The Voice of Truth vs. the Inner Critic

woman in woods

I’d like to introduce you to someone. Someone you’re all too familiar with because he or she is with you all the time. It’s your Inner Critic. We all have one. Some are louder than others. And some are meaner than others. The Inner Critic is that voice inside your head that only has negative things to say. That tells you that you don’t look beautiful. You’re not smart enough or talented enough. It’s the voice that constantly compares you to your friends, coworkers, and teammates, and insists that they are better than you. The Inner Critic judges your body, your intelligence, your beauty, and your talents.

I’m not talking about the voice that challenges you to work hard, set goals, and make good choices.   That’s the Inner Coach in you (otherwise known as your conscience) and she’s healthy and helpful and necessary. The Inner Critic is much more damaging and the things she says are NOT true.

The worst part is, you can’t escape the Inner Critic, because he’s inside your head. She’s loud and constant, and you can’t turn her off. He’s always there to drown out anything positive you may think or feel about yourself, or anything positive you may hear from others.

Now you might ask, what’s so harmful about an Inner Critic? Doesn’t it keep us from being arrogant or overconfident? Doesn’t it challenge us to be better or try harder? In truth, the Inner Critic does no such thing! It leads you to feel worthless, undeserving and small. If you exclusively listen to the voice of your Inner Critic you’ll withdraw and hide away. You’ll deprive the world of the wonder that is YOU!

If your friend talked about herself the way your Inner Critic talks about you, you would want to put a stop to it. You wouldn’t want your friend to believe those things about herself. So why should you believe such things about yourself?

I’d like to take you back to the moment of your creation. We know from Scripture that we are created by God in God’s image. St. Paul writes: “we are God’s masterpiece” – God’s greatest piece of work. Each of us was created by God to be a unique masterpiece. How would God look upon His own work? Would He call it names? Would He criticize it? Would He be ashamed of it?

Instead of focusing on the voice of your inner critic, I encourage you 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! You are NEVER alone. God is by your side all the time. He knows and understands you.   God notices you and cares about you, no matter how trivial you think your life might be. You are God’s Beloved Child and He loves every part of you… even the parts you think are the most unlovable.

That’s the Voice of Truth… and it’s the only voice that matters.

God Smooths Out Our Jagged Edges

smooth stone

Have you ever taken a close look at a river rock?  These flat rocks, found in riverbeds and on beaches, are unique in size, shape, and color but with one similarity.  They are smooth.  No jagged edges, sharp corners, or pointy bumps.

What makes these rocks so smooth?

Water flowing in a river is constantly moving.  A powerful force that carries along dirt, sediment, and smaller stones in its path.  These rough items bump up against the river rocks, acting like sandpaper.  They break off the pointy bumps, round out the sharp corners, and smooth the jagged edges.  This is a natural process, called weathering or erosion, and occurs over a long period of time.  The end result is a smooth and shiny stone, beautiful in its purity.

Can we compare this process to our own lives?

At times… are you the jagged rock?  Uneven and rough.  Covered in sharp edges that cause pain in your own life or the lives of those around you.  Each rough spot representing a heavy burden, a sharp tongue, a harsh response, a jealous thought, or a past pain.  Without realizing it, you become something that causes others to wince upon contact.  Something that cannot hold or be held.

And how often do you feel like that rock being tumbled around in a swirling river?  Bumped and tossed.  Crashing into those around you—or being crashed—with a force you feel you can’t control.  It can make you feel helpless… or even hopeless.  There’s no gaining your footing in such a riotous atmosphere.

I encourage you to look at this in another way.  The pain is real, but the process is powerful and profound.  The driving force is the water and it’s no random occurrence.  The water represents the Divine Source that is constantly washing over your jagged soul, breaking off those burdens and pains.  Carrying them away.  Smoothing them out.

