How can growing in love make us stronger? When we care deeply about others, we become willing to move out of our comfort zones. From the Civil Rights movement to Mother Teresa’s work with the poor, compassion motivates people to risk taking action on behalf of others. We can find plenty of examples closer to home.
When a loved one’s welfare is on the line, even those of us who don’t like confrontation find the strength to rise to the occasion. We might question a doctor or hospital staff on behalf of a family member. We might risk our teenager’s displeasure when an unpopular decision has their best interest at heart. During an argument, we might even have the strength to remain silent until cooler heads prevail instead of lashing out in the heat of the moment.
If we consistently give in to others’ wants or demands we’re probably acting out of fear of rejection rather than love. Love shifts our focus and empowers us to act in the best interests of those we care about. Genuine love calls us to act for our loved ones’ good—whether they like it or not, whether we like it or not. That takes the strength of perfect love that casts out fear.
Prayer: Lord, expand my heart to love others more and more.
Reflection: How are you being called to grow in love today? How can God’s love strengthen you?
When I struggle to make things to go my way I feel frustrated.
When I accept circumstances exactly as they are at any given moment, I have peace.
I can relax and accept reality instead of trying to control it. That doesn’t mean I don’t make choices. Once I accept things as they are instead of wishing they were different, I can decide how I want to respond.
When I resist others who don’t say and do what I think they should, I feel resentful.
When I don’t take other people’s choices personally, I have peace.
It’s no longer a battle of wills. That doesn’t mean I become a doormat. If I can’t make others do what I want, they can’t make me do what they want, either.
When I fret about not living up to other people’s expectations, I feel stressed.
When I focus on what I think God wants me to do instead of trying to impress others, I have peace.
I don’t have to worry about pleasing them. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to honest feedback, but I know other people’s opinions of me don’t make me better or worse than I am. My self-worth is never truly in jeopardy because I am loved by God.
In other words, whenever I get out of my own way, I have peace. Trusting that God is in charge instead of me relieves tension. God has all power and is always on top of things-whether or not it seems like it to me. I can trust that things are unfolding the way they are meant to. Even difficult people and situations have a purpose. They can be learning experiences, opportunities to grow, or motivation for change. I can trust that if I am trying to do what God wants me to do, I will have all the power and resources I need to do whatever I am meant to do. I can trust that the results are in God’s hands, not mine.
When I surrender to God’s will, my bitterness turns to peace.
Prayer: Lord, increase my desire to live for you.
Reflection: If living for God instead of ourselves or others brings peace, why resist?
Comparing ourselves to others is a lose/lose situation. Tempting as it might be to prop up a fragile ego when we seem ahead, it’s a set-up for vanity and looking down on others. On the other hand, if others seem more talented or accomplished, we open ourselves to envy, resentment, or feelings of inadequacy. What have we got to gain except a false sense of superiority or inferiority? Why bother? Life is not a contest.
That doesn’t mean we can’t shine. If we focus on what we are doing and we’re doing our best, we can feel good about ourselves. We can take healthy pride in our best efforts and their results. We can be grateful for the abilities we’ve been blessed with and the opportunities to use them. It doesn’t matter how that stacks up against someone else’s gifts or accomplishments. Besides, there’s never a level playing field. We are all individuals with different physical traits, backgrounds, opportunities. Why compare?
What’s stopping us from feeling good about ourselves? If what we’ve done is good, it’s good. Other people’s achievements can’t take away the goodness of our efforts. Other people’s lack of achievement can’t make our efforts any better than they are.
Judging our own conduct keeps us grounded in reality and focused on what we have control over—ourselves. That sounds like freedom to me.
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for my abilities. Help me focus on using them as you want me to today.
Reflection: What have you done today that you can feel good about?
