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Now that the world is opening up again….

6.21.21

Now that the world is opening up again after a year of being sequestered in our homes with our immediate families, we need to take the time to acknowledge the lessons that the COVID-19 has raised in us about our country, about our lives as they were before the pandemic so changed our lives.

 

On the national level, we need to acknowledge that our system has created masses of poor people who have little access to health care, good education and good jobs. So many of the poor are our ‘essential workers,’ but they get little money and most likely no benefits for working these difficult, exposed-to-everything kind of jobs. While our CEO’s salaries have gone up 1.000 percent since the 1970’s, these essential workers’ wages have only increased 11.5 percent during the same time period.

 

Health care is so expensive for our poorer neighbors that they mostly don’t even try and since rural hospitals have been closing, the cost of getting to a hospital may be prohibitive or not even possible.

 

Racism is still rampant at all levels of our national functioning. When will we live as if our motto is true: “All men are created equal.”

 

And what am I called by God to do about these areas of our lives together?

 

On a personal level, COVID-19 has raised many questions about our work, our lives and how we really want to live. If we take the time to really assess what works for us, and forget the culture’s standards for how we are supposed to live, we have a chance to set goals for ourselves that really suit us, rather than just responding to the cultural norms. Do we really need all the material goods our ads say we should buy? Do we really need to stay in jobs that are not fulfilling to us? What is it that I/we really want to do with our lives? With our family?

 

These questions may not sound like a spiritual assessment, but they point to the real questions:

What do I really want to do with my life?

What is fulfilling to me at the deepest level of who I was created to be?

What brings me joy and real satisfaction rather than momentary happiness that

vanishes the moment I think of the next thing on my list to acquire?

And most important of all,

What way of life is God asking of me, suggesting to me, leading me to?

 

As we take this opportunity to assess the ground of our being, thanks to COVID-19, we have a chance to live full, productive, fulfilling, joy-filled, purposeful lives. And that is what God is now calling us to do.

Following God’s Directions

5.17.21  The most important part of our journey in Christ is to be able to identity God’s voice as He speaks to us in our minds. This is so difficult, because our own interior voices are so loud and persistent that they can easily drown out God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). And even if we do hear that voice, God’s suggestions to us are often so unheard of in our own thoughts that we are apt to answer, “I can’t do that!” and forget that it ever happened.

 

So how do we learn to entertain God’s thoughts in our minds? To my mind there are two ways that work well. The first is to do lectio divina with short Bible passages. For instance, if we were to take the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-8, we would read it through slowly three times with a good pause in between each reading. At each pause, we would look for any phrase or word that seemed to be highlighted in us and think about its importance is to us. Lectio is a way of reading the Bible to see what God is saying to us this very day in this passage.

 

A second way is to meditate in silence or to do Centering Prayer. The biggest obstacle to sitting these ways in silence is that it is so hard to sit quietly and listen to our own thoughts. The best way to overcome this reluctance in us is to become an observer of our thoughts. As an observer we are acknowledging our thinking, but refusing to engage emotionally with what the thoughts are telling us. When we can observe them, they no longer upset us or make us afraid or judgmental of ourselves.

 

The repetitive thinking in our minds is a product of our early childhood when we had trouble following our parents wishes for us. Usually formed by the time we are six, before our reasoning brains can kick in, these thoughts are trying to make us into the perfect people we think our parents wanted us to be. And then as we grow up, any abuse or trauma or alienation or experiences in school and the culture just seem to make these early thoughts stronger. Now as adults, we can be driven by our own criticisms of how we look or what we are doing or saying. My favorite example from my childhood is that my parents thought being on time was the most important thing we could do in every situation. Even today, many decades later, I can still feel pressured to be on time, anxious even though I know that I’ll be 10 minutes early. Now I just relax, instead of succumbing to the pressure within me. And that’s just one example.

 

To become an observer of our thoughts means that we step back emotionally from them and discover the source of many of them. In the example above, it was clearly my parents who were the source. My parents and my Aunt Grace who could not talk on the phone longer than three minutes no matter who was paying were the source of much of my thoughts about spending money—they had all lived through two world wars and the depression. Many of my thoughts also come from our culture which highly values individualism and attaining the goals we set for ourselves–what our culture extols in its citizenry.

