Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a
It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?
We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.
We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.
When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.
Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.
Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?
The apostles came back and told Jesus everything they had done. He took them with him, and they went off by themselves to a town named Bethsaida. When the crowds heard about it, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed it. Luke 9: 10-11
The crowds interrupted Jesus’ private meeting with his apostles. How did Jesus respond? He welcomed the intruders.
When I’m interrupted, I’m a lot crankier. If unexpected events frustrate my agenda, my exasperation is as plain as the thinly disguised frown on my face. Although I usually rise to the occasion, it often involves working towards acceptance rather than being instantly welcoming.
Why is that? Because I forget that my agenda is not God’s agenda. I forget that I was created to know, love, and serve God, as my childhood Baltimore catechism told me. I forget that serving God does not mean flawless execution of my itinerary, however noble my intentions. I forget that God’s definition of success is not my own—or the world’s—definition of success.
If Jesus is my role model, success is welcoming others warmly when they interrupt me, sharing God’s love with others—whether that means offering them encouragement, listening to them, or just not snapping at them for getting in my way.
Someone—I wish I could remember who—once prayed, “Lord, may I take every interruption as coming from you.” What a powerful thought! Interruptions might be sent by God to jar me out of my prideful, narrow focus. God’s plan is better than mine, but sometimes I need reminding. How about you?
Prayer: Lord, help me welcome the people and events you send my way today.
Reflection: When we call on Jesus, he’s never too busy to welcome us warmly. Can we pass it on?
King David, who wrote this psalm, is well-known in Scripture. He killed the giant Goliath with only a sling and a few stones. He led armies successfully against Israel’s enemies. It was through David’s descendants that the promised Messiah was to come. We know Jesse was David’s father, but who is his mother? We don’t know, because the bible never mentions her name. That didn’t stop her from being an influence in David’s spiritual life.
What is important—with or without her name being known—is that she served the Lord and that David served the Lord just as she did. Apparently, his mother remained in the background, quietly setting an example of service. David started off in the background, too, minding the sheep—until God had other plans for him. Chances are, David didn’t start out to make a name for himself. He gained fame because he met challenges as they were presented to him, trusting in God, not in himself.
Although David’s mother remained in the background, God used her. Maybe we’re like her, called to serve God without fanfare. Doing what needs to be done, quietly accepting and meeting the challenges that we find ourselves facing. Maybe in doing so we preach a sermon louder than we could with a megaphone or a microphone. David’s mother had neither and she influenced a son to serve God in a mighty way that made a difference for all generations to come.
Maybe being anonymous isn’t so bad.
Prayer: Lord, may I serve you-whether or not anyone else knows.
Reflection: Who might you be influencing by your quiet faithfulness today?
It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves the servants in charge, after giving each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch. Mark 13: 34
Jesus makes it clear that we’re all supposed to watch, because we don’t know when the master will return, but watching isn’t all we’re supposed to do. Our Master has given “each one his own work to do….”
God made us all individuals for a reason. We each have a unique combination of talents, abilities, and interests. We all have a purpose and are uniquely situated to serve as we are.
Often, we need to grow where we’re planted. A shy homebody, hiding her beautiful singing voice out of fear disguised as false modesty, may decide to move beyond her comfort zone and take on the role of cantor when the need arises. A businessman might use his management skills to help the parish food bank get off the ground. The work we’re given to do goes beyond our vocation.
What would happen if we consider every person that crosses our path today as sent by God? Our work might be to give up a few minutes of our time to listen to them, offer a word of encouragement, or a simple smile. No one is going to encounter the same set of people that you or I do today. We each have a unique opportunity to reach out and touch someone.
The work God has in mind for us may or may not be how we earn our living, but it is uniquely ours.
Prayer: Lord, who do you want me to serve?
Reflection: What are your talents? How can you use them to be of service today?
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 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?
I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice in the morning; at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer. Psalm 5:2b-3
Beginning next Saturday, this blog spot will feature the Psalms.
Come and explore what these heart-felt prayers have to say to you. Our circumstances may have changed since they were written centuries ago, but our humanity has not. Psalms run the gamut of human emotion. Like the psalmists, we feel joy and sadness, awe and regret, anger and gratitude.
Each week, excerpts from a different psalm will be posted along with questions and comments to help you connect with it in a personal way. I also invite you to read the entire psalm in your own bible, to focus on whatever phrase catches your interest, and reflect on what it means for you in this present moment.
Join me, starting next Saturday, as we open our hearts to God the way the psalmists did. Make this treasure trove of prayer a part of your spiritual journey.
Prayer: I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice.
Reflection: Like the psalmists, we can tell God everything that’s in our hearts. What’s in your heart today?
