Balance

Wednesday’s Words: Earthy Glimpses of Heaven

 “Jesus told them still another parable:  ‘The Kingdom of heaven is like this.  A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.’”  Matthew 13:33

 

Have you ever baked bread from scratch?  I have.  The process is an interesting partnership of activity and rest. Flour can’t rise by itself. You begin by adding yeast to flour and other ingredients, but that isn’t enough.  Yeast is a living organism.  The rising of the dough is a result of the yeast’s growth. In order for the yeast to make the dough rise, you have to knead it all together.  Kneading, which involves pounding and stretching the dough, takes time and effort.  It doesn’t yield immediate results.  After kneading, the dough has to be covered and left alone in a warm place. Only after this quiet time will the dough rise.

 

Jesus tells us this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.  What this means to me personally is that God’s Presence is like the yeast: a living entity.  Taking it in, whether through reading Scripture, receiving sacraments, or prayer and meditation, is not enough.  If I want God’s Spirit to be active within me and engender my growth, it will take effort on my part.  The kneading is the wrestling between Spirit and Self. Sometimes I feel pounded and stretched. Other times the process feels like a massage.  Either way, I’m pre-occupied and seldom see results during this process. Sooner or later, the effort stops.  I come to the end of what I can do or perhaps circumstances downshift. The quiet comes.  I might seek out the warmth of being with family or friends. I might take cover from my restless thoughts with simple diversions. I go on about my life.  Often when I least expect it, awareness comes. I may notice myself reacting differently to a situation that used to bother me.  Or an insight will occur to me “out of the blue.”  But it isn’t really out of the blue.  It’s just the dough rising.

 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us glimpses of heaven in the earthy ways we can understand.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What in your life could use some ‘kneading’ today?  What in your life needs quiet time in order to grow?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Looking Back or Moving Forward

But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Genesis 19: 26

 

The Bible doesn’t say how long Lot’s wife looked back, but however long it was, it stopped her from moving forward.

 

Like Lot’s wife. I spend a lot of time looking back. When I do, it can stop me from moving forward, too.

 

On the one hand, acknowledging my mistakes and imagining what I could have said or done differently can help me avoid making the same mistakes again. It also shows me if I need to make a change—or an apology.

 

On the other, there’s a difference between looking at the past and staring at it. Wallowing in remorse doesn’t help me or anybody else. Dwelling on my regrets keeps them alive—but only in my head. It doesn’t change the past or help me take positive action in the present. It keeps me stuck.

 

The rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield for a reason. We need to glance back, but focus on where we are and what lies ahead. That’s how we move forward.

 

Prayer: Lord, You love us in spite of our imperfections. May your mercy help us move forward in love.

 

Reflection: How has dwelling on the past kept you from moving forward?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Timing

 

Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the Temple, and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples. Mark 11: 11

 

Sometimes following Jesus means knowing when not to act. Being called doesn’t mean being driven. Although sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, going to ridiculous extremes to avoid it isn’t much better.

 

One morning I created an impossibly long “to do” list for myself, then raced through my day to get it all done. By suppertime I’d crossed out every single thing on my list. Did I relax over dinner, put my feet up and enjoy my evening? No! I added a few more chores to the list. It was not my wisest decision. What good is it if I accomplish every chore in the whole world but lose my soul and damage family relationships in the process?

 

The mission on Jesus’ “to do” list was to save mankind, but he realized late in the day was not the time to tackle cleansing the Temple. He took the night off and went with his closest companions to Bethany, his home away from home. The Temple was still there the next day when Jesus returned, drove out the moneychangers, and began to teach the people.

 

Taking a break before we act or speak can be much more effective than jumping in just to get something over with. When we trust God more than our own sense of urgency, our timing improves. If God has in mind for something to get done, it will get done. We don’t have to force it. Pausing before we act gives us time to collect our thoughts, renew our energy, and most importantly, check in with God’s plan.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me the wisdom to trust your timing.

 

Reflection: How might pausing instead of forging ahead help you be more effective today?

 

Wednesday’s Words: True Self-worth

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My child, keep your self-respect, but remain modest. Value yourself at your true worth. There is no excuse for a person to run himself down. Sirach 10: 28-29a

 

It isn’t prideful to think we deserve respect. We all have inherent dignity as God’s children. Our worth isn’t dependent on our personal achievements, looks, bank accounts, or anything that sets us above others.

 

By the same token, we are not beneath other people because we have faults. There is no reason to put ourselves down because we aren’t perfect. Nobody is. We all make mistakes. No one succeeds at everything. Welcome to the human race.

 

True self-respect comes from honestly acknowledging our total self-not just the parts we like to show the world, but the shadowy parts we all have as well. That’s enough to keep us modest.

 

We all have talents. We don’t have to hide them out of false modesty. We can acknowledge our gifts without fear of being prideful when we remember to be grateful to the Giver. We can feel good about ourselves when we use our gifts to be helpful to others rather than to show off.

 

We’re delightful, unique, flawed creatures loved by God. We don’t have to stick our noses in the air or hang our heads in shame. We can be who we are because we have, not false pride or false modesty, but true value.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving me as I am. Help me become what you want me to be.

