An Introvert’s Guide to Advent

winter branches

My sister and I have a long-standing joke that she’s my “Wake Wingman.”  I’m an introvert and so immersing myself in large crowds has never been my thing. Small talk can be draining for me. I also internalize emotions and wakes are brimming with feelings.  My sister, on the other hand, is a gregarious, extroverted, social being.  She always knows what to say, and large crowds of overflowing emotion bring out the best in her.  So whenever possible, I tag along behind her at wakes.  I mean I literally stand behind her the whole time, glued to her side.  As we work our way through the line, she says something to the neighbor or co-worker and I nod my head in agreement, offering a sympathetic look or a gentle smile if appropriate.  We’ve been doing this for years and it works for us.

My expression of sorrow is no less sincere; it just has a different delivery method.

It got me thinking about the challenge for introverts to live out the message of Jesus.  Jesus was all about relationships.  Love your neighbor, help the poor, gather in communities to pray.  For some, this comes as naturally as breathing.  Serving a meal to a hundred patrons of a soup kitchen would leave an extrovert feeling energized and ready to take on the world.  For me, I would want to crawl under the covers and turn out the lights.  Not because I don’t love my neighbor.  Or I don’t care about helping those in need.  It’s just harder for me.  Being an introvert means that you’re more energized by time spent alone rather than with people.  Social crowds can quickly sap the introvert of energy.  There’s a tendency to seek out quieter, less publicly stimulating environments.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your faith into action, particularly at times of the year when we’re reminded of the importance of doing so.  And so I offer you:

AN INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO ADVENT

WRITE.  Introverts need time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it.  Writing is an ideal outlet for this kind of communication.  Use correspondence to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment.  For the remainder of Advent, send one email or note each day to someone you care about or admire.  Tell them how you feel.  Plan for bigger goals in the New Year.  Start a blog!  Join an online Bible study.

LISTEN.  Introverts are gifted at listening and their calm, gentle demeanor is the perfect balm for someone in distress.  The holiday season can tap into loneliness and sadness for a lot of people. Look for opportunities to lend a listening ear to someone who needs it.  A meaningful one-on-one connection allows you to be Jesus for that person, and to see Jesus in them.

PRAY.  Quiet prayer comes naturally to introverts and what better time of year to embrace the silence and stillness than Advent.  Seek out a moments of quiet solitude as often as you can. “For God alone, my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 62:1) Try new forms of silent prayer like meditation or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Use this holy season to deepen your relationship with God.

BE CREATIVE.  Many churches and faith communities offer opportunities for community service at this time of year.  If helping others by being in the thick of the action doesn’t work for you, find ways to help behind the scenes.  Instead of mingling at a fundraiser, volunteer to help design the flyer, or stuff envelopes.  Your contribution is no less important because you weren’t “in the spotlight.”

STRETCH.  Don’t let being an introvert become an excuse. It’s a huge temptation for introverts to hide away rather than engage with the world. Look for ways that God is gently challenging you to stretch out in faith.

Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between—my prayer for you this Advent season is that you will seek ways to grow in your relationship with our loving God, as we await the coming of our Savior.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

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!

A Woman’s Lenten Journey

woman in woods

The season of Lent is a journey.

A journey to the foot of the cross at Calvary…and to the heart of Jesus.

Years of working in retreat ministry has shown me that more than anything, women long for a daily encounter with God. Whatever form that may take, the desire to connect with the Divine is a major driver in a woman’s spiritual journey. A retreat presenter recently urged, “Don’t ever be satisfied with where you are with God at this moment. Always desire something deeper.”

Reaching for that “something deeper” can be a real challenge. Today’s woman is pulled in a million different directions. Always on the go, we are doers and nurturers. This hectic pace can make if very difficult to listen for the voice of God.   Women need TIME! We need quiet. We need a safe, sacred space, free from distraction. We need to stand still long enough to be found.  Only then can we take up our cross once again and resume the journey. Continue reading

The Language of Silence

snowy silence
16th century mystic John of the Cross once wrote: “Silence is God’s first language.” Now, I’m a firm believer that God comes to us every day in any number of ways, through the bubbling laughter of our children, the joyous harmony of a choir, the hustle and bustle of a busy day, even the anguished cries of a broken heart.

But there’s something special about silence. Continue reading

Called to Holiness

old phone
When you think of a “holy” person, what image comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a priest, deacon, nun, or other clergy. Or that person in your parish who attends daily Mass. Or the volunteer who devotes his or her time to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other charitable organizations.

When you imagine a holy person…do you ever picture yourself?

