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.

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

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

Coming Back From a Spiritual Dry Spell

How is it possible I haven’t posted on this blog in over six months?! I had the best of intentions and lots of half-formed reflections that just never made it onto the page. I kept telling myself I would work on something next week or the week after…or the week after. Isn’t that how most people fall into creative ruts or writer’s block? And isn’t it possible that the same sense of drifting can happen in our spiritual lives?

Drifting away from God is easier than you might think. Slipping into a spiritual dry spell can happen so gradually that before you know it you’re in the middle of the desert without a drop of water in sight! It isn’t anything we do on purpose, and sometimes we don’t stop long enough to realize what’s happened. We just wake up one day and realize that our connection to God—the divine thread that ties us to our loving Creator—feels old and faded and brittle. Do any of the following words accurately describe your spiritual life right now?

DRIED-UP •  BRITTLE • WILTED  • STALE • BARREN

It’s perfectly normal to go through dry times in your faith life. We all experience days in the desert. Sometimes days turn into weeks and months. But that doesn’t have to be the end of your story! Let me share with you a story of hope. 

Over a year ago now, my husband and I took up kiddie-pool gardening as a “pandemic project.”  Basically, we planted assorted vegetables and herbs in a soil-filled kiddie pool on our back porch. Amazingly, we had some success, and we got such a thrill from eating salads made with our own cucumbers or eating margherita pizza made with our own basil and tomatoes, that we decided to give it a go again this summer. But this year, we diversified beyond cucumbers and tomatoes, thanks to my husband’s co-worker Bill, who gave us some small eggplant seedlings. 

Unfortunately, due to a bunch of factors—including a big family trip in June and a ridiculously long stretch of rain in July—we didn’t even get around to buying the soil for the kiddie pool until mid-July, let alone planting anything. That meant those eggplant seedlings—the generous gift from Bill—just sat in the garage, essentially abandoned, for a month. 

When we were finally ready to plant, Mark brought out the dried-up eggplant sprouts. I shook my head. They were shriveled and withered, and didn’t look at all viable. When I plucked them out of their plastic containers, the soil around the roots crumbled away in my hands. I thought we should just toss them and cut our losses, but Mark wasn’t ready to give up. Instead, he planted the eggplant, even though we had such little confidence those seedlings would grow, we didn’t even grant them a spot in the kiddie pool; instead, we relegated them to a big pot next to the pool. 

“Let’s just water it and see what happens,” Mark said. For a long time, exactly nothing happened. Then—much to my astonishment—the green sprouts began to grow. Taller and fuller. Healthy and lush. And one day in early August I came out to the deck and found this.

small eggplants growing

The eggplants grew and grew until they were big enough to pick and bake. I enjoyed the best-tasting eggplant parmigiana I’ve ever had. What I thought were dead plants came back to life and fed and sustained and brought joy.

So what appeared to be dried up and withered, was actually only dormant…lying asleep, waiting for the right moment to wake up and sprout and grow.

Instead of viewing your spiritual life as something dead and brittle, try to view it as temporarily asleep, anticipating that gentle nudge from a loving God who is waiting for you. God provides the water and sunshine, and you do the growing. Just let it happen. 

Feel God’s presence. 
Bask in the warm rays of the sun. 
Soak up the quenching rain. 

Don’t focus on doing the “hard work” of getting back in touch with God. That’s not the work of the desert. Start by simply letting yourself grow in awareness. In every living thing you encounter, God is there. God is alive! With you. Surrounding you. Sit with that feeling for a few minutes, and then more and more each day. You will find your dried up roots begin to stretch and strengthen. To dig deep into the soil, searching for new life. 

You may have drifted away from God for a time, but it has only ever been temporary.

Photo by laura adai on Unsplash

Let God Lead the Way Through Lent

Do you have an exact date that you consider the “beginning” of the pandemic? For me it was March 15, 2020. That was the day I went to pick up my son at college after he was given 24 hours to pack up his things and leave school for the rest of the semester. My other son was home on spring break and told not to come back. Later that same day, I drove to my office, picked up my computer and files, and set up a home office, where I’ve been working ever since. In 27 days it will be exactly one year since life changed in so many drastic and challenging ways. 

Joy, connection, and hope would be replaced by fear, isolation, and monotony. Day after day, wondering…When would this end? Would all of my loved ones survive? Would I keep my job? When would we get our lives back? And I’m well aware that I’m one of the lucky ones! My family has remained healthy and safe. I still have my job. My boys were able to return to college for a few months in the fall. But still, the impact of the pandemic has been significant. It has changed me in ways I’m only just beginning to discover. I suspect that has happened to all of us.