It’s pretty clear that God prefers kindness than rigid adherence to rules or the kind of long-suffering “martyrdom” that breeds smugness. Self-righteousness and judging others leads away from kindness. Jesus didn’t cling to respectability or the safety of cliques. If we’re his followers, we’re called to reach out to outcasts, too.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves doesn’t make exceptions for the ones who don’t think/dress/vote the way we do. We can be kind to others and treat them with respect and courtesy whether or not we like them personally. Who knows how the Good Samaritan felt about helping someone from an opposing religious sect? The kindness he showed had nothing to do with personal affection.
How can we be kind toward people who oppose the values we cherish or who just annoy the heck out of us? Maybe it helps to remember we aren’t doing it for them, we’re doing it because that’s what God wants. It’s not up to us to determine who is worthy of kindness. Maybe it helps to remember that kindness doesn’t have much to do with deserving it.
The gospel doesn’t tell us the victim the Good Samaritan helped was necessarily a good man. Who knows what he may have done in his life before he was attacked by robbers? If you’re like me, you’ve probably done things in your life you aren’t too proud of. Who hasn’t? Would we make the grade? Treating ourselves with kindness might be a good place to start.
Treating someone with kindness doesn’t say anything about their character, but it says a lot about ours.
Prayer: Lord, lead me in the way of kindness.
Reflection: When have you received kindness you felt you didn’t deserve? Who needs your kindness today?
…The Lord called Samuel. He answered, “Yes, sir!” and ran to Eli and said, “You called me, and here I am.”
But Eli answered, “I didn’t call you; go back to bed.” So Samuel went back to bed.
The Lord called Samuel again. The boy did not know that it was the Lord, because the Lord had never spoken to him before. So he got up, went to Eli, and said, “You called me, and here I am.”
But Eli answered, “My son, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
The Lord called Samuel a third time; he got up, went to Eli, and said, “You called me, and here I am.” Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, so he said to him, “Go back to bed; and if he calls you again, say, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3: 4-9
Samuel was just a boy, apparently used to being at the beck and call of Eli, his mentor. Eli was a priest, yet God spoke to Samuel, not to Eli.
Did Eli feel overlooked because God chose to speak to a boy under his charge? He certainly didn’t show any envy or self-pity. Instead, Eli continued being Samuel’s mentor by instructing him in how to respond to God’s call. Nor did Eli try to horn in on Samuel’s experience. He allowed Samuel his privacy while communicating with God.
When Eli asked Samuel what God said, Samuel was reluctant to answer, but when Eli pressed for the truth, Samuel told him. Eli’s sons were doomed because of their wickedness. Whatever Eli’s feelings might have been on hearing this, he remained Samuel’s spiritual advisor. He affirmed that God was the Lord and would do whatever seemed best. (Samuel 3: 11-18)
God spoke to Samuel directly, but he also knew that Samuel needed a mentor with flesh and bones. We can be grateful for those who share their faith with us by example. More than that, we can recognize the opportunities we have to mentor others. Like Eli, when someone else gets the limelight, we can accept their good fortune–and whatever our own feelings might be–with grace. When someone brings us unwelcome news, we can feel our feelings, but continue trusting God. Living our faith in the face of challenges may be the most powerful mentoring of all.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for those who guided me to you.
Reflection: Who depends on or looks up to you? How are your choices influencing them?
“…avoid stupid arguments, long lists of ancestors, quarrels, and fights about the Law. They are useless and worthless.” Titus 3: 9
When’s the last time you got into a stupid argument? It’s easy to do.
We explain our position clearly. Our reasoning is convincing—even obvious—to us. We’re met with people equally convinced of the rightness of their own position. In a conflict, anyone can get hot under the collar, but nothing is to be gained by bickering, turning up the volume, or getting personal with our criticism. Who was ever convinced by those methods?
Standing up for the truth is not the same as engaging in pointless squabbles. St. Paul warned his young helper Titus to avoid this pitfall. It’s good advice for us, too. Paul tells Titus how to instruct those who are willing to listen, not how to spiritually mug those who aren’t. He even advises Titus to warn those who are causing divisions and then leave them alone. No matter how convincing or loud our words might be, actions really do speak louder.
Withdrawing from a quarrel doesn’t mean giving in. It doesn’t declare the other person or the winner. It means we know who we are and don’t need to win a debate to prop up our egos. It means although we are willing to share our understanding of the truth with anyone, we are not threatened by those who cannot or will not listen. We can be witnesses to the truth but we don’t have to force it on anyone…especially when the truth is that God is love. He knows the best way to reach each human heart.
Prayer: Lord, protect me from the temptation to argue. Allow me to speak my truth quietly and clearly.
Reflection: What tempts you into arguing with someone else? What are some ways to refuse the bait? What do you hope to get out of arguing? What are other ways of achieving the same goal?