God At Work in Us

Embrace the ways in which God is working in you

When looking for purpose in your life, time can feel like an enemy. Is it too late? Can God really be calling me to this new thing at my age? Have I missed my chance? Am I just too old to learn new spiritual tricks?

The answers to these questions are…NO!

People begin new things all the time. My husband didn’t start running until he was 40. He didn’t start playing basketball until a few years after that. I learned to crochet at the age of 51. One of my favorite social media follows—Babs Costello of “Brunch with Babs”—is a 72 year-old grandmother who is now a viral sensation with a best-selling cookbook. 

As we move through life and become entrenched in certain habits, it’s easy to feel that there is less and less room to grow in our spiritual lives. But it’s important to remember that God never stops working in us. We are a work in progress right up until our very last day here on this earth. If we can learn new hobbies or skills later in life, why can’t we learn new ways of praying, new spiritual practices, or new ways of connecting to our loving God?

Resist the temptation to remain stuck wherever you’ve landed in your faith life. Open your heart to God and embrace the ways in which God is working in you. Be willing to follow a path that you might not have imagined for yourself. 

Spiritual growth is the process of getting more in touch with your inner life, your relationship with God, and the workings of your heart. It’s a movement towards wholeness. Our spirituality is not static. It’s a constantly changing experience. It’s different through different stages of life and even from day to day.

How well do you know your own heart? Do you hide from it? Does it keep secrets from you? Do you resist what your heart is feeling, or where it is leading? Take some time to look inward. To examine all the intricate pathways of your heart and your life’s journey. Look for patterns. What can you learn from joyful times, from heartbreak, from confusion and doubt? All of these experiences lead to growth.

Remember, God created the universe and all that lives within it. In the words of William Reiser, S.J. in his book The Potter’s Touch:

“Creation is not yet finished because we are not yet finished. Our particular, individual creations are still taking place with God taking the creative and loving initiative in our souls.” 

Each day is an opportunity to experience ways in which we are being created by our loving God.

I’d love to hear from you! Share a story of how you embraced a new spiritual practice in your life.

Walking With God Through Pain

Scenic photo with quote: God is powerful enough to carry us through our pain.

It has been scientifically proven that our brains are hard-wired to avoid pain. This has helped humans survive by recognizing threats and danger. But in a big and complex world, we can’t always avoid pain in our lives. Try as we might, we can’t always prevent pain in our bodies, such as illness, injury, or the natural process of aging. Unavoidable pain can also present itself in our minds—with anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. And our spirits can unexpectedly feel pain through broken relationships, heartbreak, setbacks and loss. When any type of pain enters our lives, our first instinct is to pray to our powerful and mighty God: Please take this pain away!

When the pain lingers, we feel confused and even a little betrayed. God can do all things… why am I still hurting? I’m honestly not sure I have a good answer to this question except to say that we live in a world of science and free will, and pain can sometimes be a part of that world. It’s why I believe that acceptance is such a big part of faith. Refusing to accept a painful time in our lives can lead to doubt, frustration, and a loss of trust in God. Dr. Julia King, a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety, writes: “We create suffering for ourselves when we desperately wish things were different when, at least right now, they cannot be.”

So where can we find God amidst our pain? I firmly believe that God does not cause our pain or desire for us to suffer; however, God is powerful enough to carry us through our pain and even bring blessings out of it. So maybe instead of asking God to take away our suffering, we pray instead: God, please walk with me through this pain.

Imagine a parent confronted with a child in pain. The parent wants to do anything to make that child happy again. It hurts too much to see them suffering. But again, it’s not always possible. In the words of Brené Brown: “Our go-to as parents is to make everything better. We want to flip on the lights. But our job is to teach our kids that it is ok to be sad, and to sit in the dark with them.” That’s exactly what God does for us when we suffer—sits in the dark with us.

Even more, there’s a lot God can take away. The fear that accompanies pain. The loneliness. The despair. Leaning on God can take away the cascading effect of emotions that stem from pain. Our faith in God leads to hope that physical pain may heal or lessen. Mental pain does not have to define our lives. And emotional pain does not need to overwhelm us.

