Walking With God Through Pain

Scenic photo with quote: God is powerful enough to carry us through our pain.

It has been scientifically proven that our brains are hard-wired to avoid pain. This has helped humans survive by recognizing threats and danger. But in a big and complex world, we can’t always avoid pain in our lives. Try as we might, we can’t always prevent pain in our bodies, such as illness, injury, or the natural process of aging. Unavoidable pain can also present itself in our minds—with anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. And our spirits can unexpectedly feel pain through broken relationships, heartbreak, setbacks and loss. When any type of pain enters our lives, our first instinct is to pray to our powerful and mighty God: Please take this pain away!

When the pain lingers, we feel confused and even a little betrayed. God can do all things… why am I still hurting? I’m honestly not sure I have a good answer to this question except to say that we live in a world of science and free will, and pain can sometimes be a part of that world. It’s why I believe that acceptance is such a big part of faith. Refusing to accept a painful time in our lives can lead to doubt, frustration, and a loss of trust in God. Dr. Julia King, a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety, writes: “We create suffering for ourselves when we desperately wish things were different when, at least right now, they cannot be.”

So where can we find God amidst our pain? I firmly believe that God does not cause our pain or desire for us to suffer; however, God is powerful enough to carry us through our pain and even bring blessings out of it. So maybe instead of asking God to take away our suffering, we pray instead: God, please walk with me through this pain.

Imagine a parent confronted with a child in pain. The parent wants to do anything to make that child happy again. It hurts too much to see them suffering. But again, it’s not always possible. In the words of Brené Brown: “Our go-to as parents is to make everything better. We want to flip on the lights. But our job is to teach our kids that it is ok to be sad, and to sit in the dark with them.” That’s exactly what God does for us when we suffer—sits in the dark with us.

Even more, there’s a lot God can take away. The fear that accompanies pain. The loneliness. The despair. Leaning on God can take away the cascading effect of emotions that stem from pain. Our faith in God leads to hope that physical pain may heal or lessen. Mental pain does not have to define our lives. And emotional pain does not need to overwhelm us.

To expect to live a life without any pain is like building a castle on sand. The minute something goes wrong, we assume we just can’t handle it. We collapse with no foundation to hold us together. But when we approach the painful moments of life with Jesus by our side, we are stronger. We have our faith to lean on. We have trust that joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Through times of suffering, we learn a lot. We learn about God’s love for us. We learn how to trust. We learn about our own strength and resilience. We learn compassion for others who have suffered. God is there with us through all of that…showing us the way through.

I’d love to hear your comments! Respond with your thoughts on how God has carried you through times of pain. How did that experience differ from times you tried to go it alone?

Survival Kits and Treasure Chests

Two years ago this month, I was busy making survival kits. My twin boys were in their sophomore year of college, and news of the Covid-19 virus was everywhere. It had fully arrived in the Northeast and cases were spreading like wildfire in nursing homes, hospitals, and other community settings. No one knew what would happen. (In early March of that year I never could have dreamed that most colleges would close their doors and send everyone home!) All I knew was that my boys were away at school and at risk of catching a dangerous virus. And so I put together boxes of everything they might need—if they got sick, if they were locked down in their dorm rooms, or if they were quarantined somewhere else on campus. I was determined that they would be ready to face any possible scenario. Cold medicine, digital thermometers, cough drops, snacks, and bottled water. I wanted them to be prepared for anything. It made me feel like I had control of a situation that was huge and scary and unprecedented. I truly believed that my proactive measures were the only thing that could hold back my panic.

Two years later, with many ups and downs throughout this pandemic, I still think about those survival kits. They essentially went unused.  My boys were lucky enough not to get Covid, and they never faced any kind of dorm lockdowns or quarantines. While it’s true that any of those things could have happened (and in fact did happen to many students), it made me stop and think: how much of my time do I spend “running the scenarios”—preparing for every possible negative outcome—when oftentimes, the worst case scenario never happens? 

How much time do you spend living in the future, in the land of “What if?” or “Just in case?” Always trying to figure out what’s coming next. Spending your time and energy trying to be prepared for it. We do this because we don’t want to be caught off guard. Sometimes this approach to life makes sense. When we know a hurricane is bearing down on us, we prepare for it by stocking up on groceries, batteries, and bottled water. But constantly living in this survival mode—even for the smaller, less perilous situations—begins to reveal a lack of trust. A need to control one’s environment is almost always linked with fear. Not just fear that bad things will happen, but fear that if they do, we won’t be able to handle it.

