What Do You Wish?

[Jesus] said to her, “What do you wish?”  – Matthew 20:21

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was the story of James and John, “the sons of thunder,” whose mother dares to go before Jesus on their behalf, (right after Jesus has announced for the third time that he is going to suffer and die, mind you), and ask if her sons can sit at his right and left hands in his kingdom.  I’ve long been embarrassed for this mother whenever I read this passage.  Because don’t we mothers (and fathers) sometimes lose sight of the larger picture and go to extremes to try to get the best for our kids over other people’s kids?  In her defense, by asking such a thing she is indirectly implying that Jesus is the best because why else would she want her sons to have such a prominent share in his kingdom?  Still, her understanding of Jesus while well-intentioned, is a narrow view.

What struck me as I read it this time, however, was not what the mother dares to ask, but that Jesus invites her to tell him!  Surely Jesus knew what was on her mind, and yet he wants her to ask it anyway.  And I wonder why?

But then I think of all the times I’ve told Jesus what I want without his even asking.  And to this day, I can’t think of a time he’s not answered. As the old saying goes, however, sometimes his answer has been “no”, sometimes it’s been “yes”, and sometimes it has been “not yet”.  But the “no’s” I’ve received are about things I no longer desire, and it is he that I credit for taking the desire away.  The “yes’s” are those many things among which I try to count my blessings or remember when I rehearse my victories.  These are, for the most part, the “easy” answers in my life.

It’s the “not yet’s” I find most difficult.    The things I still desire to accomplish or attain, but have not yet been given. These are a struggle.  But these are also where I can give meaning to these small struggles by uniting them with Christ’s own struggle.  It assures me I am on the road of discipleship (Matthew 16:24), and reminds me that his grace will see me through.

The mother of the sons of Zebedee reminds us that we are free to tell Jesus exactly how we feel, and exactly what we want without apology.  We have no need for pretense or false humility simply because he is Lord of Lords…because he is also our friend.  And any good friend wants to give us the chance to say what we want, even when it may sound ridiculous, rude or short-sighted.  Our Lord loves us that much! But, also like the mother of the sons of James and John, we are often short-sighted in our requests.  And it is precisely because he loves us so much, that we can trust him to spare us from granting our wishes when it is not in our own best interest.

Reflect:  Sometimes we hold too tightly to dreams and desire. What are the things you’ve desired for a long time that still haven’t happened in your life?   Do you trust Jesus enough to let him lead you to your desires?  Do you trust him enough to ease your suffering by removing your desire  if what you want isn’t in your best interest?  If not, be honest!  Tell Jesus exactly how you feel.  He loves you so much and he wants to hear from you!

Pray:  Lord Jesus, just as you listened to the mother of James and John, listen to me today!  Let me pour out my wants and desires to you.  Help me to hold loosely to all of them, so that you may work in my life for your greatest good.  Open my ears to hear and my eyes to see how you unite me with my desires or relieve me of them in the days ahead.  Amen.

 

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A Map of Faith

It was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith.  – Romans 4:13

How can we have faith?  This is a question that is asked and discussed in the small groups during the Alpha course we run at our parish. “Faith isn’t a blind leap. It’s a reasonable step based on good evidence.  In some ways faith is more like a journey,” they say as the Alpha video begins.

But what is the evidence for putting our faith in God?  The answer is simple, but not necessarily easy:  by having a personal relationship with God.  Jesus is our perfect example of how to live a life of faith.  Through his example we see the person of God himself become fully human to take on the burdens of all our sins and suffer to the point of death, not to save himself, but to save us.  He gives everything of himself for us.  And out of his great love for us, God gives us a share in this life of suffering, too.  Not because he doesn’t love us, but because none of us could ever repay our debts from the wrongs we have committed against himself and others.  And because of Jesus we don’t need to.  We need only carry the share of the suffering that is given us.   And from a human perspective this can sometimes seem grossly unfair.  We see that some very good and wholesome people experience a great deal of sufferings, while others skate through life seemingly unscathed.  The question is, how do we handle the unfairness we see?  Do we turn away from God?  Or do we follow Jesus’ example and lean more deeply into him?

