The Lord's PrayerThere are 7 of us on the committee to hire a new pastor.  We read over applications.  Listen to sermons.  Conduct phone interviews and pray.

What do we pray?  Not to mess up.  To find the right candidate.  To find someone that will help our church move forward.  That we hire the person who will help us discern God’s mission for us in our community and in the world.

We want to do God’s will, but for any chance of success, we have to know what His will is.  That’s not easy when you’re busy.  There are numerous ways to discern God’s will but they all take a certain amount of time and quiet.

  1. Read the Bible.  The Bible is God’s word and He uses it to speak to us.  How often have you read a familiar passage only to have something new leap out at you?  Something that speaks to where you are now and what you need to do?
  2. Pray.  Take the time to communicate with God. What we ask can be just as revealing as His answer.  Putting something into words can help you clarify your thinking, focusing things and helping you see what really matters.
  3. Meditation.  Listening is a part of prayer, but if you are anything like me, you need to take a few moments and relax. You breathe in.  You breathe out.  And you listen.  What drifts into your mind?  You may not receive an answer right then and there but you will feel less frantic about the whole thing now that you’ve spent time in His presence.
  4. Wait.  One of the greatest impediments to doing God’s will is our impatience. We want an answer and we want it NOW.  No.  To be honest, we wanted it yesterday or the day before.  We’re praying about it because we are getting a little worried that we have yet to discern his answer.  The answer then is very often “wait.”  You aren’t ready.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more listening to do.  I’m waiting for an answer that I know will come in His time.

–SueBE

I’ve got a veritable village of health care people taking care of me these days – doctors, nurses, physical therapists, lab technicians.  It’s a team that’s taken me from being inert in a hospital bed last year to up and around (if wobbly) these days.

I’ve gotten to know my health care specialists pretty well, so I was surprised to learn that a lady on my physical therapy team has health issues of her own.

“But you look so hale and hearty!”  I insisted when she told me she didn’t always feel well.

“Everybody’s got something to deal with,” she said, as she continued to open the mail and adjust the schedule. She strikes me as someone who can do anything she sets her mind to.  Like nothing will ever hold her back.

I told her how much I appreciated her good attitude, and that I felt it was good for her own life, but also beneficial for the patients as we focus on healing.  She said, “Whatever we have to go through, it is what it is.  You’ve just gotta keep going.”

Now that is the gospel truth.

At the local grocery store, I often see a cashier who reels off her troubles to me as she rings up the groceries.  She has health and money woes, as so many do, but here’s the problem:  she believes her life will always be this way.  “If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” she shakes her head. She came into a little bit of extra money and of course, her car broke down.  “Just my luck!” she bemoaned.

I’ve come to believe that having a bad attitude is worse than having a chronic condition. Having a disability is beyond your control in most cases; having a negative mindset is completely self-induced. If you can’t find one blessed thing in your life to feel grateful for, you’re just not paying attention.

Sometimes you’ve got to decide that life is worth living before you even see good things manifesting in your life.  Change the story you tell about your own life and – for goodness’ sake – get out of your own way.  Providence, prayer and persistence are all you need to get things headed in the right direction.

The zoo was crowded. The weather was unseasonably pleasant — a perfect day for a family outing. As my husband and I watched the antics of the howler monkeys, I couldn’t help overhearing a teenager giggling and repeating to anyone who would listen how stupid and gross the monkeys were; you know, what with their grooming of one another’s fur and all. I rolled my eyes, a gesture my brother once dubbed (in his childhood) “butterflies to the moon.” Man, my butterflies were way over the moon. The whole crowd seemed loud and coarse; weariness swept over me like a misanthropic miasma.

And then I had a revelation. Suppose you were at a party, a noisy and crowded, raucous get-together, and someone told you that God himself were present at the gathering, disguised as one of the guests. No outward sign would betray his identity. How would you behave, knowing this fact? How would you treat the other guests? The thought stopped me dead in my tracks. Would I roll my eyes at God? Of course not! I would treat every guest with the reverence, the devotion I feel for the Almighty. There would be no “butterflies to the moon.” If even one of those guests could potentially be God, it would be my honor to treat each one like gold.

And suddenly, everyone at the zoo took on a new light, a new identity. I was at that party, and God was among us. It was up to me to treat every person as I would treat God if I were to meet him face to face. What a difference this made to my attitude! Suddenly, the running, shouting children were adorable, the giggling teens heartwarming. Everybody was beautiful. The whole day changed.

Every one of us carries God within our souls. Perhaps it is hard to see, but whose fault is that? The eye of the beholder! God is no less present just because we ourselves fail to apprehend him. If only we could be acutely aware, all the time, of this fact! How differently might we treat one another!