 

The more we can step back from our thinking and see the sources of it, the more we become just an observer of the thoughts. We no longer have to fight them or push them away or be upset by them. They are just a part of us. I had hoped that observing them would make them go away, but I think that they stay with us for all our days. The important thing about these old thoughts is that they don’t have to rule us. We can just be like this: “Oh, fear, old friend, there you are again.” And we do not have to be afraid.

 

I want to highly recommend a book that my son, Peter, who is a therapist, gave me last Christmas. It’s called “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living.”[1] I just finished it. The author, Russ Harris, gives many exercises that help us step back from the pressure of our thoughts and then shows us how to lead a meaningful, rich life. If you are interested in stepping away from the influence that your thoughts picked up in childhood have on your life, and are looking to live as fulfilling a life as you can, this book will help.

 

Maybe you can see the connection to what I wrote last month about the lens through which we see life. So much of our lens has been formed by these old thoughts, but as we move towards disengaging with them, our lens gets clearer and clearer. And we can see ourselves and our lives with more clarity and less with our conditioned thinking. So we become freer and freer to just be the persons that God designed us to be. And think about how much lighter and freer we will feel without all those old burdens!

 

Not only can we sit in silence and not be bothered by the thoughts which still try to engage us, but we can begin to hear God’s “gentle whisper” as the NIV version of 1 Kings 19:12 puts it. Sometimes there is a nudge to go home in another direction or to do “this” next. Sometimes it’s a thought that is loud and clear in our minds, like this one—one of the first I ever heard from God: “I have an agenda for my life.” At the time I didn’t know who the “I” was who had that thought, much less what the agenda was for me. But, after thinking about it, I began to ask another question each time something came up: “What do I really want to do?” instead of “What should I be doing?”

 

Sometimes God can speak through a friend or another person who says, “You should read this book” or other suggestion. Then there are the thoughts that come with lectio divina. Here’s another thought that sounded loud and clear in my mind: “How can I say I love God if I can’t love my mother?” That led me on a two-year search to undo my teen-ager’s rebellion(in my 40’s!) against my mother; I was not successful. At the end of that time, on a railroad platform in Wilmington DE where she lived, He surrounded us with a cloud of love (my experience of it) and transformed our relationship.

 

Probably the biggest help God has been to me was when my husband had lymphoma, was treated for it, declared cancer-free, and then, three months later he was back in the hospital with the cancer raging. I was devastated; all I wanted was for him to be well, for all this to go away. By three o’clock in the afternoon I would wish the day were over and I could crawl into bed and forget all that was happening. At that time, I heard this: “If I can just hold all possible outcomes equally, well then…..” I was already practiced in surrendering to His messages, at least about small things, so I worked at holding all possible outcomes equally. As soon as I could do that, I could see that there were many different outcomes, only one of which meant that he would die. With that realization He gave me a gift of faith that felt like I was standing steadily on a rock of faith. As the disease progressed, I was able to support my husband, our adult children, and our friends. I was at peace.

 

Even as we called in hospice, I was still thinking: “the possibilities are fewer, but it still doesn’t mean that he will die.” Two and a half months after I heard God’s voice, he died. And after his memorial service, I dropped into my grief. But I never resented his death, only tried to grieve and to adapt to it. I was already two years into a training program for spiritual directors from which I had taken a leave of absence when Hank got sick. That training program became the basis for a whole new life for me that culminated in my moving to Charlotte NC, beginning a writing career and living close to my grandchildren.

 

My experience of following all the suggestions that God gives me is this: I live in peace with who I am and what I am to do and with what is happening in my life. I am dedicated to the work He has given me to do. At a time when most people are retired and thinking about their next trip, I am writing a weekly blog and, now my fifth book on leading a spiritual life in Christ. I had no idea in my life that I would be a writer, much less have a career at the end of my life. But, God, who blesses us all, had this in store for me long before I knew it. He has similar plans for you, based on who He created you to be. Follow His guidance! You’ll be amazed!

[1] The book was published in Boulder CO by Trumpeter Books in 2008.

