With all the drastic changes and upending of our normal lives due to the pandemic, many people have felt out of control and disoriented. This can cause a state of underlying chronic stress, which is not good for our health, our well-being, or our peace of mind.
If you do a google search on remedies for stress or anxiety, one of the top hits would be deep breathing — pausing for a moment, taking a deep intentional breath of a few counts in, and a few slow counts out. It has been scientifically shown that deep breathing alleviates stress, calms one down, lowers blood pressure and can even decrease pain.
There was a prayer that Father Thomas taught us that incorporates this very therapeutic practice of deep breathing. Its roots are in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (#258). We call it the “Jesus Come Prayer.” When breathing in, you say “Jesus come,” and then when you exhale, you say, “evil go.” As you continue with this prayer, you replace the word “evil” with anything you are currently dealing with in your life that is not good, breathing out that negativity. So you can say:
- Jesus come (as you inhale), fear go (as you exhale)
- Jesus come, anxiety go
- Jesus come, worry go.
- or sleeplessness, sickness, headache, back pain — whatever it is that is plaguing you at the moment. You breathe that out as you are exhaling.
This whole process is a prayer. The beauty of this is that it can be done at any time, no matter what you are doing. If you are driving, cooking dinner, waiting for the dentist or doctor, in the line at the store, you’re put on hold on the phone — you can use this prayer. Not only are you benefiting your whole central nervous system and getting those benefits of this deep, slow breathing, but you are also praying. You are inviting Jesus to come into your life in a deeper way. Even if you only do it for a few minutes, you are going to notice a difference.
I have a friend who used this prayer with great effect. One day she threw her back out and was having excruciatingly painful spasms. She couldn’t walk and was writhing in pain. Father Thomas and I went to pray for her, and he had her try the “Jesus Come Prayer.” We tried inserting various words “Back pain go…muscle spasms go…stress go” but she wasn’t getting any relief. Then he said, “Try ‘unforgiveness.’ Jesus come, unforgiveness go.” She stayed on “unforgiveness” for many minutes.
As she prayed this, it became clear to her that there was someone in her life whom she had not forgiven, and she was holding onto resentment and bitterness toward this person. That pent up emotion apparently had lodged in her back (many times holding negative emotions within us can start showing up in physical maladies.) As she prayed this over and over again, gradually the pain started to go. Her back muscles calmed down, stopped seizing up, and the pain lessened. Little by little, she was first able to crawl around on the floor, and then get up partially and shuffle around bent over. By the end, she was totally upright and pain-free, as if nothing had happened to her back at all.
It was a dramatic recovery that we watched unfold before our eyes, and it underlined to me the power of this prayer.
Give it a try. Put words to whatever is bothering you and just start. As you pray, “Jesus come,” start with the basic — “evil go.” And then a different word might pop into your mind like “anger”: and you’ll understand, “Oh yeah, I’m angry at my husband. I’d better breathe that out.” Or “frustration”: “I’m frustrated with my kids. I want Jesus to replace that with His love and patience.” You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel after praying this way for a while. Jesus really does come when we invite Him in, and He heals and cleanses our souls of whatever is weighing us down.
It is a very simple prayer, but don’t underestimate what it can do for you.