The Scriptures tell us that “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  So which is it? you may be wondering. Is faith, as Alpha says, “a reasonable step based on good evidence,” or is it as the Scriptures say “evidence of things not seen?”  When we look to the life of Jesus, we can see it’s clearly both.  Jesus did not go through life minding his own business until one day God put it on his heart to die for all our sins and Jesus did it and so now he’s a hero.  No!  Jesus was born into and shared a deep and personal relationship with God the Father from the very beginning.  And today’s second reading from Romans reminds us that years before Jesus became incarnate, Abraham, too, had a deep personal relationship with God the Father.  Without it, the whole story of the sacrifice of his son Isaac (also a young man of great faith and a prefiguring of Jesus) Abraham would appear insane!  But today we are told it was Abraham’s faith that God rewarded, not his adherence to any laws. (In fact, it wasn’t until centuries later that the Law was given to Israel, and that was only because of their many transgressions.)

Today’s readings are in celebration of the Solemnity of St. Joseph.  Joseph, another man of great faith, chose not to follow his legal right for a divorce from Mary when he discovered she was pregnant (though they had not been together), but rather to follow the commands of the angel of God who appeared to him in a dream and bring her into his home and marry her, though he stood to face much shame and rejection for doing so.

Abraham had great faith.  St. Joseph had great faith.  Jesus is our perfect example of faith.  All had a personal relationship with God.  By their examples, we can begin to connect the dots for how faith may look in our own lives:

  1. Open our hearts to God.  Alpha suggests we say a simple prayer like, “God, if you are real, show me in a way that I will understand and can come to believe in you.”  You could say this step is a “realization of what is hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1)
  2.  Watch/listen for God to respond to us.  This is the step I think that confuses many of us, as we tend to have at least two unrealistic expectations of God: 1) that God will answer us immediately, and 2) that it will be something very supernatural and obvious.  While these two things are certainly well within God’s capabilities to do, people who walk with God will generally attest to something quite different.  They see God working through the people around them, and through things that are already meaningful to them.  We, on the other hand, often mislabel these things as “coincidences.”  However, with open hearts, through the eyes of faith, we can begin to see these “coincidences” as our own personal “evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
  3.  Repeat step 1.  Once we’ve received this “evidence” in our hearts, though we can’t see it, we act on it if it calls us to act. Sometimes, the “evidence” is simply an affirmation of God’s love for us, or a reassurance of his presence with us that calls for no action on our part at all. And in many cases, we can rest assured that any calls to action will be reasonable, or at least consistent with the nature of God.  They are seldom “blind leaps”, but rather “reasonable steps based on good (but unseen) evidence.”

To us, Abraham’s sacrificial offering of his son, Joseph’s willingness to marry a woman pregnant with a child who was not his own, and Jesus’ willingness to take on death on the Cross can all seem like extreme “blind leaps” from where we sit.  But for them?  For them, these acts were their next most reasonable steps based on the lifetime of evidence they had from their personal relationship with the God of the Universe.

The same God who wants to have a personal relationship with you and with me.

From this perspective, we can begin to appreciate that perhaps the one who takes the biggest “leap of faith” in all of this is not us, but God.

Reflect:  What “evidence” do you have to point to in your life that God exists?  If you don’t have any “evidence” of God, have you considered asking for him to provide you with some? Does asking for God to provide this “evidence” seem like a reasonable step to you?  Imagine if after you die, you were to appear before God and accuse him of never revealing himself to you and his reply were simply, “Well, my child, why did you never ask?”  

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us even when we don’t love you in return.  Thank you for loving us even when we don’t know you, or forget to include you in our lives.  Help us to know you more fully, walk with you more closely, and experience your love and mercy more deeply as we begin, continue or renew our journey of faith with you.  Amen.

 

 

An Oasis of Laughter

Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.  – Esther 14:14

We learn as small children that the smile is a facial expression for “happy” and that a frown is a facial expression for “sad.”  So, most of us, I think, see gladness and sorrow as polar opposites.  As a simple communication tool that’s helpful. But life and it’s emotions are very complex.  And the spiritual life, even more so.