With this constant feeling of weariness in my bones, I must admit that Ash Wednesday snuck up on me. It’s Lent already?!? I usually go ALL OUT for Lent—creating a schedule of activities I want to do, a list of books to read, a series of daily devotions to pray. I fill the season with so many ways to grow closer to God, to renew my faith, and to challenge myself.

In the past I’ve described Lent as a “sacred struggle”—an opportunity to embrace that which is difficult. To dig deep. To face temptations. To examine our personal failings. To work through barriers and blocks to our faith. But this Lenten season is different, and I don’t think that approach fits our current circumstances. Just getting through a typical day feels like a stretch for so many people. Keeping up with the basic functions of life is all many of us can manage, let alone a list of challenging faith-building activities that only ask (even demand) more of us. For some of us, it’s simply not possible at the moment to stretch ourselves in our faith. With our daily lives filled with so much struggle, our faith should be the one thing that comes easy.

So how can we approach Lent in a season that finds us tired, struggling, and worn out? 

Give yourself permission to put away your lists and schedules if you simply can’t manage them right now. Open your heart and simply let God in. As bleak as life might seem at the moment—in these dark and cold days of winter—God is still here! Choose one gentle and simple thing you can do to become aware of God’s presence in your life over the next 40 days. Don’t stretch yourself beyond that one thing for now. Just open the door of your heart a tiny crack, and God will enter. You’ll feel the light and warmth of Divine Love slowly seeping in. Let it happen in it’s own time. Don’t worry about forcing or prying that door open. Do what you can and let God do the rest.

My friend and I are trying a new thing for Lent this year. Each day we’re going to send each other a song. Thanks to the treasure trove of Christian and spiritual music on YouTube, this feels like a fun and easy thing to do, especially since an ocean separates us at the moment and digital communication is all we have. We’re going to let God’s love flow into that crack in our hearts through the beauty of music. The only thing we’re asking each other to do is listen. That feels exactly right for this season of weariness. I’m looking forward to seeing how this daily musical dose of God’s love affects us over these next 40 days.

Since God’s sense of timing is always impeccable, I received an email this morning from the Catholic chaplain at the university where I work. He spoke of how many of us are hurting, broken, and feeling “dead as dust” after an almost year-long pandemic. And he linked to this beautiful song, which I immediately sent to my friend. Indeed, God makes beautiful things out of the dust!

As you find your way through the Lenten season this year—in whatever way you can manage at the moment—I offer you this simple prayer:

Dear Lord, during this holy season of Lent
Help me to cast off despair, doubt, boredom, and frustration.
Help me to open my heart to feel your love in all places and spaces.
May I be filled with your love as I discover your promises during these 40 days.
May I return to you again and again when I drift away.
Gently pull me, lead me, and hold me through this season of hope.

AMEN.

Photo Credit: Photo 138620074 © Iwom22 | Dreamstime.com

Light in the Darkness

Have you ever experienced the disorienting feeling of being plunged into darkness? Years ago my family and I were touring Echo Dell Cavern, a natural limestone cave near Hershey, Pennsylvania. The pathways through the cavern were well lit but at one point in the tour—with plenty of advanced warning—they turned off all the lights to give us a sense of how dark and deep the caves are. It was a jarring experience to be surrounded by such darkness. It was really true that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I was OK at first, but the pitch blackness started to feel suffocating, and my heart began to race before they finally put the lights back on. What a relief to be surrounded by light! It brought to my mind the very first verses from the Book of Genesis:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
(Genesis 1:1-3)

During challenging times, it’s easy to feel as if our world is covered in darkness. We feel stifled and smothered by the blackness. It brings me comfort to remember that God created light and this light never goes away. Our experiences may leave us feeling lost in the dark, but we always have access to the light. God’s light is a promise—that there will be no more darkness. Every moment you spend with God, you are living in the light. The more you cultivate your relationship with God, the brighter your world will become, even when darkness continues to spread in your life or in the world.

What does it mean to live in the light?

LIGHT REVEALS

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

In the Bible, light represents truth and God’s revelation. On Mount Horeb, God revealed himself to Moses through the light of the burning bush. Jesus came to be that Light, so that we might know God. To live in the light is to know God and to believe that God loves us, chooses us, and blesses us. When you feel frustrated that God remains hidden, you can seek out His revelation in prayer, Scripture, nature, or loving relationships in your life. Every time you have an encounter with God, your life becomes flooded with light.

LIGHT ILLUMINATES

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Times are dark right now, and every decision we make seems fraught with consequences that bring fear and uncertainty. When we are lost in the darkness, God’s love lights the way. The light of Jesus shines on our path so we know which way we should go. Fear, temptation, doubt, or stubbornness might lead us away from the path God has chosen for us, but God’s light is always there to lead us back. Through a type of prayer called discernment, we can ask God what are the right choices to make. And we can be confident that God will lead us in the right direction.