To expect to live a life without any pain is like building a castle on sand. The minute something goes wrong, we assume we just can’t handle it. We collapse with no foundation to hold us together. But when we approach the painful moments of life with Jesus by our side, we are stronger. We have our faith to lean on. We have trust that joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Through times of suffering, we learn a lot. We learn about God’s love for us. We learn how to trust. We learn about our own strength and resilience. We learn compassion for others who have suffered. God is there with us through all of that…showing us the way through.

I’d love to hear your comments! Respond with your thoughts on how God has carried you through times of pain. How did that experience differ from times you tried to go it alone?

Encountering God in Each Moment

Each and every moment that we live is an opportunity to encounter God. An average lifetime is 41 million minutes. That’s a lot of moments! Sometimes it’s easy to see how God appears to us. Something so special or different is happening that we can’t help but be aware of the awesome presence of God in that moment. The Joyful Moment, when we are celebrating with loved ones. The Awe-Filled Moment, when we witness the breathtaking the glory of God in nature. Or the Tranquil Moment, when we feel God speaking to us deep in prayer.

But in a life filled with over a million moments, many of them are not going to be joyful, tranquil, or filled with awe. Life is made up of lots of other kinds of moments that don’t exactly sparkle with Divine presence. The Frazzled Moment, the Dull Moment, the Anxious Moment. All too often God “seems” absent in these moments. 

Why is it that we tend to miss God’s presence in these more ordinary occurrences?  

Sometimes our emotions grab hold of us and we just react to what’s happening, believing that we’re on our own and we must control the situation. Other times we feel that what we’re experiencing isn’t “big” enough or important enough for God’s attention.  We feel our ordinary moments are not worthy of God’s attention. And oftentimes, sharing our moments with God just doesn’t occur to us. Like anything, being mindful of God’s presence in our lives is something we have to practice. And it’s easy to forget or fall out of the habit.

It’s important to realize that God is always here with us whether we notice or not! There is not a fraction of a minute we experience in our lives that God is not there to witness. The key is to be aware of it. How can we increase the number of moments in which we encounter God?

AWARENESS

This is where it begins. Let yourself “feel” the presence of God in whatever way calls to you. Remind yourself that God is there. Repeat to yourself: God is here with me in this moment. Take time to notice where God may be coming through. If you are sitting through a boring meeting at work (a Dull Moment to be sure!) take time to realize that each person at that meeting is a child of God. God abides in everyone there.

CONVERSATIONAL PRAYER

Talk to God in the moment you are having. An easy conversation like one you would have with a friend. This does not come naturally for many people, but it gets easier with practice. No matter what kind of moment you’re experiencing, talk to God about it. When you’re experiencing an Anxious Moment, talk through your feelings with God. Bring your worries to God and set them down. 

GRATITUDE

Before the moment fades away, take time to thank God for being there with you through it. After all, moments come and go, but God’s presence is unending. When you get through a Frazzled Moment of trying to do a million things at once, thank God for getting through it, knowing that a sense of relief and calm will come at the end.

How does this make your life better? In one simple way…through the realization that you are never alone. That each moment—no matter how ordinary—is sparkling with Holy light, soothing with Heavenly love, or lifting you up with Divine hope. Our loving Creator is the source of each and every moment.

Photo by John Peters on Unsplash

Removing Roadblocks

Imagine you are driving home from a long day and you encounter a downed tree lying across the road that leads to your house.  The trunk is thick and heavy, and there is no way you can get around it. You try alternate routes, but you just can’t seem to get home. Does your spiritual life ever feel like that? Like there is some obstacle blocking you from getting home to God? It’s important to remember that this roadblock is never put there by God! God WANTS to be in relationship with us. We put up our own blocks, or we let the outside world do it for us. I have found that there are three areas that typically form those impediments that keep us from clear and direct access to our loving Creator.