The Lens Through Which We See Life

The lens through which we see life is formed early in our lives. We pick up the attitudes of our parents and all they try to teach us. We absorb the cultural goals for us. We see through the attitudes of our peers in school and whether we are accepted or not. The pain and suffering in our lives also form the lens through which we see life. As we grown into adulthood, all these experiences solidify our own personal lens through which we see and assess and judge and welcome or push away everything that happens to us. Our personal lens can greatly restrict how we see others, affect what we consent to or not, color the truth to how we want it to be and so much more.

 

Our self-image is often formed through the reactions and opinions of others about us, especially our parents. We learn to be impatient with how we are and how we do things. We wish we were like someone else. Or that we could do or be in another way. This is probably the hardest part of our lens to overcome.

 

Our inability to see what is real and true is probably the biggest effect our personal lens has on our life. We celebrate those who agree with us and feel confident in our opinions when others share them. We avoid or ignore those who don’t agree with us. And there we are safely encircled and confident that we are right. The facts don’t matter as much as our attitudes and opinions do. So we can live in a state of unreality.

 

 

We can form opinions about other people just by the way they dress or their race or other superficial means without getting to know who they really are. We can miss the richness of knowing a lot of different kinds of people, whether they agree with us or not, and fail to find out maybe why their lens is so different from ours. Our lens can blind us to so many things. I was talking to a woman the other day whose husband was regretting that he had never studied engineering. And she said to him, “Why don’t you go back to school?” And he responded,” It’s too late, I’m just turning 40.” His lens on life was telling him that he should ignore a desire he had had for a long time, because it was too late.

 

And that’s where our personal lenses can dampen our natural talents and abilities; we can choose the “prevailing wisdom” instead of something that is so natural to us. We dampen our own desires to fit into the cultural norm. And we can’t imagine what joy there would be when we are doing things that totally serve our own inclinations. We choose what is safe and acceptable, instead of what is most natural to us.

 

As followers of Jesus, we are to be growing into our created selves, into what God created us to be and to do, as we grow into our love for Him. We are to be developing a lens on the world and the people in it that is true and embracing, forgiving and merciful, just like Jesus’s lens on us. If we are still thinking the way we have always thought and doing what we’ve always done, we are not following Jesus. It is in our interactions with Him and His suggestions to us that we follow, that we begin to see the limitations of our personal lenses, of the culture we grew up in, of our family’s attitudes and points of view, which have limited who we are and who we can be. Jesus will reveal our truer selves and our purpose in life and how we are to accomplish it. And in His healing and transformation that takes place in us, we begin to experience real joy as we express who we really are, not the momentary happiness that our culture would have us seek in material things.

 

As our lens grows and expands to see things in truth and love, then we are seeing as Jesus sees. We are seeing other people for who they are and what each has to offer. We no longer live in judgment of others. We are seeing the way the world is and the way God wants it to be. We are seeing our purpose and how we are to achieve it. And we are living in peace and joy and love, because we are no longer attached to the world’s ways. Thanks be to God!

Leaving Your Negative Self-Image

3.15.21

 

We absorb so much from our culture and our families. I’ve read that before the age of six, we have absorbed what our parents are trying to teach us. Then, add to those instructions any abuse or trauma or illness or suffering in the young child and the self-image of the child is set in those early years. Our guilt and shame from these early years are hidden from us. Our tears and grief get buried deep within us. All of these early events form our self-image and the lens through which we view ourselves and others and God. For myself, the hell-fire-and-damnation church of my life up to the age of thirteen, led me to fear God above all, and to look at myself with doubt and fear, knowing I would never feel safe and accepted. It took years for me to step back from the effects of this church and to see that its teachings had nothing to do with me, but it was a long journey to get free of the capricious and vengeful God.

 

Fortunately, God was right there with me, guiding me, leading me, even when I was totally unaware of His presence. Eventually, I came to see that there were many different interpretations of the Bible passages and that I could come to love a wholly different kind of God—one of love and forgiveness–from the one I had been stained with. Eventually, I gave my life to Christ and since then, much has been done to repair my self-image and how I treat and think of myself and others. Much has been healed in me and today I live my life in gratitude for God in my life and I am at peace, no matter what happens to me.

