Ever find yourself fighting against God? I have. It makes no sense.
- If God is all-powerful, things will turn out the way he wants. It’s inevitable.
- If God wills for ultimate good to triumph, why resist?
- If God is all-knowing, why insist on having things my way? Do I really think I know better than God?
Besides, when I fight reality, reality always wins.
Unfortunately, self-will is sneaky and dies hard. A few years ago I attended a four-day writers’ conference, convinced it was God’s will for me. I volunteered for service opportunities, looked forward to promoting my first book and to being interviewed for an ongoing writing gig. Above all, I was excited for the chance to find a publisher for my second book. In my eagerness, I denied my body’s ongoing physical limitations. Less than 24 hours after the conference began, my body rebelled and I was forced to slink home.
Apparently, God and I hadn’t seen things the same way after all. It took weeks to work through my disappointment and accept reality. I have disabilities. The symptoms may not be apparent to others, but the challenges are very real. It’s self-defeating to ignore them, no matter how much I want to.
Evidently God, who knows all about my limitations, achieves his plans in spite of my willful schemes. Although I could not attend the conference interview, I received the ongoing writing assignment anyway. Eventually, I was offered a contract for my second book—my new publisher hadn’t even attended that conference.
When my conviction about God’s will is wishful thinking on my part, whenever I’m trying to force outcomes, I’m fighting reality. Whenever I accept circumstances exactly as they are, do my best, then let go and trust God with the outcome, I feel peace.
Why struggle? Even if things don’t go my way, they can still turn out just fine.
Who guessed faith involved accepting reality?
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that you have everything under control.
Reflection: When have you found yourself fighting against God? What happened?
Gideon replied, “But Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least important member of my family.”
The Lord answered, “You can do it because I will help you…” Judges 6: 15-16a
God, it seems, loves to work through the weak and helpless.
- David was overlooked by his family as the runt of the litter, but defeated Goliath and became King of Israel.
- Peter, a poor, uneducated fisherman was chosen by Jesus chose as the rock on which to build his church.
- In more recent times, Mother Teresa, a little nobody from nowhere special, is known throughout the world for her loving service to the poor.
Maybe those who feel their weakness find it easier to turn to God and rely on his power and wisdom.
When I think I have all the answers and feel self-sufficient, it rarely occurs to me to look beyond myself—until I run into problems. When I’m smack up against my weakness, it becomes painfully evident that I need help. Even then, it’s not easy to ask for or accept it.
God is the never-failing source of help I can turn to—as long as I don’t expect help to accomplish my will on my terms. When I surrender to God’s will, I always find peace, because I can trust God to give me what I need (to do what he wants, not what I want.)
In my weakness, t’s always a struggle to lay down my will and my expectations, but when I do, I’m never sorry.
How about you?
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that your strength is made perfect in my weakness.
Reflection: How do you react when you feel weak? How can letting go of self-will and surrendering to God’s plan strengthen you?
Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? They were afraid because they didn’t trust God to keep his promise.
When we reject the good God offers us, it’s probably for the same reason: fear. When we reject God’s loving plan for us, fear is probably involved in some way.
Let’s look at the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
- Pride is giving self-will priority over God’s will. If we believe God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving, why would we ever choose our own way instead of his? On some level, we must be afraid that God won’t do as good a job as we could or that his plan is not as good as ours, so we use manipulation or force to get our way.
- Greed probably involves fear that we won’t have enough or get enough or keep enough of whatever we feel greedy about: money, things, approval, attention. We grab for or hoard more than we need because we don’t trust God to provide for our needs.
- Envy might include fear that we aren’t good enough, or that we aren’t as good as others. Resenting what they have fuels our feelings of inadequacy. We don’t trust God’s love for us and the value we have simply because he loved us into existence.
- Anger, chances are, often involves thwarted self-will. Maybe someone or something threatened our fragile self-esteem, or we didn’t get our way. When our illusions of control are shattered, we get angry. We don’t trust that things can still turn out just fine-even if they don’t go our way-because God has it all under control.
- Lust, at least in part, may include the fear that we are unlovable or perhaps the fear of true intimacy and the mutual surrender involved in sharing love on a level that goes so much deeper than the physical plane.
- Gluttony might, in part, be connected to fear of discomfort. It might also involve trying to fill our emptiness in a self-defeating way because we fear that God’s love and his plan aren’t enough to sustain us, that his allotment of our daily bread won’t fill the gaping hole within us.
- Sloth, laziness, procrastination, might disguise a fear that what we do won’t be good enough. We’d rather not try at all, than try and fail. Underneath may lurk a fear that neither God nor anyone else could love us as we are, that we’ll be rejected unless we’re perfect or successful in the way the world defines success.
In all these options, we short-change ourselves. We deny ourselves the joy that comes from abandoning ourselves to God’s loving care and protective power. It’s risky to trust that he does love us, that he knows what he’s doing, that his plans are to build us up and to give us the future we hope for (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he will keep his promise. It’s a risk worth taking.