Today’s Old Testament reading is taken from the book of Esther, which is a beautiful story of triumph about a Jewish orphan who becomes queen and ultimately saves her people from genocide.  A dramatic plot unfolds over the course of only a few chapters wherein as evil plans are being formed on one side, God is at work planning to overcome the evil through Esther and her uncle.  At one point, Esther turns to prayer calling out to God to save her people and “turn our mourning into gladness.” 

I’ve had many prayers like this myself, and I imagine you have, too.  My intention, of course, is for them to be answered immediately, so that I can “turn that frown upside down” as we sometimes say. And while it stands to reason that God could certainly work quickly– and sometimes does–very often his work is more slow, more methodical, more plodding than I’d like.

Yesterday I had an experience that gleaned some new insight into the hurried pace I often tread alongside a slow and methodical God. And I realized I might be missing something:  that joy and sadness don’t have to be polar opposites, exactly because sometimes joy and laughter appear right there in the middle of the sadness, not as an opposite but as an oasis of healing in the middle of a struggle.

You see, last week, a friend informed me  that she’d received a call  confirming a diagnosis she’d been dreading: cancer.  The same friend met up with me yesterday only to share that she’d just gotten another phone call with more news that they’d discovered a second disease she would now have to battle along with the cancer.

A devastating blow for sure.

But after my hugs and assurance of prayers, she broke into a smile and said, “You know, when I told my daughter about the second phone call today, I was wallowing over all this bad news. I told her it was bad enough to get the first phone call, but the second was even more devastating.  Then I asked her what she thought I should do.  And you know what she said?”  I shook my head no. “She said, ‘Well, Mom, for starters, I’d stop answering the phone!’.”

And we both broke out into laughter right there in the middle of all that sadness.

Of course, we’d all like to be spared from loss and suffering.  But I’ve heard it said, “The only way out is through,” and very often that is true for each of us.  While, unlike Esther’s story,  we may not always get the outcome we are hoping for, in the midst of our struggles God is happy provide us an oasis of healing.  It may come in the form of laughter with a friend to balm our wounds, or in the form of a warm hug to flood us with the grace to accept an alternate ending to the story we’d written for ourselves.

So I see Esther’s prayer a little differently today than I did before.  Since her story has a happy ending within only a few chapters, I’ve always seen that God answered her prayer immediately. But the ultimate answer wasn’t immediate, of course.  Things had to be set in motion.  People and places had to be just so.  And I realized God had to work slowly because we are limited by time and space, not him.

But he meets us where we are.

And he walks us through s-l-o-w-l-y, reassuring us of his presence with countless oases of healing along the way.

Reflect:  What or who provide an “oasis of healing” for me in my struggles?  Do I recognize these moments with these people, too, are a way for God to answer my prayers?  If not, what would happen if I just labeled these moments as “from God” even if I’m not certain they are? 

Pray:  God, thank you for your constant companionship!  Help me remember that just because I grow frustrated or weary in my struggles, does not mean that you have abandoned me!  Help me to soak up the joys of each “oasis of healing” I encounter to strengthen me in my journey ever closer to you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

O, That I Were a Ninevite!

Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God…     -Jonah 3:4

Today marks the first full week of Lent, and already it’s feeling like a lifetime to me.  The weather is dreary, the dog’s foot fungus won’t clear up, and the flurry of activity on my calendar for this month makes me anxious just looking at it… not to mention the fact that I’ve already failed a few times at some of the things from which I’d said I would abstain  (hello, all things sugar).

And I sit here like Jonah.  Resisting the words God is putting on my heart to share, insisting first that God respond to my own demands, OK, God, but first tell me…When will I see the sun again? When can I finally stop rubbing this stuff on my dog’s foot? Why can’t I just have one day without 47 errands to run and places I need to be? And why am I already failing at Lent and it’s only Day 7!?

And as I pray more over this Scripture the answer to everything–yes, all of my questions!– comes into focus.  But it’s not easy.  The answer is this: Return to Me.  Rely on Me. Repent and let go of so much…you.  And while I am more than happy to preach that word to everyone else (you know, all you sinners out there), God is reminding me today that having a share in the spiritual gift of prophecy does not give the prophet a free pass.  One cannot simply share God’s words and ignore it for oneself.  For Jonah, not following God’s words meant suffering in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights.  It was only after that miserable experience that Jonah took God’s word  of repentance to the ominous and intimidating citizens of Nineveh.