Because God isn’t just one guest at the party. God is all of the guests. It’s about time I acted like it.

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

“Those people are idiots!” she said as soon as she got in the car. “They don’t know how to run a business.” My neighbor’s car was in the shop, so I picked her up from work one day.  “They messed up the schedule and asked me to stay later so I stayed till 4.  Now those jerks want me to stay till 8 and I refused.” She was talking about the managers at the drug store where she worked. “They said they won’t have anyone to work the register.  I said, ‘Guess what? Life ain’t fair.’”

It was only a few minutes’ drive from the drug store to the street where we lived, but it seemed like an eternity. I love my neighbor dearly, but this is the story she always tells about life, in one form or another.  Life isn’t fair.  Everyone else is an idiot. She’s not happy.

After a while, you have to realize that if you spew venom all the time, you’re also sitting in a pool of venom.  You can’t come out unscathed if you’re swimming in poison all the time.

You have to re-train your brain to stop focusing on the negative. The only way to do that is to tell a different story.

If my neighbor were really asking for advice, I’d tell her that she’s clinically depressed and really needs professional help.  I’ve told her this before and she agreed, but didn’t take the next step to see a counselor.

But she’s not asking for advice.  She’s playing the only tune she knows.  Life is bad. I’m not happy.  It’s someone else’s fault.

We’ve all been through dark days, that’s for sure, but the only time I think about hard times I’ve been through these days is to say a prayer of gratitude. The challenges were not a test, but training – a way of building resilience muscles and authenticating my compassion bona fides so it isn’t a hollow claim to say, I know how you feel.  I’ve been there. It seemed like it would never be morning again.

God always showed up to walk with me, but at one point in time, I didn’t see Him there.  I was laser-focused on what was wrong, the pile of stuff in front of me.  I can’t do this alone!  I don’t have enough! Why does this always happen to me? If only I had taken a breath and looked behind me, I would have seen that God always had my back.  All I had to do was tell a different story. I just had to close my eyes, put my hands together in prayer and sing a new song.

As always in the summer, I’ve spent hours and hours at the pool – knitting during swim practice, cheering during meets, and volunteering with other parents.

If you’ve ever watched a meet full of young swimmers, you’ve seen them turn their heads one way then the other.  They aren’t turning their heads to breathe.  They’re looking for the competition.  Who’s in first?

It really is natural.  They just want to know how they’re doing, but the problem is that each glance slows them down.  How do I know?  As soon as they break this habit, face forward, and swim, their times drop, drop, drop.

Young swimmers aren’t the only people who check out the competition although they may be the only ones doing it in the pool.  Whether you are glancing around to see if your child is the only one wiggling during the school program, sizing up dishes at a pot luck to see if yours is being consumed as fast as the rest, or trying to get a glimpse of someone else’s numbers at the weigh in, you are comparing yourself to others.

The problem is that if you’re ahead, you often wind up feeling smug. Too bad not everyone is as good a cook, parent, or dieter as you.

If you’re behind, envy may crowd its way into your heart.  Why can’t your child be so pleasant?  Your crust so flaky?  Your butt so small?

I don’t know your situation so I don’t know if you should be trying for a better covered dish or a smaller behind, but I do know that God doesn’t want us strutting around feeling smug or sulking by the sidelines.  He wants us to reflect His Love and Light into the world.

The thing is – it is much easier to do this if we are paying attention to Him and not to how we stack up against the competition, whether the contest is real or only in our heads.

Quit glancing to the sides.  Instead, look to Him for the inspiration you need to shine His Light, His Love, and His Mercy into the world.  When you do, you’ll notice a big, big difference.

–SueBE

I’ve got to tell you, I’m getting a little fed up. From a survey that reveals that American voters believe Jesus would come down even more conservatively on social issues than they themselves do (voting against same-sex marriage, for instance) to the closed-minded nastiness I read in the comments section of virtually every religious-themed internet article…well, I simply despair. We’ve got it all wrong, folks.

Anyone who believes that Jesus would respond with anything less than complete mercy and love — in any situation — is DEAD WRONG. Children emigrating to escape crime and poverty? Jesus would be there with his arms open wide to embrace them. Two people wanting to sacramentally celebrate their love and commitment? Jesus would be on hand to preside. He’d probably provide the wine for the reception, too.

As usual, in times of trouble, I turn to poetry.

