Don’t be angry with someone for every little thing he does wrong. Don’t do anything out of injured pride. Sirach 10: 6
It’s the little annoying things that can drive us up the wall. “Why can’t you ever come the first time I tell you dinner’s ready?” “Do you know you left the laundry room light on—again? It was on all night.” “Why do you always have to leave your dirty dishes in the sink when the dishwasher is RIGHT THERE?” Sometimes we’re just waiting for the other person’s dirty socks to land on the floor next to the hamper for the umpteenth time. Irritations have a way of gaining momentum.
Constantly pointing out annoying behaviors only contributes to the friction–nagging is pretty annoying, too. Besides, people tune us out when we harp on the same thing over and over again. On the other hand, trying to rise above minor irritations doesn’t always work. When we stuff our feelings down, they can fester and build until they finally explode. That leads to hurt feelings, damaged relationships, and maybe guilt—or at least embarrassment—about over-reacting.
So what can we do instead? Sirach offers us a clue when he warns us about pride. What does pride have to do with being annoyed? There’s a sense of superiority in pointing an accusing finger at someone else’s fault—especially a fault we don’t happen to share. It gives our egos the illusion of moral high ground.
How can we be honest about what we’re feeling without judging others? Maybe as we explore our feelings honestly we can follow through by acknowledging our own weaknesses. Maybe something like: Okay, I’m really ticked off that he interrupted me mid-sentence again, but let’s remember I do annoying things, too. How often has he complained that I come home late without calling? And yeah, he put the milk carton back in the fridge with just two drops of milk in it yet again, but who banged his head because I left the cabinet door open? After all, our comfortable habits might just be somebody else’s pet peeves.
Sirach also points our mortality further on in the passage. “We are only dust and ashes; what have we got to be proud of? …Even a king may be alive today and dead tomorrow.” (Sirach 10: 9-10) Life’s too short to dwell on the things that annoy us. Do we really want to squander precious time judging others? Lent begins with an Ash Wednesday reminder of our mortality and human limitations. Lent is also a good time to turn our attention away from other people’s shortcomings and face our own. As we recognize our need for mercy in our day-to-day living, we also become aware of the gift of mercy God offers us through his Son. God looks at us—warts and all—with eyes of love. When we remember this, it’s easier to look at others with those same eyes of love.
Prayer: Lord, may we forgive as we are forgiven.
Reflection: What habits of yours might be annoying to others? Are you willing to ask God to help you change? What else are you willing to do?
God has a knack for picking ambassadors who aren’t all that significant in the world’s opinion. He often works through the ones who tend to be over-looked. Jesus himself is “the stone the builders rejected as worthless.”
Worldly success—whatever that might mean—is not one of God’s criteria. Think of David, the shepherd boy who killed a giant with a sling and eventually became King. Or Peter, the uneducated fisherman Jesus chose to lead his church. St. Francis of Assisi was born into wealth, but he didn’t become useful to God or anyone else until he abandoned his social rank. And who would have thought a wizened little religious sister from an obscure town in Macedonia could impact the world the way Mother Teresa did?
What about us? Not wise? Or influential? Not on any Top Ten lists? That’s okay. God created us with our individual uniqueness for a reason. He calls us to be who we are. We have value because God loved us into existence. If we surrender to His plan for our lives, who know how he will use us? We can trust His plan.
Prayer: My Creator, who I am to you is who I am.
Reflection: How does it feel to be valuable in God’s eyes?
Now remember what you were, my friends, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. 1 Corinthians 1: 26
God has a knack for picking ambassadors who aren’t significant from the world’s point of view. He often works through the weak, the humble, and the over-looked. Worldly success—whatever that might mean—is not one of God’s requirements.
Think of David, the runt of the litter shepherd boy who became King. Or Peter, the working class fisherman Jesus chose to lead his church. Although St. Francis of Assisi was born into wealth, he did not become useful to God or others until he abandoned his social rank. And who would have thought a wizened little religious sister from an obscure town in Macedonia could impact the world the way Mother Teresa has?
So if we’re not particularly clever or prominent, if we’re not on any Top Ten lists, that’s okay. God created us as individuals with our unique strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances for a reason. He has a plan for us. We have worth just because God loved us into existence. If we surrender to his plan for us, our lives will be valuable, meaningful, and satisfying. That sounds like success whether the world recognizes it or not.
Prayer: My Creator, who I am to you is who I am.
Reflection: What might God have in mind for you today?
God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated. Ecclesiastes 7:29b
When my daughter was little and I was working full time, if I wasn’t doing at least two things at once I felt like I was wasting time. It felt proud of being so efficient and getting so much done, but I was wearing myself out mentally, emotionally, and physically. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that nice to be around. I was gaining the whole world of accomplishment and losing myself in the process.