 

What saved me? It was becoming an observer of my thoughts—stepping way back from their impact on my life, so that I could see the source of that repetitive programming in my mind—the “shoulds,” the “ought-tos,” and the “have-tos.” At first it was difficult to sit with my thoughts in the quiet. I wanted to run from what they were saying(and had been saying since I was very young) about me. But I realized the necessity of sitting in the quiet and could begin to sit and think about the thoughts that drove me crazy before. I could identify the source of each one after a while: my Dad for any impatience, my Mom and Dad for being on time, my Aunt Grace for not spending any money unless you had to, and so many more. As an observer, I could see that they had been with me all my life, “old friends” in a strange way. But I no longer was upset about them, nor did I do what they were trying to get me to do.

 

I had hoped that they would go away over time now that I could just observe them, but not involved with them emotionally. But they stayed. Now I just smile at them when they occur and I think that they will continue until the day I die.

 

I am able to sit in the quiet no matter what I am thinking. Those old thoughts are pretty loud in my mind, but I have come to know the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV) of God that resides in me beneath all the clamor of these learned responses to life. Now I just listen to God and willingly do what He suggests. And my life is full of purpose and joy and fulfillment as I walk through life totally accompanied by God. It is a miracle, given where I started from. A blessing. And grace.

 

You, too, can walk away from the self-image that these early experiences froze in you. Try it out. Write down the “shoulds,” etc. in your life and think about the source of each one. Step back from them and see what anxiety or fear or anger they produce in you when they come to you loud and clear. See them as old friends, but no longer formative of who you are, and watch God step in with His “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12 NIV).

 

Then continuing the quiet, listen for the soft and gentle voice of God: suggestions not harsh law, guidance not “have tos,” love and forgiveness not orders from headquarters. Then follow those suggestions and see where He leads you. You’ll go deeper and deeper into the self that He created you to be, and you will feel more and more fulfilled and loved and forgiven! It’s an amazing outcome of just being still. Thanks be to God!

 

Prayer

2.22.21  Prayer

 

Prayer is a broad spectrum of practices that keep us in touch with God. From memorized prayers like the Lord’s Prayer to any dialogue with God to silence in His presence, the ways of prayer are varied and rich. Prayer is asking God for help and healing for ourselves and others. It is lifting up our sins to God and asking for forgiveness. It is asking God what He has in store for us this day. It is listening to God for what He is saying to us in this Bible passage today. It is hearing from the Holy Spirit what God wants us to do now, with this person. Prayer is the whole gamut of the relationship we have with God.

 

It includes acknowledging His grace and presence. It is gratitude for all that the Lord does for us. Prayer is the way of walking in God’s presence every day and in every way.

 

The one kind of prayer that doesn’t come easily to us is the prayer of silence, of contemplation. Years ago, when I first tried to meditate, after a few minutes of listening to the mumblings of my mind, I would run from the chair as fast as I could. A few months later, acknowledging that this was an important practice for me to learn, I began to be able to sit with my thoughts quietly and without running away. How did I do that? I learned how to step back from being engaged with them and letting them upset me or make me anxious–how to become an observer of my thoughts.

 

What thoughts arose in me? All the shoulds! But when I began to step back from their influence on me, I could see the source of each thought and acknowledge the person(s) who taught me how to think like that. From my parents, the major lesson was to be on time, if not early for everything. From my parents and my Aunt Grace, don’t spend any money that you don’t have to. From my Mom, have poise in every situation. And so on. There were also all the society’s rules of behavior and, mainly, conforming to society’s goals for me. As an observer I could look on all these early influences on my life with distance and interest, rather than nervousness and upset.

 

As an observer of these thoughts, I was able to sit in peace, to not let them distract me. For many years I sat in meditation or Centering Prayer for an hour each day. The more I was silent, the more I could hear God’s “still, small voice” [1 Kings 19:12] throughout my days. And then I was able to surrender to whatever He was telling me. My spiritual practices evolve over time, so right now I am no longer meditating daily. I keep a daily gratitude journal at night and read the passages from ”Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young and “Face-to-Face with a Holy God” by Kay Arthur and Pete De Lacy on Isaiah in the mornings. In addition, I have followed two journaling guides that I produced, one on the Two Great Commandments and the other on the Beatitudes. These practices keep my life centered on God and aware of His presence throughout the day.

