To Be Full of Confidence

Canoe

If you’re like me, you may not be feeling too confident about a lot of things right now. You’re not confident that schools will reopen or stay open, or various leaders will make the right decisions to keep communities safe. You’re not confident that everyone in your community will abide by public safety measures to protect one another. You’re not confident that you’ll keep your job or stay healthy. Perhaps most importantly, you’re not confident that you’ll be able to handle all this stress, fear, and uncertainty!

There’s a Hebrew word “batach” that means “to be full of confidence.” Not a tentative feeling of hope, but a bold sense of well-being that comes with placing our trust in God. A sense of security that never fully comes when we place our trust in things of this Earth…in our own actions, in other people, in institutions, or in material possessions.

In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
(Psalm 22:4)

Batach encourages us to ask the question: “Who’s really the captain of this ship?” It’s such a temptation to believe that we’re in control of our own destiny. The entire “American Dream” was founded on this belief. We are in charge! But what happens—as we saw this winter, spring, and summer with the horrifying spread of the coronavirus pandemic—when something happens to upend our carefully laid out plans? Something we did not expect and did not prepare for? We feel shaken. 

I have only been in a canoe once in my life. I hated the feeling of stepping into the shaky canoe and trying to gain my own balance while balancing the rocking canoe at the same time. (It didn’t hurt that during my one and only trip, my sister and I capsized the canoe trying to take a turn too sharply!) Nothing about the experience left me feeling in control and it was easier to never step foot in a canoe again. I chose the safety of my feet on solid ground.

What would it take to boldly place our trust in God? It’s tempting to resist this feeling of not being in control. But actually, it’s incredibly liberating! God is the “captain” of our ship and loves us unconditionally and is working for good in our lives. God can be trusted. Batach is the knowledge that God is leading us to our destiny and our only job is to follow.

What you put in God’s hands is safe. God can go where you can’t go. So why not put your life in God’s hands and let go of the need to control? If we relinquish our tight-fisted control over our own lives, we will achieve inner peace. When we put our trust and belief in something greater than ourselves, our world will open up in new ways.

The next time you get that scared or panicky feeling because you don’t know what’s going to happen in your life or in the world, take a deep breath and repeat the word “batach.” Imagine yourself placing the worry or uncertainty in God’s hands. Keep doing this until you feel more and more confident that God really is in control. It won’t eliminate the uncertainty from your life, but it will give you the calm sense of confidence that you can face whatever comes, because you won’t be facing it alone.

Blue Skies Above

blue skies

When was the last time you experienced a day free from worries? A day when you had a spring in your step, there was not a cloud in the sky, the birds were singing and all seemed well with the world. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Our world just isn’t that sunny right now. The COVID-19 pandemic still grows in many states. Racial inequality continues to reveal itself in our society. The economy has people worried about losing jobs, paying rent, or affording school. These are some REALLY dark clouds; there’s no use pretending otherwise. But amidst the darkness, there’s something else we need to acknowledge.

“Above the clouds the sky is always blue.”
 – St. Therese of Lisieux

Perhaps you’ve heard the commonly told metaphor about the airplane that ascends through thick, turbulent clouds and eventually breaks through above the clouds to brilliant blue skies and dazzling sunshine. It was up there the whole time. The passengers on the plane learn something that those on the ground may have trouble believing. Above the clouds the sky is always blue.

For those of us on the ground right now, it seems like those blue skies are very, very far away. Feeling bogged down with worries last week, I decided I needed to see the ocean. Feeling spontaneous and free, my husband and I hopped in the car and drove to the shore, only to realize as we got closer that the overcast sky was not going away, and instead producing a steady drizzle. I almost cried in frustration and disappointment. It felt like a sign that my worries were justified. My always patient husband convinced me to wait it out a little while. We took a leisurely drive through the shore towns and returned to the beach just in time for the rain to stop. The clouds were still there, but we were able to walk, swim, and breathe in the ocean air. It was just what I needed. I learned two important lessons from my beach trip that morning.

GOD IS ALWAYS WITH US

Just as the presence of clouds doesn’t mean the sun is gone, dark times in our lives do not mean that God is absent. As I was writing this reflection yesterday afternoon, it was another dark and cloudy day. The clouds were so thick that I had to turn on the lights in my house. At that moment it was hard to imagine a brilliant sun was still up there shining in the sky. But it was. God is always there, loving us, holding us up, and gifting us with grace. It requires faith—sometimes LOTS and LOTS of faith—to believe this, especially when there is so much suffering around us. We must trust in God and believe that God is working in our lives.