What makes our lives so complicated? Trying to balance work, home life, and relationships is no small challenge. Maybe without even trying we find ourselves with more irons in the fire than we can handle. Or maybe our minds are busy planning ways to get people to do what we want or to force circumstances to go the way we think they should. Maybe multi-tasking as a way of life makes us feel smart or important.
How can we keep ourselves simple in the midst of our complicated lives? We can let go of self-will and practice acceptance. When we spend less time and mental energy trying to figure out how to get things to turn out the way we want, we feel more serenity. Accepting reality instead of trying to manipulate it saves wear and tear on our nerves.
We can try taking one thing at a time. Not everything is a priority, even if it feels that way. If we’re asking to do God’s will, we can trust that what’s meant to get done will get done in God’s time. Not necessarily today (much as we’d like to have all our ducks in a row) and not necessarily by us. Taking a few minutes to figure out what really must be done today might show a number of things that can wait until tomorrow or even longer.
It’s surprising how when we step out of frantic activity, we gain perspective and can take care of what’s truly important as opposed to what feels urgent. The sun will come up tomorrow and the earth will still turn, even if we don’t cross everything off of our to-do lists today.
Simple doesn’t mean shallow. It means eliminating the clutter so that what is important can emerge.
Prayer: Lord, keep me simple.
Reflection: How can I simplify my day today?
“If I were you…” We’re never on firm ground when we begin there. It’s easy to speak from the sidelines we aren’t the ones going through the challenge. How might the listener react to our views on their condition?
“I know just how you feel.” No you don’t.
“You look so good.” Don’t you believe how much I’m hurting? You think I’m exaggerating?
“What’s done is done. Time to move on.” Too bad I can’t turn my feelings on and off with a switch.
When our loved ones are hurting, we want to comfort them. We may mean well, but what if our words of encouragement aren’t encouraging at all? With the best of intentions, I once told a hurting loved one I knew how she felt. She snapped back that I had no idea how she felt. She was right. I’ve also told people recovering from illness how good they looked, hoping to make them feel better. But when I was in the hospital and someone said that to me, I felt like my condition wasn’t being taken seriously.
Unless we have been through a similar challenge, it’s presumptuous to say we know how someone else feels. Even if we have been through a similar challenge, we may not understand fully the depth of another’s pain, not having their exact temperament, family issues, or extenuating circumstances. God made us all unique. Does that mean we can never offer encouragement to others? Of course not. It does mean we should choose our words wisely—perhaps an honest, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” or “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you,” or, “How can I help?” Sometimes there are no words.
Sometimes listening is the best gift we can give another. If you’re like me, seeing a loved one hurting is painful—especially when there’s nothing we can do to make the hurting stop. I want to soothe their pain for their sake…and maybe also to relieve my own discomfort. The word compassion comes from the Latin root “to suffer with.” Maybe the most loving helpful gift we can give our suffering friends is the stand with them as they hurt and give them a safe place to express their grief, anger, sadness. Sometimes there is no going around the pain, we have to go through it. Blessed are we if we have someone willing to stand with us on the front lines, someone who resists the temptation to cover it up, rush us through it, or offer advice from the sidelines.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to accompany my loved ones as they walk through challenges.
Reflection: What are some ways to support someone who’s hurting without drowning them “with a flood of words”?
What did a jilted bride do when the groom broke their engagement a week before the wedding? She invited the homeless and guests of a local food bank to attend the feast at the reception hall. Despite her sorrow, she brought joy to those who have little to celebrate. I’ll bet her generosity helped her feel good on some level.
How like the parable in Luke’s gospel. Why won’t the invited guests taste the dinner? They didn’t want to go. They had something better to do than go to a banquet. Their excuses sound pretty lame. Who would rather work (try out his oxen) or check out real estate instead of going to a party? Another guest excused himself because he just got married. Who would think so little of his host to assume his new bride wouldn’t be welcome?
But their unwillingness to celebrate didn’t stop the party from happening. The host found other guests. He welcomed not only the poor and disabled, but pretty much anybody else he could find that wanted to come. God’s generosity is not thwarted by our refusal to accept it. Why would beggars, invalids, and other last minute invitees accept? Maybe what they had—or didn’t have—made what they were being offered look too good to pass up.
The things that kept the first string guests from attending were possessions and a brand new relationship. How do we let our possessions, our work, our romances, get in the way of accepting the goodness God wants to offer us? So often we get what we think we want and still feel let down. Why do we see time with God or time sharing His love in service to others as an obligation? Did you ever do something you felt called to do and feel good about yourself? Did you ever experience the joy of camaraderie in working with others? Did you ever lose yourself and forget your problems by getting caught up in something outside your own plans? We weren’t meant to live in isolation. Sharing creates a nourishing banquet for our hearts.
