The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
Do you ever have a hard time making decisions? I do. The thought that peace could guide me in making my decisions is surprising. When I’m wrestling with alternatives and trying to predict all possible outcomes, I feel anything but peaceful. St. Ignatius of Loyola had some suggestions about the discernment process. One suggestion was that people ask themselves what decision they would wish they had made if they were looking back from their deathbed. This perspective is very helpful, when I remember it. What decision will bring me peace of mind in the long run? It isn’t always the easy choice, but when I go with my gut, I know that I’ll have no regrets, even if things don’t turn out the way I want them to.
For example, one Friday at work, right around quitting time, I made an off-hand joke with two co-workers, sort of at their expense. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but it nagged at me. I was afraid that I had offended my co-workers. I tormented myself all weekend, wondering if I should apologize or let it go. Finally, I saw that whether or not I had offended my co-workers, I had offended my own sense of common courtesy. I apologized first thing on Monday morning, and both co-workers assured me they hadn’t given the matter a second thought. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. In any event, I felt at peace, and knew I had made the right decision.
Prayer: Lord, may your peace guide me today.
Reflection for sharing: How can peace help guide you in making decisions?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)
Love. Joy. Peace. We all want them. The irony is that many of the ways we try to get love, joy, or peace of mind work against us.
We try to earn love—or at least admiration and attention—by trying to impress others or make ourselves indispensable. It doesn’t always come off so well…especially if others are trying to do the same thing. We end up competing, feeling envious, or self-righteous—not very lovable qualities.
We pursue happiness only to find it elusive. After all, if the things we bought made us happy, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more things. If we think we can’t be happy until others to do what we want them to, we might spend the rest of our lives waiting.
It’s easy to think serenity would come if only life were problem-free, but when one problem gets resolved, sooner or later another pops up.
The paradox is that we open ourselves to the fruit of the Spirit when we let go of trying to force things according to self-will. When we can accept life as it is on any given day, peace and patience flow naturally. When we aren’t wearing ourselves out trying to earn love or happiness by getting our way, we are free to enjoy what we do have. Without self-imposed pressure, we can afford to be kinder, gentler, and all the rest. Life can be better by when we make room for the Spirit. Let’s get out of our own way.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and fill my heart.
Reflection for sharing: Which fruit of the Spirit are you most longing for today? What do you need to let go of to make room for it?
…You are precious to me… Isaiah 43:4
Where did we get the idea that God won’t love us unless we’re perfect? The Bible is filled with stories of very un-perfect people being called, forgiven, and loved by God. Of course, we know all to well that we don’t measure up to ideal standards. But if God is greater than we are, we just don’t have the power to make Him stop loving us, even when we act in unlovable ways.
During an argument between a teenager and her mother, the young girl was being particularly obnoxious. The mother suddenly stopped and smiled, saying, “You can’t make me stop loving you.” The teen’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “Why do you love me?” she asked. “Because you’re mine,” the mother answered. That’s the how and why of God’s love for us. He loves us because we belong to Him and He is Love. He may not like our behavior, but His love for us won’t quit. There’s nothing we can do about it—except accept, it, savor it, and allow it to melt the fears, anger, and pride that hardens our hearts. When we stop trying to prove we deserve God’s love, we can start enjoying it as a free gift.
Prayer: Lord, help me accept the gift of Your love.
Reflection for sharing: Cherished by God just as you are right now: what difference will that make in your day? In your life?
Why do you obey such rules as “Don’t handle this,” “Don’t taste that,” “Don’t touch the other”? All these refer to things which become useless once they are used; they are only human rules and teachings…but they have no real value in controlling physical passions.” Colossians 2: 20b-22; 23b
Is Paul saying that we don’t have to follow rules and we are free to do whatever we want? Not exactly. Paul is questioning the helpfulness of rules in controlling physical passions. He goes on to say that the way out of harmful earthly desires is to put them to death, not bury them alive.
In Colossians 3, Paul reminds his listeners that we have been raised to new life with Christ. If we set our hearts and fix our attention on this new life, we can “clothe” ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. This goes much deeper than artificial restraints on outward behavior. Paul isn’t saying do whatever we want, but instead, avoid hateful feelings, greed, lust, by renewing our awareness of who we are—the people of God who are loved and chosen. Does that mean we are perfect? No, but we are forgiven, and so we can forgive others instead of prolonging conflict.
