The small sips that are saving my life.

The small sips that are saving my life.

Last week I shared a list of the things that are saving my life right now, deep in this winter season.

It was only a partial list, but I was still dismayed to realize a full week after the post published that I’d left off one of the most important things. Even worse: I forgot this same thing last year, too.

Maybe that’s just as well, because this list entry requires some explanation.

For the past few years, my family has attended an Episcopal church. Every Sunday morning, my family of six slips into a pew near the back, usually a few minutes after the service has actually started.

In the Episcopal church the able-bodied of the congregation approach the rail for communion. Every week we walk forward and kneel and hold out our hands for the priest to give each of us a skinny little wafer—the bread. And then a fellow member of the congregation approaches, holding out a big silver cup of wine.

There are a couple of choices here. You can eat the bread and drink from the cup, or—if you don’t want to drink from the communal cup—you can dip your little wafer into the wine and eat that.

My kids hate the taste of the communion wine, and they are always exceedingly careful to dip the wafer into the cup the absolute minimum amount, barely grazing the surface of the wine.

I am a germophobe. The idea of drinking from a communal cup grosses me out. I get unhealthily anxious about these kinds of things, especially in February. Every year I battle creeping paranoia about flu season.

And yet every week, I drink from the cup. Even though it’s February, even though we sit in the back and are among the last to come forward. Even when the teens fill in for the regular chalice bearers and are obviously forgetting to wipe down the rim between sips. (Shudder.)

In the church, communion is heavy with symbolism: bread and wine, body and blood, approaching the table, together.

But for me, there’s an extra layer of meaning in putting my actual lips on that actual cup, and it has everything to do with battling back my burgeoning anxiety. Every week I’m reminding myself, once again, to not be afraid. To not hide (literally or metaphorically), even though it’s February, even though it’s flu season.

It’s just a sip of wine, but it’s my small way of being brave, of showing up, of kicking my winter anxiety out of the driver’s seat, again.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

For many, it’s a time of giving things up. But for me, today, I’m thinking about the things that shouldn’t be taken away: the rituals I rely on—and rightfully so—that keep me sane, in this season and after.

If you’re comfortable sharing something you rely on—big OR small—please tell us in comments.

P.S. Give me one week without, and 7 things keeping me sane this season.

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66 comments

  1. Bethann says:

    One morning ritual that keeps me sane is writing my Morning Pages…which sometimes doesn’t get done until the afternoon. Writing first thing in the morning a few pages clears the clutter from my mind. And when I shut the notebook, I can move forward and get things accomplished.

  2. Susan says:

    Wonderful reminder. I’m grateful for, and rely upon the communion of saints, and ultimately the forgiveness that comes from having peace with God.

    Fellowship, being shoulder to shoulder with fellow believers and seekers, germs and all, is vital to me. Finding this in Munich has been a process, but I am happy to report that I have done so, finally. Bonus: it’s a mixture of English *and* German 🙂

  3. Karen says:

    So true that every time we battle back against anxiety, it makes us stronger! Reminders like this are so helpful, and one reason why I am not giving up social media even though I sometimes consider doing it. Thank you!

  4. Dinah says:

    Beautiful post. In Lauren Winner’s book “Girl Meets God”, her spiritual advisor challenged her to give up reading for lent. When I read that, it literally took my breath away. But that’s the point, right? Giving up something that doesn’t cost you anything isn’t really a sacrifice. Could you do it?

      • That was in her book “Still:Notes On A Mid-Faith Crisis”. I just went on a Lauren Winner reading rampage. My favorite is still “Mudhouse Sabbath” though. The reading fast idea is intriguing to me. I’ve decided to limit my reading during lent to books only written 100 years ago or more and keep it devotional in nature. I tend to gobble up books too fast and not take time to digest, so I think slowing down and chewing on ideas will be good for me. I’m already planning to break the fast with “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” after hearing about it on your podcast. Really enjoying my Tuesday mornings with you!

    • Jennifer says:

      I gave up reading books that weren’t the Bible last year bases on Lauren ‘s idea. I heard her speak about it long ago and thought, “Never!” And it came back to me last year. It was hard and good.

  5. Kaytee says:

    I grew up Episcopalian and can see myself in every part of this article: the kids grazing the surface, the full dunk, the anxiety over sipping.
    A few years ago, I learned about Norwex cloths and that silver is antibacterial. As an example, the lady presenting told us that in “some churches” they drink from a common cup. That cup is almost always lined in silver to inhibit the growth of bacteria and prevent the spread of germs. It was an aha moment for me (“why didn’t I get sick every Tuesday after I went to church???”). I’m sharing now, maybe not to alleviate the anxiety, because that’s part of the point, the leaving it at the altar, but to show how Good works himself out even in the little things, even when we don’t know it, even when we think we can’t trust him. He’s there.