DISTRACTION

Our lives are full of distractions! We’re busy and pulled in so many different directions. We do not feel we can take the time for spiritual renewal. This obstacle requires us to examine our outer lives. Ask yourself this question: What things are filling up my life leaving little to no room for spirituality? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate some of your priorities. Making room for God in your life will give God plenty of space to dwell in your heart. Try to take one thing off your plate that isn’t truly serving you or filling you up on your journey of faith.

DOUBT

God’s plans don’t always line up with our own plans, and this can be tough to accept. It’s so much easier to doubt God and trust our own plans. To avoid what God may be calling us to do. This obstacle requires us to examine our own need for control. How often do you feel that God is calling you in a certain direction, but your doubts and fears cause you to avoid it, sticking to your own safe path? This may feel better on the surface, because you’re not risking anything, but think about the opportunities you may be missing by ignoring this call. Ask yourself: Is there something I feel that God is calling me towards, and how might I take a small step in that direction?

GUILT

To hold ourselves back from God because of feelings of unworthiness, shame, or guilt is an entirely self-inflicted roadblock. God doesn’t measure us. We don’t need to earn God’s love. The gift of God’s grace is that we are given unconditional love whether we deserve it or not. The rules about who is deserving simply do not exist with God. But when we feel unworthy, the dazzling light of God’s love can feel almost harsh and blinding. Shame causes us to shy away from that Light. Ask yourself: Does God want me to stay away? Wouldn’t God want me to bring my shame and guilt to the foot of the Cross?

As we begin to recognize and challenge these roadblocks to our faith, they begin to clear. We make time for God by examining our priorities. We make a path toward God by trusting in His plans for us. We make room for God in our lives by experiencing His unconditional love. The “fallen tree” is removed from our path, and we have a clear and easy trip home into the loving arms of our Creator.

Photo by Joe Dudeck on Unsplash

Being Loved by God

My husband is a high school teacher, and for the first fifteen years of his career, he spent his summer break teaching summer school. Over the past few years, he has finally been able to recognize that the break is supposed to be exactly that, a break.  And so he gave up his summer teaching position to really take time in the summer to rest and restore. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how incredibly hard teachers work during the school year in increasingly challenging circumstances!

But what I’ve observed over the past few summers is that my husband has the hardest time taking a day off—and I mean taking it completely off. On summer afternoons he loves to go swimming at our town lake. Or maybe “swimming” isn’t exactly right: he doesn’t do laps or anything. Instead, he prefers to simply float on the water and relax—doing nothing, thinking about nothing in particular. 

But here’s the catch: he won’t go to the lake in the afternoon unless he feels he has “earned” it. He has to do something productive in the morning—planting flowers, moving the lawn, endlessly pulling out weeds—in order to feel right about his lake-lounging in the afternoon.

I’m sure this philosophy makes sense to a lot of people. The relaxation is the reward for the hard work. It’s easy to get swept up into this world of accomplishments and score-keeping. This sense that we have to justify our existence in the world and always be productive. But this way of thinking results in a transactional view of our own worth. To have good things, we must earn it. To feel loved and appreciated, we must deserve it. To be considered a good and worthy person, we must work for it.

If you truly believe that you are a child of God, then this view is terribly misguided! As William Reiser, S.J. writes in his book The Potter’s Touch

“We are alive, we exist on the earth for no other reason than this, that we have been loved.” 

You were created to be loved by God. Imagine the freedom in that realization! You weren’t created to produce, labor, contribute, sacrifice, or anything else but simply to receive love. Everything else you do in your life should stem from that fundamental belief.

God loves us unconditionally. That means without conditions! There’s no declaration that begins with the words: “God loves me because…”  Instead, we must only believe: “God loves me.”

We spend so much of our lives trying to prove things about ourselves.

  • I’m successful because I own this many things or I’ve received this many promotions. 
  • I’m well-liked because I have this many friends or social media followers.
  • I’m a good person because I’ve done this many good deeds.  

All of those things are a part of life, but they aren’t the “WHY” of life. Achieving success at work is great, but it’s not why you were put here on this earth. Having friends is important, but it’s not why you were created. Doing good deeds is wonderful, but it’s not your reason for being. 

