. God also surprises me with loving friends who seek me out during the most traditional family times in our culture; they make sure to call me, go to movies with me on Christmas night, and email me all throughout the holidays.

Home, for me, is not a physical place. It is my state of mind—at least on my good days! Home is ease with God, trust in God’s provision, intimacy and humor. My model for this relationship with God is Jesus. Jesus was an itinerant. He had no place to lay his head. He depended on strangers and on those he loved. And he spent a lot of time with his father in prayer—in the mountains, in boats, in the wilderness. He was in almost constant conversation with God.

I began this essay with a story from Frederich Buechner about a question he hears in a Christmas Eve sermon. As soon as he hears the question he knows the real answer for him. In his words, ”I can almost see Buttrick (the minister) with his glasses glittering in the lectern light as he peered out at all those people listening to him in that large, dim sanctuary and asked it again–”Are you going home for Christmas?”—and asked it in some way that brought tears to my eyes and made it almost unnecessary for him to move onto his answer to the question, which was that home, finally, is the manger in Bethlehem, the place where at midnight even the oxen kneel. Home is where Christ is was what Buttrick said…”

And he goes on to say that when we experience the life-giving power of Jesus alive within us we come closest to being truly home.

Home, for me, is my inner nest filled with the presence of God.


© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

The Buechner quotes are from his book, Longing for Home.


Reflections on this essay

When you hear the question, “Are you going home for Christmas?” what emotion comes up for you?

Have you ever been homesick, even when you were with family? Homesick for what, whom?

What is your sense of home? Who, where, why?

What does it mean for you to hear that home is in the manger?

How is God or Jesus part of your sense of home?

2012-04-27_16-59-25_905Please stop for a moment in this busy holiday weekend to remember all the people who were killed in the CT elementary school shooting. One of the 1st grade victims was Charlotte, the grand daughter of a subscriber to this blog. Charlotte’s mother is from Edina and one of my best friends, Bobbie, is the sister of the grandmother so Charlotte is her grand niece.

It is a time of shock, deep sadness, anger, disbelief, grief, fear and confusion. What we do know is that God is weeping with us and is surrounding all of us in comfort and love. Clouds of witnesses and angels are everywhere holding the whole community affected by this tragedy. So imagine, if you will, that the angels (like in the icon above) are gently cradling these little children and the adults and taking them on their backs, covered by quilts and nuggled by other angels, directly to God’s lap. They are now safe and held deeply in love. Pray for the family, for Charlotte’s ten year old brother and for their whole extended family. Also pray for the perpetrator’s family and extended family who are affected by his act. All of these lives are forever changed.

Most of us feel so helpless in times like these. This blog is my way of doing a small thing to act on my grief. So if you would like to add comforting comments for the family on my blog that would be one thing you could do. I also just posted a chapter from my book on the death of a loved one (in the November archives) that may help you to understand your own feelings and the feelings of the family. If you would like to do something more, the icon that is posted here is hanging in the prayer chapel at Central Lutheran church on 12th St and 3rd Ave in Mpls in case you want to go and pray with it.

I offer you all a few excerpts from the hymn, Great is Your Faithfulness.

Great is your faithfulness, great is your faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed your hand has provided

Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me

And this is the verse I drew from my discernment cards today: Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you. Ps 55:22


A Magnificat: in honor of Mary’s song

The Magnificat is Mary’s song of awe in learning of her role in God’s plan for Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:46-55. It is in the tradition of Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. This is my personal version, my magnificat.

My spirit is lifted up

to commune with God

All that I worry about

is like a spot of dust

on a magnificent icon


No one knows me better than God

God has been with me since my birth

Even before that, God knew me

and sent me into the world in love


God is my rock and my resting place

I can do nothing without God

God knows and loves my whole journey

All the pain and grief of growth

as well as the sheer joy of beauty

emerging from my wounds


Even though I’ve been hurt

and tossed about by my own

and others’ demons

I find the most comfort

in my weakness—for there

God flourishes


When things are going well

because of my efforts

I usually have the most to learn

God feeds me best

when I am hungry

for sacred food

and thirsty

for water

from deeper wells


My entire life is in God’s hands

and it all unfolds as God intends

God is with me in the lows

just as surely as in the highs

God restores me whenever I sink

into my own anxiety


God gives me courage

clarity and inner strength

I know God loves me


When I wander

from that truth

I stumble


I can’t do life by myself

God cleans me out

calms me down

and makes my journey clear

God gives me strength

for each day’s work


God sets me on the wings

of an angel

to soar low and

gently over the earth


ÓJanet Hagberg, 2012. All rights reserved

Painting is by Sr. Mary Grace OP, from Fulton Sheen’s book, The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God.

Reflections on this painting and poem:

In the painting Mary has a look on her face that indicates she is pondering something? If this was you what would you be pondering?

How would the meaning of Mary’s look change for you if she was depicted as a woman of another culture from yours?

What words or phrases speak most deeply to you in this poem?

What four or five words would you use to show your awe for God?

How is God present in the details of your life?

How do you relate to Mary’s dilemma (pregnant unwed mother) or Hannah’s dilemma (giving her only child back to God) after reading their stories?

Try writing your own Magnificat pouring your heart out to God.

