Freedom

Wednesday’s Words: True Confessions

I confess my sins; they fill me with anxiety. Psalm 38: 18

 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 1 John 1: 8-9

 

Where did some of us get the idea we have to be perfect to earn God’s love? Why do we think we have to cover up our imperfections to be acceptable? The Bible’s filled with stories of God’s love and faithfulness—in spite of our sins. We turn our backs on God, not the other way around.

 

God knows our weaknesses better than we do and loves us anyway. What else is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son about? Or the parable commending the tax collector who acknowledged his sins, trusting God’s mercy, as opposed to the religious official whose prayer to God was a spiritual resume? Or Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross to do what we could never do for ourselves—perfectly obey our Creator? As St. Paul said, if we could put ourselves right with God by keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2: 21)

 

Covering up our flaws is the world’s way, not God’s. Denying our wrongs, blaming others, creating excuses, that’s the way of the world. Trying to look good on the outside when we know the truth on the inside creates tension. No wonder the psalmist said his sins filled him with anxiety.

 

It doesn’t feel safe to be honest about our liabilities in the dog-eat-dog world. On the other hand, it‘s a relief to be honest about our faults with God and with ourselves. Surely we can find at least one trusted human being we can trust to understand and to keep our sharing in confidence. It’s fundamental to recovery for countless people in Twelve Step programs. The Catholic Church has wisely recognized it as a means of obtaining God’s grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It does our hearts good to come clean in a safe atmosphere, and what atmosphere could be safer than God’s welcoming arms?

 

Prayer: Lord, I trust in your mercy and love.

 

Reflection: What secrets are creating tension within you? How can you find a safe and trustworthy way to unburden yourself?

Wednesday’s Words: Choosing To Praise

iStock_000003550839XSmall  [Job] said, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” Job 1: 21

 

Job lost his children and all his wealth in a single day, but still praised God. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have feelings, grieve the loss of his children, or fear his new-found financial insecurity. It simply meant he did not blame God for his misfortune.

 

Job was able to praise God because he recognized that all the good things he had been blessed with were gifts, not entitlements. Job may have felt sad, scared, overwhelmed, or even angered by his loss, but he didn’t feel wronged by God because of it.

 

Are we fair-weather friends of God? If we’re in it only for what God can do for us, that’s not much of a relationship.

 

I have Multiple Sclerosis. During an M.S. attack, I suffered an excruciating headache for days. I wanted to trust God but was shaken to the core by pain and overwhelmed with anguish. I shared my frustration and despair with a spiritual mentor, who suggested that perhaps there was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, an attempt to get me to turn my back on God. I’d never thought of it as a temptation, but in the story of Job that’s exactly what was going on. Satan’s theory was that Job worshipped God only for what he could get out of the relationship and would turn his back on God if his blessings were taken away. The book of Job shows otherwise.

 

Right after the conversation with my mentor, a contemporary Christian song came on the radio affirming that we can choose to praise the Lord whether things are going well or terribly.

 

Hearing that song at that moment, made it all click for me. I sang along at the top of my lungs in spite of my pain. As I sang, I felt a wave of victory come over my spirit such as I can’t describe. There is power in exercising our free will. No person or circumstance can take that away from us.

 

Prayer: Lord, blessed be your name.

 

Reflection: What might happen if you praise God in the midst of a problem?

Wednesday’s Words: True Humility

iStock_000003550839XSmallThe emperor of Assyria boasts, “I have done it all myself. I am strong and wise and clever. I wiped out the boundaries between nations and took the supplies they had stored…”

But the Lord says, “Can an ax claim to be greater than the one who uses it?   Isaiah 10: 13; 15a

 

The emperor of Assyria probably was strong and wise and clever. He didn’t have to pretend he was weak and stupid and inept in order to recognize the true source of his abilities.

 

We don’t have to put ourselves down in the name of false humility. Denying our abilities is just as wrong as bragging. True humility is being honest about our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s recognizing that our abilities were God-given. Although we have free will, which means much of what we do depends on our own choices, there is so much that is beyond our control.

 

We did not create ourselves. We did not pick our parents, determine our genetic make-up,  or the environment—or even the century and locale—we were raised in. All these internal and external factors had a hand in shaping our development.

