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 Breath of Life: The Killing of George Floyd

dandelion 3

In these extraordinarily troubling times, I find myself reflecting on the act of breathing.

Breathing is so basic and fundamental to life, but it also calls forth our connection to God in a very powerful way. The book of Genesis says: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” In Latin, spiritus means “the breath of life.”  The very spirit of God breathed into us at the moment of our Creation.

Using breath as a form of prayer is an ancient Christian practice. The Hebrew words for “breath” and “spirit” are the same. When we’re breathing, we call forth the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. We’re using our bodies to focus on the essence of our connection with God—our own moment of Divine creation when God breathed the breath of life into our nostrils.

In practices like yoga and mindfulness, we focus on breath to center ourselves, to calm our minds, to relieve pain. How easily we take for granted the simple act of taking in oxygen to sustain life in our human bodies.

Then came COVID-19 with its insidious attack on our respiratory systems. We realized how fragile life can be.  As conversations swirled around chest pain, ventilators, and intubation tubes, we watched this virus cruelly suffocating people, resulting in death, after death, after death.

But it wasn’t COVID-19 that killed George Floyd. His life was taken by a cruel act of violence at the hands of a police officer. His words “I can’t breathe” should haunt each and every one of us as we confront this vile sickness of racism that plagues our country and robbed George Floyd—and so many other Black citizens—of their breath and their lives. Systemic racism is a contagion that has been around far longer than COVID-19, and has taken life and liberty from countless numbers of God’s children.

For those of us with privilege, doing our part to rid the world of COVID-19 was in many ways easy. All we had to do was stay home. We made donations from the safety of our computers, we sewed masks, and we supported our local businesses.  But we also took long walks, played board games, baked bread, and organized Zoom gatherings with our loved ones. We spent more time than ever before outside, breathing in deeply as winter gave way to spring. We worked hard to manage our anxiety as we prayed for God’s healing for all those who were sick, and we prayed for God’s protection for all those bravely serving on the front lines of this virus.

For those of us who are white, doing our part to rid the world of racism will not be as easy. It will make us uncomfortable and ask more from us than we may currently be giving. We must begin by examining our own assumptions and behaviors, and this can be a painful process. We must speak up in ways that may feel scary. I have been guilty of this for many years.  I stayed quiet for fear of “making waves,” turning people away, saying the wrong thing, or offending someone.

Remember, Jesus came to challenge the status quo. He wasn’t afraid to speak out, to call out hypocrisy, to stand in solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed. If we believe in a God of love, we cannot remain silent. If we believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life, we must actively speak out against the loss of Black lives from systemic racism and acts of hatred. In the words of Fr. William Wallace, O.S.A., J.D.­As members of the one Body of Christ we must stand in support of all those who are understandably outraged and who feel that they are not being heard. We must affirmatively choose the more difficult, but more right and just, path of engagement and action, instead of the easy path of indifference and inaction.”

I am more conscious of my breathing now, recognizing each breath as a gift from God. A gift that belongs to each and every one of us. I will use my breath to thank God for sparing me and my loved ones from the terrorizing reality of COVID-19. I will use my breath to talk about the fact that Black Americans are disproportionately affected by this virus and are losing jobs at a higher rate. I will use my breath not only to pray for an end to racism, but to actively work to be part of the solution, speaking out against the racial violence that has been perpetrated against Black Americans for hundreds of years. I will use my breath to listen, to educate myself, and to stand in solidarity with the Black community.

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

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

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

Let God Shine Through You

John 3 30

John the Baptist had no problems being the “guy behind the guy.”