 

Prayer is an expression of the all-encompassing nature of our lives lived in the presence of God. It is rich and varied depending on the person and what God is asking of you right now. Mostly, it expresses the ever-deepening nature of our relationship to God in our individual lives.

Adapting to Life As It Is

1.18.21  Prayer in troubling times

 

It has been ten months since Covid-19 disrupted our lives and brought so many changes to us. Ten long months of isolation, of lack of social contacts, of time on our hands that we had not experienced like this. We humans are designed to be adaptable, but, sometimes, we get tired of adapting. I’ve been at peace all these months until the daily changes have just seemed to pile up. I’ve been experiencing shock at the smallest changes. I have had to sit for a while to settle down again and then adapt to whatever is being asked of me.

 

Here’s how they have piled up. 1) my daughter had her 3rd surgery in six months right before Christmas. Two weeks later, while she is recuperating from major surgery, her husband was hospitalized overnight with some sort of heart problem. Meanwhile I am trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, driving some of their kids to and from school, running errands and such. So I was driving four times a day since school started back up. Then our county announced that all school should close last week until February 2nd, suddenly my days were clear of driving. Except the next day, one school that their kids attended reopened. And now it seems to be day to day changes. The other school is still closed and trying to figure out what to do.

 

My work had pretty much been on hiatus since my daughter’s problems returned around the middle of December. [By the way she is recuperating and her husband is okay, too.] Now in January I was just getting back into the routine of things and all these changes happened. It felt like each one was a door slamming in my face. So what I found was to stop and relax, to pray, to ask God for help in dealing with these changes. A little while later, I would be at peace again whether it meant more time or less time to work, more interruptions or fewer.

 

He is my mainstay through everything that has happened in my life. And He comes through for me in a variety of different ways, but they all work on my behalf and on the behalf of the work I am doing. What would I do without Christ in my life? I know for sure how I lived before I gave my life to Christ: I would be anxious and fearful. I would be outer-oriented, looking to our culture and to other people for how I should be. I would stay in the background, living my life in the wings, not on stage for sure.

 

He has brought peace and fulfillment to me. He has given me back my life as He designed it to be. And I am slowly recapturing my real, true self. Taking my true self back from the conditioned self, who I thought I was, but no more. Just this week He revealed to me that I am not the ENFP on the Myers Briggs or a #6 on the Enneagram, that those describe my conditioned self. Now that was a surprise to me that I am not who I thought I was. These describe the cultural overlay that I took on as I grew up and experienced what life for me would be like. So now I am awaiting for what He will unveil in me as He reveals my real, true self. I can’t wait!

Become an Observer of Your Thoughts

12.14.20  If we really want to grow into our true selves as God created us to be, if we really want to be able to love God with all of ourselves, we first have to understand who and what we have become in the years we have spent on this earth. To do this we have to take a deep look at what we think about all the time—our preoccupations, the inconsistencies between our ideals and our actual behavior, the dichotomies between our outer behavior and speech and our inner judgments and prejudices. We will want to bring our inner and outer selves into harmony.

 

The first step in this process is to be totally aware of how we think and what our judgments and prejudices are. If we sit in silence or try to, all the thoughts that bother us will arise to the surface as we try to sit quietly. I know that when I first tried to meditate, I would run kicking and screaming from the couch where I sat, because I couldn’t stand those old repetitive thoughts. They had been with me from childhood and I hated them. A few months later I tried again, and this time I was able to sit with them, because by then I could understand the value of meditating. It really does help us to begin to sit in peace—eventually—with all that goes on in our minds. I learned to become an observer of my thoughts, to think about the source of each one, and to be able to see them for what they are—the shoulds or judgments about us that we first heard in our childhoods—and no longer react to them emotionally.