  6. Lisa says:

    I loved this. I don’t know if you’re familiar with She Reads Truth, but I started their Lenten study this morning with “an invitation to fast from striving and shame..” This post reminded me of that soul stirring introduction to the season of Lent. Thank you for putting this into the world!

  7. I was smiling the whole time I read this post because I never drink the wine either for those very same reasons. Your story gave me a new way of looking at the cup and my issues with trust. Perhaps it’s time for me to be brave as well. I journal every morning and that is something that helps keep me grounded.

  8. Bridget says:

    That was very touching. Awesome post.

    Wine is on my list of life saving items, but not in a way that is any where near as pure.

  9. This is beautiful, Anne.

    For the last ten years I’ve given up sugar for Lent, but this year I’m giving up something I do unconsciously all the time — complaining. I’ll be reminded moment by moment how much I need a Savior.

    • Joanna says:

      God is calling me to give up complaining for Lent this year as well. (For the third time, actually, because it’s Just That Hard!) Last year, every time I complained, I then thanked God for three things regarding whatever I had just complained about. This year, God is asking me to write that gratitude list down.
      God recently revealed to me that complaining is a way of criticizing how God is working in my life. Ouch!

      Incidentally, I suffer from extreme social anxiety, so I am posting this in faith that my world won’t fall apart if I share something personal on the Internet, even if no one likes it. 🙂

      • Allison says:

        “Complaining is a way of criticizing how God is working in my life.” WOW. What a word of Truth on this Ash Wednesday. Thank you for sharing this with us. It certainly hit home for ME today!!

      • Andrea says:

        Joanna, I love your thoughts here. So powerful. And I completely understand your anxiety! I just spent way longer than I should have debating whether or not to post a comment in this thread. But I finally did, and I feel the same way. 🙂

        My husband recently suggested that I start posting more on social media platforms as a way to overcome my fear of putting myself out there (which is an especially limiting fear for a writer!). At the time I was startled by his suggestion, and more than a little panicked, but as I’ve had a chance to mull it over, I’ve realized he was right. I don’t like being held back by my fears and anxieties. This post today aligned so well with the thoughts that have been going through my mind this week.

        Anyway, thanks again for your lovely comment. I’m going to start making a list of things I’m grateful for–especially with regard to those things that I tend to get grumpy about (ahem, zero temps!).

      • Anne says:

        “I am posting this in faith that my world won’t fall apart if I share something personal on the Internet, even if no one likes it.”

        I love this.

    • Anne says:

      I love that you wrote about this! Thanks for sharing. (I didn’t know about the silver chalice being a factor unless my Norwex friends educated me.)

  10. Shelley says:

    The focus of Lent is often on “fasting”. Fasting from things. It doesn’t always have to be fasting from a physical item. I need to focus on my fasting from fear, anxiety, and self induced stress. There are some who wonder or question the reason of fasting. Fasting is essential to overcome, to gain self control, to distance ourselves from “things” that separate us from knowing the love of God.

  11. Karen says:

    Your post brought me back to my childhood, where I was raised in the Lutheran church. I questioned sipping from the communal cup from a young age due to the possibility of germs. There were many seasons when the flu was epidemic and the church switched to individual plastic cups which I secretly loved:) As one who suffers from anxiety, your words delivered an important reminder and nudge to take a few brave steps in my own life. Especially as we enter the Lenten season today – thank you.

  12. The Eucharist is definitely life-giving. In the Orthodox Church (for whom Lent doesn’t start until March, by the way), we actually receive the Eucharist twice a week during Great Lent. The church fathers realized that during this time of intense spiritual fasting, repentance, and prayer, our souls needed the life-giving Eucharist as often as possible.

  13. I traveled to Europe as a teen and we received communion in the church in which Princess Diana was married. My mother was aghast that I wanted to drink from the actual cup the priest was holding. She thought that it was not only germy in general, but mostly likely full of *foreign* germs (lol). But I did it, though I’m a bit of a germaphobe myself. I’m glad I did. It’s good not to give in to anxiety.

  14. Amy says:

    Beautifully written. My morning quiet time is what keeps me sane. My coffee, my bible, my journal. Quiet time. God and me. Writing a bit about it on my blog today. Its not up quite yet thought.

    • Amy says:

      I’m with you sister! It not only keeps me sane but the Lord gives me all I need for that day when I spend time with Him first! I would be a mess without my mornings spent that way. Although I thoroughly enjoy drinking my coffee, I’m thinking I need to give that up for lent. Trust me it’s a sacrifice there’s nothing like a fresh brew with my bible and time spent with my Lord!