But how did the Ninevites respond to God’s word through Jonah?  By immediately believing God’s warning, fasting, and putting on sackcloth  (a sign of mourning and a prayer of deliverance).

By widening the lens, we see the bigger points:  sometimes we are quick to change our hearts (like the Ninevites), other times we change more slowly (like Jonah).  Keeping our hearts open enough to leave room for God to enter into them and change us involves sacrifice. The psalmist sets the example for us today with his words, “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” Psalm 51:17

The self-emptying of our pride, our own agendas, and even some our earthly desires are reasonable and necessary requests for God to make of us in order to make us more like him: Perfect Love.  How we do that looks a little different for each of us, but the good news is that God is more than happy to work with and reward us no matter how much, how little, how long, or how soon we open our hearts and make room for him to do so.

Reflect: What is one thing you know you should do, but you have been avoiding doing for a long time?  What if God were to appear before you today and ask you to do it?  Would that spur you into action?  If not, ask God to forgive your stalling and help you see how tackling that one thing will free you, and how continuing to avoid it is making you a slave to something contrary to God’s love.  Then ask him to help you take one (teeny-tiny) step towards accomplishing this one thing…and be ready to take it!

Pray:  Lord Jesus, we see in Jonah a foreshadowing of you. In three days time, you entered into death and overcame death for the world! Thank you for opening the gates of heaven for us so that we may know eternal joy.  Help us follow your example by purging ourselves of our own earthly desires and sacrificing them for God’s greater heavenly desires for us. Jesus, we trust in you! Amen.

 

What kind of virgin are you?

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.    Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

 -Matthew 25:1-2

I don’t know about you, but this parable has always been a little unnerving to me.  This morning, I was compelled to do some research to see what kind of deeper message I might be missing here, besides the obvious, which I read as: the kingdom of heaven is open to everyone…until it isn’t.  While I know this, I’m always driven to see how this might be a message of God’s love for His people.   Because, on it’s surface I’ll admit this doesn’t exactly mesh with the image I have of a loving God!

So, here’s a little backstory I found:  first of all, as Biblical scholar Scott Hahn states in his commentary, “this story line centers on a Jewish marital custom: following the period of betrothal, the groom would lead a procession to bring his new wife to their home, and they would celebrate a week-long banquet with family and friends.”  Ok, so that explains why the virgins (also called bridesmaids or maidens in some translations) need lamps while waiting for the bridegroom:  because while you are expecting his arrival any time, you don’t know exactly when he will come (it  may be dark).  There is a rather obvious parallel here then to our lives as Christians awaiting the second coming of Jesus.  Like all ten virgins in the story, we need to be ready for the arrival of our Eternal Bridegroom Jesus.  For we know not the day nor the hour of that arrival (Mark 13:32).

But what is the significance of the lamp and the oil in my life today?  And here too, my bible footnotes* were a help.  It states that both Origen and St. Hilary tell of a moral parallel for us here:  that the lamp is our Christian faith and the oil represents our good works. This makes much more sense (and sounds much less harsh in this context) when later the ten “foolish” virgins say to the wise ones, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out,” and the wise virgins reply, “Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” (Matthew 25:8-9)

Ahhh.  Now I see.  Some things–like a personal lived experience with Jesus– just cannot be given to us through others.  Why?  Because Jesus invites each of us individually. Unless we respond to the invitation and open our hearts, the gift may simply go unopened. Not because we aren’t loved, but because we need to welcome that experience for ourselves. This is the risk of free will.

The work we Christians are called to do is done out of charity that is inspired by our personal relationship with Jesus.  If I don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, you cannot make that happen for me.  If you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, I cannot make that happen for you.  If your aunt was a nun or your daddy a preacher, this does not mean you will automatically have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Sure we can share our stories, and we can encourage one another in our faith, but when it comes time to “meet our Maker”, the only experience of God that counts is our own.