Your reason for being is to be loved. God created us to love us. We are here to receive that love. What we do with that love is what comes next.

So it’s certainly a worthy effort to reflect on your calling and your purpose. After all…it’s not realistic to float on the lake forever! But the deeds you do should grow out of your existence as a child of God, not be a condition of it. In other words, we aren’t loved by God because we do good things; but rather, experiencing God’s unconditional love makes us want to share and spread that love through our words and deeds. 

So begin each day with this discovery—”I was created to be loved by God!” And see where the day takes you from there.

Survival Kits and Treasure Chests

Two years ago this month, I was busy making survival kits. My twin boys were in their sophomore year of college, and news of the Covid-19 virus was everywhere. It had fully arrived in the Northeast and cases were spreading like wildfire in nursing homes, hospitals, and other community settings. No one knew what would happen. (In early March of that year I never could have dreamed that most colleges would close their doors and send everyone home!) All I knew was that my boys were away at school and at risk of catching a dangerous virus. And so I put together boxes of everything they might need—if they got sick, if they were locked down in their dorm rooms, or if they were quarantined somewhere else on campus. I was determined that they would be ready to face any possible scenario. Cold medicine, digital thermometers, cough drops, snacks, and bottled water. I wanted them to be prepared for anything. It made me feel like I had control of a situation that was huge and scary and unprecedented. I truly believed that my proactive measures were the only thing that could hold back my panic.

Two years later, with many ups and downs throughout this pandemic, I still think about those survival kits. They essentially went unused.  My boys were lucky enough not to get Covid, and they never faced any kind of dorm lockdowns or quarantines. While it’s true that any of those things could have happened (and in fact did happen to many students), it made me stop and think: how much of my time do I spend “running the scenarios”—preparing for every possible negative outcome—when oftentimes, the worst case scenario never happens? 

How much time do you spend living in the future, in the land of “What if?” or “Just in case?” Always trying to figure out what’s coming next. Spending your time and energy trying to be prepared for it. We do this because we don’t want to be caught off guard. Sometimes this approach to life makes sense. When we know a hurricane is bearing down on us, we prepare for it by stocking up on groceries, batteries, and bottled water. But constantly living in this survival mode—even for the smaller, less perilous situations—begins to reveal a lack of trust. A need to control one’s environment is almost always linked with fear. Not just fear that bad things will happen, but fear that if they do, we won’t be able to handle it.

During this Lenten season, can we experiment with letting go of this “survival” attitude? What would it feel like to just live in the now? To experience what’s happening without analyzing the moment, trying to predict what will come next? This letting go may feel scary at first. It requires a level of trust that seems difficult. The ability to let go doesn’t come easy and takes practice. But it will quickly become incredibly freeing. 

Imagine leaning into God. Letting go and trusting that whatever comes, you will not be alone. You don’t need to go through life filling a metaphorical survival kit. Empty it out, and let it be filled with confidence. Confidence that God will provide what you need… in this moment… in every moment.  No matter how fierce the storm is, God will be there with you. You can relax and experience the present moment with a sense of peace.

My boys eventually admitted to me that when I dropped off their survival kits, the first thing they did was immediately eat all the snacks. What a funny and wonderful example of living in the now! 

I encourage you to follow this example, putting away your survival kit and replacing it with a treasure chest. Whereas a survival kit is filled with things you need to control all the bad things that may (or may not!) happen in your life, a treasure chest is full of life, hope, and possibility. It helps you do so much more than survive. It allows you to thrive!  This Lenten season, I invite you to accept the treasure chest that God has filled for you.  Discover the treasures inside: love, acts of kindness, gratitude, present moment awareness, hope, faith, and trust. Carry that treasure with you always.

God Is Good!

How easy it is, Lord, to focus on the chaos.
To drown in the evidence of darkness in our world.
To look around and say, “Yes, there! See?
Surely You are lost to Your people.”

I pray for the strength
To reject this view of the world.
To seek Your gentle and loving heart
In those that I meet on the journey.

Loving God, give me eyes to see
That You are working.
That You are HERE.
That Your people see and live in you.