  15. Linda D. says:

    I’m Episcopalian too. I never intinct (dip) – always drink. I strongly believe that God is not going to let me get sick from drinking from that common cup. It has absolutely no basis in science and is likely foolhardy, but I have yet to catch any germs from it. Have a happy and holy Lent!

    • Suzanne says:

      Thanks for the vocabulary lesson! I love that I have a name for the action I do at Mass.

      And I rely on consistency to keep me sane and grounded. There was once a woman who said, “there is divinity in discipline” and that helps me stay close to God.

    • Anne says:

      “It has absolutely no basis in science and is likely foolhardy…”

      I have plenty of these beliefs myself. I like to think there’s a time for magical thinking and this is definitely one of them. 🙂

  16. Rachel says:

    What a unique way to view the act of communion, not just as a representation of Jesus giving himself up for us but also as a chance for us to give over our anxieties/stress/fears to him.

    I rely on the fifteen minutes I take a few times a week (some weeks it’s 3-4 days, some weeks just once..eek) to complete my devotional bible study. It’s my way to reconnect and spend some time alone with God learning, praying, and listening.

  17. Andrea says:

    Anne, thank you for this beautiful post! It resonated with me on so many levels (as so many of your posts do). Taking the sacrament is something that renews me from week to week as well. In my congregation (LDS), we pass a tray of small individual cups from row to row, and when my family sits in the back I shudder a little when I see kids sneeze or cough over the trays as they’re passed along before they get to my row. But I never hesitate to take the bread and the water myself, because it symbolizes so much for me and pulls both the previous week and the coming week more fully into focus. That time of renewal and reflection is the bedrock that keeps me grounded–and that sometimes I take for granted.

    I love that every time I come to this blog, I’m inspired in different ways. I really appreciate your open and eloquent writing style and your courage in posting about things you hold dear to your heart (which is something I struggle with). Also, as a side note, my list of books to read this year is getting crazy long, and much of that is due to your terrific new podcast. 🙂

  18. Katja says:

    I print and fold the bulletins at home for my church every week. I have three small children and my husband rarely attends. It is a big pain. However, it takes away all the little excuses to not go, because I have to get the bulletins there or ask someone else to do it last minute. (I’m a people pleaser, this almost never happens). It also ensures I get there half an hour before most people, allowing me to settle my mind for worship. I’ve had people ask if they can release me from my “burden,” but I freely admit to them that it’s my lifeline.

  19. Andrea says:

    Every Sunday I also have to overcome my germ phobia. And I do. The body and blood, the bread and wine are that powerful. The few times I ve chosen just to touch the cup because I am the one sick, it’s not the same. I’m missing out on the communion. So I will keep drinking from the one cup. All the same, happy to learn here that silver is anti-bacterial! Personally, I think people dipping their bread/wafer into the cup is awful. Way worse germs from hands that graze on the rim of cup, fingers that make there way INTO the wine to dip. Yuk. Not permissible in our church. Thankfully.

  20. This is so lovely, well written (as always) and am important perspective. The things I’m relying on right now are knit and crochet (as an aid to prayer) and, I just have to say it, this blog. I find your writing so encouraging to daily life. Very practical. Deeply meaningful. Thank you!

  21. GingerG says:

    I can so relate to this! Thank you for sharing. This year for Lent I’m adding to my life, instead of taking away. I’ll be adding more prayer to my daily life. Moments to be quiet, thankful, and present.

  22. Julie says:

    Beautiful! My grandparents lived in your town and were episcopalian. I was christened at their church and this makes me think of them. I love the service and find so much comfort the words and the order of the service. My mantra has always been “faith not fear”. You describe putting those words into action in a beautiful way.

  23. anne marie says:

    Participating in the mystery of the Eucharist – grateful for this reminder of the power of this regular ritual. My ‘saving my life right now’ is so much more mundane and silly – it’s gummy worms! I spend a lot of time on the road in this season of life and stopping into a convenience store to pick up a bag of these goodies is literally like a ray of sunshine and a party in my mouth! They are not healthy in any way, except maybe for my own mental health. It’s a small treat for myself that is thoroughly enjoyable!