These thoughts reminded me of another saying I’ve heard recently, “God has no grandchildren.”  What this says to me is that every child of God–all us adopted sons and daughters through the light of our baptism in Jesus–are first-generation children of God! While that may seem somewhat obvious at first, when I ponder that my relationship with God is every bit as personal and real (or has the potential to be if I “do the work” that is required in relationships) as if I were one his chosen people of the Old Testament like Moses or Elijah , or the New Testament like Peter and Paul, my mind just kind of buckles in awe. Can you believe that’s what we are invited to… you and I!?

But what we do with that invitation is ours for the chosing.  We can either stoke the fire that lights our faith with prayer (talking to God) and meditation (listening to God through more prayer and Scripture), or we can hold our faith-lamp close (or throw it away)  and criticize and blame others for its brokenness and lack of light.

Faith is a trust and confidence in something (or Someone) you cannot see.  It is God’s gift to us, but we must open our hearts to receive it.

What we do with that faith–the charitable works of giving to others (and the daily work, too, like prayer and meditation)–are our gifts to God.

According to my bible dictionary**, a virgin, in biblical terms,  is a female “whom no man had known” in a sexual or deeply intimate way, but it can be used as a figure of speech or image referring to nations or peoples as well.  In the Old Testament virginity was not esteemed for its own sake, but in New Testament times it became a desired state in life as a path to spiritual fulfillment modeled by many  (think John the Baptist, Mary, Jesus, Paul).

This parable reminds me, among other things, that a healthy personal relationship with Jesus requires both faith and works.  And that a personal, intimate relationship with our Triune God–Father, Son and Spirit– is the relationship I, we, must desire above all else. Settling for anything less is foolish.

I pray we all choose wisely.

 

*Ignatious Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Catholic Edition, RSV
**Catholic Bible Dictionary, Scott Hahn, ed.

Faith Like Abraham

The Lord God took Abram outside and said,
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

-Genesis 15:5-6

The first time I heard that Abraham was most likely–  based on the later lines in Scripture– brought outside to count the stars during the day, it was a total game-changer.  (See Genesis 15:12 “As the sun was about to set…”)

How many of us go to bed worrying if the sun will rise tomorrow?  How many of us worry that the sun will never set?  How many of us spend our time thinking the stars will burn out and we will never have those pin-pricks of light in our distance?

Most of us–even chronic worriers–don’t waste time worrying about these things.  Why?  Because we know we don’t have to!

Thousands of years ago, even Abraham knew that the stars were still there in the daytime, though he couldn’t see them.  And Scripture tells us it was then that he “put his faith in the LORD.”

During this season of Lent, as we make sacrifices in an effort to change for the better, let us approach every act of sacrifice we make with faith like Abraham. Let us remember in our hearts that God–in His infinite love and mercy– is right here with us, keeping all the promises He’s kept with mankind throughout the ages.  And let us rejoice together knowing that, in doing so, just like Abraham, our gracious God will count even these smallest of things we do, as acts of righteousness for us.

And if ever we doubt it, we need only remind ourselves by stepping outside in the afternoon and smiling at the heavens as we attempt to count the stars…if we are able.

When God Regrets

The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama was asked the question regarding a painful moment in his life, “How did you deal with that feeling of regret?  How did you eventually get rid of it?” to which he replied, “I didn’t get rid of it.  It’s still there.”

As Christians, we too, know the feeling of regret.  We are hardly alone.  I have regrets.  You have regrets.  The Dalai Lama has regrets.  Despite our best intentions, it seems, we all have regrets.  Searching in my memory for moments of regret in Scripture led me to the story of Noah.

 Then the LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and he was deeply grieved about that.

Genesis 6:6 (ISV)

While this may not sound like the beginning of a story of hope and promise and love, it most definitely is.  It is, of course, in the beginning of one of the most popular bible stories of all time:  Noah and the ark.  While it may initially sadden us to read that God ever “regretted” creating us, what we may find comforting about reading this is the reminder that we are made in God’s image so if even God had regrets, then it must be OK –perhaps even necessary—that we have them, too, right? That leads to the question: what do we do with regrets?  Well, more importantly, what did God do?  He looked at this regrettable situation and the messy-ness his decisions had created and he found the good. He.Found.The. Good.

 The LORD was pleased with Noah, however.

