Encountering God Within

silhouette prayer

With churches closing all over the world due to the spread of COVID-19, many of us are being kept away from our parishes, our beloved retreat centers, or other places of prayer. It’s easy to feel closed off from God during this time. 

If we can’t get in…how can we encounter God?

We are used to seeking God outside of ourselves, but now we must find God in our own hearts. This time of social distancing requires us – even encourages us – to look deep within, for the Holy One dwelling inside of us. Distractions of the outside world are greatly reduced as we embrace stillness and quiet. We take solace in nature. In God’s beauty. In the knowledge that we can rest in God when we feel overwhelmed with worry, sadness, or exhaustion.

Jesus says: “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (John 15:5).  What does it mean, to have Christ remain in us? It means that Jesus is not someone who exists outside of us. He dwells within us, a constant presence and source of hope. 

In Richard Rohr’s meditation “God is Everywhere” he states: “The pinnacle of prayer is reached when we can trust that we are constantly in the presence of God. We cannot not be in the presence of God!” Our churches may be closed, but we – the children of God – are open to God’s great love. We are open to pray for one another and our world. We are open to God’s gift of grace. Amen!

Please share your thoughts below. How are you keeping your faith life alive during this time of church closings?

A Prayer of Receiving

Winter sun

We pray in wonder and awe for Creation, your ancient gift of grace. You made the sun and moon, the land and seas, and all the creatures of the earth. You created us in your own image as your beloved sons and daughters. Today we reflect on your gift of precious life here on earth.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We pray in wonder and awe for your gift of grace—fulfilled in your Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered death on a cross that we might live. In mercy, you gave us your Son to pay ransom for all our sins. Today we reflect on your gift of everlasting life.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We pray in thanksgiving for the blessings you grant us. Your grace is not something we must earn or deserve. It is a gift freely given. We pray in thanksgiving for your extravagant love. Like the compassionate father, you welcome us home when we are lost.  Your redeeming grace rescues us from a life of darkness.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We promise to seek you in sanctuary. In the quiet stillness, we hear you speak to us. In your loving embrace, we are restored and nourished. We promise to seek you in the everyday moments of ordinary life. To pray where we are and invite you into each moment. Through this ongoing conversation with you we receive peace and contentment.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

Give us new eyes to see the beauty of God’s creation, new ears to listen for God’s whispers, and a new outlook to experience the transforming power of your love.

AMEN.

A Prayer of Emptying

Snow on branch

Lord, I bring to you all that is on my plate.  The noise, the clutter, the chaos, and the distractions.  Help me to empty myself so that I may see you, hear you, and feel your presence.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life. Empty the interior space of my soul that I may receive you and discover who I truly am.

Lord, I bring to you my fears and worries…all the things that are so heavy and hard to carry. I place them into your hands.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life.  I place my trust in you. I place my faith in you. I place my life in you.

Lord, I bring to you my burdens. Things that I cannot control weigh me down like a heavy rock.  On the days that I am tired, stressed, and weary, I know that you walk with me.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life.  I know that you are my rock—my cornerstone—and I can find rest in you.

AMEN.

 

Photo by Roman Trofimiuk on Unsplash

Practicing Spirit-Care

Spirit Care blog post

Do a Google search on “self-care” and you’ll come up with over two billion hits. It’s a popular buzzword these days, and I’ve seen it described in lots of different ways in countless blogs, websites, and articles. According to the dictionary: “Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

Most often self-care is recommended for people who spend the majority of their time taking care of others. Teachers, nurses, social workers, health care aids, and those who work in caring ministries. The truth is, we can all benefit from self-care, but many of us are reluctant to do so. We think of it as a luxury. Something we don’t have time for. Some of us even feel that self-care is selfish. There are too many people that need me! How can I take time away from my important work to do something for myself? 

What if instead of calling it self-care, you called it spirit-care. Does it seem more worthwhile? Isn’t it important to care for your spirit as a beloved child of God? Wouldn’t God want that for you?  

Would it make you feel better to realize that this was something Jesus often did? Even though he had incredibly important work to do during the three short years of his ministry, Jesus recognized when he needed to pause, to step away and take time to restore himself. He knew that if he was going to be able to do God’s will, he needed to be able to listen, pray, and to spend time alone with God.

  • From Luke 6:12 – One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
  • From Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (He did this after spending the night before healing many sick and driving out demons.)
  • From Luke 5:15-16 – Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
  • From Matthew 14:23 – After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. (He did this after feeding the crowd of 5,000.)

I love the fact that through his own actions, Jesus himself gives us permission to retreat. And that has long been my favorite method of spirit-care. I’ve often heard it described as a “sacred pause.” From the very first retreat I attendeda five-day silent retreat when I was in collegeI was amazed by how life-changing it could be to press pause on my busy life in order to focus on uninterrupted time with God. The importance of retreats became the hallmark of my ministry: Hearing God’s Whisper. Every blog entry that I post is meant to encourage a mini-retreat for the person reading it.

I think some people struggle with the idea of self-care because it seems too much like pampering…this sense that you’re doing something that completely and only benefits you, as if you are more important than anyone else. But when you retreat, you aren’t alone. You’re spending this time with your Creator. Spirit-care is a partnership. Spirit-care renews us so we can continue our important work of caring for others. Your spirit needs to be filled up from the inside out. Cars can’t run on empty. Watering cans can’t give life to plants if they’re empty. 

You need to be filled up before you can be poured out.