 

For me, there were the ones about being on time—from my parents. Also, from my parents and from my Aunt Grace (who couldn’t stay on a long distance phone call for more that 2 minutes no matter who was paying), there were all the admonishments to save money.  There were all the criticisms of me—about my dress, my manners, my behavior. And much more. As I began to name the sources, I began to see that little of what I thought about myself was really relevant today. It belonged in the past. It was rooted in my failure as a small child to follow what my parents were asking of me. And the more that I could just observe those judgments of me and just treat them like old friends, the more I could rest in God’s presence and let them be.

 

These thoughts, I am convinced, are with us until the day we die, although for a long time I hoped they would go away eventually. At least, after some time, they ceased to cause any emotional response in me. Now I just see them as parts of me that belong to the child that I was. As an observer of my thoughts, I see what I’ve been through, but I know that it has no relevance any more.

 

Now years later I am aware of another level of influence these thoughts had on me. I was so self-conscious and shy as a young adult that I downplayed who I was, content to stay in the background while my husband performed before large audiences and even appeared on TV and radio during the time we were fighting nuclear proliferation. But in spite of that shyness and self-effacement I really did wish to be seen for who I am. It has come up again lately as I seek to publish two more books, when I have been unable to sell the two books I had already self-published. The trouble with my wish to be invisible and my life as a writer is that they don’t go together. It’s not that I want to promote myself as a writer, but I do want to promote the ideas I’ve written with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So I am having to confront my inclination to stay in the background with my need to promote the ideas I’ve written about.

 

It’s not easy to change after all these years and yet I think that is what God is asking me to do. So I am giving up my reluctance to be in the public eye, knowing that it doesn’t serve my purpose, while at the same time keeping the focus on God, not on me. Only God can heal those age-old habits of mine; and then He will show me how to promote the ideas and not me.

 

What thoughts linger in you from your childhood that are clearly not relevant today, but still bother you? Pray to God for help in distancing yourself from them, so that you can just observe them and not react to them. And then, watch how over time He will change how you relate to them. And, as you are freed from their influence, you will notice that God will be asking you to revel in that freedom in some new way! You can be sure of it!

 

 

 

 

The Real Challenges of the Life in Christ

There are very real Challenges when we follow the teachings and leadings of Christ. Because of our very human nature it might take some time to really live through the challenges.

 

  1. Dealing with Doubts

Doubts are bound to arise about God, about whether He loves to punish us or to love us, equating Him to our parents. It is the way our mind works. But I think doubts can also be God’s way of leading us beyond where our beliefs and experience have taken us to far. Doubts can be the opening for more devotion to God as we drop some of the narrow beliefs about God and embrace a bigger, truer concept of God. What I am saying is that God himself can be the source of our doubts. Above all we want our concepts and beliefs about God to grow and change as we grow in our faith and drop some of the God-in-a-box thinking that makes Him sound like just a bigger-than-human, but still HUMAN deity. I’m not sure that our limited human minds can really entertain the whole of who God is and what He does. But the doubts we have can lead us to greater truth about God.

 

  1. Surrendering self, our expectations, to leave the world behind

Are we really willing to give up all of who we think we are, our desires that life would go the way we want it to go? Will we lay our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits on God’s altar? Will we give over every single area of our lives from family to work to leisure time to friends to dreams and longings? Will we walk hand-in-hand with God through every single thing in our lives and obey Him in all that we say and do?

It is not easy to leave the world and embrace God as the sole source of guidance. We’ve lived in the world all our lives and don’t often realize the extent to which it has trained us how to be, how to live, what to desire and how to get it. Standing apart from its influence is a great, huge step in trusting God.

 

  1. Seeing God as a loving God.

Are we afraid of God as described in all those angry passages in the Old Testament or are we in awe of the enormity of a God who created this entire universe, this planet with its projected 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 species of plants and animals? Are we afraid of His punitive nature or embraced by His love? Are we captivated by the beauty of this world that He created? Do we live in gratitude for everything that He has done for us and continues to do for us? Jesus taught that God is a loving, forgiving God, like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. [Luke 15:11-32] That He sends His rain to fall and sun to shine on everyone equally. [Matt 5:45] That he cares for the needy, the poor and the foreigner. [Lev. 25:35][1]  That He is all about justice and mercy.[Micah 6:8]

 

  1. Actually feeling God’s love

To me this is the greatest challenge, because we can “know” from the Bible that God loves us and yet never feel His love for us or see His love for us or anyone else. Most of us are still holding God at bay because we have never felt worthy of His love. Our own self-images and all that the culture has taught us about ourselves has us holding God at arm’s length. The first step towards the God of Love is to think that if God can love me, then surely I can love myself. That I could actually look at myself and my life with God’s eyes of love. And when I do that, then I can embrace myself as I am sure that God does; then the walls I have built around me start to crumble. I am then more and more aware of His presence. I can feel His presence, His inspiration, His help and guidance. I begin to live in total partnership with God in which it is hard to distinguish where God ends and I begin.