LIGHT BANISHES DARKNESS

The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?  (Psalm 27:1)

If darkness represents fear, then light is the antidote to that fear. As long as we are connected to God in our faith, we no longer have to be afraid. Our God is powerful enough to create light out of the formless void! Surely we can lean on God when we are afraid. The next time fear grips you, don’t let yourself drown in it. Keep your eyes fixed on God’s light and the dark fears will slowly recede.

LIGHT SPREADS

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:15)

I can think of no sight more inspiring and beautiful than a candlelight vigil. A crowd of people coming together, each one bearing a single candle, until the space shines bright with light and hope. No matter how dark the world around us may seem at times, we are children of light. It is our responsibility and our challenge to be light for others. To let it shine into the darkest corners of the world.

Advent is a wonderful time to reflect on the Light in the darkness. As you light the candles on your Advent wreath, turn on your Christmas tree lights, or hit the road in the search of Christmas light displays, take some time to ponder the meaning of that light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  

My prayer for you today is that the Light of the Advent season will bring you PEACE and HOPE.

AMEN!

The Wonder of Waiting

Advent is a season of waiting. A time to prepare for the coming of Christ. A period of anticipation. In general, how do you view the experience of waiting? Some people find it very difficult. They don’t have the patience or the trust to let the process unfold the way it’s meant to. (There are plenty of times when I fall into this category!) Research has shown that over the years people expect things to happen faster and faster. The pace of pedestrians walking on sidewalks has sped up. Road rage is more common. Waiting in line feels like agony for many people.

Other people welcome waiting because of how they choose to view it—as an act of anticipation instead of a waste of time. I have always felt that looking forward to an exciting event (a trip, a party, a special occasion) was just as enjoyable as the event itself. My husband tells me I live my life “looking forward to the next thing.” During this year of the pandemic, we’ve all been forced to put many of our plans on hold. It’s not easy, particularly in celebrating the holidays. My niece, Lucy —in her lovely optimistic way—predicted that next year, our holiday season will feel all the more joyful, because of how long we had to wait to gather with our families. Every hug will feel like a small miracle. The waiting is incredibly painful right now, but the joy that will come fills me with hope and excitement.

The season of Advent ushers in the coming of Christ, but we aren’t simply remembering that long-ago time of waiting for the birth of Jesus, something that happened 2000 years ago. Our waiting is active, and present, and alive. During Advent, there are three layers to our waiting:

  • Waiting for Jesus to be born (past)
  • Waiting for Jesus to come into our lives every day (present)
  • Waiting for Jesus to come again in glory (future)

It’s the second one—the everyday waiting—that I’m focused on these days. My college-aged sons have a car now, so when they come home from school, I never quite know when they’ll arrive. That excited feeling of wondering when they’ll walk through the door is so filled with hope. What if we approached every day with this sense of faith-filled anticipation? When or how will Christ come to us today? When will Jesus walk through the door of our hearts?

Each day brings opportunities for an encounter with our loving God…during a phone call with a friend, a walk with a family member, or an email exchange with a co-worker. Or you may find God while walking in the woods, admiring a sunset, or listening to the ocean. Christ may come to you in your art—through music, writing or any creative act.

In Latin, Advent means “coming,” not “finding.” We don’t have to go out and search for Jesus. Christ will come no matter what—that’s the core of our belief as Christians. We simply have to notice when He comes into our lives. This is a daily invitation—not just for the four weeks of Advent—but for every day throughout the year. Wake up each morning and ask yourself: “When will I encounter God today?” These moments are easy to miss when we’re preoccupied and distracted, so be awake and watchful in your waiting. Hold onto that excited feeling of waiting for a beloved family member to walk through the door, and I promise you won’t miss the moment when Jesus comes to you in your day.

Maranatha
Come, Lord Jesus!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

How Do You Talk to God?

A few years ago I went on a weekend retreat with my college roommate. We hadn’t seen each other in a very long time, and we were both so excited to reconnect and catch up. In the days leading up to the retreat, we planned out our late night chats, making lists of topics we needed to discuss. Knowing it would probably be another few years before we were together again, we didn’t want to leave anything out.

It made me think about the ways in which this kind of deep and close connection resembled my relationship with God. I have a dear friend who says: “I talk to God all the time, about any little thing.” It sounds so simple and inviting…and easy. Just talk to God. In doing this we are sharing our lives with God. Sometimes we feel God inviting us into relationship. Other times, we invite God in. It’s a give and take that changes based on our everyday experiences of our faith.

In the words of David L. Fleming, SJ, “Prayer is a natural outcome of this close relationship. It is not something mysterious or esoteric or something that we learn how to do in school. Prayer is conversation. If we can talk, we can pray. Of course we can learn to pray better, just as we can learn to be better conversationalists. The essential activity of prayer springs naturally from our humanity. It is a matter of conversing with a very good friend.”