GRATITUDE IS ESSENTIAL

The second lesson I learned is that the sun may not come out exactly when we want it to. Patience is required. The darkness can linger, but it is easier to bear if we approach it with gratitude. Look for things to be grateful for despite the clouds…or even because of the clouds. Cloudy days have something to teach us. There are lessons to be learned about love, life, and faith. Even in the dark, there is so much light around us. 

I believe in my heart that things will get better in our world. By putting our trust in science, honest leaders, and the fundamental goodness in humanity, the clouds will pass, and we will see blue skies again. We are learning lessons through this time of turbulence that will change the way we treat one another, the way we treat our planet, the way we take care of ourselves in body, mind, and spirit. Most importantly, many of us are learning a new way to trust in God.

“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same Eternal Father who takes care of you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day of your life. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.”
-Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) 

Happy Color pic

The Watering Can

Watering can

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first came to the United States months ago, how much time have you spent caring for others? Raise your hand if you’re doing (or have done) any of the following:

  • Working through the shutdown as an essential healthcare, transportation, grocery, or sanitation worker
  • Buying groceries for an elderly parent, relative, or neighbor
  • Running errands for someone who is under quarantine
  • Helping your children navigate online learning when schools were shut down this spring
  • Putting in long hours figuring out how to provide online learning to your students
  • Cooking meals around the clock for a house full of family stuck at home
  • Volunteering for local social services such as food banks, shelters, etc.
  • Showing up to march in protest for the equal rights of your black brothers and sisters
  • Sewing masks or collecting PPE to support your local hospitals or nursing homes
  • Providing connection and care to those who are lonely and isolated in quarantine
  • Talking to friends, children, or siblings who are scared and anxious and trying to help them work through their fears

Let me take a moment to tell you that you are wonderful! You are doing God’s work in caring for others during a time of crisis, and your work is appreciated. Today I would like you to reflect on this important question: How much of yourself are you giving away? Is this constant taking care of others taking its toll on your spirit? You can’t become so busy caring for others that your spiritual life suffers. Your relationship with God is the foundation that supports everything else. You can’t be the best YOU without it!

Think of yourself as a watering can. Every time you care for someone, you pour out a little bit of water to nurture them. What happens when the watering can is empty? What are you doing to refill it? Are you taking time to rest? Are you taking time to sit in the stillness and feel the presence of God all around you? Are you praying, meditating, taking long walks in nature, playing your favorite spiritual music, or finding other ways to connect with God?

Re-filling your watering can has to be a commitment. You can’t wait around for the time to present itself. With the state the world is in right now, it might not happen anytime soon. The work of caring for others never ends. There’s always one more thing you can do. Let it be a gift you give to yourself—making the conscious decision to stop and fill up your watering can in whatever way works best for you.

The good news is, you don’t have to do this alone. I’m sure you have someone in your life —a friend or family member—that you can always count on to lift your spirits. No matter how hard your day is, how tired or stressed you are, when you’re with that person, they make you feel good. That’s what God can and should be for you when your watering can is empty. Allow yourself to rest in God. To be refreshed by the peace and joy that can only come from God.

Then you will be ready to be poured out once again.

What We Have is Enough

hydrangea

All my life I’ve been in love with hydrangeas. Huge beautiful flowers in gorgeous colors that reflect the ocean and the sky. They remind me of lazy days on vacation at Cape Cod and endless summer afternoons. I always dreamed I would one day live in a house with rows of hydrangea bushes in dazzling colors. 

Well…I’ve been in my house for 20 years and I had more failed attempts at growing hydrangeas than I could count. Admittedly, I’m not the world’s best gardener, and for whatever reason they  just wouldn’t grow in my yard. I had all but given up, when five years ago my in-laws gave me a beautiful hydrangea bush for Mother’s Day. This one did well! It grew stronger and fuller every year, with healthy green leaves and bountiful blooms. Granted, it wasn’t the overflowing garden of many hydrangeas I once dreamed about, but I decided it would be enough. 

This one hydrangea bush would be enough, and I would love it fiercely.

This summer, for some reason, my beloved hydrangea bush only produced one solitary bloom. I was so disappointed! Like so many of you, I’d been stuck at home for months during the quarantine, with nothing to look at but my front yard and my back yard. I had been looking forward to seeing the hydrangea bloom in full glory this summer.  