We believe in a loving God that shapes us in this way.  We are first introduced to this Living Water at our Baptism.  An outward sign of an inward grace.  A never ending flow of mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness. The process isn’t always easy.  Weathering can be painful!  Life tosses us around whether we like it or not.  God uses these “tossed” experiences to shape us.  God uses our trials to smooth us out until we are transformed.  “See, I am doing a new thing!”  (Isaiah 43:19)

Does this sound good to you?  Are you asking: How can I get in on this deal?  It’s simple.  All you have to do is let it happen.  God is always working in you, whether you realize it or not.  Let the healing water of God’s love rush past you and surround you, making you smooth, shiny, and new.  If you’d like to become more tuned in to the ways in which God is working in you… try prayer, Reconciliation, meditation, or reading and reflecting on the Word of God.  You’ll find yourself gaining in awareness of God’s constant and overflowing presence in your life.

Take a look at the stone in the picture above. As you gaze at the surface, use God’s eyes to search for your shining reflection. What do you see?  Do you see the grace-filled moments of your life reflected back at you?  Can you see the unfolding of your purpose?  Can you see God’s promise and His deep love for you?

May God bless our journey and continue to polish us into shining reflections of His love.

God Picks Us Up When We Fall

girl on bike
For three years my office window looked out over a church parking lot. People used it for all kinds of things. A practice course for school bus drivers in training, a path for neighborhood walkers, an unofficial commuter lot, a place for truckers to park and eat lunch. But my favorite thing to see was parents using the parking lot to teach their children how to ride a bike. What a sweet distraction from my day’s work. I could see the fearful looks on the faces of the young riders. I could hear the parents’ promises floating up through my office window.

“I won’t let you fall!”
“I promise you won’t get hurt.”

I remember my husband and I saying these exact words to our boys when they first learned to ride, and I’m very sure my dad made the same promises to me. It’s what you have to say to get past the fear in your child so they can take that leap.

If we’re being honest… these promises are not exactly iron-clad. It’s likely our would-be cyclists WILL fall. There’s a chance they COULD get hurt. Not too badly, you hope, but anything could happen.   What you might more honestly say is this:

“If you fall, I’ll be there to pick you up.”
“If you get hurt, I’ll be there to soothe your pain and dry your tears.”
“I will ALWAYS be there, no matter what.”

For me, there’s no better way to describe God’s role in our lives. But it took me some time to come to that realization. I used to pray exactly like those scared kids teetering on a bike for the first time. “Please, dear God, don’t let anything bad happen to me… EVER!” I was so afraid of getting hurt that I held myself back from new experiences and new challenges.

Life has taught me that it doesn’t work that way. We all fall. We all get hurt. It’s part of engaging in the world around us. Living up to our potential involves a certain amount of risk. This knowledge could easily leave us paralyzed with fear. Afraid to lift our feet from their firmly-rooted spots on the ground and peddle like mad.

But the beauty of our faith is that God is ALWAYS there for us. To offer comfort. To dry our tears. To ease our pain. To pick us up no matter how many times we fall.

This knowledge is what frees us to get on that bike and go. To fly. To take a leap of faith. To push ourselves toward our sacred destiny. It’s what God wants for us.

One beautiful spring day my son took his brand new bike out for a ride. A run-in with a nasty pothole landed him in the emergency room with a broken wrist, a mild concussion, and many cuts and scrapes. I smothered him with love for weeks after that, giving him all the comfort and gentleness a mother could give (which is a LOT!) His wrist healed, his bruises faded, and his headaches went away.  His worst fears (and mine) about getting hurt had been realized…and overcome. And so, too, we heal from the potholes and pitfalls of life. And we do so with the strength of an amazing God who will never let us fall so far or so deep that we can’t get up again… and keep on riding.

When Re-Gifting is OK

Photo: Public Domain Pictures

Photo: Public Domain Pictures

Be honest, have you ever re-gifted something?  Not your proudest moment, huh? That’s ok, we’ve all done it. It’s your child’s final violin lesson of the year and you forgot to pick up a thank you gift for her teacher. Desperately searching the house, you find a vanilla scented candle that your neighbor gave you last Christmas. It’s in perfect condition. You never got around to lighting it. So you throw it into a recycled gift bag from Mother’s Day with some tissue paper from your most recent purchase at Macy’s. Your daughter is good to go and hopefully her teacher will be none the wiser.

