How Do You Talk to God?

A few years ago I went on a weekend retreat with my college roommate. We hadn’t seen each other in a very long time, and we were both so excited to reconnect and catch up. In the days leading up to the retreat, we planned out our late night chats, making lists of topics we needed to discuss. Knowing it would probably be another few years before we were together again, we didn’t want to leave anything out.

It made me think about the ways in which this kind of deep and close connection resembled my relationship with God. I have a dear friend who says: “I talk to God all the time, about any little thing.” It sounds so simple and inviting…and easy. Just talk to God. In doing this we are sharing our lives with God. Sometimes we feel God inviting us into relationship. Other times, we invite God in. It’s a give and take that changes based on our everyday experiences of our faith.

In the words of David L. Fleming, SJ, “Prayer is a natural outcome of this close relationship. It is not something mysterious or esoteric or something that we learn how to do in school. Prayer is conversation. If we can talk, we can pray. Of course we can learn to pray better, just as we can learn to be better conversationalists. The essential activity of prayer springs naturally from our humanity. It is a matter of conversing with a very good friend.”

If you’re looking to improve your “conversation skills” with God, I would recommend the following three steps:

Be yourself! Don’t try to take on a formal “persona” or a particular voice when talking to God. Just talk in a way that feels comfortable to you. I gave the example of the easy flow of conversation with my college roommate because that’s exactly how you should talk to God. Make a list of topics if that’s helpful. Share with God what’s on your mind and in your heart, knowing that God loves you and is waiting to hear from you!

Talk to God about everything. For the longest time I struggled with the idea that God cared about my ordinary life. I pictured God brushing aside my trivial problems or my “silly” worries. God had far more important things to do than to listen to my humdrum stories. I eventually realized this couldn’t be further from the truth! God cares about EVERYTHING we do, think, wonder, doubt, and fear. There is truly nothing that we can’t bring to God.

Examine the areas of your life that you tend to hold back from God. Ask yourself why you do this. Is there a particular hurt or wound that you haven’t been able to bring to God? Are you hiding from God for fear of being rejected? Ponder the gift of God’s unconditional love and mercy. There is no such thing as being rejected by God. Open up your heart to God and see what happens.

In his book, Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer, Max Lucado puts it so beautifully:

“God will teach you to pray. We speak, He listens. He speaks, we listen. This is prayer in its purest form. God changes His people through such moments.”

Talking to God in conversation will help you grow in your faith. It will help you feel more connected to God. When you create a habit of talking to God, you’ll hear God answering you. You’ll be inspired to take action in living out your faith. You will always have a place of deep truth to turn to during difficult times. 

I encourage you to spend some time this week talking to God just like you would talk to a close friend. Do this every day for a few weeks and see how your relationship with God changes. Return to this blog post and share your experience in the comments section below!

Message in a Bottle

Seashells on beach

A friend of mine describes Cape Cod as her “happy place.” Memories of fun and relaxing summer vacations bring her a sense of peace she can’t find anywhere else. She often remarked that a week every summer was not enough time to capture that feeling and tide her over for the remaining 51 weeks. One day at a souvenir shop, she bought a fancy glass bottle with the words “Cape Cod Air” painted on the side. When she was back home—feeling stressed, anxious, or worried—she would uncork the bottle and take a quick whiff, feeling the tension immediately leave her body. Now…my friend is not naive. She knew it was impossible to actually trap Cape Cod air in a bottle and transport it home. But the ritual of holding the bottle in her hand, taking her mind back to peaceful times, and imagining that she was there again…it worked.

I’m a firm believer in the power of symbol and ritual in our spiritual lives. Using the five senses to create a connection to the Divine can have an amazing effect on our state of mind and our emotional well being. Many church services are filled with symbols and rituals to help us experience God in our midst. A document called “People of Ritual” by the Brisbane Catholic Education Offices states, “All Catholic ritual is founded on the belief that God is present and revealed in the world and, in a particular and powerful way, through Jesus. This means that God is revealed and encountered in the real and tangible moments of everyday life.”

So many of us are still cut off from our places of worship where we normally experience the rituals that bring us close to God. But that doesn’t mean we have to live without them. Most of what I write about spirituality focuses on finding God in ordinary moments, every day experiences, and common objects. We can create our own symbols and rituals to remind us that God is present and all around us. If you learn to look for God in the everyday events of your life, you’ll realize that you can never be separated from God, no matter what might be happening in the world.

Having just spent four glorious days on Cape Cod with my family, I took my friend’s advice and decided to create my own “bottle” of peace and calm. I spent my vacation collecting shells from the beach, and on the morning we left, I scooped up a few handfuls of soft white sand into a plastic bag. When I got home, I spent a quiet afternoon, painting some of the shells and layering the sand and shells into a glass bottle. I typed up the following quote on a little piece of paper and rolled it up to place in the bottle: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Message in a Bottle

I will use my “message in a bottle” to remind me that God is stronger than any of my fears. That I am not alone in my worries. That I have the peace of Christ to carry me through. The bottle now sits on my desk where it can be a constant symbol of God’s presence in my life.

I encourage you to create your own symbol or ritual to remind you of these same truths. You don’t have to be an artist. Fill a bottle or a shoe box with items that make you feel connected to God. A pressed flower. A treasured photograph. A prayer book. A piece of sea glass. Anything that helps you remember that God is present in the “real and tangible moments of everyday life.” Create a mini-chapel in a corner of your house where you can place these objects and look at them often. Turn to these symbols whenever you’re feeling “troubled” and “afraid” and be reminded of God’s overwhelming presence in our lives. We are surrounded by the Divine every day and in every way.