So I had another decision to make. I could continue to focus on the lack of blooms—on what my garden was lacking—or I could decide that my one bloom was enough. And so that’s what I did. I’m loving that bloom fiercely.

Best-selling author Melanie Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.” It is absolutely true that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from us. Time with our loved ones, moments of celebration with family and classmates, liturgies in our churches, proms, graduations, hugs. It’s completely understandable to have a hard time letting go of all that we’ve lost and are still losing. However, a constant focus on what we lack can lead us to overlook what we already have. 

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
(1 John 4:16).

With God we have more love than we could ever imagine. Abundant, overflowing, excessive, bountiful, crazy amounts of love. After that, everything else is just a bonus.

There are always going to be things we don’t have enough of. Not enough sleep. Not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough help around the house. And yes, not enough hydrangeas. But if we look within, and bask in God’s love, we’ll realize that we have enough of what truly matters.

I challenge you today to gently turn your thoughts away from all that you are lacking, and focus on one solitary thing that you do have. Whatever it may be—a delicious meal, a phone call with a friend, a restorative nap, a tomato you grew in your garden, a cuddle with your pet—treasure that experience. And love it fiercely. 

Encountering God Within

silhouette prayer

With churches closing all over the world due to the spread of COVID-19, many of us are being kept away from our parishes, our beloved retreat centers, or other places of prayer. It’s easy to feel closed off from God during this time. 

If we can’t get in…how can we encounter God?

We are used to seeking God outside of ourselves, but now we must find God in our own hearts. This time of social distancing requires us – even encourages us – to look deep within, for the Holy One dwelling inside of us. Distractions of the outside world are greatly reduced as we embrace stillness and quiet. We take solace in nature. In God’s beauty. In the knowledge that we can rest in God when we feel overwhelmed with worry, sadness, or exhaustion.

Jesus says: “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (John 15:5).  What does it mean, to have Christ remain in us? It means that Jesus is not someone who exists outside of us. He dwells within us, a constant presence and source of hope. 

In Richard Rohr’s meditation “God is Everywhere” he states: “The pinnacle of prayer is reached when we can trust that we are constantly in the presence of God. We cannot not be in the presence of God!” Our churches may be closed, but we – the children of God – are open to God’s great love. We are open to pray for one another and our world. We are open to God’s gift of grace. Amen!

Please share your thoughts below. How are you keeping your faith life alive during this time of church closings?

A Prayer of Receiving

Winter sun

We pray in wonder and awe for Creation, your ancient gift of grace. You made the sun and moon, the land and seas, and all the creatures of the earth. You created us in your own image as your beloved sons and daughters. Today we reflect on your gift of precious life here on earth.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We pray in wonder and awe for your gift of grace—fulfilled in your Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered death on a cross that we might live. In mercy, you gave us your Son to pay ransom for all our sins. Today we reflect on your gift of everlasting life.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We pray in thanksgiving for the blessings you grant us. Your grace is not something we must earn or deserve. It is a gift freely given. We pray in thanksgiving for your extravagant love. Like the compassionate father, you welcome us home when we are lost.  Your redeeming grace rescues us from a life of darkness.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We promise to seek you in sanctuary. In the quiet stillness, we hear you speak to us. In your loving embrace, we are restored and nourished. We promise to seek you in the everyday moments of ordinary life. To pray where we are and invite you into each moment. Through this ongoing conversation with you we receive peace and contentment.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

Give us new eyes to see the beauty of God’s creation, new ears to listen for God’s whispers, and a new outlook to experience the transforming power of your love.

AMEN.

A Prayer of Emptying

Snow on branch

Lord, I bring to you all that is on my plate.  The noise, the clutter, the chaos, and the distractions.  Help me to empty myself so that I may see you, hear you, and feel your presence.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life. Empty the interior space of my soul that I may receive you and discover who I truly am.

Lord, I bring to you my fears and worries…all the things that are so heavy and hard to carry. I place them into your hands.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life.  I place my trust in you. I place my faith in you. I place my life in you.

Lord, I bring to you my burdens. Things that I cannot control weigh me down like a heavy rock.  On the days that I am tired, stressed, and weary, I know that you walk with me.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life.  I know that you are my rock—my cornerstone—and I can find rest in you.

AMEN.

 

Photo by Roman Trofimiuk on Unsplash

A Road Map to Balance

Stack of stones

Are you able to recognize when your life is out of balance? What does it mean…and what does it look like?

It often happens gradually and most of the time we are so caught up in the daily-ness of life, that it wouldn’t even occur to us that we might be out of balance. We work like crazy, pushing ourselves to the limit. We don’t realize that our minds are burned out, our bodies are worn out, and our spirits are wrung out. 