Lord God, today and every day,
I proclaim that You are GOOD!
There is no darkness You cannot overcome.
No heart You cannot change.

I will lift my eyes to the heavens
And when I look back down on this world
I will see hope and beauty
And evidence of the LIGHT.

May I be a sign of Your presence in the world.
May I testify to Your goodness.
May my words and deeds shine with Your love.
May You work in me always.

AMEN.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Bread of Life

It always gives me pause when I hear news stories of empty shelves and food shortages in American grocery stores. While it’s true that the pandemic continues to disrupt the process of getting food from warehouses, to trucks, to grocery store shelves, we are a long way from seeing completely empty stores. Even in the earliest days of the pandemic (the hunting for toilet paper days!) this was far from being true.

My extended family had a fun conversation over Christmas, trying to guess how long it would take one person to eat all the food in a typical grocery store. We started by imagining the bread aisle. Each loaf has about 15 slices. How many loaves? Now add in English muffins, tortillas, pita bread, and bagels. Then we moved on to pasta, rice, beans, and all the other grains. We spent some delightful moments picturing eating our way through the potato chip aisle. It was unfathomable to imagine consuming that much food. We hadn’t even gotten to dairy, meat, or produce, let alone the frozen food section. A poster on Reddit estimated that it would take one person over 300 years to eat everything!

But yet, we go to the grocery store and if one or two things that we like to eat are not on the shelves, we are dissatisfied. If on one particular day, we see one area of empty shelves, we begin to panic. We’re so used to the seemingly limitless supply of food, we’re not sure how to react when that view is challenged. 

I think this speaks to how we view abundance in our world. What does it mean to have enough? What do we really need to be satisfied? Where do we go for that satisfaction? Can we be creative in finding sustenance in our lives? I know the pandemic taught my family how to make do with some strange combinations of food. Back when it was hard to find eggs, flour, frozen vegetables, or soup, we figured out ways to make lunches and dinners with whatever we could find. Some of those meals ended up being our most enjoyable, because we were proud of our outside-the-box culinary creations. And maybe for the first time in our lives, we did not take for granted the fact that we had food on our table. 

Abundance began to take on new meaning.

All of our needs can be met with the abundance of God’s love. Overflowing, excessive, bountiful, crazy amounts of love. With God, there is no such thing as going hungry. 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 
(John 6:35) 

I encourage you to reflect on moments when you’ve felt this abundance in your life; of how rich you felt in God’s love and grace. For me, that silly grocery store conversation on Christmas Eve was a perfect example. The love, laughter, and closeness filled my heart with joy.

If you’d like to become more aware of God’s abundance in your own life, I invite you to follow these steps:

  • Identify what it is you truly hunger for. For some it may be peace, or love, or inspiration. Lately I find myself hungering for evidence of goodness in the world.
  • Be on the lookout for the ways in which God is satisfying that hunger. Remember it may be in ways you don’t expect. Or it may come from places or people that surprise you. Be open to receiving this abundance, and you’ll begin to notice it everywhere!
  • Be grateful for God’s abundance. Best-selling author Melanie Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.” When your hunger has been satisfied, or a particular need has been met, take time to thank God for it.
  • Pay it forward. For just as God sends people into our lives to “feed” us along the way, surely we can be that food and sustenance for others.

As you spend time this week reflecting on God’s abundance, please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I would love to hear your stories of experiencing the Bread of Life in your everyday lives.

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

A Retreat Prayer

Dear Lord, as I enter into this sacred time,
may I feel surrounded by Your loving presence.
In the quiet stillness may I hear You speak to me.
In Your loving embrace, may I be restored.

Release me from all that pulls me away from You;
My doubts, my fears, and my need to control;
Noise, distraction, interruptions, and chaos;
The need to be constantly “doing” instead of “being”

Fill me with all that draws me closer to You;
Stillness, prayer, time to reflect;
Connection with my companions on the journey;
The simple wonder of knowing that You are here

Speak to me in the hushed quiet of prayer.
Open my heart to your stirrings in my life,
That I may let go of all that holds me back
From the life you are calling me to

As I move out of this time of retreat
Help me to carry this peace with me on the journey.
May I be reminded at all times of
Your presence, Your love, and Your goodness.