It’s as if the change comes from the inside out, not from the outside in. If we immerse ourselves in God’s love, the positive will replace the negative. We won’t have to put a muzzle on it. It will be dealt with at the source—not by our power—but by God’s.
Prayer: Lord, fill me with the renewing power of your Spirit.
Reflection for sharing: What negativity is competing for my attention today? How can I feed my heart with something positive instead?
Sin must not be your master… Romans 6:14a
Who would ever be tempted to give up freedom and become a slave? Temptation promises short cuts to happiness, but when we take them, we often end up anything but happy in the long run. As C.S. Lewis put it in the Screwtape Letters, the devil’s formula is “an ever-increasing demand for an ever-diminishing pleasure.” What brought an initial thrill becomes a necessity that drives people to do things they once wouldn’t have considered, all to satisfy an itch that can never be scratched.
Avoiding sin isn’t something we do to become perfect goody-two-shoes; it’s enlightened self-interest. Someone said that God gave us free will and the best thing we can do with it is give it back to him. The truth is, we never really get to call the shots. We’re either surrendering to God’s plan for us, or we find ourselves in bondage to sin.
I remember when I was first married, just out of college, working full time, I thought, “No watchful parents, no children to take care of yet, no responsibilities. I can do whatever I want. Now, I’ll be happy.” I wasn’t. The truth is, I didn’t know what to do with all my supposed freedom. I squandered time and energy. It took several painful years to admit that having my way hadn’t brought me closer to happiness. Then I fell in with a group people who seemed content to live one day at a time, doing—however imperfectly—what they thought God wanted them to do. Whenever I tried following their example, I found that God’s plans for my life were so much better than my own. If you haven’t already, you’re welcome to try it and see for yourself.
Prayer: Lord, please rescue me from slavery to self-will.
Reflection for sharing: When has getting your own way not brought you the happiness you thought it would? When has giving up what you thought you wanted brought satisfaction?
[God] helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:4
Trouble has brought me to the end of my resources more than once. At times I questioned whether I would survive. Friends and family couldn’t always protect me from the nightmare of isolation I sometimes felt. When the pain was raw, I cried out and told God all about it. That’s when God graced me with the sweetest consolations: a reassuring image would bless my attempts to meditate, a comforting song would come to mind, or a book fragment would inspire me just enough to get through one more day. My spiritual nourishment came even when I couldn’t feed myself.
During those dark times, I wondered what good I could be to anyone when I felt so low. But now that I am on the other side, time and time again, people have crossed my path that are going through similar ordeals. I have something to offer them-authentic hope-because I’ve walked the same path. Our painful past doesn’t have to be for nothing; it makes us uniquely helpful to those struggling with the same challenges.
Prayer: Lord, comfort us in our sorrow and empower us to comfort others.
Reflection for sharing: What got you through the lowest point in your life? How can that help you offer hope to someone else who is hurting?
Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Psalm 131: 1-2
It was a busy week and promised to be an even busier weekend. The project I’d finished didn’t bring satisfaction. Instead, it brought dread. Now I had to contend with the mountain of things I’d put off to tackle once the project was done. That ever-growing to do list was waiting, daring me to tackle it. To top it off, the week had been an emotional roller coaster due to the health and personal challenges facing of several loved ones.
Worn out from the pressure I put on myself to get a handle on everything, I knew I should address my feelings. I didn’t want to. The process seemed time consuming and unproductive. It would keep me from accomplishing all the work I had to do. Luckily, it became clear to me that I couldn’t afford not to take the time. So, challenging as it was to “turn away from my arrogance” in thinking I could power through my to do list, I stopped. I journaled about what I was feeling and laid it all at God’s feet…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Next, I asked Him to show me what He wanted me to do. Only then did I sort through my overflowing in-box. Yes, there’s still a lot to do. But my heart is quiet about it. I don’t have to get it all done today—or even tomorrow. Reality is always manageable when I let go of my pride.
Prayer: Lord, melt my pride with your love.