God created us to live a life of balance.

BALANCE OF MIND
A friend of mine told a story of a particularly busy time of working long hours for weeks on end because her job required it. She gave herself no breaks and took no time to rest her mind or recharge her batteries. She came home from work one night and her husband offered to pick up dinner. “What would you like?” he asked her. “Choose your favorite takeout restaurant and I’ll go get us something to eat.”  My friend had stretched herself so thin that she couldn’t even make that simple decision. Her brain just couldn’t do it. On the verge of tears she looked at her husband and said: “You know what I like. Can’t you just choose something?” This was a moment of a life out of balance.

BALANCE OF BODY
When your body is out of balance, you will eventually figure it out, too. Lack of sleep catches up with you. Poor nutrition can zap you of energy. Not drinking enough water can lead to headaches and even dizziness. And this idea of balance can go the other way too. Exercise and healthy eating can become a preoccupation. I’ve seen athletes push themselves to the point of injury because they didn’t pay attention to the signs from their own bodies.

BALANCE OF SPIRIT
When our spirit is out of balance, we tend to overly focus on one emotion or feeling—usually those emotions that do not bring us joy. We fixate on bitterness over love. Guilt over acceptance. Deficit over abundance. Fear over faith. The backdrop of our spiritual life can also fall out of balance. Solitude can lead to loneliness. Crowds can become overwhelming. If we put all our focus on doing one thing, our spiritual life will feel off kilter. Faith calls for us to live through prayer and action. Through time alone with our Creator and time spent helping our brothers and sisters.

God desires us to live a life of balance.  

Once we discover that we are OUT of balance, how do we get back on track? How do we achieve this balance in our lives? After you finish reading this blog post, take out a piece of paper and write down the following four questions:

  • What is important in my life?
  • What are some things I absolutely need in life to feel happy?
  • What brings meaning to my life?
  • What makes me feel inspired?

Over the next few days, weeks, or even months, spend some time pondering your answers to these questions. Write them down so you can refer back to them. This is your road map to balance. Anything you do that brings you closer to the things you’ve written will center you. Anything you do that drives you further away from these things requires further examination. 

Some of it may be necessary. We have obligations in life that bring stress and exhaustion and we can’t change it. But we CAN make smaller changes to weed out some things that are not important. To put less focus on the things we don’t truly need. To diminish that which does not bring meaning to our lives. And to lean into that which inspires us.

The changes might be internal. (Gently changing our thoughts.) They may be external. (Seeking out friends who help us achieve this balance.) They may be faith-based. (Asking God in prayer to help us stick to the things that really matter.) It’s an evolving, constantly changing process. We move toward balance, we fall out of balance, we move back again. But we know that in this journey towards balance, God is with us every teetering and steady step of the way.

Let’s learn from each other! Share your thoughts on achieving balance in the comments below.

 

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Practicing Spirit-Care

Spirit Care blog post

Do a Google search on “self-care” and you’ll come up with over two billion hits. It’s a popular buzzword these days, and I’ve seen it described in lots of different ways in countless blogs, websites, and articles. According to the dictionary: “Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

Most often self-care is recommended for people who spend the majority of their time taking care of others. Teachers, nurses, social workers, health care aids, and those who work in caring ministries. The truth is, we can all benefit from self-care, but many of us are reluctant to do so. We think of it as a luxury. Something we don’t have time for. Some of us even feel that self-care is selfish. There are too many people that need me! How can I take time away from my important work to do something for myself? 

What if instead of calling it self-care, you called it spirit-care. Does it seem more worthwhile? Isn’t it important to care for your spirit as a beloved child of God? Wouldn’t God want that for you?  

Would it make you feel better to realize that this was something Jesus often did? Even though he had incredibly important work to do during the three short years of his ministry, Jesus recognized when he needed to pause, to step away and take time to restore himself. He knew that if he was going to be able to do God’s will, he needed to be able to listen, pray, and to spend time alone with God.

  • From Luke 6:12 – One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
  • From Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (He did this after spending the night before healing many sick and driving out demons.)
  • From Luke 5:15-16 – Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
  • From Matthew 14:23 – After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. (He did this after feeding the crowd of 5,000.)