Prayer: Lord, lead me to the Promised Land you have in mind for me.
Reflection: How is fear blocking you from the joy God has in mind for you?
I’ve got a Martha mind. That makes it challenging to “be still and know” God when I want to pray. Even if nothing in particular is troubling me, my mind does mental gymnastics anyway. I’ve tried various things to slow my thoughts: deep breathing, slowly repeating a word or phrase, focusing on an object or picture. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.
The other day, they didn’t. So instead, I pictured myself welcoming Jesus into the Martha/Mary home of my heart. I imagined myself sitting at his feet, like Mary. I even leaned my head against his knee and relaxed. I gave myself permission to ignore Martha’s clamors and just listen to Jesus, like Mary did.
Maybe that’s why Martha appealed to Jesus for help in getting Mary’s attention. Martha had tried to get her sister to join her, but as long as Mary focused on Jesus instead of Martha, Martha’s bustling couldn’t distract her.
I didn’t have to pay attention to my Martha mind, either, even though she insisted. I sat there, at peace, listening to Jesus—only he didn’t say anything, and that was okay. Just being with him was enough. After a few minutes, as any good host would, I simply asked him what he wanted. He answered simply, too. One word. Kindness. That’s all my heart heard. But that was enough.
Prayer: Come into my heart, Lord.
Reflection: If you sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, what will you hear?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.”
Those who rush to other gods bring many troubles on themselves. I will not take part in their sacrifices; I will not worship their gods.
You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands.
How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are!
I am always aware of the Lords’ presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16: 1-6; 8
When I’m afraid, this psalm never fails to comfort me. It becomes easier to trust in God for safety when I remind myself of all the good things I have in my life. It helps to recognize that, one way or another, they all come from God. Even when life is painful or chaotic I can find things to be grateful for if I’m willing to look. Although I might feel like I need a microscope to find them, I can see that willingness to look for the good is a gift in itself.
For today, I have no interest in joining those who rush to other gods, mainly because I’ve done it and brought troubles on myself. I’ve relied on my physical comfort, strength, and health. I’ve trusted my intellect, employment, and other people. All of these have let me down at one time or another. I can use and enjoy these blessings, but I can’t afford to make idols of them anymore. My security is shaky if I do. There is only One who has never let me down. If the resources I lean on are taken away, I have to believe God will provide some other way. He always has.
God truly is all I have and He does give me all I need. I found that out when my first marriage ended and an MS attack left me unable to take care of myself. Business as usual was not possible. I didn’t see how I could possibly manage without the supports I was used to. I was way out of my comfort zone and terrified. I didn’t get everything I wanted and it didn’t come on my timetable, but somehow I got everything I needed. Faith moved from my head to my heart. It wasn’t a pretty process, but God got me through to the other side. He truly was all I had during that time, and He truly was all I needed. My future is safe in His hands.
How about you?
- Who or what are you trusting in today?
- Can you trust in God for safety?
- What good things are in your life? Can you see them as coming from God?
- What “other gods” have you rushed to? What have you gained or lost in the process?
- How is God giving you all you need?
- How can you call to mind God’s presence when circumstances are shaky?
- Why can awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trouble bring you peace?
What does living in the grace of God look like? It probably means we stop trying so hard to earn God’s love. Grace is a gift, not a salary. We don’t have to do a single thing to be worthy of it but we have it nonetheless. Accepting love and forgiveness that we didn’t earn—that we couldn’t earn—doesn’t mean we don’t pay a price. The price is humility. Not a “shucks, I’m not worth it” or groveling self-loathing, but a healthy recognition that God loves us exactly as we are, warts and all
A spiritual director once told me, “God is crazy in love with you.” How humbling. God knows all about me, including the things I’m not too proud of. And he loves me anyway. It’s too good to be true, but it is. Christ was willing to give his life for little old me and for every one of us—even if we don’t care or don’t even notice. Our indifference or arrogance cant stop his love, although they might stop us from experiencing it.
What does living in the grace of God look like? Here’s a few things that come to mind. Please feel free to add to this list.
- Awareness of God’s grace would keep us humble—a good antidote to judging or looking down on others.
- It’s a good antidote to looking down on ourselves, too. We’re loved by a perfect God! What more do we need?
- We don’t have to prop up our self-worth by tearing others down or showing off.
- We don’t need to pretend we’re better than we are.
- We don’t need to impress anybody, least of all God. We can afford to be honest because that is how God loves us.
- We don’t have to be stingy or self-centered. We can afford to reach out to others in love.
- We don’t have to beat ourselves up over past mistakes and wrongs. God knows all about our past and still loves us. He’s waiting to forgive us when we turn to him.
- No need to count the sins of others to avoid looking at our own.
Living under the grace of God sounds a lot like heaven on earth, and it’s free for the taking. After all, that’s why they call it grace. We don’t have to hoard it. We can afford to share it with others.
Prayer: Lord, your grace truly is amazing.
Reflection: How can living in the grace of God change your day today?