During this Lenten season, can we experiment with letting go of this “survival” attitude? What would it feel like to just live in the now? To experience what’s happening without analyzing the moment, trying to predict what will come next? This letting go may feel scary at first. It requires a level of trust that seems difficult. The ability to let go doesn’t come easy and takes practice. But it will quickly become incredibly freeing. 

Imagine leaning into God. Letting go and trusting that whatever comes, you will not be alone. You don’t need to go through life filling a metaphorical survival kit. Empty it out, and let it be filled with confidence. Confidence that God will provide what you need… in this moment… in every moment.  No matter how fierce the storm is, God will be there with you. You can relax and experience the present moment with a sense of peace.

My boys eventually admitted to me that when I dropped off their survival kits, the first thing they did was immediately eat all the snacks. What a funny and wonderful example of living in the now! 

I encourage you to follow this example, putting away your survival kit and replacing it with a treasure chest. Whereas a survival kit is filled with things you need to control all the bad things that may (or may not!) happen in your life, a treasure chest is full of life, hope, and possibility. It helps you do so much more than survive. It allows you to thrive!  This Lenten season, I invite you to accept the treasure chest that God has filled for you.  Discover the treasures inside: love, acts of kindness, gratitude, present moment awareness, hope, faith, and trust. Carry that treasure with you always.

Mary and the Advent Story

The Advent story is full of rich and dramatic events, culminating in the birth of our Savior. For me, one of the most powerful ones is the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary in Luke’s Gospel.

God chooses Mary and comes to her with an invitation—to bring Christ into the world. Mary’s response to this invitation is life-changing and world-changing. It’s impossible to overstate how huge this moment was. EVERYTHING, the very salvation of the world, hinged upon her response.

There is a tendency to believe that Mary didn’t really have a choice in the matter. That Gabriel came—not to ask her a question—but to tell her what was to be. To tell her what her destiny was to be. The problem with this interpretation is that it takes away any agency from Mary and misreads the moment as a passive one, as if Mary were simply swept along into God’s plans, without the opportunity to make her own choice. Without the chance to say “yes.”  

And so it’s worth spending a little time exploring the other possibility: Could Mary have said “no” to God?  Did Mary have free will in this situation?

From the very beginning of God’s interaction with the human race, our free will has always been respected. From the moment we were created, we have been free to make our own choices. Why wouldn’t the same be true for Mary? Which means she wasn’t programmed to say yes, like a robot, or coerced into saying yes, like a soldier obeying an order from a commanding officer. This wasn’t like the scene from the Godfather: “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” But instead, through the angel Gabriel, God was issuing Mary an invitation. How she responded was entirely up to her. Knowing that fact…doesn’t it make her answer that much more powerful?  In the words of poet and author Christine Valters Paintner:

“When the angel Gabriel visits Mary, she is given a choice rather than a demand. Mary is active in her “yes” to the angel’s invitation as well as in her surrender: “Let it be done to me.” God’s unfolding of salvation is dependent upon Mary’s full ‘yes.’”

So what characteristics did Mary possess that allowed her to say yes? Mary was open to God’s plans for her life. She was willing to trust God. As scary as the prospect of bearing a child under such circumstances might have been, Mary trusted that this was the path God had chosen for her. And she was willing to surrender her own plans to answer God’s call. 

How often do we do this? It is so easy to stubbornly cling to our own plans even when we feel God nudging us in a different direction. Remember…we were born with the same free will that Mary was. Our choices are ours to make. God can only invite us to follow. Can we trust enough to be open to the mystery of God’s plans for our lives? 

Our answer to God is always a choice. Mary was asked to bring Christ into the world, and she answered yes. As Christians, we are asked to do that very same thing. Not in the same way that Mary did, but in the way we live our lives. In the way we interact with others. In the words we speak. In the deeds we do. What will our answer be?