 

An honest look at the world around us will tell us that we are not in control of the universe or even our tiny corner of it. But there is One Who is in control. What we achieve is partly up to us, and how we use—or don’t use—the abilities and opportunities God gives us.

 

Our best efforts are up to us. The outcome is never up to us. Our part is to do our best. When we do, we can let go of the rest. If it turns out well, we can take pride in our achievement without being egotistical, as long as we remember to thank the Giver for His gifts.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me recognize Your gifts to me.

 

Reflection: What have you accomplished? What gifts helped you accomplish it?

Wednesdays Words: Liberation from Ourselves

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Some were living in gloom and darkness, prisoners suffering in chains because they had rebelled against the commands of Almighty God and had rejected his instructions.

They were worn out from hard work; they would fall down, and no one would help.

Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress.

He brought them out of their gloom and darkness and broke their changes in pieces.     Psalm 107: 10-14

 

 

God’s not out to get us. Darkness and pitfalls are just the natural consequences of not following his loving guidance. We want an easier way. We want a more pleasurable way. We want our way. The problem is—if God is who he says he is—if he really is all wise and all loving, he has our best interests at heart. There is no easier, more pleasurable, or better way than following his plan for us. In a way, sin is thinking we know better than God. When we don’t do what’s in our best interests, the results lead to problems.

 

No one starts out deciding they want to be an addict. They just want to relax or feel “good.” But the booze, drugs, candy, or shopping spree doesn’t provide lasting satisfaction. The process has to be repeated over and over. When physical, mental, or emotional dependence takes hold we become bound by our own pleasures—even when they stop being pleasurable.

 

Maybe we work hard to earn the approval of others because we’re afraid of rejection. We resent it when we don’t get praise and puff ourselves up when we do. That type of validation doesn’t last either. Trying to grab the limelight, instead of giving us the reassurance we hope for, alienates people instead. We end up lonely and defeated.

 

Maybe we put all our effort into trying to make things turn out the way we think they should. We try to control others through flattery, manipulation, or intimidation. Why do we do it? We think forcing things to go our way will make us happy. Instead we create friction in our relationships and set ourselves up for disappointment.

 

Fear, pride, and self-will keep us trapped in the burden of going it alone. We’re afraid to surrender and trust God.

 

When we’re in enough pain, when we’re worn out enough, when we’re tired of going nowhere fast, we can call to the Lord. When we do, we’ll find him waiting with open arms, to guide us and to do for us what we finally realize we can’t do on our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, save me from myself.

 

Reflection: What self-defeating attitude or behavior is wearing you out? Are you ready to ask for God’s help?

Wednesday’s Words: Detaching With Love

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…I am sending [Onesimus] back to you now, and with him goes my heart. Philemon 12

 

Because of Paul’s deep affection for Onesimus, his spiritual son, it wasn’t easy for him to say good-bye. Paul sent the runaway slave back because it was in Onesimus’ best interest. Returning home created the opportunity to heal the relationship with Philemon, whom he had abandoned.

 

Love is a choice to act in another’s best interests. That can mean letting them go when we’d rather keep them close to us. A mother sending her child off on the first day of kindergarten or the first semester at college could also say, “…and with him (or her) goes my heart.”

 

Clinging to other adults and trying to keep them under our protection isn’t love; it’s self-centered co-dependency. We stunt our loved ones’ growth and do them a disservice when we micro-manage. We deny them the opportunity to develop and grow. God gave them free will. Who are we to take it away? That doesn’t mean we can’t offer suggestions, but we leave the decisions, and the outcomes, in the other person’s hands.

 

When we love someone we encourage them to think things through on their own, gather information, pray, and seek sound advice from reliable sources. We don’t try to control them. Risky? Maybe. Hard to let go? No doubt. The healthy and loving thing to do? Absolutely. Our hearts can go with them as long as we leave our hands off.

 

Prayer: Loving God, help me remember you love my loved ones even more than I do.

 

Reflection: Where do you need to let go?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Comparisons

iStock_000003550839XSmallYou should each judge your own conduct. If it is good, then you can be proud of what you yourself have done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. Galatians 6: 4

 

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?