-Genesis 6:8 (ISV)

And when God found one good thing amidst all the bleakness, he was able to find more!  As we read on we discover not only Noah, but his wife, his three sons, their wives and all the animals were still good and worth holding onto in God’s eyes!  So God focused all his attention onto the goodness that remained, commanded it to stay put, and tucked it all away into the safety of the ark.

 The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

After this, of course, a brutal storm rages.  Waves crash, winds howl and Noah and all the animals are tossed about, until finally, one day, storms have passed, the water has subsided and there is solid ground once again.  Here, finally, it is safe and beneficial to let out the goodness that had been tucked inside.  And that goodness—that is, in this case, Noah—makes an offering to God.  God, in return makes a promise:

 … “I will never again curse the land because of human beings—even though human inclinations remain evil from youth—nor will I destroy every living being ever again, as I’ve done. Never again, as long as the earth exists, will sowing and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night ever cease.”

-Genesis 8:21-22

Then, this happens to the goodness that was Noah and his family:

God blessed Noah and his sons and ordered them, “Be productive, multiply, and fill the earth.”

-Genesis 9:1 (ISV)

I see woven within in the story of Noah a recipe from God for what to do when we find ourselves faced with regret:

  1. Acknowledge our regret. For many of us, this is done best through the acknowledgement—or what modern psychologists might call “owning up” – of all of the ways in which we may experience regret.   This act of acknowledgment comes most powerfully in the form of a humble and contrite confession to God and is not limited to acknowledging only our poor choices but also the many ways in which regret and sin may find us, “in my thoughts, and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,” as Catholics say in the Confiteor.
  2. Find something good to hold onto from the situation that brought on the regret. Most often it will be a new awareness or appreciation for something that perhaps was previously taken for granted. Regret over a poor parenting decision, for instance, may bring the “fruit” of a new appreciation for our children.
  3. Tuck that goodness into your heart and lock it safely inside. While God’s forgiveness is immediate and complete, the process of forgiving ourselves generally takes much longer. During this time, our emotions rage. All those Why did/didn’t I…? What if I had…? ‘s can be very taxing, but in time, the harshness of these thoughts will diminish if we let the tides of God’s love wash over them. Most importantly, while the storm of regret rages, do not forget that goodness, too, can and will eventually come from the darkness if you are willing to let it.
  4. Remind yourself of God’s promises. First, that he loves all of us and does not seek to destroy us, yes. But secondly, that throughout all our time on earth we will know “sowing and harvesting, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night.” In other words, we will know suffering, but we will also know joy! Again and again and again. This is not just a promise to love us always, but also a promise to reassure us that everything—even our moments of regret—are all a part of God’s blessing and design for us!
  5. Use any goodness from your moment of regret for a greater good. If your regret brought a new awareness of a social injustice, consider taking action to promote awareness of it, or donating your time and money to its cause. If your regret brings new insight into what led to your poor choices, remind yourself to make a better choice the next time you are put in a similar situation and give thanks to God for helping you see another option. If your moment of regret led you to find a new appreciation for life or family or Church or freedom, cherish that gift and give thanks to God for it and celebrate that gift with others.

It seems in the story of Noah, we can take comfort in believing that it is normal, maybe even necessary, to have some regrets. It is a gift to use them and learn from them. A life without any regrets is seemingly impossible, and arguably would provide little growth. As the Dalai Lama went on to say in his book, “But even though that feeling of regret is still there, it isn’t associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. It would not be helpful to anyone if I let that feeling of regret weigh me down, be simply a source of discouragement and depression with no purpose, or interfere with going on with my life to the best of my ability.” Put another way, we can realize through Noah’s story, that what we do with regret is our choice.  God gives us the freedom to choose whether we will hold onto the good that comes from moments of regret and move forward, or let them sink us.

Reflect: What is my moment of deepest regret in life? How am I a better person for having that experience, despite any regret I may feel? What did I learn about myself or others from that experience that has given me a deeper wisdom? How can I use my regret as a catalyst for good moving forward to make my life better for myself and others?