Background photo by KaLisa Veer 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

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

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

An Act of Surrender

Surrender

Seeing that I had forgotten my choir music at rehearsal one evening, my friend held her music between us so I could look on with her. I was puzzled by a note she had written in the margins of her sheet music: “Listen to Sheri.” I asked her what it meant, and she explained that at a previous rehearsal she had struggled to find a note in a particularly challenging chord. Hearing that I had it, she wrote that message to herself as a reminder to listen to me. I chuckled at her answer, saying, “Listen to Sheri…that’s pretty good advice for all things in life, isn’t it?”

As we turn our focus this month towards the theme of LISTENING…we begin with an act of surrender.

So often the voice that guides us in our lives is our own. The inner voice that dictates our plans and goals. That maps out our path to success or victory. Putting it simply…most of the time we think we know best. Like the former President who once said, “I am the decider!”—we’re convinced that our way is the best way. We even become frustrated when those in our lives (hint, hint…our children!) don’t listen to us. Controlling everything around us becomes a defense. Our control is the only thing we feel is keeping us together…when perhaps it’s the very thing holding us back from truly growing in our faith.

If we are committed to listening to God’s call in our lives, we need to surrender. To give up our need to control, to manage, to decide, to be in charge.

Thy will be done.

When Jesus approached Simon and Andrew, casting their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he offered them an invitation. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19).  The two brothers immediately dropped their nets and followed him…and their lives were changed forever.

It takes practice—listening to God. Letting God lead us and guide us might not come naturally at first. But we must remember that God has chosen us and comes to us with an invitation. How will we respond? Are we open to the mystery of God’s plans for our lives? Complete surrender is not an easy thing. In battle, surrender signals defeat. It implies a loss of control and a giving up or giving in. To surrender to an enemy is a failing act of last resort.

But to surrender to God’s loving plans is something else altogether. Our ego-driven belief that we know best falls away as we begin to trust God. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

To surrender to God means…

  1. to love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul,
  2. to trust that God is working in your life, and
  3. to believe that God will meet all of your needs.

This LOVING and TRUSTING and BELIEVING can be done through prayer and examination. Ask God what it is in your life that is most in need of your surrender. To what are you gripping too tightly? What nets do you need to let go of so you can follow Jesus?

Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.

It’s during these moments of surrender that the deepest listening takes place. If we open ourselves to the invitation with unclenched fists and open hearts, we will be ready to discover God’s plans for us.

And ready to follow wherever God may lead.

 

Background photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Fully Known By God

god is faithful week 3.jpg

Background photo by Aaron Lee on Unsplash

Who is the person in your life that knows you best?

Most of us reveal ourselves to others in bits and pieces. Depending on the setting, the circumstances, or the nature of the relationship, we let people see only parts of us. We hold back things that we don’t want others to see, for any number of reasons. For most of us, it is a rare few individuals that truly know us. And even then, there might be things we still keep to ourselves, even from those we are closest to.

In Psalm 139 we encounter a God who knows everything about us. When we sit and stand. A God who knows our every thought and where we are at every moment. A God we cannot hide from…who is always there. “How can I get away from your Spirit? Where can I go to escape from you? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I lie down in the deepest parts of the earth, you are also there.” (Psalm 139:7-8)

When I was young, the idea that God knew everything about me made me nervous and uncomfortable. It felt like someone reading my diary. With my immature understanding of sin, I felt like God was watching me, waiting for me to do something wrong or make a mistake. I wondered if God was listening in on my unkind or jealous thoughts. I could pretend to be this perfect person to those around me, but God knew the truth.

I didn’t like that feeling.

Maybe there are some of you who still feel that way. Catholic guilt is very real! Our images of God from childhood (as a stern judge or a scolding parent) stay with us through the years.

As I matured in my faith, I no longer saw God as an administer of shame but as a source of mercy and forgiveness. Like the line from the Pretenders song, “Nothing you confess, could make me love you less.”  That’s how I began to see God…and gradually the idea of being fully known by God was something that I welcomed. Now it gives me incredible comfort. The act of surrendering all that I am to God feels like the strongest safety net. The firmest foundation.

I encourage you to challenge the view you may hold of God as “law enforcement,” who only makes an appearance in our lives when we do something wrong. A picture of God waiting to dole out punishment. A God who is trying to “catch us” in moments of sin. Challenge this view and spend some time with the God who created you, chose you, blesses you, and calls you.

What does it mean to be known by God?  

