Allegory of Five Gardens (Part Two)

crowded garden

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who loved them as his own, gave each sister a gift – a small plot of land to plant a garden. With excitement and hope, they prepared the soil and planted seeds, giving them lots of water and sunshine until they sprouted into healthy plants. As time went on, the five sisters tended to their gardens in their own different ways.

Months later, the Master Gardener invited each sister, one at a time, to come and share with him how her garden fared. The second sister approached with dragging steps and slumped shoulders. Her cheeks were reddened from hours in the sun, and her tired eyes revealed dark smudges underneath.

“How does your garden fare, my child?”

“Too well, I’m afraid to say. I wanted to plant as many things as I could, to thank you and praise you for this wonderful gift. So I have perennials and annuals, creeping plants and climbing plants, vegetables and fruits. The garden is truly bursting with life.”

“Then why do you look so unhappy?” the Master Gardener asked with kind but questioning eyes.

“Now it keeps me so busy I’m exhausted all the time. There’s so much work involved. Weeding, pruning, watering. It never ends. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even enjoy working in my garden anymore.”

“My dear child,” the Master Gardener replied. “I gave you this gift so you could find joy in your work. An overcrowded garden will not thrive and it will only leave you feeling tired and cross. You need balance and simplicity.

The Master Gardener helped her cut out sections of her garden (to pass along to other members of the village) and install a bench, where she could sit and rest in the shade and enjoy the beautiful bounty of her smaller and simpler garden.

A sigh of relief escaped her lips as the second sister delighted in the extra time she had to spend in quiet solitude. She promised never again to take on so much work that she forgot the reason she planted in the first place.

REFLECTION:

Does your faith life resemble the over crowded garden of the second sister? You’re involved in everything. You’re part of every church committee, prayer group, ministry, and Bible study. You can’t say no to anything. Like the sister Martha from Luke’s gospel, you’re overwhelmed with all the work you have to do.

This is a very common situation for many people who are actively involved in ministry and volunteer work. It’s called “church burnout” and we’ve all experienced it from time to time. Our busy schedule of church commitments begins to wear us down. It becomes a chore and even builds resentment. “Why do I have to do everything?!?”

Serving God through church ministries shouldn’t come at the expense of spending time with God.

The church work you do shouldn’t become a block to deepening your relationship with God.

Some points to consider:

Examine your motives. Why do you feel compelled to do so much? Is it an attempt to prove yourself worthy to God? A desire to impress others in the church? An inability to say “no”? There’s no doubt that God wants us to serve others. We see that in the example of his son, Jesus Christ. But we also see moments when Jesus left the crowds to go off by himself, taking time for quiet prayer and solitude. Look for this same kind of balance in your own faith life.

Set realistic boundaries. Once you become identified as the “go to” volunteer for getting things done, you’ll find you get called on for lots more. Be prepared for this and learn to say no if the work is getting to be too much.

Take a break.   “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) God’s grace is not dependent on a numbered list of good deeds we’ve accomplished. You’ll be no less deserving of that grace if you scale back a bit. Remember, God want us to live healthy, balanced lives. The garden of your faith life should reflect that.

So if you’re feeling like this second sister, take some time to sit in your garden and pray. Block out all distractions of fundraisers, committee meetings, and potlucks. Come to God in the silence and rest in His loving embrace. You’ll be glad you did and your faith garden will find new life after a period of rest.

*Read Part One of Allegory of Five Gardens here.

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!

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

When God is Silent

winter-benchWe know that God whispers…the whisper of a baby born in a stable on a quiet December night…the whisper of a resurrected Lord appearing to a couple of women and a small group of disciples. And we know that our God 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. And it’s been my experience that if we’re faithful to our time spent in sacred silence—through prayer, meditation, or anything that helps us shut out the noisy world—we’ll start to be surprised by God, too.  Continue reading

Be Still

 

Be still and know that I am God

100_6952Mighty God, all I need to do is look at your marvelous and audacious act of creation to know that you are God.  Light and day.  Land and sky.  Seed and stars.  Bird and lion.  You created us from dust and breathed life into us.  In your image you created us.  Help me always remember this first and ancient moment of connection with you, my Divine Creator.

Be still and know that I am…

Loving God, when Moses approached your glory at the burning bush, he asked for your name. You responded simply “I AM.” Isn’t that just like you!  Giving Moses a name that is not really a name.  Be with me during those times that you are mysterious and hard to know. Do not remain a hidden God.  Draw me close to you in intimacy and companionship.

Be still and know…

Infinite God, I know that my human brain cannot begin to comprehend all that you are. Help me to know you.  Reveal yourself to me in your Word, in those around me, and in all of creation.  Infuse me with the spark of realization that you are All in All.

Be still…

Patient God, being still is not easy for me.  I have no problems stilling my body, but my mind is another story.  Racing thoughts about what must be done, what must be worried over, what must be controlled and managed.  Help me sink into the quiet, like a green meadow or a peaceful stream.  Let the stillness become a new way for me to hear you. Whispering to me.  Calling my name.  Singing me a love song.

Be…

You breathed life in me so many years ago so I could BE.  Not do, or accomplish, or fret, or undertake, or organize, or control.  Just BE.  Give me a glimpse of your heavenly dream for me. Help me be according to your will.

AMEN.

Symptoms of a Tired Soul

What is the most tired you’ve ever been?

This question is very easy for me to answer… because I am the mother of twins.  My boys are fourteen years old now, but it seems like just yesterday that I brought them home as infants.  I remember a lot of joy from their first year of life.  Quite honestly there’s a lot I think I blocked out!  But one thing I remember with crystal clarity is how tired I was.  Eight feedings a day times two.  Endless diaper changes.  Mounds of laundry.  Plus all the anxiety and fear that comes along with being a brand new mother.  For me, it gave new meaning to the word exhaustion – a tiredness that went straight through to the very marrow of my bones.  I remember when the boys were about six weeks old, I had to have a very small surgical procedure to have an atypical skin blemish removed from my leg.  It was out-patient surgery with general anesthesia.  The nurses wondered why I was so excited to be put to under. “Just let me sleep as long as you possibly can!”  The kind of rest I needed in those days was rest for my body.  The meeting of a biological need with very clear physical symptoms. Continue reading