I love the fact that through his own actions, Jesus himself gives us permission to retreat. And that has long been my favorite method of spirit-care. I’ve often heard it described as a “sacred pause.” From the very first retreat I attendeda five-day silent retreat when I was in collegeI was amazed by how life-changing it could be to press pause on my busy life in order to focus on uninterrupted time with God. The importance of retreats became the hallmark of my ministry: Hearing God’s Whisper. Every blog entry that I post is meant to encourage a mini-retreat for the person reading it.

I think some people struggle with the idea of self-care because it seems too much like pampering…this sense that you’re doing something that completely and only benefits you, as if you are more important than anyone else. But when you retreat, you aren’t alone. You’re spending this time with your Creator. Spirit-care is a partnership. Spirit-care renews us so we can continue our important work of caring for others. Your spirit needs to be filled up from the inside out. Cars can’t run on empty. Watering cans can’t give life to plants if they’re empty. 

You need to be filled up before you can be poured out.

In the words of Christian writer Olivia Spears: “When it comes to things we care about like our family and our work, none of us aim to give the very last leftover bits of ourselves. Rather, we desire to give the very best of ourselves. So when we take care of ourselves, we are filled up, renewed, and restored so we can offer the Lord and the people around us the very best of who we are.”

Spirit-care can be relaxing, peaceful and restorative. It can be deep, wild, and creative. It is different for each person. But it doesn’t just happen. Remember…the dictionary describes it as taking an “active role.”  I like to think of it as a practice. Something you work on over time, because you value yourself. Because you believe that you are worth it, and the work you do needs the very best of you.

My prayer for you is that you will take time (or make time) to retreat. Whether it’s a weekend away or 10 minutes of deep breathing…give yourself that gift. Care for your spirit the way you care so beautifully for the people in your life.

Drifting Towards God

two boats

I have a friend who is a social worker at a middle school, and she spends a lot of time talking to her young students about the peaks and valleys of friendship. Children’s loyalty can change with the wind. A best friend one day can be an icy acquaintance the next. This can lead to confusion and hurt and can be very difficult to navigate. To help her students make sense of it, my friend uses the metaphor of two drifting boats. It’s ok to drift away from a friend for awhile, if that’s what seems best. It doesn’t mean you can’t come back together at some future point.

More than anything, God desires to be in relationship with us. But the metaphor of the drifting boats isn’t quite right in describing this divine relationship. God never drifts away from us, but is instead the constant fixed point. Firmly anchored in a place of love and faithfulness. We may come and go depending on our feelings, emotions, doubts, and life circumstances…but the best news is that God never moves. We can always drift back (or even come crashing back!) onto the shores of God’s love. 

In her book Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth, Luann Budd poses the question: “On a scale of 1-10 (10 being intimate), how close do you feel to God today?”  Before continuing with this blog post, sit for a few minutes in silence and answer this question. Write down the number.

Now spend some time this week examining why you scored yourself that way. If your number is on the low side, why might that be? Have you drifted away from God for some reason? What is holding you back from moving closer to God? Very often it’s guilt. Or maybe confusion. A feeling that God has abandoned you during a time of need. Or it may be a fear of revealing yourself. If God truly saw me for everything I am, God couldn’t possibly love me! 

Recognize that these thoughts may be natural and very human, but they are not based in the truth of God’s love. Try to spend a little bit of time each day pondering God’s unconditional love, acceptance, and presence in your life. You’ll find your thoughts begin to change and you’ll drift closer to God each day.

If you scored high on the scale, that’s great! You’re feeling close to God in this moment. Drink it in and let yourself be filled with gratitude. Examine the circumstances that have you feeling so close to God right now. What methods are you using to connect with God in your life?  

  • Maybe it’s nature. You’re in touch with the beauty of God’s creation. You find God in the warm sunshine, the gentle breeze, the endless ocean, the enduring woods. 
  • Maybe it’s relationships. You feel fulfilled by the love in your life, and you know that God has placed these people in your path. You feel God every time you hug your child, smile at your spouse, laugh with your sister, or cry with a friend. 
  • Maybe it’s your ministry or vocation. You are doing God’s work and you feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose. You can hear God speaking to you through the work that you do. Helping others, caring for the earth, tending to the needs of God’s Kingdom. 

Whatever the reason may be, lean into it. Capture the feeling. Write about it in your journal.  There will come a time when you inevitably drift away again, and it will help to have a reminder of this time when you felt close to God’s radiant love.  

And remember, our spiritual practice is constantly changing and evolving. Your score today may not be your score tomorrow. Return to this exercise again and again in your ongoing journey to draw closer to God.

 

Background Photo by Evgeny Nelmin on Unsplash