My child, don’t get involved in too many things. If you try to do too much, you will suffer for it. You won’t be able to finish your work, and you won’t be able to get away from it either. Sirach 11: 10
Sirach was right. I did try to do too much and I did suffer for it. So did my family. At one point, my idea of relaxing was tackling chores I could do while sitting down, like paying bills. I remember one Saturday in particular. I had an impossibly long “to do” list. By supper time I was exhausted, but thankful that I had done everything on my list. Did I put my feet up and relax? No. I concluded I must not have put enough on the list and quickly added three more tasks to finish before collapsing into bed that night.
I was not much fun to be around in those days. How could I be? I was always either busy or worn out and cranky. Looking back, I have to admit I was ego-driven. Being busy made me feel important, needed, and worthwhile.
By the grace of God and with encouragement from family and friends, I began a long, slow journey to some kind of middle ground. I began scheduling relaxation periods into my days, in spite of the challenges. I remember trying to lounge in the back yard with a good book even though chores kept taunting me. I could almost hear the vacuum calling, “Come on, you know you want to.”
Instead of giving in, I started spending Saturday afternoons at the local park, where household tasks were not within reach. I reminded myself the chores weren’t going anywhere. They would wait until I could get to them. Meanwhile, I had more important things to do, like live my life and enjoy my family. Balance brings serenity.
Prayer: Lord, help me prioritize according to your will, not mine.
Reflection: When are you likely to get over-ambitious? What are some ways to let go of what is non-essential?
A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. John 12: 9-11
Religious authorities felt threatened by Jesus as crowds responded to his teaching, his loving example, and his healing power. It came to a head when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Fearful of Jesus’ growing influence and demonstration of power, the religious leaders made plans to kill Lazarus. Did the futility of trying to kill someone who had already died and been brought back to life even occur to them?
Still, they made their plans against him and, for that matter, against the one who brought him back from death. Their plans didn’t work. When we act out of fear, we don’t always think clearly.
Fear-induced blind spots have led me to desperate or ineffective choices more than once. Sometimes I’ve acted hastily without stopping to think things through. Sometimes I’ve failed to take any action because I couldn’t see past my projections of imagined disaster. Either way, over-reacting emotionally clouded my vision.
When we turn to God instead of allowing ourselves to be bullied by our frantic reactions, we walk by faith, not by sight. That’s a good thing, because when fear looms large and we can’t see clearly, God can. Following where he leads brings us through darkness to Resurrection life!
Prayer: Lord, help me trust you to guide me through the blind spots.
Reflection: How can trusting God’s plan today keep you from acting out of fear?
Jesus didn’t want to suffer but he was willing to suffer. Even though he knew suffering and death waited for him in Jerusalem, he’d set his face like flint and headed there. His prayer in Gethsemane expresses the tension between his desire and his commitment to follow his Father’s will, all for love of us. In his beautiful, heart-felt cry Jesus asked his Father to take the suffering away. That was what Jesus wanted, but he deferred to his Father’s will.
We can learn from this. We don’t have to pretend we don’t have wants or feelings. It’s more than okay, it’s essential that we’re honest with God about what we truly want. That doesn’t mean demanding that he do things our way. We can lay our wants at God’s feet and leave the choice up to him. We can exercise our free will by choosing to give our will back to God. We hold our faith hostage if we insist God do things the way we think he should. Insisting on our way may seem like freedom, but it’s not. Freedom is the choice to act without being bullied by our feelings.
Jesus’ prayer is a beautiful balance of honesty and surrender, of requesting and accepting instead of insisting. We have a choice at every moment: to insist our will be done or to lovingly entrust our will to God’s wise and loving plan. It isn’t easy. It will cost us. But I have to believe it is worth it. I have to believe that God isn’t cruel or abandoning us if pain isn’t taken away on our terms. I have to believe he will give us what we need to get through whatever challenges we face and will somehow bring good out of it. I’ve seen it happen. Besides, if God can bring good out of the crucifixion, he can bring good out of anything.
Prayer: Father, thy will, not mine, be done.
Reflection: Where are your wants flexing their muscles today? Are you willing to surrender them to God’s care?
Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God… Psalm 50: 14a
Gratitude’s not the first thing we think of when we think of sacrifice. Where does gratitude fit in with our traditional Lenten offerings of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer?