This kind of last minute gift scramble is something we feel sheepish about and would never admit to. It somehow diminishes both the giver and the receiver (not to mention the original giver!)

Believe it or not, there are times when re-gifting is not only acceptable but encouraged. We receive tremendous gifts from God, our Creator, and He wants nothing more than for us to give them away. Here are three examples:

LOVE
Jesus gives us a great commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” We are meant to take the gift of God’s love and use it as an example of how we are to love and treat others. Jesus taught us how to do this in his every action. He humbly washed the feet of his disciples. He loved the sinner, the leper, and the outcast. He loved us to the point of death on a cross. How far are we willing to go to share his gift? Do we love those who challenge us? Do we love those that the world rejects? Do we love those who believe they are unlovable?

FORGIVENESS
Jesus teaches us about the amazing gift of God’s forgiveness through parables like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Surely this lost son might have received a blistering lecture from his father when he returned home. At the very least a resounding “I told you so!” Can we be inspired by this prodigal forgiveness to re-gift it upon those who hurt us? Have you been clinging to anger towards someone because of stubbornness or pride? Can you follow God’s example and forgive?

GRACE
Years ago we had an 80th birthday party for my grandmother and she received many gifts. As she opened each one she exclaimed, “I don’t deserve this!” This sweet declaration of feeling is the best way of describing grace; simply put, “the unmerited favor of God towards humankind.” Abundant blessings poured over us no matter what we do or how we behave. This undeserved gift is incredibly humbling and not to be taken lightly. St. Paul tells us that we are “faithful stewards of God’s grace.” (1 Peter 4:10) I try to remember this when I’m tempted to snap at my husband or criticize my children. Is there a more grace-filled way to interact with them? Am I truly living my life as an instrument of God’s amazing grace?

This week I invite you to reflect on God’s amazing gifts and be on the lookout for opportunities to re-gift them to the world. Use the comment section to share your thoughts!

God is Waiting For You

rainbow blog

This is the time of year for high school graduations, and it’s got me thinking about my own high school years.  Some of my fondest memories are the nights I would come home after an evening out with my friends.  My mother always waited up for me, and my return home had a lovely sense of ritual to it.  I would come in, join my mother on the couch, and she would ask to hear every detail of my night out.  Sometimes my stories were filled with joy, other times heartache and teenage drama. More often than not they were probably pretty boring.  It never made any difference to my mom.  She listened with total focus and rapt attention.  How wonderful it felt to know that she cared not only about me but about every facet of my life.

I can’t help but compare this memory to a doctor I used to see years ago when I lived in Boston.  She would breeze into the examining room and spend as little time with me as she possibly could.  She was a nice woman, but it was obvious she was overbooked and had other patients waiting.  I didn’t doubt her skills as a physician, but I never really felt like she cared about me or what I had to say. It got to the point where I felt guilty asking her questions about my health…believing she had more important or sicker patients to deal with than me.

Which of these two examples matches more closely with your image of God? When you approach God in prayer, do you do so with comfort and confidence or with a sheepish sense of apology?  “I don’t mean to bother you, but…”

It’s easy to believe that God is too busy to hear us.  How many billion people live on this planet?  Why would God care about the details of one little soul?  The answer is simple.

Because God created your soul and you belong to Him.

Our relationship with God is one of constant invitation.  Like my mom sitting on that couch, God is always waiting, eager to hear from us, no matter what we have to say.  He’s strong enough to bear it all:  our complaints, our doubts, our fears, our anger, our sorrows, our joys, our moments of transformation.  Nothing is too dark or too trivial or too overwhelming for God’s loving ears.