  24. Cindy says:

    This was so interesting, Anne, as are all the comments! I could totally relate, as I was part of the Episcopal church for a time. However, I grew up Baptist, in which each person has their own little cup to drink from, so that isn’t a concern. But your post reminded me of what should be my most embarrassing moment, but is really very funny. And small sips of humor are saving me right now. So feel free to picture this the next time you feel anxious: I was only about 8 years old, sitting near the front of the church with my mom and brother. My dad was the pastor, and it was time for the Lord’s Supper (Communion). In our church, the deacons passed the plate of bread wafers, and then the juice. Well, I had my head down, bent over playing with my shoes, and popped my head up just as the deacon passed the plate of wafers over my head to my mother. Bread wafers flew everywhere! Come to think of it, this may be my mother’s most embarrassing moment. As she quickly gathered as many wafers together from her lap to put back on the plate, I didn’t know what to do. Bread pieces were everywhere! I figured I was in big trouble. But after a minute, I could feel my mother shaking next to me, and when I looked at her, she was trying for all she was worth not to burst out laughing. I didn’t get in trouble, and I learned a lot about grace that day!

  25. AuburnCathy says:

    My 5:30 AM daily ritual of writing in my 1000 Gifts journal, devotional and Bible reading, prayer and coffee help me focus on the steadfastness of the Lord…some days are better than others. A life-saving ritual.

  26. Kim says:

    My kids used to clench their lips so tightly on the edge of the chalice that not a single drop of communion wine would enter their mouths! I always feel that the moment the priest absolves all the sins is light a weight lifting off my shoulders!

  27. Mary B. says:

    Wow. What a breath-takingly beautiful reflection! It was such a delight to read!

    Like you, I depend heavily on ritual and meaning to keep me anchored. The older I get, the more acutely aware I become of the uncertainties of life–nothing is guaranteed, not even tomorrow. So I find myself leaning more and more heavily on the practice of my Faith…I look forward to the beautiful and unchanging ritual of the Mass, I love seeking reconciliation in the confessional and hearing the ancient words of absolution. I order my life around the liturgical seasons–and I love that I know when each one will begin/end, and practicing fasting/feasting/sacrificing/blessing that goes along with each.

    This is what both challenges and strengthens me. Wishing you a very holy and fruitful Lent!

  28. Wendy says:

    Such an interesting post and conversation! I was raised Episcopalian and never thought about the germ issue at all. My nephew was diagnosed with Celiac disease was back in 1989, when “gluten free” was NOT any sort of buzzword. He had to use special GF communion wafers, and my sister used to get some horrifyingly rude comments from people about it–including her mother-in-law, who insisted he couldn’t get sick from the body of Christ.
    And I hope nobody will take this as disrespectful to the tone of this post, but last month I bought myself TWO bras that actually fit, and for the first time in a decade, I can wear a bra without spending all day long hauling the straps back up. It is just amazing to lose one of life’s constant annoyances.

  29. Emmie says:

    Thank you for a beautiful post and for sharing your vunerability with readers. I too hesitate when partaking in the Communion challice, but feel better knowing that the wine must have a certain amount of alcohol which kills the germs! My step of faith allows me to believe that no harm will come to me if I partake (and I also hope that the truly ill, such as those with a ripe cold, refrain from partaking!). That’s what helps get me through. As a child I wouldn’t ever take a lick of someone else’s lollipop or ice cream. It wad SO socially difficult for me.

    • ~Amy F.~ says:

      In my church, one of the elders mixes regular wine with the communion wine during flu season. The extra alcohol kills any germs that might end up on the cup. I’ve always been grateful for that small precaution!

  30. Emily McKenna says:

    I’m so glad you shared this. I’ve only taken communion once from a communal cup and I thought about the sharing of germs. I comforted my fears by reminding myself that this gift was from God, who does not want to harm me. And, it also helped me to remember that alcohol kills germs. 🙂

    Things that keep me sane this time of year are reading a good book, of course and skyping with my out of state and out of country daughters. I miss them so much and look forward to seeing their face, hearing their voice, and knowing what’s going on in their lives.

  31. Elizabeth Sullivan says:

    I love this! I am just now getting around to reading some old email and came across this. I can see from the other comments that this has touched a nerve. I didn’t grow up with communion. But having taught at a Catholic school, I can say that I have grown to love it and honestly miss it. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

  32. Picked this from your favorites and it’s lovely and brave. I belong to a Baptist church, and we don’t (IMO) take communion often enough. I was shocked at Christmas Eve when we used a new method. In our church, we always pass the plate with wafers, take and eat as a congregation. Then we do the juice–no wine in the Baptist church (people keep it at home) 🙂 This time, however, we passed the plate once because we were taking a pre-packaged juice/cracker combo that you peel the wrapping off. So very sanitary. And I lost all connection to what we should be doing with communion, to the sharing and breaking of bread and wine together as one body in Christ. And maybe I should be brave enough to actually write about it…

  33. Tony McGurk says:

    I always try & sit close to the front so not too many people are before me. A couple of times I’ve gone to take a sip & have seen a bit of communion wafer in the cup that’s fallen out of someone else’s mouth. That really grosses me out.

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