“God, your thoughts about me are priceless. No one can possibly add them all up. If I could count them, they would be more than the grains of sand. If I were to fall asleep counting and then wake up, you would still be there with me.” (Psalm 139:17-18)

You were created to be loved by God. When you are feeling alone, and hopeless, God is there…loving you still. Nothing you confess could make God love you any less. God offers us prodigal mercy and radical grace. More than we deserve or could ever earn. When you struggle with doubt or fear, bring those feelings to God, who will not flinch from your angriest thoughts or your most desperate questions.

Christian author Kelly Minter writes: “To be known more wholly than we can know ourselves. To be known more deeply than others can know us. This is the knowing with which God knows us. But do not be afraid…for He loves us wholly still.”

To be fully known and still fully loved is an incredible gift. You don’t have to earn it. It’s not like getting picked for a fraternity, being chosen for a job, or having someone choose you on an online dating site. God wants to know each and every one of us. We are His beloved children. His chosen ones. Our names are written on the palm of His hand.

Your name is written on the palm of God’s hand.

As you ponder this amazing thought, my prayer for you is that you will surrender to God, who knows you and loves you unconditionally. A love that is beyond measure. A love that is faithful and unshakable. Live in that love. Wake up each morning telling yourself: “I was created to be loved by God.” Amen!

Come As You Are

god is faithful week 2

Background photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash

A few years ago my husband and I spent an amazing week on a tropical island in the Caribbean. The weeks leading up to the vacation were stressful for me. I was tired from work, pale and washed out from the long winter. I was fighting a cold, and my lower back had a consistent ache from sitting for long hours at work. And I had not reached my ideal weight for wearing a bathing suit. I was putting so much pressure on myself to “fix” all of these things before we left. This was a trip of a lifetime and I wanted everything to be perfect.

Seeing how anxious I was, my husband said: “Isn’t the point of the vacation to rest and heal and relax?” The thought hadn’t occurred to me, and his words calmed me down right away. I didn’t need to be perfect before I arrived. I could come to our vacation exactly how I was. Let the sun, the ocean, and the tropical air work its magic on me.

Come as you are.

This is God’s invitation to us—to know us and be in relationship with us just as we are. Wounds, regrets, scars, bruises, and doubts…God wants all of it. We don’t have to do any frantic preparation in order to make ourselves “ready” for God. We just need to show up. All I needed to do to enjoy the healing benefits of that tropical vacation was to get on the plane. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants us.”

You don’t have to be perfect before you come to God. You are made perfect in God’s love. You don’t need to fix yourself so that God will accept you. Bring your deepest wounds to God and let the healing begin. You don’t need to rest up so you’ll have the energy to be what God wants you to be. You can find rest—and profound peace—in God.

In words attributed to Abigail Van Buren, “The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Whatever your experience of faith or worship is, think of the doors to a church as a metaphor for your relationship with God at this moment. Where do you find yourself? Outside the closed door…afraid to open it and come in? Or maybe standing in the open doorway…peering inside, wondering if there’s a place for you?  

You don’t have to be a “saint” or saintly to live a life of faith. Very few people are! In my experience, so many of us hold ourselves back from a truly authentic relationship with God because we feel inadequate or “not enough.” In her book Days of Deepening Friendship (2009) Vinita Hampton Wright writes: “No matter what state you’re in when you enter the Room, it has no impact whatsoever on God’s love for you. God’s invitation is sweet and clear: Come in! There is so much to know and to experience. And you will be astounded by the divine moment called love.”

Our faithful God provides all the love, healing, and rest we could ever need.  All we need to do is show up.

After a week of lying on the beach, sleeping late, and feeling the warmth of the sun—I was transformed. My cold faded away, my skin lost its winter pallor, my aching back was healed from long soaks in the hot tub and a massage. (I confess I didn’t make any progress on reaching my ideal weight…all-inclusive buffets are really, really tempting!) The healing and restoration my husband promised me would happen, happened that week. I simply needed to trust that it would.

For the next week I ask you to trust in the faithfulness of our loving God. Trust that God will welcome you with open arms. Come as you are and accept God’s invitation. Open the door and come inside. Just simply show up…and let God take care of the rest.

Leave your prayers or thoughts on this reflection in the comments section below!