Prayer: Lord, help me say yes to you.
Reflection: What have you got better to do today than accept God’s invitation?
The king is glad, O Lord, because you gave him strength; he rejoices because you made him victorious.
You have given him his heart’s desire; you have answered his request.
The king trusts in the Lord Almighty; and because of the Lord’s constant love he will always be secure.
We praise you, Lord, for your great strength! We will sing and praise your power. Psalm 21: 1-2; 7-8a; 13
Those who make New Year’s resolutions are more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Even so, only 8 % are successful at keeping them, according to one study. Whether we want to quit smoking, lose weight, or start exercising, our resolutions aren’t enough. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh truly is weak.
Facing our own weakness might not be such a bad thing. Maybe it is only when we give it our best shot and fail, try again and fail again, that we realize just how much we really need God’s strength. Like the king in this psalm, we can rejoice because God can do for us what we can never do for ourselves.
Maybe you think your bad habit it isn’t worth bothering God about, but don’t forget: God loves you as if you were the only one on the planet. Even the hairs on your head are numbered. If a problem is blocking you from living the fuller, richer life God has in mind for you, why wouldn’t he want to give you the grace you need?
God won’t do for us what we can and should do for ourselves, though. The king had to go and fight the battles. Even so, the king didn’t achieve victory on his own. God gave him strength and the victory. In return the king gave God the glory. When God gives us the strength to resist our enemies and succeed, it will God’s glory, not ours. That might not be such a bad thing, either…otherwise we’ll end up needing to make a resolution to give up our pride.
I encourage you to read the whole psalm and reflect on whatever passages speak to you today. Here are some questions to get you started:
- When have you experienced a strength beyond your own?
- What victories has God enabled you to enjoy?
- What is your heart’s desire? How might God want to answer that request?
- How has God shown you that he’s trustworthy?
- Why can the Lord’s constant love make us secure?
- Where is God showing his power to you today? How can you thank him?
During Mass today, I noticed a father steal a glance toward the back of the church where the children’s choir stood. He stole a moment away from the priest and the altar to look back at where his little girl or boy was singing. Maybe he was glancing back to reassure his child of his support. Maybe he was just peeping back in pride. Maybe a little of both.
Distracted from worshipping God? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Jesus taught his disciples that welcoming a child is also welcoming Jesus, and God the Father. That fleeting glance away from the altar toward his child took only a few seconds, but was packed with love for that child, and, no doubt, for Jesus and the Father, too. I don’t remember today’s homily, but I do remember the message of love my heart received.
We were all little children, once upon a time. God loved us then and loves us now. Maybe he lovingly glances at us as we perform our jobs at work, or school, or home. Not to catch us messing up, but just because he can’t resist watching us. I’m sure that father at Mass today didn’t care if his little one hit a wrong note or two, or fidgeted, or scratched an itchy nose. Our best is good enough for our loving Father. Our imperfections can’t dampen his love.
Prayer: Father, thank you for lovingly watching over us.
Reflection: What would happen if you immersed yourself in awareness of God’s love for even just a moment?
For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6 (NRSV)
Good news! A savior was born into our dark and hurting world—and what a savior! This son of God is given to us. We can’t earn or deserve this blessing—it’s a pure gift of love. That should delight and humble all of us.
God loves us beyond comprehension, warts and all. How amazing that someone who has tasted heaven should take on our humanity and subject himself to human limitations, indifference, and contempt—all because he loves us. No wonder he’s called Wonderful.
He is Counselor supreme. One with the Father, Jesus has all wisdom and wants to share it with us. Our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, speaks to our hearts, when we’re open to receive it and quiet enough to listen.
Jesus is not just holy man, but Mighty God. We may be up against circumstances, forces, and problems bigger than we are, but no problem is bigger than God. When we feel small and powerless, we can rely on his strength.
Everlasting Father: God’s son conquered death for us. He was willing to take on flesh, knowing he would sacrifice that flesh-life to share eternal, everlasting life with us.
Prince of Peace: The peace that Jesus offers does not depend on comfortable circumstances, but on our connection with him. His peace passes understanding. The world can’t give that peace or take it away.
We have good reason to rejoice today, for unto us is given everything our hearts could need: a wonderful, powerful, everlasting counselor who wants to fill our hearts with peace and love.
Which aspect of our Lord’s greatness do you rejoice in most today?
Glory to God in the highest. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas!
Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)
So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.
Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?