Mercy

Mercy is Christ’s mantra (it
is mine, too).
Mercy is the bigger picture.
Mercy is the wider door.
Mercy admits it does not know
everything, or everyone’s heart,
and chooses to walk with compassion instead
of blocking the path to this one or that.
Mercy admits all comers.
Mercy takes a chance.
Mercy opens its arms, bleeding
on a cross and says, “You too,
and you.”
Mercy does not pass judgment.
Mercy does not cease.
Mercy is Christ’s mantra (it
is mine now, too).

Like so many other people, I’m going through a divorce, and the process has really been slow-going. The other day, I went to the Family Court office to pick up some papers and sat next to a lady who was in obvious distress.

Her stomach growled and she said, “Oh! Excuse me.”

I told her not to worry; “It happens to all of us.”

“Especially to moms,” she nodded.

And she paused, leaned toward me and added, “Especially to worried moms.”

Normally, my modus operandi is to encourage people and listen to their stories, but I had a recent realization that there are some things better left in the past.  Sometimes you can’t move ahead until you release the baggage holding you back.

My usual response to this woman telling me she was a worried mom would have been to say, “Oh, dear.  Are you worried?  Tell me what happened.”

My new approach was dramatically different. “Oh, dear.  Are you worried?  Don’t worry; it will all work out.”

She looked at me sharply, almost annoyed, responding with a disbelieving, “mm-hmm,” as if to say, no it won’t.

Up until recently, I’d let people tell me their troubles, thinking it might be cathartic for them.  As it turns out, when we commiserate with others, it actually prolongs and perpetuates problems.  It doesn’t help to tell everyone you meet a long list of your cares and woes.

Luckily, I got a leg cramp and had to walk it off, and strategically stepped away from this lady, but I overheard her talking to the woman on the other side of her.  There was a very long and sad story with graphic details. They talked intensely for twenty minutes and even exchanged phone numbers and emails.  In a way, they’d made a pinky-pact of sorts, to sit together and pick at soul-scabs until they bled again.

I was so glad I had stuck to my policy: I don’t commiserate anymore.  I’ll co-joy with you any day, but I won’t willingly co-sign your agreement to marinate in misery.

It took me years to learn this lesson, but now I know it in my bones. The only way to solve a problem is to do everything that you know will help and then release it, completely entrusting it to God. Traveling light and partnering with Providence is the only way to go.

RosesAs much as I love that phrase, we all know how hard it can be to cultivate.  It is just so easy to focus on the things that go wrong and the people who annoy us.

On Saturday, my husband and son came home from Scout camp where they learned a new technique to cultivate this attitude.  It is called Roses, Buds and Thorns.

At the end of the day, each person shares a rose (what went especially well), a bud (something that will grow into a rose in the near future) and a thorn (something they’re feeling prickly about).

We’re already using this at home.  I have to admit that it is going to take some practice.  Or  maybe I just shouldn’t call a “Rose, Bud & Thorn” meeting when someone is telling me how horrid his perfectly good day has been because I won’t give in and let him play on the computer after 9:30 (house rules).

Regardless, it has led to some interesting conversations.

“I’m glad that we have lots of candidates for pastor.”

“Wait a minute.  I’m on that committee.  That’s my rose.”

I was surprised that my son’s rose today was the sermon by our guest pastor.  Not the response I expected from a 15 year-old boy.

Try this technique with your own family.  It will help you learn to look for what is good as well as good that is coming and you’ll learn a lot about each other in the process.

–SueBE

So there I was: spending my weekly hour with God, a practice we Catholics call Perpetual Adoration. In our little chapel there is always someone present; the monstrance holding the consecrated Eucharist must never be left unattended. My hour is on Friday, and provides an ideal time for reflection.

In this case, fighting post-prandial wooziness and shivering in response to the overzealous air conditioning, I found myself asking: Believing as I do in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, knowing that he is here with me, what should I ask Jesus? The answer came back quickly. My question would be, “What can I do for you?” And I knew just what he would reply: “You already know. It’s all in the book.”

The “book” is, of course, the Bible, and specifically, in the words Christ himself spoke. In these words we get all the direction we need for living our lives. So if, like me, you’ve ever asked what you could do for God, here are just a few ideas, culled from Christ’s own words:

  1. Give to those in need.
  2. Divest yourself of things: You don’t need them.
  3. Practice the Beatitudes.
  4. Speak of Jesus to other people.
  5. Love your neighbor. All the time. As much as you can.
  6. Follow Christ’s example.
  7. Trust in God.
  8. Forgive, forgive, forgive.

There’s more, of course — much more. It’s a lot like having a textbook that includes the answers to each chapter’s exercises in the back. Christ’s words are there for us to access; he gave us the answers we seek. All we have to do is read them. We’ve got the book. What more do we need?

 

 

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