 

  1. Keeping our attention on what we are called to do here on earth.

Let’s allow the Biblical teachings about what awaits us in heaven to recede as of much lesser importance than our calling in the here and now. We who are still living on this earth need to speak and act in God’s will, in His purpose for us to give to this world as He gives to each of us. We can be so excited about what awaits us in heaven and so ego-excited that we’re the chosen that we forget that we are to be love and peace and joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control(humility)—the fruit of the Spirit in this world, right now. [Gal 5:22-3]

 

All of these challenges, once laid on God’s altar with prayers for His healing, will be met by God. Any problems with trust in God or dependence on Him in our lives will be healed. That is what the bulk of the life in Christ is about: healing ourselves of all our rebelliousness and lack of integrity so that we can bring our whole selves to God in love and then live out our purpose here on earth. I have found that there is no end to the healing that can happen while we are here on earth, but that Christ knows us so well and the steps He would have us take to come to be able to love God, ourselves and others that we can, over time, feel how different we have become from the person we once were when we depended mostly on ourselves and on other people.

 

If you have experienced other challenges, please email me at patsadams@gmail.com. I’d love to hear how they went for you.

[1] There are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible that tell us to take care of the poor and needy.

Recognizing the Voice of the Holy Spirit Within

October 12, 2020

My blog posts at By the Waters the last week in September and the first week of October were about the Holy Spirit. To me He is the One who dwells in us and in the world around us, who communicates with us constantly whether we are aware of His voice or not. He would guide us to a deeper life in God, something that we cannot accomplish by ourselves when we try to move closer to God on our own power. It is only God through the Holy Spirit who can heal and transform us, guide and support us, and bring us to the fullness of who He created each of us to be. It is our job to get on board, to be willing to go where He would lead us, to surrender all of our pain and suffering to Him so that He can free us of all the burdens that we carry. Remember that Jesus said that His yoke is easy, His burden light. [Matt 11:28-33] He is inviting us to unload all that troubles us, all that enslaves us, all the burdens we carry that have nothing to do with who we are, so that we can be free to be exactly who He created us to be.

 

In my experience the one sure way to hear and to identify His voice within us is to become an observer of our own thoughts. I mean that we have to know ourselves so well and the way that we think that we can identify the source of most thoughts that we have.  All thoughts in me about saving money come from my parents and my Aunt Grace who had little money of her own. My parents were adamant about being on time, and I am still driven crazy by an inward push to rush to get somewhere even when I know that I will be early—so powerful was that training. My eagerness to judge other people, particularly other drivers on the road is always self-serving and fails to recognize that I am often at fault, too.

 

Being an observer of my thoughts means that in the midst of thinking them, I can step back from them and let them go. And I smile, because there it is again! And again! When we know our own thoughts so well, then we can clearly identify God’s voice within us.

 

It’s often the voice that is so different from our own, that we reject it out of hand: “Oh, I can’t do that!” God calls us to a whole different life, so what He suggests will be different from the way we think. He says things that sound out loud in our minds like these that I have heard:

“I have an agenda for my life.” This led me from asking, “What should I be doing?” to ask this question, “What do I really want to do?”

“How can I say I love God, if I can’t love my mother?” I tried to love her after I heard this, but I was still caught in my teenage rebellion, in my 40’s!. Finally, God surrounded us with a cloud of love on a railroad platform and that changed both of us to gratitude and love for each other.

“If I can just entertain all possible outcomes equally, well, then…” My husband was dying and I just wanted this whole thing to go away! As soon as I could do what He suggested, I was filled with faith in Him. I was able to support my husband, our adult kids and our friends through this passage. And I never resented his death, but just dropped into the grief after he died.