Wednesday’s Word: Willingness Good Friday Meditation

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Father,” he said, “if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done.” Luke 22:42

 

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?

Wednesday’s Words: Mercy, Hope, and Joy

iStock_000003550839XSmall“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, from the depth of our troubled, weary souls we cry out to you. Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we have sinned against you. Baruch 3:1-2

 

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?

Wednesday’s Word: Waiting

iStock_000003550839XSmallJesus 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

 

Advent is a season of waiting. We wait for the coming of the Messiah and celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We wait for Christ to come in glory at the end of time. If we’re wise, we spend time waiting each day to welcome him and the peace he brings into our hearts.

 

Waiting can be challenging, especially when we’re so darn busy! Much of our busy-ness is legitimate. Some is not. When we’re tired, or caught up in a flurry of activity, it can be hard to see what is truly important. We all get the same 24 hours each day. In any given day we can trust that we’ll have all the time we need to get done what God has in mind for us to get done.

 

How do our priorities line up with that? Everything seems important, but how important are all those tasks, really? Think about it. Jesus had the task of saving the world from sin. He knew he was going to Jerusalem to die. He had made up his mind to do it before he started the journey. (Luke 9:51) I wouldn’t be surprised if he was anxious to get it over with. But According to Mark, when Jesus got to Jerusalem, he went into the Temple, looked around, and then went to Bethany to spend the evening. He didn’t feel compelled to jump in and start turning over the money-changers booths the instant he saw them. He went to Bethany.

 

Maybe Jesus was tired and knew he’d need his strength for the next day. Maybe he wanted time to think about exactly how he would confront the people in the temple. Maybe he just wanted to enjoy being with friends before everything started going downhill. For whatever reason, Jesus didn’t plunge into action just because something needed attention. He didn’t push beyond his human limitations. He waited. So can we.

 

Prayer: Lord, enable me to trust your timing and wait.

 

Reflection: What’s on your agenda that you can let go of—at least until tomorrow?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 15

OurMrSun-PsalmsLord, who may enter your Temple? Who may worship on Zion, your sacred hill?

Those who obey God in everything and always do what is right, whose words are true and sincere, and who do not slander others.

They do no wrong to their friends nor spread rumors about their neighbors.

They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost.

They make loans without charging interest and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.

Whoever does these things will always be secure. Psalm 15: 1-3; 5b

 

Who can live up to all that? It sounds like we need to be perfect to worship God. But David, who wrote this psalm, didn’t live up to this himself. He had his neighbor Uriah killed so that David’s adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife wouldn’t be discovered. Talk about wronging a friend!

 

And yet David is referred to in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. Why? Maybe because he met an important qualification listed in the psalm. David was one of those…whose words are true and sincere… David was honest about his failings. When his wrongdoing was pointed out to him he admitted it and asked for God’s forgiveness.

 

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee prayed by reciting his merits—maybe he was trying to prove he lived up to Psalm 15. In contrast, the tax collector honestly admitted his sin and asked for God’s mercy. Jesus tells us it was the tax collector who rightly connected with God.

 

If we’re honest we have to admit we can’t live up to perfect ideals this side of heaven. In fact, trying to appear perfect is a recipe for hypocrisy. It paves the way for slandering others, so our own wrongdoings don’t seem so bad. Integrity is so much better than a veneer of respectability. When we’re honest we’re secure because we have nothing to hide. Our insides match our outsides. We don’t have to live in fear of being found out. Not that we shouldn’t try to live up to our values, but when we fail—as we will—we can, like David, own our mistakes and go to the God of mercy and love, our true source of security.

 

This psalm is a great format for taking an examination of conscience that can lead the way to receiving God’s forgiveness.

  • What tempts you to put your will above God’s?
  • When have you not lived up to your conscience?
  • In what ways have you been less than honest?
  • Have you gossiped or spread rumors?
  • When have you not kept a promise?
  • In what ways have you sold out?
  • How do these weaknesses contribute to your insecurity or discomfort?
  • Are you willing to bring them to God?
  • Can you trust that God loves you as you are?

I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speak to you today.

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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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