“Reflecting on Them in Her Heart”: Pondering Versus Ruminating

In Luke 2, we are told twice that Mary kept things and reflected on them in her heart, from the visit of the shepherds (2:19) to the statement by the child Jesus that he must be in his Father’s house (2:49). Mary clearly was a woman of reflection and prayer, paying close attention to the things that happened to her and pondering and praying about them. And, as “the highest expression of the ‘feminine genius'” and “a source of constant inspiration” (Pope St. John Paul II, “Letter to Women”), we as women are called to imitate her.

The challenge, for me at least, is that reflecting often turns into ruminating. Rumination is common among people with depression or, like me, an anxiety disorder. Psychology Today blogger Margaret Wehrenberg describes it as “repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion.” Rumination is the reason I sometimes struggle with journaling; it’s difficult to walk the line between healthy venting or exploring emotions and obsessing over worries or stressors.

So, what made Mary’s reflection different from rumination? How can an anxious person like me imitate her, deepening my relationship with God by pondering the good and bad things that happen in my life rather than ruminating on the negative?

Mary prayed.

Earlier this year, I began praying with the Hallow app, a Catholic meditation and prayer app. It’s helpful in guiding my prayer and in learning new ones. It also has several meditations specifically geared toward anxiety and worry, such as meditations on Matthew 6:25-30:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

This isn’t a sponsored post; I have no stake in whether or not anyone uses Hallow. But I have found that listening to these guided meditations has been helpful in re-centering me when I’m feeling anxious.

Also recently, my husband has encouraged me to do a little mini-Examen in bed at the end of each day: to go through my day and reflect on what happened. He made this recommendation to help me see more than the challenges of new motherhood and to focus more on the joys, but I’ve also found that it’s helped me pray—to ask for forgiveness when necessary and to express gratitude for the many blessings I quickly discover upon reflection. As the mother of a newborn, I haven’t yet stayed awake long enough to reflect on an entire day, but I hope that this practice will become a habit that will enrich my prayer life and help my anxiety in the process.

Prayer, not rumination.

Mary treasured her memories of Jesus in her heart. As a mother, I can do the same. My child will not be teaching the priests of our parish at age 12, nor did we have visitors at the hospital come to worship her when she was born (though her grandparents came close). But she will bring me great joy and great difficulties throughout her life, and it is important for me to reflect on those joys and ponder those difficulties. By praying about, rather than ruminating on, the worries I come across each day, I can begin to imitate Mary and better live out my vocation as a mother.

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