Monthly Archives: September 2011

Counting Our Blessings

Jesus spoke up, ‘There were ten who were healed; where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Get up and go; your faith has made you well.’” Luke 17: 17-19

 

On the way to work one morning, my car broke down on the highway– right in front of a service station!  I felt so lucky.  The attendant was able to walk right to my car and fix it so fast that I wasn’t even late for work.  As I drove to the office feeling very grateful, I started thinking about all the other days I drove to work, year after year, and never broke down before – all that reliable transportation and no gratitude. It never dawned on me to be thankful until I had a mishap.

 

It can be so easy to over-look the many blessings we have every day.  I find it interesting that Jesus told the leper his faith had made him well only after he came back to give thanks to God.  The leper had already been healed before giving thanks, but he was pronounced well after expressing his gratitude.  The gratitude I felt that day my car broke down enhanced my sense of well-being. When we make a point of counting our blessings it gives us a sense of wellness.  We can always find things to complain about, but we can also always find things to be grateful for.  Gratitude might not come naturally to us.  We may have to cultivate the habit, but it’s worth the effort.

 

Prayer:  Lord, grant us a grateful heart.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Name some ways to foster an ‘attitude of gratitude.’

Mixing Yeast With Flour

 “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?

Growing Pains

 

“In his suffering, [Manasseh] became humble, turned to the Lord his God, and begged him for help. God accepted Manasseh’s prayer and answered it by letting him go back to Jerusalem and rule again. This convinced Manasseh that the Lord was God.”   2 Chronicles 33: 12-13

 

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain.” I think C.S. Lewis said that. Why does it take pain to get our attention sometimes? On the other hand, why change the status quo if it’s comfortable? The problem is, if I get too comfortable and never change, I stagnate. It’s easy – almost logical – to think my way is the best way. If I didn’t think my opinion was the best, why would I have that opinion? When my way starts causing me pain, I finally become willing to relinquish my will and look around for another way.

 

Although not a king like Manasseh, I’ve always liked getting my way. After all, life would be just fine if everything went the way I wanted it to, wouldn’t it? But frustration, conflicts with others, and emotional turmoil forced me to ask myself, “If I’m so smart, how come I’m so miserable?” That’s when I became willing to surrender my way and look beyond myself for help. But that means loosening my grip on self-will. On the occasions I’m able to do that, I’m amazed to see things turn out well even though they didn’t always turn out my way! Nevertheless, I’m still working on letting go. Maybe I’m a slow learner.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us humility so we won’t have to learn the hard way.

 

Reflection for sharing: What are some ways to remain open-minded before circumstances become too uncomfortable?

Mercy For All

“For God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that he might show mercy to them all.”  Romans 11:32

 

You and I mess up sometimes.  If you’re like me, maybe you get down on yourself when you do.  I should have known better.  Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut? I’m such a failure.  Maybe I should just give up.   Maybe we should give up.  Give up trying to be perfect, give up trying to earn salvation by being good enough.  As someone once said, “If God wanted us to be perfect, he wouldn’t have made us human.” 

 

Does that mean we shouldn’t try to do what’s right or listen to our twinges of conscience?  Of course not.  But it is okay to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures.  Instead of trying to cover up our mistakes, make excuses, or beat ourselves up, we can turn to God’s mercy and grace.  He loves us and is waiting to forgive us, but how can we receive forgiveness if we are too busy kicking ourselves (which centers our attention of Self instead of God) or trying to justify our own behavior (which we can never fully do.)

 

Honest acceptance of where we are – faults and all – leads to humility, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Turning to Christ who justifies us (see Romans 3:24-25) and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us can help us grow toward who we want to become. Instead of wasting time wallowing or rationalizing, we can give thanks and praise to our loving Father, who, through Christ, does for us what we can never do for ourselves.  Confession really is good for the soul.

 

Prayer:  Praise and thanks to you Lord, for your mercy and love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How can savoring God’s forgiveness help us forgive ourselves and others?

God’s Help

“If the Lord had not helped me, I would have gone quickly to the land of silence.”  Psalm 93:17

 

I’m not supposed to be here.  When my mother – at age 43 – went to the doctor, he told her she had a tumor.  For some reason, she got a second opinion and found out she was pregnant with me.  When I think of some of the foolish risks I took as a teenager, and the devastating events and internal struggles over the years, I can see it is only by the grace of God that I am here today.  I’ve survived dangerous circumstances and my worst fears. (The lists are not identical.)  Every time, I have been brought through to the other side: sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes one trembling step at a time, and sometimes blissfully unaware of the danger.

 

The best intentions and efforts of others, while incredibly helpful and comforting, are sometimes not enough.  My own resources are certainly not enough. I have evidence of God’s existence, power, mercy and love:  my own life.

 

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for answering my prayers for help and for being my help when I didn’t even know to ask.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Based on your own life experience, what evidence do you have of God’s power, love, and mercy?

Accepting Others

“Accept one another, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you.”   Romans 15:7

 

What can we do when somebody gets on our nerves?  I’m not talking about tolerating abusive behavior, but the annoyances and irritations of everyday life.  We can’t make other adults act the way we want them to. We know we shouldn’t be rude or hurtful, but stuffing our feelings isn’t healthy, either.

 

Reading the above passage has helped me on more than one occasion.  It reminds me to turn my attention to the beam in my own eye instead of the speck in my brother’s eye.  (Why are those specks always easier to see then the logs closer to home?)  When I think about how annoying I might be to others at times, or how many times I trip up but am still assured of God’s love for me – warts and all – it becomes easier to let the other guy off the hook.

 

The passage also reminds me that I’m accepting the other guy – not for his sake, or even for mine – but for the glory of God.  Accepting someone’s imperfections is challenging and almost impossible on my own.  Even if I succeed, I can easily get smug. But if I can do it for the glory of God, empowered by His grace, there’s no claiming some of that glory as my own. Relieved of the burden of self-righteousness, it’s okay to be just one of my fellow imperfect human beings.

 

Prayer:  Merciful Savior, help me accept others as You have accepted me.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How can we remember to extend the acceptance we’ve received?

Judging Others

“So then, let us stop judging one another.  Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make others stumble or fall into sin.”  Romans 14: 13

 

Why is it so easy to judge others?  Sometimes it seems automatic.  Looking down on someone else, thinking we would never do or say such a thing, even being grateful we “are not as bad as so-and-so.”  Since the above quote from Romans is a call to stop doing judging, apparently St. Paul understands and takes it for granted that we are already doing it.  And wisely, he doesn’t just tell us to stop; he tells us what to do instead:  pay attention to what we are doing so we don’t cause anybody else trouble.  That should keep us plenty busy.

 

One reason we should stop judging is found in the passage just before the quote, because all of us will stand before God to be judged by Him.  When we are accountable for our own actions it won’t do us any good to point at others saying, “Look what they did.”  I tried that once. After an argument with a loved one, I felt ashamed of my nasty comment. Still smarting from my own hurt feelings and trying to justify my own harsh words, I prayed about it. “Did you hear what he said to me?” I asked.  I felt like God answered my heart by saying, “I didn’t ask you what he said.  That’s between Me and him.  I asked you why you did what you did.”  I am accountable for my own actions.  Judging others doesn’t change that.

 

Prayer:  Lord, help me learn to love my neighbor as myself, with our human weaknesses.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What seems to be gained when we judge others?  Is it worth it?  What are some alternatives?

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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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