There are many different ways to pray, but one that I love the most is just talking to God.  It brings home for me the fact that God is not a remote power, too busy or lofty to hear from us.  God is present and close, and wanting an intimate relationship with each and every one of us.

“To be present is to arrive as one is and open up to the other.
At this instant, as I arrive here, God is present waiting for me.
God always arrives before me, desiring to connect with me
even more than my most intimate friend.
I take a moment and greet my loving God.”
(From “Sacred Space” at http://www.sacredspace.ie)

My prayer for you today is that you will truly believe that God cares for you and is waiting to hear from you.

Jesus’ Last Lecture

Jesus Last Lecture

A college professor is invited to give a hypothetical “last lecture” in which they answer the question: “If this is the last lecture you would ever give to your students, what would you say?” The professor is challenged with the task of packing in decades of wisdom and life lessons into one hour. In 2007, Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University was invited to do just that. What was uniquely moving about this lecture, was that Pausch was dying of pancreatic cancer. His talk, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” was delivered to a packed house of over 400 colleagues and students. This lecture became the basis for the New York Times best-selling book, The Last Lecture, co-authored by Pausch and published in 2008. It became his legacy to his children before he died in that same year.

As we move into Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time reading Jesus’ “Last Lecture.” (John 13-17) It was the day before Passover and Jesus, knowing that the hour had come for him to leave this world, gathered his disciples one last time. He washed their feet, in a beautiful example of how they were to minister to one another after he was gone.

And then he began to speak.

“Dear children, how brief are these moments before I must go away and leave you!” (John 13:33) I imagine the sense of urgency Jesus must have felt as he tried one last time to impart everything he wanted his disciples to learn before he would leave them.

For four and a half chapters of John’s Gospel—often referred to as the “Last Supper Discourse” or the “Farewell Discourse” —Jesus gives his disciples instructions, life lessons, and final words of wisdom. There’s so much rich and wonderful content in his words, it could never be covered in one short blog post. (It reads like a “Greatest Hits” of Bible quotes!) So I’ve chosen 7 lines from Jesus’ Last Lecture—one for each day of Holy Week—for you to ponder and pray about

MONDAY

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) This is it…really. The entirety of Jesus’ ministry and message summed up in one commandment. Love one another. During this holiest week of the year, how will we choose to love one another?

TUESDAY

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) One of my favorite lines in all of Scripture! Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. Thomas replies: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?” The answer is simple and profound. Jesus is the WAY. Our guide and our bridge to God and the Promised Land. All we need to do is follow Him.

WEDNESDAY

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17) In this passage we learn about the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises his disciples that they will never be left alone, a promise that still holds for us today. The Holy Spirit is an Advocate or Helper that dwells within us forever…to comfort, guide, and lead us.

THURSDAY

“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) Yet another beautiful gift from our Savior. Peace, not as the world gives—based on outward circumstances—but peace from within. Peace that is rooted in absolute trust in the faithfulness of God. A gift that becomes ours only in the act of receiving. How will we receive the peace of Christ this week?

FRIDAY

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In these beautiful words we see Jesus’ message of discipleship. We are meant to bear fruit…to spread the love of Christ like branches stretching out from a vine. But we must remain connected to the source of our creation. Our dependence on God allows us to become an instrument of His love and peace.

SATURDAY

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13) After once again repeating his central commandment, Jesus foreshadows the great act of sacrifice that is to come on Good Friday. Jesus dying on the cross is an act of profound love. One that transforms the disciples to such a degree that they passionately preach his message, even to the point of their own death in martyrdom. How will we let Jesus transform us during this Easter season? How can we “die” to our own self-absorption in order to live renewed in Christ?

SUNDAY

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The sorrow of the crucifixion and death of Jesus give way to the victory and triumph of Easter morning. We are a Resurrection People, born to new life in Christ. Alleluia, He is Risen!

Psalm 23 – A Psalm for the Living

dark valley Psalm 23
God is our refuge and our hope.

