Prayers for helping professionals: St. Theresa of Avila’s “Let Nothing Disturb Thee”

Many years ago I came across this prayer by St. Theresa of Avila, a mystic and nun of the 16th century.

Let nothing disturb thee

Nothing affright thee

All things are passing

God never changeth

Patient endurance

Attaineth to all things

Who God possesseth

In nothing is wanting

Alone God sufficeth

I have recited this prayer in times of stress and anxiety during my life. Let nothing disturb thee herald’s back to countless biblical passages where God’s people are exhorted to fear God, not men ( eg Psalm 56:4: God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?). 

As a social worker working with people experiencing profound mental confusion, crises, and chaos in their lives it is essential to have a firm anchor in God.  Especially when it seems like even the best therapies fail, medications only provide minimal relief, and support is refused.  Ultimately, God is present and I will trust and pray for him to be with this client and myself in this mess we call life.  

It seems so simple, just trust in God, He never changes He’s always there. But we are afraid, we are disturbed by what we see. That is why we get into the work we do- because the state of the world disturbs us and we want to do something about it. 

And it seems at first glance that this prayer provides no recourse, no action to take about that which disturbs us.  Are we left retreat to our personal prayer with God away from these disturbances or claim that these disturbances are perceptions of reality that create suffering (a more Buddhist viewpoint)?

I think this prayer could be interpreted this way but one line challenges me toward engagement: “Patient endurance attaineth all things”.  Patient endurance is an active choice, not a passive observer stance.  It’s like seeing a rushing river that you need to cross and instead of sitting on one side and fretting about it to instead decide to get in up to your waist in rushing water, hold on to whatever you can to get you across and endure the cold water as long as you have to until you reach the other side. 

This is what our life is like, but to patiently endure we must be “possessed” by God.  When we think of the word possessed we often have images of demon possession and exorcism by Catholic priests.  Very rarely do we hear of being possessed by God. Being possessed implies being owned or filled in its entirety. In being possessed by God Saint Theresa rightly says that nothing is wanting.  There is no need if God lives fully in us and through us.

As a social worker this is not easily done.  My place of work, like many of you, does not have its sole purpose in serving and loving God but is there to control and fix situations.  Very rarely can we offer people God’s solace and grace as a salve to their problems.  Mostly we can offer the accepted wisdom of our profession. 

This makes it difficult to be wholly possessed by God.  Maybe St. Theresa had it right in setting up convents and encouraging people to pray and seek God after all. 

How do you manage to keep centred and “possessed” by God as you engage in a secular helping system?

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2 thoughts on “Prayers for helping professionals: St. Theresa of Avila’s “Let Nothing Disturb Thee”

  1. One of the questions that has been bouncing around in my head for a while now is, “What does it mean to be saved?” I don’t think it means “what do I need to do to go to heaven,” even if that’s part of it. Your post ended with the question, “What does it mean to be saved?”, put in terms that I can understand. Thanks! I’m sure there are other helpful variations, and I’m always on the lookout.

    Also, you seem to be dividing the world into the sacred and the secular. This division is even implied in your final question. Such a division, such a view of life, may well prevent you from seeing yourself as doing God’s work while you are “on the clock.” I don’t see any such division anywhere in the Scriptures. Otherwise, we would have to conclude that Jesus, while a carpenter in Nazareth, was doing purely “secular work” and didn’t engage in “God’s work” until he started his public ministry. I’m pretty sure he, the Word of God who was God and was with God (Jn 1:1), didn’t see it that way. How could the Word of God ever not be doing God’s work? If what I do from day to day is not God’s work, God’s will, then I am wasting my life, completely. I reject that notion (so long as I know that I am where God wants me to be!). It seems to me that what you do every day is easy to view as doing God’s work because you are helping people in crisis. There is no more obvious way to show the love of God to people than by what you do. You are God’s arms and feet and voice. That is God’s work, for certain! And you get to do it all day long!

    Finally, and relatedly, to answer your final question: If my blog has a theme, your question is it, but I’ll respond in a few sentences. God is everywhere and I can go nowhere where He is not (Ps 139), even to work. He is active in every situation in which I find myself. This is the day that the Lord has made. And He made all of it. It’s as if He decorated my day with all the people and situations that I will encounter. I walk with Him through my day, the day He has made. What I am actively working on right now is noticing God’s activity in my day so that I can respond appropriately, and do so out of love and not out of selfish motives. I can be such a dufus most of the time, so I have to work hard at noticing what God is doing. Paul wrote in Romans 12, “…fix your attention on God.” (The Message) It all starts first thing in the morning with a one sentence prayer as soon as I open my eyes: “I know You will be with me today, Lord.” So, that’s what I work at doing, as much and as often as I can during the day. Sometimes I’m actually successful, but I have to recognize that I’m a beginner, which means that it takes hard work. Just like anything else in life, I’ll get better at it over time as I practice every day and every day.

    • Hi Rick,
      I enjoyed your reflection. Yes, I do risk dividing the world in sacred and secular in the way I write. You are right in that there is no real divide between secular and spiritual except that which we make. However, I do think that the systems we work in (medical etc.) do cause tension in the integration of our faith. At least I experience it that way as there are beliefs and truths of God that are not readily accepted or even openly dismissed, especially in the profession of social work. Most Christian social work students I have met have really found a true tension in their education between that of social work (values) and their own.

      This is in contrast to an experience I had many years ago working for a year in a Christian run children’s shelter- everything we did there was prefaced by prayer whether baking cookies, a meeting, school work, or music. It was quite amazing !! Being among others who sought to make the mundane an act of worship definitely made me mindful of living in Christ more fully.

      The discussion and thoughts from this blog help with integration of the spiritual into the secular in my social work practice. I have found in my work and life that it is far too easy to forget about my life being centred on God, until the end of the day when everything is said and done. Like you, I aim to fix my attention on God, to notice God’s moving in my everyday life in my work and play.

      We are called to live in the world but not be of the world, and this is a challenge. I enjoy your comments. Please keep them coming, you definitely challenge my thinking and bring valuable spiritual insights.

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