In the region of Judea—where Jesus was baptizing people—John was nearby, also performing baptisms. John’s followers began to worry that Jesus’ ministry was starting to eclipse John’s. They approached John with concern, jealousy and maybe a little resentment. “Master, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River—the one you said was the Messiah—he is baptizing too, and everybody is going over there instead of coming here to us.” (John 3:26)

John reminds his disciples that he is not the One. “You yourselves know how plainly I told you that I am not the Messiah. I am here to prepare the way for him—that is all.” (John 3:28) He compares himself to the best man at a wedding, waiting for the groom to arrive, and rejoicing when he does. And then he speaks these beautifully humble words about Jesus:

“He must become greater. I must become less.” (John 3:30)

John knew his ministry wasn’t to testify to his own greatness or his special role in the story of redemption. It was to introduce Jesus. To step aside and let the story continue. John was there to be a witness to Christ.

What better time than the season of Lent to let God become greater in our lives?

How can we live out these words of John the Baptist and follow his example? What does this “becoming less” look like in our daily lives?

STEP ONE: Believe in God’s Love
Truly believe that God loves you and has a plan for your life. This is where you must begin, for if you can’t see God at work in your life, you’ll be stuck in a world of self doubt and ego-driven insecurity. Wake up every morning saying: “I was created to be loved by God.” This is the profound truth that grounds us in all that we do…the stunning reminder that we are loved unconditionally by God.

STEP TWO: Empty Yourself
John the Baptist’s disciples were caught up in feelings of envy and arrogance. This focus blocked them from recognizing the truth that John was there to testify. When we allow ourselves to be filled up with negative attitudes that don’t serve us, we leave little room for Jesus. If we empty ourselves of self-serving junk—insecurity, envy, selfishness—we create space for Jesus to enter and dwell in our hearts.

STEP THREE: Practice Gratitude
The act of becoming less doesn’t mean denying the core of who you are, or downplaying your gifts or talents. Quite the opposite! Recognize that everything wonderful about you came from your Creator. Every time you feel good about something you did or accomplished, take a moment to thank God for making you exactly the way that you are.

STEP FOUR: Let God Shine Through You
Be the “guy behind the guy.” Let God shine through you. Each day, carefully examine your words, your actions, and your motivations to make sure they reflect God’s love. Instead of focusing on your own goals for the day, focus on your interactions with others. Make it your mission to let others see in you the shining reflection of Christ’s light.

As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) Keep God at the center of all you do this Lenten season. Seek out the good for others before your own. Invite Jesus into all your daily interactions and see how the experience is transformed.

Wishing you a blessed and holy Lent!

 

 

Background Photo by Meiying Ng on Unsplash

Let Yourself Be Surprised By God

Elijah

My “little sister” gives the best advice.

I really don’t call her that anymore since we’re both in our 40s, but the years I spent thinking of her in that way is exactly what kept from realizing this important truth. For most of my life, when I struggled with a problem, I had my “go to” advice-givers…my grandmother, my mom and dad, my older sisters, and a few close and trusted friends. With my younger sister, I could only see myself as the “big sister” who was there to give HER advice, not the other way around.

How many years I wasted not taking advantage of the wise and helpful guidance she had to offer! It was with a sheepish and regretful sense of surprise that I allowed myself to discover her wisdom and her insight.

We see something similar in 1 Kings when God tells the prophet Elijah to go out and stand before Him. Elijah looks to all the usual and expected places to hear God…only to find that God was somewhere else.  

“And as he stood there the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain; it was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.”  (1 Kings 19:11-12)

Instead, Elijah heard God in the sound of a gentle whisper…not what he was expecting at all!  “When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his scarf and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:13)

We know that God whispers—the whisper of a baby born in a stable on a quiet and holy night, the whisper of a resurrected Lord appearing to a couple of women and a small group of disciples. And we know that He is a God of surprises, speaking to us when we least expect it.  

Elijah listened in all the mighty places for the voice of God, never imagining it would come as a gentle whisper.

God speaks to us in so many ways—through what we may describe as “gut feelings”, through the events in our lives, through the voices of others, through our children, images in nature, our dreams…the possibilities are endless. We have to be awake and alive to each moment, and open to hearing God everywhere.