In the words of Christian writer Olivia Spears: “When it comes to things we care about like our family and our work, none of us aim to give the very last leftover bits of ourselves. Rather, we desire to give the very best of ourselves. So when we take care of ourselves, we are filled up, renewed, and restored so we can offer the Lord and the people around us the very best of who we are.”

Spirit-care can be relaxing, peaceful and restorative. It can be deep, wild, and creative. It is different for each person. But it doesn’t just happen. Remember…the dictionary describes it as taking an “active role.”  I like to think of it as a practice. Something you work on over time, because you value yourself. Because you believe that you are worth it, and the work you do needs the very best of you.

My prayer for you is that you will take time (or make time) to retreat. Whether it’s a weekend away or 10 minutes of deep breathing…give yourself that gift. Care for your spirit the way you care so beautifully for the people in your life.

Near or Far

foggy morning

There are times when I see you through a thick fog.
My eyes squint and strain…but you don’t take shape.
I want to BELIEVE you are near
But you seem far away.

There are days when I hear you through a pounding rain or a crashing sea.
I lean towards you…but your voice is faint.
I must HOPE you are near
But you sound far away.

There are moments when I feel you through a crowd,
They press and pull on me from every direction.
Feeling off balance and unsteady…I don’t know how or where to reach for you.
I need to TRUST you are near
But you feel far away.

Loving God,
Emerge from the fog
Sing through the storm
Touch my heart through the chaos
I will turn my eyes and ears – my whole being – towards you. 

The fog still surrounds me, the waves crash, and the crowd presses.
But I am safe and strong – with YOU.
I can sweep the fog away. I can swallow the rain. I can embrace the crowd.

You are near… you are HERE, always.

AMEN.

Lost and Found

compass

Loving God, bless the times when I am a seeker. Forever seeking to know You more deeply. Traveling to all places and all times to discover You in our midst. I seek those thin places where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and I can gaze upon Your face.

Loving God, bless the times when I grow weary of seeking. When I simply want to be found. Come and seek me wherever I am, whatever I may be doing. When You are part of the ordinary moments of my day…then I am home.

Loving God, whether I am seeking or sought, lost or found…I praise You in all things. Your love is mighty and good. Your power is everlasting.

AMEN.

A Prayer for the Present Moment

water lily

Loving God, I come to you as I am,
Rushed and frazzled, electricity buzzing from my fingertips,
Or sluggish, plodding through the mud, footsteps heavy and slow.
Whatever my pace, I have arrived at this precise moment with you.

Lord Jesus, I rest in the knowledge that you will meet me here,
At the crossroads of sorrow and joy,
Of confusion and clarity,
Of stress and serenity.

Heavenly Father, help me to pause.
To listen, and pray, and sit in the quiet
With you, my song blending with yours
In beautiful harmony

God of love, I pray for the inspiration to put away my own plans,
And discover what you have in mind for me
I am listening, I am here with you.
I will be present.
I will just BE.

 

 

Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash

Let God Shine Through You

John 3 30

John the Baptist had no problems being the “guy behind the guy.”

In the region of Judea—where Jesus was baptizing people—John was nearby, also performing baptisms. John’s followers began to worry that Jesus’ ministry was starting to eclipse John’s. They approached John with concern, jealousy and maybe a little resentment. “Master, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River—the one you said was the Messiah—he is baptizing too, and everybody is going over there instead of coming here to us.” (John 3:26)

John reminds his disciples that he is not the One. “You yourselves know how plainly I told you that I am not the Messiah. I am here to prepare the way for him—that is all.” (John 3:28) He compares himself to the best man at a wedding, waiting for the groom to arrive, and rejoicing when he does. And then he speaks these beautifully humble words about Jesus:

“He must become greater. I must become less.” (John 3:30)

John knew his ministry wasn’t to testify to his own greatness or his special role in the story of redemption. It was to introduce Jesus. To step aside and let the story continue. John was there to be a witness to Christ.

What better time than the season of Lent to let God become greater in our lives?

How can we live out these words of John the Baptist and follow his example? What does this “becoming less” look like in our daily lives?

STEP ONE: Believe in God’s Love
Truly believe that God loves you and has a plan for your life. This is where you must begin, for if you can’t see God at work in your life, you’ll be stuck in a world of self doubt and ego-driven insecurity. Wake up every morning saying: “I was created to be loved by God.” This is the profound truth that grounds us in all that we do…the stunning reminder that we are loved unconditionally by God.

STEP TWO: Empty Yourself
John the Baptist’s disciples were caught up in feelings of envy and arrogance. This focus blocked them from recognizing the truth that John was there to testify. When we allow ourselves to be filled up with negative attitudes that don’t serve us, we leave little room for Jesus. If we empty ourselves of self-serving junk—insecurity, envy, selfishness—we create space for Jesus to enter and dwell in our hearts.

STEP THREE: Practice Gratitude
The act of becoming less doesn’t mean denying the core of who you are, or downplaying your gifts or talents. Quite the opposite! Recognize that everything wonderful about you came from your Creator. Every time you feel good about something you did or accomplished, take a moment to thank God for making you exactly the way that you are.

STEP FOUR: Let God Shine Through You
Be the “guy behind the guy.” Let God shine through you. Each day, carefully examine your words, your actions, and your motivations to make sure they reflect God’s love. Instead of focusing on your own goals for the day, focus on your interactions with others. Make it your mission to let others see in you the shining reflection of Christ’s light.

As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) Keep God at the center of all you do this Lenten season. Seek out the good for others before your own. Invite Jesus into all your daily interactions and see how the experience is transformed.

Wishing you a blessed and holy Lent!

 

 

Background Photo by Meiying Ng 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!