 

Reflection: What is your true worth?

Wednesday’s Words: Rest in God

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Make the people sit down,” Jesus told them. John 6: 10

 

The first thing Jesus did before miraculously feeding the five thousand was to have the people sit down.

 

When we’re spiritually hungry, the first thing we need to do is rest in God. He can’t satisfy our hungry hearts if we’re frantically trying to fill our emptiness on our own. Pre-occupation with busyness and trying to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps is self-defeating. It leads away from God. I once read a translation of Psalm 46:11, “Be still and know that I am God,” that makes it even clearer: “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” Why is it so hard to stop struggling and rest in God?

 

Yes, we must do our part. God will certainly guide and strengthen us to take the actions we’re meant to take, but we never have to do more than we are able to. When we’ve done our best we can trust God, who “lets us rest in fields of green grass and leads us to quiet pools of fresh water.” (Psalm 23: 2)

 

What if, when we are frustrated in our strained attempts to help others, we entrust them to God’s care, too? We don’t have to be anyone’s savior. Like the disciples who helped feed the five thousand, all we have to do is trust, obey Jesus’ directions, and share what we’ve received.

 

When we’re running on empty, if we allow ourselves sit down and rest, we might be astonished at how we’re nourished and our strength is renewed.

 

Prayer: Lord, may we rest in you.

 

Reflection: What is keeping you from resting in God today?

Wednesday’s Words: Easy Does It

iStock_000003550839XSmallMy 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?

Wednesday’s Word: Annoyances

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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?

Wednesday’s Word: Simplicity

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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?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 14

OurMrSun-Psalms Fools say to themselves, “There is no God!” They are all corrupt, and they have done terrible things; there is no one who does what is right.

The Lord looks down from heaven at us humans to see if there are any who are wise, any who worship him, but they have all gone wrong; they are all equally bad. Not one of them does what is right, not a single one.

Evildoers frustrate the plans of the humble, but the Lord is their protection. Psalm 14: 1-3; 6

 

Sometimes our “smarts” lead to all kinds of foolishness. An AA member once said, “I never met anyone too dumb to get this program, but I met a lot of people too smart to get it.” C.S. Lewis put it another way, saying “…as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” C.S. Lewis  We are more than our brains. There’s no wisdom in making idols out of our intellects and using ourselves as our only reference point.

 

According to the psalmist, we’re all in the same boat. We say things like, “I’m only human,” or “I’m not perfect,” or “I’m no saint.” So isn’t putting all our trust in our very fallible natures pretty silly? Left to our own devices, not one of us does what is right. If we could save ourselves by being perfect, then, as St. Paul said, “Christ died for nothing.” (Gal. 2: 21) The good news is, God looks down on us with mercy, mercy that is available to us when we are open to it.

 

Back in my college days, I thought knowledge was power. I was pretty arrogant. Meanwhile, all my good grades and deep thinking friends couldn’t help me grow emotionally or spiritually. I was on shaky ground that kept getting shakier. My first honest prayer as an adult was, “God, I don’t know if you’re out there or not, but if you are, please help me.” It wasn’t an intellectual decision, it was heart-felt desperation. The crisis didn’t disappear, but I was led through events as they unfolded. It was not my own intellect or power that got me through because I was at my wit’s end.

 

Discomfort can be a good motivator. Our weakness in the face of problems brings us back to healthy humility. Then we become open to the source of strength and wisdom. That may be the genius of God. He can bring good out of anything, even our foolishness. How could we worship someone outside of ourselves until we are humble enough to look beyond our egos? I wonder if any of us become wise without being foolish first?

 

How about you?

    • When have you felt foolish? How much of that feeling was related to pride?
    • What does being wise mean to you?
    • How can humility help you grow?

Wednesday’s Word: Reciprocation

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Now, our God, we give you thanks, and we praise your glorious name. Yet my people and I cannot really give you anything, because everything is a gift from you, and we have only given back what is yours already. 1 Chronicles 29:13-14

 

C.S. Lewis said doing something for God is like a child asking his father for a dollar, then using that dollar to by his father a present. A sweet, loving gesture, but no one would think the father was ahead by a dollar.

 

It is right and beautiful that we want to give to God, but our ability to give or do anything at all is—in itself—a gift from God. When we share our time, talent, and treasure, we’re only returning God’s gift. Do we have a useful skill? Or the resources to make generous donations to worthy causes? Can we find the time to listen patiently to someone who needs to talk? We can thank God for our talents, financial blessings, or the willingness to give others our attention when we’d rather be doing something else.

 

What can we do for God that he hasn’t already done for us? Not much. As Jesus said, “I am the Vine; you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) That may be why, at least in part, Jesus warned against doing good deeds so everybody could see them. It’s not about how great we are. We’ve all seen people who do noble things for others and then never let them forget it. It undercuts the gift.

 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel good about ourselves when we’re able to help others. There’s a satisfaction that comes with service. But healthy humility insures against self-righteousness and means recognizing that we can give only because God first gave to us. Gratitude is much more becoming than smugness.

 

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for giving us the ability to be useful.

 

Reflection: What has God given you? How can you give back?

 

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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