While focusing on the individual words within a prayer is not always the point, it’s remarkable what we can learn when we do.
When I slow down and pay attention to the nuances of a prayer’s language, particularly the Embolism (the priest’s short petition after the Lord's Prayer), what always jumps out at me is the phrase “protect us from all anxiety.” The phrasing that precludes it is a no-brainer. “Keep us free from all sin” makes sense.
But I’ve puzzled over the anxiety phrasing for years because it is such a specific and narrow prayer request. Why not protect us from all sorrow? From all depression? Why anxiety in particular?
And then in the sort of cruel way life sometimes answers questions, suddenly everyone I knew was struggling with anxiety. But it wasn’t until it landed on my doorstep that I finally understood the exceptional nature of anxiety.
All of my pregnancies belong under the category “Things Difficult to Survive” thanks to the condition Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is severe and debilitating nausea and vomiting that frequently results in the need for a feeding tube and extended hospital stays.
Every part of me fought the fact of the sickness in my last pregnancy. I could not accept it. It came and with it, a new symptom: the mental crush of anxiety.
The anxiety reached its peak months into the sickness one night in a hospital bed. The darkness of that night, the intensity of helplessness, the overwhelming feeling of being completely out of control, it all still haunts me.
Months later with the terror of my particular pregnancies behind me, I stand in church and I recite the Lord’s Prayer along with the rest of the congregation. When the priest says those words, that specific request to keep us free from all anxiety, I can’t help but shudder a little now with my new understanding of the consuming nature of anxiety, of its ability to steal everything from us in a way that no other mental tribulation is quite capable.
Protect us from all anxiety (US Catholic)