Pray: Cleansing God, though they are painful experiences and memories for me, thank you for giving me moments of regret as milestones in my life. Help me to use them as reminders that growth is sometimes a painful process. Help me also to see that even in painful moments, your love for me and all of humanity endures. Like you sealed Noah and his family in the ark during the storm, seal the regrets of my life with the balm of your love. Amen.

Embracing Our Need to Receive

“Life is not a solo but a chorus.  We live in relationships from cradle to grave.”

           -Anonymous

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of spending a day in retreat with some women in my parish.  Many of the women who sat at the same table as me, shared things that have stayed on my heart and in my mind since that day.

It seems I have been called out of my blogging sabbatical to share with you about one thought in particular:  our need to receive.

The story we were reading as a group was the story of a paralyzed man whose friends carried him on a mat in order to meet Jesus and be healed (Mark 2: 1-12, Luke 5:17-26, Matt 9:2-8).  Before reading this story, we were asked to “tell about a time a friend went above and beyond to help you in a time of need.”  Many of us shared how, while we were grateful for those times when others do things for us as part of social convention (like bringing us meals after the birth of a child, in times of sickness, or after the loss of a loved one), what stood out to us most, were the little things others have done for us when we were least expecting them.

Later, we were asked if we could see ourselves as a kind of friend that could appear in the story of the paralyzed man.  One woman bravely admitted that while she would gladly help a friend in need, she had a hard time seeing herself as the one who would allow others to do this for her.

Her comment struck me. While I didn’t say it at the time, I felt the exact same way.  Hearing it come from someone else, though, made me wonder what if we all felt this way?  What if we all wanted to be the one to help, but are not willing to be helped except in times when it’s “socially acceptable”?

If we are truly followers of Jesus, the point is clear.  In his own life, he demonstrated for us that receiving the help of others is a necessary part of humanity.  Jesus was open to receiving from others.  He received baptism through John the Baptist (Matt 3:13, Mark 1:9, Luke 3:21), he received anointing with expensive oils from a woman others rejected (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-11).  Beyond that, in the garden as he agonized, Jesus requested help from his apostles to stay with him while he prayed.  (Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32).

If Jesus, who needed nothing, was able to receive and even request help from others, why should I think I am above similar help?  Seeing Jesus in this way, makes me question whether I have, in fact “picked up my cross” at all, or am I trying instead to create  my own twisted, incomplete version of one?

This first week of Lent–when the spotlight often shines brightly on our call to serve–I am grateful for having also been reminded of our need to receive.  As a result, perhaps the next time I find myself waving away someone trying to offer their help to me I will remember one stark observation made by another woman in our group:  if the paralyzed man had not allowed others to help, no miracle could have occurred.

Knock and It Shall Be Opened

“…and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Matthew 7:8)

Unlike asking and seeking, which are easily done in our minds or our hearts with little consequence or true commitment, knocking is a physical action with consequences.  When we knock on a door, we are anticipating, first and foremost, that the door will be opened (but we also take the risk that it may not). Secondly, we may wonder who or what we will find behind the door, (though we also run the risk that it may just be an empty room).  Finally, we anticipate that when/if the door is opened, we will be required to take ownership for our actions (why were we knocking?) and maybe even state our purpose for doing so.  We may wonder what we will say.

My brother and I grew up in an era where school fundraisers were still expected to be sold through door-to-door sales, that is, literally knocking on our neighbors’ doors and stating our purpose for being there.  Neither my brother nor I were good salespeople.  Even before the door was opened, we realized we hated asking our neighbors (or sometimes total strangers) for anything.  Why would they want our candy bars?  we’d think.  Why should they support our school?  Before we even asked, we were always anticipating a “no” (but still hated hearing it).  At the same time, we were surprised (and maybe a little disappointed in ourselves at our lack of belief) when the answer was “yes, please.”  As we grew older, we had a greater awareness of how awkward it could be for others to be put in a position of having to tell us “no,” because we believed that even when their budgets or nutritional  limitations didn’t allow for such purchases, many still hated to tell a child seeking charity “no.”  My brother, being older, came into awareness of this fact sooner than I, and so he tailored his sales pitch to one that made it easier for our potential customers to say no.  His stellar line?  “You don’t want to buy any candy bars, do you?”  That way, saying “no” was more of a confirmation of the obvious, than a rejection of our inquiry (and perhaps, by extension, a rejection of our very selves).

