A Sinking Heart

bleeding-hearts

There are times we move through life with our hearts on our sleeves.  Wide open to receive God’s amazing love.  Moved to listen and understand, we are part of the vast family of the children of God. We offer prayers of gratitude for belonging.  We reach out to our sisters and brothers in loving communion.

With our hearts on our sleeves… we sing, we laugh, and we love.

There are times that our hearts curl inward.  Nestled deep within our souls.  We enter into a period of searching and deep contemplation.  Our hearts are wrapped in mystery.  We long to hear God’s whisper.  We know there is something God wants to teach us and we cling to the quiet so we may uncover His truth.

With our hearts drawn in… we listen, we pray, and we learn.

And still other times our hearts just sink.  We are lost in the fragments of a broken world.  Hope eludes us and despair overwhelms us.  We cannot imagine a world in which God is present and working for good.  Our rational minds tell us that God is out there, but with plummeting hearts we cannot see Him.

With our hearts in the depths… we doubt, we cry, and we ache.

If our hearts are going to sink, let them sink into God.  Not an out-of-control free fall, but a falling in faith. This act of surrender will bring us closer to God than ever before.  We give up our pain, our flaws, and our doubts, confident that God is strong enough to bear it all.  The further we allow ourselves to fall, the higher God will lift us up.

If our hearts are going to sink… let them sink into God.

Allegory of Five Gardens (Part Five)

walled-garden

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who loved them all very much, 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. But the fifth sister did not appear. After waiting for some time, the Master Gardener went out in search of her, and found her sitting in her cottage, staring blankly at the walls.

“I come to ask about your garden,” he said. “How does it fare?”

“I have no idea. I prepared the soil and planted the seeds like you asked me to. And then I built a high stone wall around it to protect it from the rabbits and deer.”

“Tell me what grows in your garden?” the Master Gardener gently pressed.

“I really don’t know. I haven’t been in there in months. I just don’t see myself as a gardener. There are days I think about going inside, but it’s been so long now, that I don’t know what I would do in there.”

“My beloved daughter, I gave you this garden as a safe and sacred space. It is yours. All I ask is that you enter and sit awhile.”

The fifth sister did as the Master Gardener asked. She sat in her garden for a morning… and felt nothing. She returned for the next three mornings, and still nothing. On the fifth morning, she sat quietly in her garden and felt the sun warming her face. She watched a butterfly dance among the flowers. She breathed in the scent of earth and nectar and rain. She was overcome with a rush of feeling. A memory of the love she felt on the day she received this precious plot of land. Peace settled deep within. She vowed never again to wall herself off from her garden.

REFLECTION

A life of faith isn’t always easy. We wrestle with questions, doubts, and disagreements—matters that must be explored through deep prayer and examination of conscience. The process can be daunting. We witness those who claim to be Christian, yet do and say things that contradict the loving message of Jesus Christ. We see people use the name of Jesus to hurt and reject others. We don’t want to throw ourselves in with that lot. We don’t want to be anywhere near them. So we distance ourselves from the Church. It may seem easier to close ourselves off from the more challenging aspects of our faith. Avoidance is always easier.

Though our doubts may be justified, it’s our response to these doubts that can often drive a wedge between us and God’s love for us. But walling ourselves off from the love of God isn’t the answer. And the longer we do this, the more our faith becomes a remote and distant memory. Bring your questions to God. Bring your doubts, your anger, your dissonance. Trust that God loves you and will help you work through this time of uncertainty.

Just like the fifth sister, God only asks that you enter the garden and sit with Him for awhile.

Allegory of Five Gardens (Part Three)

weeds

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who provided all that they needed, 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 third sister approached with shrugged shoulders and confusion in her eyes.

“How does your garden fare, my child?”

“Not well, and I don’t understand why! I sit in my garden every day and pray. For hours I offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Yet my garden is a mess! Weeds are sprouting up everywhere, crowding the healthy plants and robbing them of sunlight and nutrients.”

“My beloved daughter,” the Master Gardener replied. “Your prayers are always welcome, but I gave you this garden as a gift, in the hopes that you would care for it through your actions, not just your prayers. The garden needs you if it’s going to thrive. You must show your love by tending it.”