 

Then there are the nudges about, say, going a different route home, or about what to do next. Or what to read. There are suggestions coming from other people that resonate with us. He can highlight difficult situations from our past that need healing. And all we have to do is to assent to that healing; then the Spirit will make it happen.

 

God has many different ways of communicating with us. That’s why it is so important to recognize the voice of the Holy spirit when it speaks to us. Otherwise, we are left with indecision, with insecurity and are basically stuck in all the old patterns of behavior from the past. We cannot live in the present, in the presence of God unless we are attuned to His voice, to His presence, and are obedient to His suggestions. He would lead us throughout our days, all day long, if we are attuned to his voice, His Spirit within us. Jesus called Him the Advocate. We could call Him our companion, our support, our friend, our guide to fulfilling our creation. If we are faithful and follow Him and His wisdom, then we will fulfill the promise of our lives.

 

Loving Everyone

            We don’t think of love as nonviolence. Or as compassion. Or valuing another person and all they’ve been through which formed them as they are. We don’t think of love as embracing our enemy, listening to them, seeing everyone as a child of God. We don’t look at the Ten Commandments as teaching us how to love all of mankind: no murder, adultery, stealing, lying, or envy. We don’t look at them as addressing our inner attitudes as well as our outer actions. But if we really follow these commandments because we love our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we would not tolerate all the ways we mistreat others, we would not tolerate the differences between our actions and the judgments we hold about others.

            Here is how John Lewis, the Civil Rights activist, describes their training in nonviolence: “You don’t have a right to abuse that spark of the divine in a fellow human being…You never give up on anyone.”[1] They were trained in the 1960s so that they could respond with love to the police and other citizens along the march routes, no matter what happened to them.

            In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is clearly teaching us that we must treat everyone, enemies and friends, as we would want to be treated. [Matthew 7:12] And that whatever we would do as a child of God must be done humbly and without calling attention to ourselves. [Matthew 6:1-18] Humility and Love. Compassion and loving. It is a narrow gate[Matthew 7:13] that we are to walk through as we shed our very human responses to others—the judgments, the anger, the fear. And when we do we are so ready to love everyone, to serve as we are called to serve.

            So, the way to divest  ourselves of all these sins is to put ourselves totally in the hands of God, to ask for His healing, to align ourselves with His will for us, to offer all these very human tendencies–that separate us out from other people–up to God to heal, to change the very bases of our thinking and reacting to others. It is a step by step process in which God highlights some sin within us and we are to consent to His healing. This happens time and again as we come up against our basic issues that keep us in a place of not trusting God or others, that keep us judging, that keep us complaining about this person or that one, that keep us tied to the world.

            The amazing thing is for us to see how differently we react to others as God does all this healing work in us. We will see that we no longer have the same responses to others. That we are beginning to see them with the eyes of love, rather than the previous distortion. It’s a wonder-filled and alleviating process which changes the nature of our relationships–forever.

            Here are some questions for pondering/journaling that will begin to connect you to this healing from God:

  1. What are the issues, pain and suffering, in me—probably begun in my childhood—that I need to take to the Lord for healing?
  2. Who in my life do I need to forgive?
  3. Who in my life do I need to ask forgiveness for what I have said and done?

Just a personal note: I have found that the Lord highlights one issue at a time. Recently, for me it has been forgiveness, but, in the past, it’s been the need to love my mother, the need to follow the Lord and His suggestions rather than my own tendency to always look to others for what I need to do, the need to overcome the teachings of a hell-fire-and-damnation church. Those have been the major issues and as each one is healed, I feel so much lighter and able to love and forgive myself. Up until the time I gave my life to the Lord, there was no peace or love for me, only doubt and anxiety. Now when I look back on my life, I can see that I never would have become a spiritual director or a writer about the spiritual life, if I had not spent 12 years in that hell-fire-and-damnation church. I can clearly see the footprints of the Lord throughout my life, healing and leading me to this purpose. And I am grateful for everything in my life that pointed me in this direction. Amen.


[1] John Lewis in an interview from 2013 with Krista Tippett of On Being