My prayer for you as we enter the holy season of Lent, is that you will let yourself be surprised by God. Don’t get stuck in all the usual places you go to hear God. Listen for God in places you don’t normally listen. Let us follow the suggestion of Vinita Hampton Wright in her book, Days of Deepening Friendship:

Over the next several days, practice listening. Listen to everything—traffic sounds, nature sounds, speaking sounds, and the sounds of peace and quiet. Try to listen with great attention for five or ten minutes every day. Do this during a coffee/tea break, if that helps. Then, gradually tune in to God’s voice. This voice will come through many of the sounds you have already been noticing. It will also emerge as you partake of the arts—books, music, paintings, dance, and so forth. You will hear God’s voice during worship or while your children are playing. Try to spend a few moments each day quietly listening for God. Don’t say anything or ask for anything. Or if you do ask for something, may it be, “God, help me tune in to your voice.”

These days, I make it a habit to seek my younger sister’s advice about all kinds of things. She inspires me and encourages me all the time, and I learn so much from her.

In much the same way, the more time and practice you devote to spending time with God—listening for God’s “gentle whisper”—the more tuned in you’ll become to God’s messages in all areas of your life, and at any time of day.

 

Background photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Filtering out the Background Noise of Life

yoga

Last year I signed up for a weekly yoga class during my lunch hour. The class was called “Sweat and Surrender” and I thought it would be the perfect break to de-stress from my day and return to work relaxed and rejuvenated. The class was great, and the instructor was gentle and encouraging. There was only one thing preventing me from enjoying it…the very loud Zuumba class held in the room next door.

Yoga takes concentration. You need to focus and listen—both to the instructor and to your own body as you move through the different postures. The Zuumba music was so distracting, I could never reach this level of focus. I tried my best to ignore it. To tune it out. But I just couldn’t.

We all move through life with varying degrees of “background noise.” We try our best to tune it out, but it can become a significant challenge to hear—and really listen—to the voice of God. The noise is always there to distract us, pulling us away from the calm, the stillness, and the focus we need to listen to our Creator.

Can you identify the background noise in your life? For most of us, it begins with the general hectic pace of today’s world. We get used to it until we don’t realize how truly “noisy” our lives have become. It’s so important to retreat once in a while. To escape from the noise and be still. I’ve written about silence and breathing in the past. Both are excellent ways to minimize the background noise of a busy life.

Maybe the background noise you struggle with is negativity. Fear is always there, waiting to drown out any truths we might hear from God about trust, about God’s faithfulness, about God’s promises, and the knowledge that God is carrying us and caring for us always. Negativity can build up inside us like an automatic response, until it becomes a thick wall that blocks out God’s messages in our lives. It can take practice, but you can intentionally turn your thoughts towards God when you feel negativity creeping in.

And finally, our own Inner Critic can be a damaging source of background noise. Telling us were never going to be good enough, the voice of the Inner Critic is loud and constant and very hard to turn off. But if we’re aware of it, we can recognize it and name it and begin to strip this voice of its power. And once you do you’ll be better able to listen for the Voice of Truth—the Voice of your loving God. The Voice that says you are loved and accepted exactly the way you are!

During the month of February, I’ll be writing about the importance of LISTENING in our faith lives. When we pray, we do a lot of talking (Please! Thank you! Help me! Do this!) If you can be still and quiet long enough, you’ll begin to hear God speaking to you. Messages of love that are unique and meant for your ears alone.

I’ve joined a new yoga class this winter. It meets in the evenings in the library of an elementary school. The room is quiet and peaceful with dim lights and an inspiring, gentle-voiced instructor. It’s just what I was looking for…but never would have found if I didn’t make the decision to leave the noisy environment of my old class.

Take some time this week to examine the background noise of your life. What’s the “Zuumba music” that might be preventing you from hearing God’s whisper? How might you minimize that noise and focus on what really matters?

Share your ideas in the comments section below!

 

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