Understanding dawned on the third sister’s face as she realized what she had failed to do. Running home, she spent an entire day cleaning up her garden. Pulling weeds, pruning, watering, and feeding her plants. As a result, it flourished. She had healthy, nutritious vegetables to feed the poor and hungry in the village. She promised never again to forget to do her part.

REFLECTION:

Jesus came to preach a radical message of love and social justice. Our actions matter just as much as our words.   Piety and prayer – while extremely important – is not enough. Jesus challenges us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. He reminds us: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I’ve written before about introverts like myself who are very good at finding time for quiet prayer, but more challenged by the idea of living our faith through action – or Inter-action in this case. God’s gift of grace is ours for the taking, but we must be active participants in this gift. We do so by living out Jesus’ message of love. By becoming the face and hands of Jesus for all those we encounter. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the Samaritan – not known for being pious or obedient to the law – who wins the praise of Jesus through his act of compassion. So many of Jesus’ parables emphasize the importance of putting our faith into action through our deeds.

A faith lived in words only will resemble the neglected garden of the third sister. Take some time this week to look for ways in which you might reach out to others to spread Jesus’ message of love. Come up with an “action plan” for the rest of month or the next season. You will be rewarded with a garden filled with abundant love and grace as you begin to fulfill God’s purpose and plan for your life.

Allegory of Five Gardens (Part One)

dry garden

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who loved them all very much, 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 first sister approached with hesitant steps and slumped shoulders. She could barely look the Master Gardener in the eye.

“How does your garden fare, my child?”

“Not well, I’m ashamed to say. My garden is dry as dust. All the plants have withered and dried up and the soil is hard and cracked.”

“Do you know why?” the Master Gardener asked with gentle but questioning eyes

“Lack of water, I suppose,” she answered with a sigh.

“My dear one, you know that I have an abundant source of flowing water. You need only have asked, and I would have given you all the water you asked. Why did you never come to me?”

The sister paused before answering. “Lots of reasons, I guess. Sometimes I was just too busy. It seemed like the distance was too far to travel to get to the water. Other times I felt too unworthy to ask you for such a precious gift. After a while, I no longer remembered the water you had to offer.”

With a nod of understanding, the Master Gardener sent a steady rainfall to drench and quench her garden and bring it back to life. The plants and flowers responded immediately. The roots were strengthened, the leaves returned to a bright and vibrant shade of green. Flowers opened as the stems stretched tall to absorb the warm sunlight that followed the rain.

Tears of gratitude filled the eyes of the first sister, and she promised him she would never again forget about this precious gift that was hers for the taking.

REFLECTION:

Does your faith life ever resemble the dried up and withered garden of the first sister in this story? You’re stuck in a rut, uninspired, and unable to access the powerful connection you once felt to God – The Master Gardener. You feel more distant from God than ever before, unable to hear His whispers or feel His presence. Your faith life feels lifeless.

You are not alone. We all go through spiritual dry spells from time to time. Some ending quickly, others stretching out for a much longer time. God has given each of us our own personal Garden of Eden, lush and beautiful and overflowing with the abundant blessing of God’s love for us. But like any garden, it needs nourishment. God gives us the Living Water of Jesus Christ to nourish our spirit and bring us to new life.

Being in a spiritually dry place is not always a bad thing. God may be preparing us for something or reminding us of our dependence on His gift of grace. We need to live through the dry time in order to more fully engage in the fruitful spirituality that is to follow.

What’s important is to recognize those times when we are depleted or dry, for they can sneak up on us. “O God, my God! How I search for you! How I thirst for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. How I long to find you!” (Psalm 63:1) The next time you find yourself in the dry garden of faith, let your prayer become a conversation with God.

Dear Lord, my spiritual garden has become dried up and wilted. Why do I feel this distance? What is getting in the way of a closer intimacy with You? In Your wisdom, reveal to me the path that has led me to this place of thirst and dust. Remind me of Your gift of grace, that I may seek life giving water and come alive again.

Find a quiet place to spend some time alone with God. Pray for inspiration and ideas to reconnect with God in a personal way. Read Scripture, attend a retreat, talk to a friend or your priest or pastor. Be gentle with yourself and have faith that this season of dryness will pass. Remember, even the most dead-looking plant is often only dormant, waiting for the first light of spring to come to life again.

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.