Reflection for sharing: How does arrogance contribute to becoming overwhelmed? How can humility bring peace?
For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2: 8-10
Faith vs. Works? Paul spells it out for us in three short lines. We are saved by God’s grace through faith, not through our own efforts. It is a gift, not payment for a job well done. The fact that it is a gift protects us from the ego that tells us we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps and somehow merited our salvation. If we are all saved by God’s gift, there’s no room for spiritual one-upmanship, no matter how well-hidden that attitude may be.
Does that give us a passport to inertia? Of course not. A gift does us no good unless we open the gift and use it. Before I started college my parents gave me a typewriter. (There were no computers back in those days.) My parents knew a typewriter would make college life easier for me and even though we weren’t rolling in money at the time, they wanted me to have one. They didn’t expect me to pay them back. It was a gift. The best thank you I could give them would be to use that typewriter. What if I never unwrapped, opened, or used the gift? It would still have been a gift, but what a waste of my parent’s generosity and how much harder my life as a student would have been.
God’s gift of grace has made us what we are, each unique, with talents and abilities like no one else; to do those good things he has in mind for us to do. We can feel good about ourselves and our talents, while remaining grateful to the Giver. We do good deeds-not to earn salvation, we already have it-but to fully live out the gift of who we are.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your gift of grace in my life. May I use it to do what you created me to do.
Reflection for sharing: How has God’s grace been active in your life? How are you being called to use God’s gifts today?
“And I will restore for you the years that the locust has eaten…” Joel 2:25 (Amplified Bible)
Karen Riley, talented author, beautiful human being, and treasured friend, passed away this week. She told me on more than one occasion that above quote from Joel was her life verse. It never occurred to me that I could have a life verse until Karen shared hers with me. Karen was always sharing generously of her time, talent, insight, and heart. I was lucky enough to be among those who knew her.
Karen’s smile lit up her face—and any room she was in. Her faith lit up her life. She dedicated herself to serving others: family, friends, clients, and budding writers. Recently, she began a ministry to help those wounded by childhood sexual abuse. Because Karen was willing to reach into her own painful past, she was able to share with sensitivity the challenges and the healing journey that transformed her life. Karen’s book, Healing in the Hurting Places, offers authentic hope and concrete resources to abuse victims and those who care about them.
Rather than deny her painful experience, Karen used it to reach out to others. The warm compassion she shared warmed Karen’s heart as well. Faith, hope, and love surrounded and sustained her throughout her battle with cancer. God did indeed restore to Karen the years the locust had eaten.
Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, as they say. Our pain doesn’t have to be wasted. Karen Riley’s life and faith-filled witness show that when we are willing, God can put our scars to good use. They make us uniquely able to help—or at least empathize—with others.
Prayer: Lord, comfort and strengthen us in our pain and teach our hearts how to share that comfort and strength with those who need it.
Reflection for sharing: How might God help you transform a painful memory into something that can help others?
…I want you to be wise about what is good, but innocent in what is evil. And God, our source of peace, will soon crush Satan under your feet. Romans 16: 19-20
When I was in kindergarten, a husky second-grader I’ll call Billy* tormented me all winter long. He often grabbed my hat after school while we waited for the school bus. I cried and chased him around the playground with my friends, but we could never catch him. He was bigger and faster and dodged us easily. Day after day, we tried hard and failed…until the day my father came to pick me up unexpectedly and saw the whole thing. Just as we kindergarteners were no match for Billy, Billy was no match for my dad, whose intercession on my behalf put an end to the daily hat trauma.
I don’t think St. Paul wants us to be naïve. I think he wants us to keep from getting involved with evil by not even trying to wrangle with it on our own. Satan is sneaky and can outmaneuver us. While struggling against temptation on one front, we can succumb on another. For example, working hard to avoid wrongdoing might leave us self-righteous, arrogant, or judgmental without realizing it.
We may not be able to conquer evil on our own, but God has all power. If we turn to Him and the help He provides, He will provide a way for us out of every temptation and crush Satan under our feet.
Prayer: Lord, deliver us from evil.
Reflection for sharing: Where do you need God’s strength today? How can you become more open to His power in your life?
*Not his real name