Regulated by the rhythm of his heart

I never understood the devotion to the Sacred Heart. I could understand a devotion to a saint; throughout my life I always looked up to top athletes for inspiration, persons who defied difficulties and achieved great things. But a heart? What am I supposed to do with that? I never really thought much of it and dismissed the Sacred Heart as a devotion I simply wasn’t drawn to.

During my freshman year of college, I discovered I was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. As a soccer player, I was in a high competition environment. Playing at the D1 level, every practice and game felt like my life was on the line. My entire worth was rooted in my ability to perform. There were seasons where I was at the top of my game and seasons where I was on the bench.

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I could tell countless stories of comebacks where I worked my tail off to get time on the field. There’s merit in those moments, and I learned a lot. Yet the overall experience of my career was one of constantly striving to be good enough but never measuring up. I left my cleats behind and walked away with intense anxiety and an overactive nervous system.

A moment of prayer

God saw me through my college soccer career and afterward called me on a journey of healing to deal with my deeper emotional wounds. One of the first things my therapist asked me to do as we started to tackle anxiety was ask me how I was experiencing it. Overwhelming? Not pleasant? I thought she was crazy to ask. I’d never really thought about it; I just know it did not feel good.

Over the course of a year, I started to pay attention to what was going on inside me. Instead of getting swept away in the intensity of emotion and then pretending like it didn’t happen, I started to sit with my expressions of anxiety.

The most prominent thing I noticed was my intense and rapid heartbeat. Reaching up into my throat, banging in my head, ringing in my ears — it was like a pinball machine knocking around every fiber of my being. The more I started to pay attention to it, the more scared I felt. Yet I couldn’t unnotice what was happening.

One day, in a fit of anxiety, I ran to the chapel. Jesus was there in the monstrance awaiting me. Alone.

I fell to my knees, gasping for air. I was almost choking and felt like I was going to pass out. I was in a full-on panic. Suddenly, I had one of those Holy Spirit thoughts. I remembered learning through various Eucharistic miracles how scientists have concluded that the flesh of Christ contained in the Eucharist has similar properties to cells from the heart muscle. It is said the flesh we receive in the most holy Eucharist comes from the very heart of Jesus.

Desperate for relief, I started praying, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me.” At first I was spitting the words out among gulps for air, but after a while the phrase came with calm and ease.

I wasn’t really conscious of what I was saying but rather was in tune with the experience of my own heart as I was repeating the words. Before, the beat of my heart was frightening and debilitating. Now, it was calming and consoling. I felt like a baby, being rocked in the arms of a caregiver, peaceful in the motion and secure in love.

I sat on the floor for a while and contemplated what had happened. Criss-cross-applesauce before my Lord, the words that came to me were, “Tune in to the rhythm of my heart.”

Finding peace in his heart

Going forward, I started to use this prayer every time I felt anxious. I was triggered by my own shadow, so I had lots of time to practice. Using my trusted rosary ring that I always have on my finger, I’d recite “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me.”

The deepest meaning of the word mercy is to “suffer alongside.” This prayer was not a magic spell that zapped away anxiety. I’m not here to sell you a crash spiritual diet. Rather, this prayer woke me up to the presence of Christ’s own heart alongside mine.

It was experiencing the very real heart of Christ beating. It was experiencing Christ unafraid of my anxious heart. It was experiencing Christ place his own heart beside mine. It was experiencing Christ’s desire to not have his heart and my heart, but for us to be of one heart. It was experiencing the love of God drawing near to me, suffering with me, and inviting me to find new life in his most Sacred Heart.

I still get triggered today. Anxiety has not totally left me, yet it does not define me. When I am shaken by the stressors of life, there is a greater soundtrack that brings me beats of eternal life. The rhythm of his most Sacred Heart is the anthem that assures my anxious heart it is not alone. Life is ever changing, but I find a constant and comfort in the steady love of my regulated Lord.

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