This was the topic I found myself writing about when preparing for a retreat several years ago. In looking for some Scripture to use, I went straight for the Psalms which contain dozens and dozens of references to this kind of loving and protective God. I was immediately drawn to Psalm 23. You know this one:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…

After considering it for a moment, I quickly rejected it for the purposes of my talk. For most people, this Psalm is too closely associated with funerals, death, and dying. I can still remember the scene from the movie Titanic when a priest recites these lines to a group of terrified passengers as the ship sinks further and further into the ocean. As beautiful as it was, I wanted to talk about life… I didn’t need a Psalm for the dying. Continue reading

A Light in the Darkness

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

For today’s reflection, I would like to share the following story.  The author is unknown, and the story can be found in various places on the internet.

There was once a dark cave, deep down in the ground, underneath the earth and hidden away from view.  Because it was so deep in the earth, the light had never been there.  The cave had never seen light.  The word “light” meant nothing to the cave, who couldn’t imagine what “light” might be.   Then one day, the sun sent an invitation to the cave, inviting it to come up and visit. When the cave came up to visit the sun it was amazed and delighted, because the cave had never seen light before, and it was dazzled by the wonder of the experience. Feeling so grateful to the sun for inviting it to visit, the cave wanted to return the kindness, and so it invited the sun to come down to visit it sometime, because the sun had never seen darkness. So the day came, and the sun entered the cave, it looked around with great interest, wondering what “darkness” would be like.  Then it became puzzled, and asked the cave, “Where is the darkness?” (Source Unknown) Continue reading

The First and Greatest Gift

red-christmas-present
Yesterday’s liturgy marked the official end of our Christmas season. What was the best gift you received this year? I was lucky to get a Fitbit® and I’ve been having so much fun with it. Since December 26 I’ve walked the equivalent of 70 miles. Hard to believe, but a great feeling! As I watched my boys happily examining their Christmas bounty, it got me thinking about gifts from my own childhood. The one that sticks in my mind is from 1978. All year I wished and hoped for the “Pretty Changes” Barbie doll. She had a series of hair extensions, hats, and accessories allowing you to change her look from day-to-day. I was filled with joy to find her under the Christmas tree, and she was by far the best gift I got that year.

Several months later, in a minor tussle with my older sister, my doll’s head broke off. Feeling awful, my sister valiantly tried to glue it back on, but didn’t quite get it on straight. As a result, my Barbie had a thick and stubby neck, and permanently looked smugly off to the side, never meeting the gaze of her Barbie doll friends.

I lost my enthusiasm to play with “Pretty Changes” after that. She was broken…and I had no use for broken things. Continue reading

Why Do People Get Married?

Shall we Dance

Why do people choose to get married?

Years ago I attended a retreat program presented by Deacon Arthur Miller. There were about thirty people there and it was an inspiring night filled with wisdom, laughter, and the sharing of faith. At the end of the program, I introduced myself to Deacon Art just to say a quick thanks. About six months later, I had the opportunity to attend another one of his programs. As I entered the room, Deacon Art came over to me with a welcoming smile. “Hello, Sheri!” At my look of surprise, he said: “You didn’t think I remembered you, did you?” An immediate sense of pleasure and gladness washed over me. To be noticed like that…to be remembered by name and picked out of the crowd, for just that moment…it transformed the experience for me. I felt like my presence mattered to the group and the purpose of the day. (It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was wearing a nametag, so Deacon Art had a little help in remembering me that day!) But the point remains the same. It was the moment of being noticed that stayed with me.

It brings to mind a wonderful movie I saw years ago called Shall We Dance, staring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. The movie is about John and Beverly Clark, a couple who’ve been married for almost 20 years. They have a good life together, two children, and a loving marriage. But John is in a rut and he doesn’t know why or how to get out of it. Without giving too much of the plot away in case you decide to see it someday, there’s a scene halfway through the movie where Beverly Clark is asked a question. “Why do you think people get married?” Her response: Continue reading