I’ve always been drawn to stories of powerful women, especially the ones who do not appear powerful at first. It gives me hope that I can tap into my own power and inspire others through my own life. Thankfully, I happened upon three holy women’s stories at points in my life when I struggled with anxiety and needed their example the most. These three women taught me that to shine my light into the world, I first needed to learn to embrace who I am without shame and release my need for control. They helped me to break free of my anxieties and live more fully grounded in love. Here are the lessons that they taught me.
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Mary Magdalene: Do not be ashamed
The story of Mary Magdalene first struck a chord in me when I saw her character portrayed in a live performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I was amazed by how much she comforted Jesus and how he relied on her. In the Bible, she was the first person he appeared to after his resurrection. I began to think of her as Jesus’ best friend and I wanted to explore how that came to be. I decided to watch “Mary Magdalene,” a movie reimagining her life, to learn more about her story. As she lay writhing on the floor, suffering from “the 7 demons,” I was transported back into the moment I lay on the floor suffering from a panic attack two years earlier. I had felt trapped in a job that brought out my worst qualities and burdened with the shame of not being able to “fix” the aspects of my personality that kept me from fitting in. Suddenly I saw that Mary’s demons were in fact attacks of anxiety. She may have had the same voices in her head that I had – voices that attack you, judge you, and label you as bad or wrong. When Jesus entered, he truly looked at her and saw who she was. He took all the power out of the demons when he told her that there was no fault in her.
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Magdalene bore the shame that society had put on her because they didn’t understand her. She possessed a deep sensitivity to the world and the people around her. This would prove to be her gift and not her curse. Empathetic people take on the energy of others and can become riddled with anxiety or depression. Once Mary met the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus, she was able to use her gift, becoming Jesus’ greatest comfort. In both the movie and the play, Jesus weeps in Mary’s lap when he confronts what he has to do and she soothes his soul with her loving presence. When I saw how much Jesus actually needed her love, I knew that he needed mine too. Like Mary, my empathy, sensitivity, and loving presence is a gift I can give. I can walk with people in their darkest hours because I have been in the dark myself. I am created exactly how I was meant to be…there is no fault in me, nothing of which to be ashamed.
Julian of Norwich: Trust all shall be well
As I studied to become a spiritual director, I found myself drawn to Julian of Norwich. Legend has it that during the decades that she lived in an isolated cell as an anchoress devoted to contemplation, people traveled from great distances to seek her counsel and spiritual direction. I had to know how she had gained such powerful spiritual insight and so I decided to read about her visions.
Julian experienced visions that gave a big-picture view of Divine Love. During her first vision, she saw that the whole universe was contained in something as small as a hazelnut. In her vision, the hazelnut symbolized vulnerability, endurance, and potential for growth. It represented each one of us and all of creation all at once. Julian came to know that God had created it, God loved it, and God kept it in existence. Therefore, God keeps us safe in his love and we can rest in him. We can have faith that we are in God and God is in us.
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In a later vision, Jesus told her absolutely everything shall be well because Christ pays attention to even the most trivial and hidden things. Grief may cloud our vision, but Jesus promises that we shall not be overcome, and that if even his crucifixion could be transformed into a great act of love, then all things can be transformed.
These visions further convinced me of the greatness of Divine Love. And Julian’s life taught me to spend time resting in God and meditating in silence. Before I read about her, I could not imagine sitting in silence because of my anxieties. After reading about her experiences of living through a pandemic and illness, then receiving mystical visions that gave her a greater understanding of love, I wanted that for myself. I found that as I began to use her words from Jesus as a calming mantra, the words became true for me: All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
St. Teresa of Calcutta: Surrender to the Flow
Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve been drawn to Mother Teresa. I saw her on TV and read stories about her whenever I could. Her self-sacrifice, simple lifestyle, and compassionate love for the poor inspired me. She exemplified the truth that “Holiness is attractive.” In fact, she attracted people from all over the globe to give their time and millions of dollars (which she gave all away to the poor).
As I studied how she lived, I learned that whenever she needed anything, she prayed the Rosary and then trusted that her needs would be met. For example, whenever she needed a new house for the sisters, she prayed the Rosary and then acted as if it had already been done for her. She surrendered her needs and her whole life to God, and her life left an indelible mark on the earth. As she made herself available every day to living in that trusting flow, she was available to act on whatever opportunity for kindness presented itself in each moment. Her small acts of faith and kindness continue to ripple outward, moving others to live more compassionate and faith-filled lives.
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Like Mother Teresa, whenever I surrender what I have – my possessions, relationships, talents, and time – to God, I am free of attachments and available for great things. For example, when I prayed a Rosary about my job situation, I let go of worry and trusted my material needs would be provided for. Not only did I find a more suitable job, but my time opened up to pursue my greater calling of creating healing spaces for others. When I pray with complete trust, I believe in the support that is there for us all. I can live my part, seeing the connection between everything in the universe working together for the good. My whole body relaxes into that flow as I let it carry me, just like Mother Teresa would.
Mary, Julian, and Teresa all taught me how to inhabit the world as they did. Now as I practice accepting myself, surrendering to the flow, and trusting that all will be well, I find freedom from my anxiety and a purpose for my life. And just maybe, I can one day be to others the example that they were to me.