With that experience in mind, I am convinced that through his final directive to “knock,” Jesus wants to make sure our spiritual journeys are ones of action and risk, not just contemplation.  Lest we forget, the Israelites were all too content to ask… and ask… and ask God to deliver them from their life of slavery, so much so that they nearly missed the opportunity (could not “see”) to escape when it was presented to them.  Even Moses, at that point seemed to be convinced that all they needed was a deeper faith in God, “Do not be afraid, stand firm and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…the Lord will fight for you and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)  But God makes clear what is needed at this point in their journey is not greater faith, but action.  God responds to Moses, a man of the deepest faith, “Why do you cry out to me?  Tell the Israelites to go forward.”  (Exodus 14:15)  I think it is easy to convince ourselves that since Jesus has won the battle over evil, that greater faith is all that is required of us.  For His part, though, our Triune God makes it clear to us, time and time again, that very often the only way that we can know the depth of our faith is through our actions.

The God of the Old Testament says, “Go forward.”

Jesus says, “Knock and it will be opened.”

And the Holy Spirit itself is God in motion.

One thing is clear to me in all of this:  that we are called not just to have faith, but also to act on our faith, even when– or perhaps especially when– we cannot know the outcome of our actions, or what remains hidden behind each and every door.  The only thing we can know for sure is the level of commitment we have to our relationship—both God’s and ours—when we dare to take action, even while questions remain.

For, like the wounds of Jesus for Thomas, who says, in essence “unless I touch and see his wounds I will not believe” (John 20: 25), we will likely never understand what it is we are meant to “ask” and “see” in our own spiritual experience unless we also move forward and knock…and feel our knuckles against the wood.

Seek and You Will Find

“…seek, and you will find…”  (Matthew 7:7)

Have you ever had an experience where you know you put something in a spot, but when you go to find it again, it’s not there?  You begin to search then, more frantically, checking other possible spots but as you come up empty time and time again, you continue back to the spot where you were sure it was in the first place, only to find it still not there.  It’s a frustrating experience to say the least.

Spiritual seeking can be this same way.  Once we have asked for God’s help in something, we begin to look for ways in which he is helping.  But, much like searching for a misplaced item, we become so busy looking for him to reveal himself to us in the ways that we expect we quickly forget that God has his own process for helping us, and that it may appear differently than we imagined.

When we do not see nor receive what we are expecting, it can be frustrating.  It takes patience and persistence to broaden our vision, to “open our eyes and see” (2 Kings 6:20).  Much like a misplaced item, spiritual seeking requires us to be willing to retrace our steps and try, try again.   Often, we must change our expectations and open ourselves to the possibility that what we are looking for may be revealed to us in a way very different from what we were expecting.

I find it interesting that Luke and Matthew tell almost identical word-for-word stories of Jesus’ “ask, seek, knock” instruction, but lead up to that sequence with different events.  Matthew opens in Chapter 7 with Jesus warning us of the danger of judging others.  In his version Jesus asks, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not see the log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)  Luke on the other hand, starts his chapter with the apostles asking Jesus about proper prayer and Jesus teaches them not only how to pray, but also how we need to be persistent in our prayer (Luke 11:1-13).

So, whose version are we to believe?  Is the “ask, seek, knock” instruction meant to curb us from judgment or is it meant to strengthen our resolve?  The obvious answer, of course, is both!  Our ego can easily blind us from seeing things that are so clearly in front of us.  In my experience, it is always my ego that is the log in my eye.  There have been times where I have been so focused on how I would open arms in reconciling with another, that I fail to see that they, too, have open arms and are waiting for me to make the first move.  Or, I have at times become so focused on my charitable work for others, that I fail to see my own family suffering as a result of my charitable over commitments (at which point it is arguably no longer “charity” but a distraction from my primary ministry in life:  that of wife and mother).  The list goes on and on.

One thing is clear though, if we are seeking God to join us our lives in any way—large or small– we must be willing to look beyond our own ego for Him in places we did not expect and to not give up the search.  Because much like a lost possession, unless we do both, the only thing we can be sure of is that we will never find it.