A Prayer for Today

fall foliage

Dear God, I thank you for making me wonderfully unique. You knit together my talents, my flaws, my moods, and my dreams. At the moment of my creation you were there, loving me beyond measure. You know what it is that I need for this day and for this season. You provide me with abundant blessings and gifts to meet each challenge with love and patience.

On the days when I can’t seem to get anything right…You are there, holding me gently.

On the days when I can’t stop comparing myself to those who are smarter, better, thinner, or just MORE… You are there, reminding me that I am your Beloved Daughter.

On the days when stress, fear, doubt, and worry threaten to stop me in my tracks… You are there, gently nudging me forward.

On the days when words don’t seem adequate to thank you, to praise you, to glorify Your name… You are there, understanding the prayers that spill from my heart.

Dear Lord, help me to listen to what it is that you ask of me today and in this season. Let me live and act with compassion and kindness. Help me to love boldly. Guide me in following the example of your Son, Jesus Christ, in all that I do and say.

AMEN.

Pray Where You Are

Prayer Therapy
For many years I’ve been collecting a book series on spirituality called “Elf-Help Books” by Abbey Press. The series contains over forty mini-books on a variety of topics, each one accompanied by charming illustrations by R.W. Alley. Titles include: Trust-in-God Therapy, Stress Therapy, Forgiveness Therapy, Keep Life Simple Therapy, Be–Good-To-Your-Marriage Therapy, and many more. The books are beautiful in their simplicity. 35 to 40 short statements to help you reflect on each topic. Click here for more information on how to order Elf-Help books.

One of my favorites is Prayer Therapy, written by Keith McClellan, O.S.B. In the foreword he writes: “Real prayer is organic—it grows out of your own life, personality, needs, and rhythms. Each day and every moment are filled with opportunities for prayer. If we seize these moments, we open ourselves to the greatest enrichment—and most effective therapy—possible. Prayer isn’t for specialists. Prayer is for you and for me.”

I love this idea that we all have access to a rich prayer life if we only embrace it. Prayer is not reserved for only the most holy. It does not take place only in churches. It does not have to consist of poetic words. Prayer is simply a connection to God in whatever form that may take for each one of us. As Fr. McClellan suggests: “Pray where you are. God is everywhere.” In line at the grocery store. In classrooms. On a busy street. Deep in the woods. High on the mountaintop. In the depths of the valley.

You can bring any emotion or thought to prayer. God loves you and knows you best, and He wants to hear it ALL. Bring your gratitude to God. Your sorrow. Your anger. Your confusion. There may be times when you can’t even find words for what you’re feeling. Let your sigh become a prayer. Or your tears. Or a shrug of your shoulders. Or a clenched and shaken fist. God knows what your heart is experiencing and is listening and loving you.

If you pray where you are often enough, you’ll find it becomes a part of you. A “second-nature” response to every situation. This living, ongoing conversation with God will enrich your life in countless ways. Answers will come. Peace will come. Contentment will remain.

Fr. McClellan closes his book with this beautiful thought: “To pray is to breathe. Do it deeply and you will be filled with life.” AMEN!


 

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!

Images of God

God is Light
Loving God, be my LIGHT
Source of my innermost being
Illuminating my path
Dispelling the darkness
Shining in the faces of the least of my brothers and sisters

Loving God, be my SHEPHERD
Bringing me to safety
Guiding me and leading me home
Whether one or one hundred
I am found

Loving God, be my ROCK
Safety and permanence
Ancient presence
Providing stability to cling to when the world tilts and swirls
You cannot be moved

Loving God, be my LIVING WATER
Refreshing streams flowing over dry, cracked earth
Quenching my thirst when I wander through the desert
Washing me clean with gentle mercy
The source of life in You

AMEN.

A Breathing Prayer

dandelion-22399_1280
I breathe.

Lord God, You gave me the breath of life
A Divine Spark moving within
Dawning awareness that I am Your beloved child

I Breathe deeply.

ImmanuelYou are with me
Abiding in me and around me and through me
Surrounding me with extravagant love and mercy

I breathe slowly.

Jesus, You are my Cornerstone
A firm foundation to cling to when worry and fear
Threaten to steal the breath from my body

I breathe in and out.

I am drawn into Your presence, Loving God
Welling up with peace, love, and grace
Until You are ALL in ALL

I breathe in Your Holy Presence.

AMEN.


 

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