To be holy is to be like God. Doesn’t that seem kind of lofty? How on earth could ordinary ol’ me achieve such a thing? The answer lies right in the question. Holiness doesn’t come from the “earthly” world. It’s not something we earn, or work towards, or deserve. It’s a gift from God. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)

God chose us. How beautiful! Continue reading

Spice Up Your Spiritual Life

spices
Not long ago my friend told me a story of a time she cleaned out a large pantry in her house. She found spices that had been there since she was a child. Many had grown dull and lost their flavor. Clearing them away left room for something new and different, and she had fun looking up recipes and shopping for spices she had never tried before.

She related this experience to being in a “rut” in her spiritual life. For so many years, she had done the same things in exactly the same way: church once a week, confession once a year. Her prayer life had become stagnant and lost some of its “flavor.” She desired to spice up her spiritual life by trying some new things. She joined a women’s faith group at church. She volunteered to read at Stations of the Cross during Lent. She opened herself up to whatever spiritual opportunities might fall into her path.

This time of year can bring on the doldrums. The excitement of Christmas is fading away and spring seems a long way off. Long, dark, cold days seem to run into one another. Have you been stuck in a prayer life that is safe and predictable? Have you become complacent in how you live your faith, or perhaps even rigid in your way of doing things? Our loving God desires us to constantly grow in our faith. Jesus calls us to renew our relationship with Him as we journey ever closer to the Father.

Faith is not a standing still.

Look for ways to add some spice to your spiritual life this season. Try something new. Pay attention to the Holy Spirit whispering into the quiet, dormant, cob-webbed corners of your heart. God is trying to “ruffle your feathers” in ways you may not expect. It may feel a bit unsettling, but like my friend, be open to it and see where God may be leading you.

Embrace the journey!

Mary’s Yes

tanner_annunciation-sm

“The Annunciation” H. Tanner 1898

True confession time. For most of my life I did not pray to Mary. I wasn’t in the habit of saying the Rosary. And I did not have any statues of the Blessed Mother in my home or garden. Mary had always seemed a lofty ideal to me.   A heavenly image of perfection that I could not live up to or relate to.  I once heard a priest say that our Church hadn’t done Mary any favors by putting her up on a pedestal. The higher she was raised up, the more remote she became.

Years ago, a friend recommended that I read a book called Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes, a dramatic account of Mary’s story—a teenage girl chosen by God to bring Christ into our earthly world. The Mary depicted in this story was one I found infinitely compelling: young, scared, and facing an overwhelming responsibility. Discovering Mary through the prayer of imagination was the moment she became real to me.  And now I pray to her all the time.

Who was Mary? What was her life like? What was the historical context in which she lived? Only by learning Mary’s personal story can we find our own story. And the Advent season is where Mary’s story begins. Continue reading

Making Room for Jesus

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7

On the night our Savior came into the world, there was no room for him. I can only imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. Tired and dusty from the long trip through Galilee and Judea. Mary, heavy with child, uncomfortable, frightened, knowing with a woman’s intuition that her time was near. Joseph, realizing with dread that they would not make it home in time, and their child would have to be born here, in Bethlehem. This brave couple, so very young and alone, desperately searching for a safe place to give birth, only to be told there was no room at the local inn.

John the Baptist says: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” … “Prepare the way of the Lord!”   Just like that innkeeper in Bethlehem, during this holy season of Advent, we are being asked to make room for Jesus in our lives…in our hearts…and the world.

How will we respond to this request? Continue reading

Finding God in the Storm

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

We hear this well-known scripture verse at the cross, when the Earth was covered in darkness, and Jesus uttered these words moments before he surrendered his spirit and died. But that’s not the first time we hear it… the line first appears in Psalm 22. Although the specific reason is not known, the author of the Psalm is clearly suffering. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The passage goes on to say:

Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

church-and-storm-1

Have there been times, when you’ve felt like the author of this Psalm… that God was very far away? Perhaps during a time when you were experiencing personal suffering. Or maybe from the nagging worry that suffering may be just around the corner. We live in a world FULL of uncertainty and fear. Worries about our personal health and well-being and the well-being of our family members. Worries about the economic climate… will we keep our jobs? Can we “stay afloat” financially? Worries about global threats, war, and violence – terrorism, shootings, natural disasters, contagious disease.

How easy it would be to collapse under the weight of all these worries. How often do we feel like that’s exactly what we might do? How does this fear manifest itself? Sleepless nights, stress, anxiety. Living in this state of perpetual worry… how do we pray?  Continue reading