Surviving Christmas

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas. On the one hand, I love the beauty of Christmas; the carols, twinkling lights, snow (hopefully), and trees with glistening crystal ornaments. I enjoy traditions like watching one my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. I love the kindness and generosity of Christmas and I love seeing the sheer joy of children’s glee. Once, in mid-December, I was in a restaurant at the top of a downtown building and I happened to sit next to a couple who got engaged right in front of me. The young man knelt down and proposed to his girlfriend just like in a Hollywood movie. It oozed with romance.

On the other hand, I have painful memories of the holiday season. I spent the first Christmas after my mom died in Florida with no snow, which was bad enough. But we were too tired to cook so we had a depressing Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Another unforgettable memory was the Christmas my marriage ended. I also have alcohol addiction in my family and anyone with that history knows that Christmas is never pretty. I could have the Christmas blues from a whole sleigh full of painful memories. So I come by my holiday grievances honestly. And I am not alone. Counselors and physicians will tell you that depression, anxiety and health issues escalate at Christmas and their offices fill up in January.

Somewhere along the way I decided to try to heal Christmas as part of my spiritual journey. I did not want to dread the season any more. My blues usually started around Halloween when I became angry and anxious. As I prayed about this quandary I experienced a curious invitation from God to actually participate in the nativity scene by taking on one of the characters and living into their story during the season. I didn’t know how to do it at first but I accepted it as a spiritual challenge and I noticed it slowly shifted my focus from pain to more awareness of my nativity character.

One year I was an angel and I became much more aware of the angel message “Fear not.” The message rang true since that was the year my major source of income dried up. I was Joseph during a season in which I needed to learn from his complicated journey of trusting God’s message to him while he had a fiancé who was pregnant—and not with his child.  The courageous way he faced that shame was inspiring. I could feel his trust in God, his enduring love for Mary. I needed his kind of courage and faithfulness that year to face a betrayal and yet believe that God was leading me forward. This idea of an assignment each year has been so fruitful that now I anticipate it at Halloween instead of getting so stressed.

That brings me to this year. My assignment was to be the innkeeper. At first I wondered about this choice since the innkeeper probably turned the Holy family away initially due to a full house. Then I realized that the inner keeper may have seen how important it was to show compassion to this family and provide a humble but safe place for them. He gave them all he had left. As I lived into the story of the innkeeper I became his wife, a co-innkeeper there in the stable that holy night. I heard God asking me to be an innkeeper and mid-wife for people who are experiencing spiritual rebirths into a deeper inner life. But how, exactly, would I do that?

The answer came in a beautiful sensuous experience. I awoke early one morning and, while I was still emerging from sleep, felt a Presence caressing my shoulders and back. I felt the Presence move to a place hear my heart and just rest there. I melted into this embrace and kept still. The soothing Presence stayed as I awakened more fully. Then I felt a little nudge to move to my living room sofa with my comfy quilt, and when I did I noticed my Peruvian nativity scene on the table. I lit a candle near the scene and, in the predawn darkness, the candle light bathed the faces of Mary and Joseph in a gentle glow. They were both looking at the infant Jesus, in the manger. I could almost see them smile and hear them humming.

I sensed a deeper glow in the nativity scene, coming from the Presence, a holy Presence. I was pondering the meaning of all of this when I heard a message to me: “Don’t try to figure this out. Just experience my Presence, my Beloved. Just watch and feel it move beyond the scene into you as well.” So I stayed still, and was taken into the holy scene, engaging with the wonder of it all.  I felt the holy Presence was the spirit of Jesus inviting me again to be an innkeeper mid-wife for his birthing process and also for other people at crucial intersections.

Then this message followed: “I just want you to be a presence, my presence, in the world. Attend to your intimacy with me and all else will follow. You will be a mid-wife for people. You will be a non-anxious presence bringing healing, joy and beauty to the world. Trust me completely. Just be a presence.”

This predawn appearance of a holy Presence soothed me in such a deep way that I wonder if maybe, just maybe, my love-hate relationship with Christmas is now healed. My heart desires this healing. Time will tell. But now, when I look at the nativity scene I go back to my memory of that Presence in the glow on the faces of the holy family. I recall that I helped with this birth and that I am called to attend to more spiritual births as I continue in an intimate relationship with God. I am a tiny presence of the holy, a small spark of light, a mid-wife innkeeper.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved

Reflections on this essay

What joyful or meaningful memories do you associate with Christmas?

What pain resurfaces for you at the holidays?

How have you healed your experience of Christmas?

Which of the nativity characters do you most identify with this year? Why?

What is being born in you this Christmas?

How do you experience the holy Presence in your life?

Dear Subscribers,

For the last five weeks I’ve published parts of my new book, Who are you, God? on this blog. I will return to the book after Christmas and send you a few more chapters. But I wanted to take time to be intentional about Advent and Christmas. I invite you to join me in going inward and listening for the still small voice during this busy time.

Some of these essays will be familiar to those of you who’ve been with me on this blog for awhile:-) I will start with an essay about surviving Christmas by becoming part of the nativity scene ourselves. It is a practice I’ve had for several years but it is a welcome surprise every year. If you like the idea and you are in the Twin Cities I invite you to Colonial Church (in Edina, on the crosstown 62, Tracy exit, about a block north) this Wednesday evening at 6:45-8:00 in the Hearth Room for a quiet service in which you will get a chance to pick out your nativity character and enter into this practice yourself.

Thanks for sticking with me and making this blog experience one of the most meaningful things in my life.


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