AMEN!

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

The Watering Can

Watering can

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first came to the United States months ago, how much time have you spent caring for others? Raise your hand if you’re doing (or have done) any of the following:

  • Working through the shutdown as an essential healthcare, transportation, grocery, or sanitation worker
  • Buying groceries for an elderly parent, relative, or neighbor
  • Running errands for someone who is under quarantine
  • Helping your children navigate online learning when schools were shut down this spring
  • Putting in long hours figuring out how to provide online learning to your students
  • Cooking meals around the clock for a house full of family stuck at home
  • Volunteering for local social services such as food banks, shelters, etc.
  • Showing up to march in protest for the equal rights of your black brothers and sisters
  • Sewing masks or collecting PPE to support your local hospitals or nursing homes
  • Providing connection and care to those who are lonely and isolated in quarantine
  • Talking to friends, children, or siblings who are scared and anxious and trying to help them work through their fears

Let me take a moment to tell you that you are wonderful! You are doing God’s work in caring for others during a time of crisis, and your work is appreciated. Today I would like you to reflect on this important question: How much of yourself are you giving away? Is this constant taking care of others taking its toll on your spirit? You can’t become so busy caring for others that your spiritual life suffers. Your relationship with God is the foundation that supports everything else. You can’t be the best YOU without it!

Think of yourself as a watering can. Every time you care for someone, you pour out a little bit of water to nurture them. What happens when the watering can is empty? What are you doing to refill it? Are you taking time to rest? Are you taking time to sit in the stillness and feel the presence of God all around you? Are you praying, meditating, taking long walks in nature, playing your favorite spiritual music, or finding other ways to connect with God?

Re-filling your watering can has to be a commitment. You can’t wait around for the time to present itself. With the state the world is in right now, it might not happen anytime soon. The work of caring for others never ends. There’s always one more thing you can do. Let it be a gift you give to yourself—making the conscious decision to stop and fill up your watering can in whatever way works best for you.

The good news is, you don’t have to do this alone. I’m sure you have someone in your life —a friend or family member—that you can always count on to lift your spirits. No matter how hard your day is, how tired or stressed you are, when you’re with that person, they make you feel good. That’s what God can and should be for you when your watering can is empty. Allow yourself to rest in God. To be refreshed by the peace and joy that can only come from God.

Then you will be ready to be poured out once again.

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 Road Map to Balance

Stack of stones

Are you able to recognize when your life is out of balance? What does it mean…and what does it look like?

It often happens gradually and most of the time we are so caught up in the daily-ness of life, that it wouldn’t even occur to us that we might be out of balance. We work like crazy, pushing ourselves to the limit. We don’t realize that our minds are burned out, our bodies are worn out, and our spirits are wrung out. 

God created us to live a life of balance.

BALANCE OF MIND
A friend of mine told a story of a particularly busy time of working long hours for weeks on end because her job required it. She gave herself no breaks and took no time to rest her mind or recharge her batteries. She came home from work one night and her husband offered to pick up dinner. “What would you like?” he asked her. “Choose your favorite takeout restaurant and I’ll go get us something to eat.”  My friend had stretched herself so thin that she couldn’t even make that simple decision. Her brain just couldn’t do it. On the verge of tears she looked at her husband and said: “You know what I like. Can’t you just choose something?” This was a moment of a life out of balance.

BALANCE OF BODY
When your body is out of balance, you will eventually figure it out, too. Lack of sleep catches up with you. Poor nutrition can zap you of energy. Not drinking enough water can lead to headaches and even dizziness. And this idea of balance can go the other way too. Exercise and healthy eating can become a preoccupation. I’ve seen athletes push themselves to the point of injury because they didn’t pay attention to the signs from their own bodies.

BALANCE OF SPIRIT
When our spirit is out of balance, we tend to overly focus on one emotion or feeling—usually those emotions that do not bring us joy. We fixate on bitterness over love. Guilt over acceptance. Deficit over abundance. Fear over faith. The backdrop of our spiritual life can also fall out of balance. Solitude can lead to loneliness. Crowds can become overwhelming. If we put all our focus on doing one thing, our spiritual life will feel off kilter. Faith calls for us to live through prayer and action. Through time alone with our Creator and time spent helping our brothers and sisters.

God desires us to live a life of balance.  

Once we discover that we are OUT of balance, how do we get back on track? How do we achieve this balance in our lives? After you finish reading this blog post, take out a piece of paper and write down the following four questions:

  • What is important in my life?
  • What are some things I absolutely need in life to feel happy?
  • What brings meaning to my life?
  • What makes me feel inspired?

Over the next few days, weeks, or even months, spend some time pondering your answers to these questions. Write them down so you can refer back to them. This is your road map to balance. Anything you do that brings you closer to the things you’ve written will center you. Anything you do that drives you further away from these things requires further examination. 

Some of it may be necessary. We have obligations in life that bring stress and exhaustion and we can’t change it. But we CAN make smaller changes to weed out some things that are not important. To put less focus on the things we don’t truly need. To diminish that which does not bring meaning to our lives. And to lean into that which inspires us.

The changes might be internal. (Gently changing our thoughts.) They may be external. (Seeking out friends who help us achieve this balance.) They may be faith-based. (Asking God in prayer to help us stick to the things that really matter.) It’s an evolving, constantly changing process. We move toward balance, we fall out of balance, we move back again. But we know that in this journey towards balance, God is with us every teetering and steady step of the way.

Let’s learn from each other! Share your thoughts on achieving balance in the comments below.

 

Photo by Jeremy Thomas 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.