If you’re looking to improve your “conversation skills” with God, I would recommend the following three steps:

Be yourself! Don’t try to take on a formal “persona” or a particular voice when talking to God. Just talk in a way that feels comfortable to you. I gave the example of the easy flow of conversation with my college roommate because that’s exactly how you should talk to God. Make a list of topics if that’s helpful. Share with God what’s on your mind and in your heart, knowing that God loves you and is waiting to hear from you!

Talk to God about everything. For the longest time I struggled with the idea that God cared about my ordinary life. I pictured God brushing aside my trivial problems or my “silly” worries. God had far more important things to do than to listen to my humdrum stories. I eventually realized this couldn’t be further from the truth! God cares about EVERYTHING we do, think, wonder, doubt, and fear. There is truly nothing that we can’t bring to God.

Examine the areas of your life that you tend to hold back from God. Ask yourself why you do this. Is there a particular hurt or wound that you haven’t been able to bring to God? Are you hiding from God for fear of being rejected? Ponder the gift of God’s unconditional love and mercy. There is no such thing as being rejected by God. Open up your heart to God and see what happens.

In his book, Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer, Max Lucado puts it so beautifully:

“God will teach you to pray. We speak, He listens. He speaks, we listen. This is prayer in its purest form. God changes His people through such moments.”

Talking to God in conversation will help you grow in your faith. It will help you feel more connected to God. When you create a habit of talking to God, you’ll hear God answering you. You’ll be inspired to take action in living out your faith. You will always have a place of deep truth to turn to during difficult times. 

I encourage you to spend some time this week talking to God just like you would talk to a close friend. Do this every day for a few weeks and see how your relationship with God changes. Return to this blog post and share your experience in the comments section below!

Message in a Bottle

Seashells on beach

A friend of mine describes Cape Cod as her “happy place.” Memories of fun and relaxing summer vacations bring her a sense of peace she can’t find anywhere else. She often remarked that a week every summer was not enough time to capture that feeling and tide her over for the remaining 51 weeks. One day at a souvenir shop, she bought a fancy glass bottle with the words “Cape Cod Air” painted on the side. When she was back home—feeling stressed, anxious, or worried—she would uncork the bottle and take a quick whiff, feeling the tension immediately leave her body. Now…my friend is not naive. She knew it was impossible to actually trap Cape Cod air in a bottle and transport it home. But the ritual of holding the bottle in her hand, taking her mind back to peaceful times, and imagining that she was there again…it worked.

I’m a firm believer in the power of symbol and ritual in our spiritual lives. Using the five senses to create a connection to the Divine can have an amazing effect on our state of mind and our emotional well being. Many church services are filled with symbols and rituals to help us experience God in our midst. A document called “People of Ritual” by the Brisbane Catholic Education Offices states, “All Catholic ritual is founded on the belief that God is present and revealed in the world and, in a particular and powerful way, through Jesus. This means that God is revealed and encountered in the real and tangible moments of everyday life.”

So many of us are still cut off from our places of worship where we normally experience the rituals that bring us close to God. But that doesn’t mean we have to live without them. Most of what I write about spirituality focuses on finding God in ordinary moments, every day experiences, and common objects. We can create our own symbols and rituals to remind us that God is present and all around us. If you learn to look for God in the everyday events of your life, you’ll realize that you can never be separated from God, no matter what might be happening in the world.

Having just spent four glorious days on Cape Cod with my family, I took my friend’s advice and decided to create my own “bottle” of peace and calm. I spent my vacation collecting shells from the beach, and on the morning we left, I scooped up a few handfuls of soft white sand into a plastic bag. When I got home, I spent a quiet afternoon, painting some of the shells and layering the sand and shells into a glass bottle. I typed up the following quote on a little piece of paper and rolled it up to place in the bottle: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Message in a Bottle

I will use my “message in a bottle” to remind me that God is stronger than any of my fears. That I am not alone in my worries. That I have the peace of Christ to carry me through. The bottle now sits on my desk where it can be a constant symbol of God’s presence in my life.

I encourage you to create your own symbol or ritual to remind you of these same truths. You don’t have to be an artist. Fill a bottle or a shoe box with items that make you feel connected to God. A pressed flower. A treasured photograph. A prayer book. A piece of sea glass. Anything that helps you remember that God is present in the “real and tangible moments of everyday life.” Create a mini-chapel in a corner of your house where you can place these objects and look at them often. Turn to these symbols whenever you’re feeling “troubled” and “afraid” and be reminded of God’s overwhelming presence in our lives. We are surrounded by the Divine every day and in every way.

AMEN!