Fasting: When we give thanks to God we fast from the ego-feeding illusion of independence. We fast from the presumption that we are self-sufficient. The truth is that we cannot, on our own, even guarantee our next breath. Gratitude means sacrificing the comfortable notion of self-reliance. Recognizing ourselves as recipients of God’s gifts puts us in vulnerable position of recognizing our dependence on our Creator.
Almsgiving: We can’t give what we don’t have. Whether we donate financially or through acts of service and charity, our giving is sharing what we ourselves have received. Our talents, skills, and finances—including the ability to earn a living—are all gifts from God. If we think of giving to others as passing on what we’ve received, we can’t help but feel gratitude. Offering our personal or financial resources to those who need them is gratitude in action. We sacrifice self-centeredness and self-indulgence when we consider the other people we share this planet with.
Prayer: Prayer involves a sacrifice of precious time in our often hectic days. We make room in our crowded agendas to reflect on God’s sacrificial love for us and to offer our thanks. During this Lenten preparation for Easter, we think about the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He willingly accepted the agony in Gethsemane and his suffering and death on the cross for love of us. He offered his life to do for us what we could never do—redeem ourselves from the power of sin. What could be more natural than to express our gratitude in prayer?
Prayer: Source of All Good, thank you for all I have and all I am.
Reflection: What gifts has God given you? How can you offer him your gratitude today?
The priests had to cleanse themselves before they approached God’s altar. The basin they used was made up of mirrors. Preparing to enter into God’s presence involves reflection.
An honest look at ourselves reveals what’s really within us instead of what we wish was there. Only by seeing ourselves as we really are can we know ourselves as God already knows us. Once we see what blocks us from moving closer to God, we can cooperate with the cleansing process.
We don’t have to be afraid to look within. God already sees our truth and loves us as we are—warts and all. As we are refreshed and cleansed by the living water God provides, we’re empowered to enter more fully into God’s presence. Chances are the more we reflect on his image, the more our lives will come to mirror his. The women mentioned in the above passage originally used the mirrors to see their own reflection. Eventually they served at the entrance of the Tent and helped others prepare to draw closer to God. May we do the same.
Prayer: Lord help me see myself clearly.
Reflection: What do you see when you look within? Can you allow God to shine the light of his love on your imperfections?
The road of the wicked, however, is dark as night. They fall, but cannot see what they have stumbled over. Proverbs 4: 19
The story goes that a man went to the doctor and said, “Doc, when I touch my forehead, I have pain. When I touch my elbow, I have pain. When I touch my knee, I have pain.” The doctor said, “I know what the problem is. You have a broken finger.”
It’s not always easy to see the source of our pain. Sometimes we look for causes outside ourselves when the source of our problem is within us. We’d rather blame someone else, rotten luck, or our surroundings instead of taking responsibility ourselves. Yes, there are circumstances beyond our control and other people’s actions can be detrimental, but we often play a part in the difficulties.
If we spend all our time looking to prove the problem has nothing to do with us, we may sentence ourselves to a lifetime of complaining–because we can’t see what we keep stumbling over. No one can see well in the darkness of denial. The good news is, when we’re willing to look within ourselves there’s hope. Once we identify what, in us, is tripping us up, there’s hope of correcting it. We may be powerless over other people and over many situations, but we do have power over our own choices. Although we might not be able to singlehandedly make ourselves the way we’d like to be, we can find the help we need.
It can be scary to have the light shine on things we’d prefer to keep hidden, but the light doesn’t create the problem, it just reveals what’s already there. The Light of the world will shine not only his light, but his love, on the secret places in our hearts, if we’ll let him. Can the God of love, who commanded us to love both our neighbor and ourselves do any less? It is safe to let him lovingly show us the truth about ourselves. It’s a lot safer to walk in light than in darkness.
Prayer: Lord, shine the light of your truth on what I need to see today.
Reflection: What stumbling block might be tripping you up today? What would it take to entrust yourself to God’s light and love?