AMEN.

Background photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

To Retreat With the Lord

When a new year begins, I like to spend some time reflecting on the themes that filled the year (or years) I’m leaving behind. Last year held many moments of joy, family, friendship, and fun. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t also marked by a lingering sense of isolation, withdrawal, and social distance. Many of us spent more time than we thought we would this year staying home. Avoiding crowds. Retreating from friends, family, and social gatherings. During the pandemic, the idea of “retreat” has taken on a new meaning, one which is a far cry from the kind of spiritual retreats that have defined my ministry over the past 13 years.  

The Omicron variant once again threatens to plunge us into isolation and quarantine. My husband and I have made the decision to hunker down as best we can for the next few weeks until this new (and hopefully final!) surge passes. But that doesn’t mean our time of retreat can’t also be a welcome sanctuary or a time of fruitful solitude. For today’s reflection, I would like to reclaim the idea of “retreat” as a spiritual practice—a way to grow closer to God, to deepen our faith, and to feel alive in the Spirit.

What does it mean to retreat with the Lord? Contrary to the effects of isolation and solitude, when you spiritually retreat, you aren’t bored and alone. You’re spending wondrous and meaningful time with your Creator. You aren’t hiding away from things that frighten you. You’re reaching out to a loving God who is waiting for you. You aren’t wasting precious time, longing for the day you can be free of this isolation. You’re spending precious moments with the One who chooses you, blesses you, and calls you to a life full of promise. When you retreat with the Lord, you are creating a spiritual practice that is rich and alive and full of hope. 

A retreat is an opportunity to come away to a safe, sacred space to reflect on your relationship with your Loving Creator. To listen for the still, small voice of God. To welcome the Lord into every moment of your life. Refreshed and renewed by God’s gentle grace, you will leave a time of retreat affirmed by God’s unconditional love, ready to continue your faith journey and to answer the call of God, wherever it may lead.

I usually recommend going away to attend a retreat—for a weekend, an afternoon, or even an hour-long program at your church or local retreat center. It makes such a difference to go away to another place, where you can open yourself to God’s whispers without the distractions of all that you leave behind. But we’ve learned from the pandemic that this isn’t always possible. And so I want you to know that it can be just as meaningful to engage in a spiritual retreat in the comfort (and safety!) of your own home. Watching a short YouTube video on a spiritual topic can be a retreat. Spending intentional time in prayer or reflection can be a retreat. Taking a walk in the woods can be a retreat. Even reading this blog post can be a retreat!

So I invite you to join me these next few weeks—whether you have chosen to stick close to home or not—to make January a time of retreating with the Lord. Let this be a time of searching and deep contemplation. Allow your soul to become a sanctuary where God’s love dwells and abides. Let your spirit respond to the spark of creation and mystery.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when doing this:

RETREAT WITH INTENTION

Set aside time for your retreat practice. Make it a sacred promise. Choose a regular day that you can devote to spending some much-needed time with the Lord. Be faithful to that time.

SET THE SCENE OR CREATE A RITUAL 

Make your retreat time different from your “usual” time of being home on your own. Use candles, music, or other sensory rich practices to bring you away from your daily activities into this rich and sacred time with God.

BEGIN WITH A PRAYER

Dear Lord, as I enter into this sacred time, may I feel surrounded by your loving presence. In the quiet stillness may I hear You speak to me. In Your loving embrace, may I be restored.

REFLECT ON YOUR POST-RETREAT INSIGHTS

Keep a journal to jot down any thoughts or inspirations that came to you during your retreat. Or call a friend or family member and share your insights with them. Look for patterns or recurring themes in your notes. That is what God most wants you to hear!

As your spiritual practice takes root in your heart, it’s my hope that you can reclaim the idea of “retreat” as a positive practice and not a lonely necessity. Let this first month of the New Year be filled with hope, possibility, and wonder.

​​Background photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash