Monthly Archives: February 2012

Ash Wednesday 2012: Fasting

If you fast because of your sins, and then go out and commit the same sins over again, what have you gained by going without food? Sirach 34:26

 

What good is fasting if our hearts and lives remain unchanged? We empty ourselves physically in order to make room for God. Food isn’t the only thing that satisfies—or at least seems to satisfy—on a natural level. What else might we need to fast from in our spiritual journey? That answer may be different for each of us.

 

One year I decided—half-jokingly—to give up worrying for Lent, hoping to strengthen my trust in God. I must really love worrying—giving it up was (and continues to be) an on-going struggle!

 

Who would want to hang on to envy? Or impatience? Or resentment? We must get some satisfaction from the likes of these or we’d let them go easily. Fasting from negative attitudes is humbling. Even when we try our best to give them up, we may find that we can’t do it without God’s help. That’s a good thing. Our faltering efforts prompt us to stay closer to Him, and isn’t growing closer to God the point of fasting?

 

Prayer: Lord, help us empty ourselves so we can be filled with Your Love.

 

Reflection for sharing: What else besides food would it be helpful to fast from during Lent?

Quiet Trust

The Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says to the people, “Come back and quietly trust in me. Then you will be strong and secure.” But you refuse to do it. Isaiah 30:15

 

Who doesn’t want to be strong and secure? Why, then, is it so hard to respond to God’s gentle, non-threatening invitation?  God is powerful, I know. I need and want Him to be powerful enough to do for me what I can’t do for myself, but I can be intimidated by that kind of power. I imagine my vulnerable heart—frail because of so many fears—skittish and tentative, like a deer in the forest. So this Sovereign Lord, who has a right to command my obedience, doesn’t order or threaten me. Instead, He cajoles, gently and patiently. “Come back.” If He’s inviting me to return, it must be because I’ve turned away. “Quietly trust in me.” God knows my heart so well. Even if I want to trust Him, I can’t make myself feel trusting on cue. So He creates an atmosphere of trust that coaxes me to settle down. Quiet implies more than the silence involved in listening. It implies calm, stillness, serenity.

 

Already His promise is coming true as I take my focus off my worries, even for a moment. By responding to God’s invitation to come back and be quiet, I feel more secure. The static of my fears is simmering down as I rest in His Presence.

 

Prayer: Thank you for inviting me into Your Presence, Lord. Help me quietly trust in You.

 

Reflection for sharing: What keeps us from accepting God’s invitation?

 

Experiencing God’s Kindness

As the scripture says, “You have found out for yourselves how kind the Lord is.” 1 Peter 2:3

 

Evidence of God’s kindness can be found in our own personal experience, according to Peter. We find out for ourselves how kind the Lord is by looking at our own lives. But we have to look. It’s so easy to take good things for granted. When I was younger, I had boundless energy. In college, I burned the midnight oil and never gave it a second thought. Now I wonder how I ever crammed so much into 24-hour packets without rest periods! When we take the time to count our blessings, it’s easier to see how blessed we are. Talents, opportunities, friendships—even scrapes or close calls survived are there for the finding.

 

 

But what about when life hasn’t been all sweetness and light? What about sickness or death, broken relationships, and all the other painful challenges that are part of life? How can we avoid bitterness, let alone find traces of God’s kindness in these experiences? It requires digging deeper, not denying the suffering. When my mother was dying, it was a painful time, but blessings were woven throughout the ordeal: moments of graced consolation while praying at her bedside; Mom sharing her hope-filled inklings of what lay ahead for her; the unified effort of my siblings and myself during her hospitalization and after her passing would have made Mom proud and so made my heart smile.

 

Other personal challenges were also graced with the loving support of my friends and family. Loved ones could not take away my pain but they kept emotional vigil and encouraged me as I walked through to the other side of those experiences. The Lord’s goodness even penetrated my physical and emotional barriers. God granted me the willingness to endure, one hour at a time, when doubt in His existence clouded my faith and intruded on my ability to pray.  He was kind to me even when I didn’t or couldn’t see it.  God’s goodness is not limited by my ability to appreciate or even notice it. That in itself is evidence of His kindness.

 

Prayer:  Open my eyes and grant me a grateful heart, Lord.

 

 

Reflection for sharing: Have you found out for yourself how kind the Lord is? In what ways?

This Too Shall Pass

As the saying goes, before long the dense forest will become farmland, and the farmland will go back to forest. Isaiah 29:17

 

Isaiah was assuring the poor and suffering that oppression would not last forever. A time of happiness would come to the humble. Nothing on earth stays the same forever. Of course, some situations can’t change quickly enough. We say, “This too, shall pass,” to encourage others facing challenging times. The thought that everything is passing may indeed be comforting when those we love, or we ourselves, are struggling.

 

What about the other side of the coin? When things are going well, it’s human nature to want those times to last. It’s okay for the forest to become productive farmland, but we don’t want the farmland to deteriorate. That’s a limited perspective. It’s important for farmers to rotate their crops and allow the ground to lie fallow—that is, left unplanted—at times to restore the soil’s fertility.

 

We want life to continue problem-free, of course, but then we run the risk of complacency. We may take good things for granted or even become insensitive to the suffering of others. God can bring good out of anything, even our challenging times. Problems bring opportunities for growth, empathy, even hope. I know that impatience festered within me until age and health problems slowed me down. Now I’m acquiring an acceptance of others that I simply could not muster before I coped with my own physical challenges.

 

There is a time and a purpose for everything under God’s heaven.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me accept that this situation, like all situations, will also pass.

 

Reflection for sharing: Are you in a “farmland” situation today or in a “dense forest”? How does realizing that “this too shall pass” impact your approach to the situation?

Meddling

If you suffer, it must not be because you are a murderer or a thief or a criminal or a meddler in other people’s affairs. 1 Peter 4: 15

 

We may not be murderers, thieves, or criminals—but how many of us meddle in other people’s affairs? St. Peter ranks that right up there with criminal activity. The Revised Standard Version translates the line as, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker.” While it might not be a criminal offense, meddling can cause mischief, havoc, and sometimes real harm. “But I meant well,” or, “I was only trying to help,” may be sincere motivations, but they can’t undo harm once it has occurred.

 

The difference between meddling and being a Good Samaritan may not always be clear. Assisting someone who clearly needs or asks for help is not the same as interfering, which is how the Oxford American Dictionary defines meddling. That same dictionary says to interfere is “to take part in dealing with other people’s affairs without right or invitation.”  If our minor child is engaging in risky behavior, we have a right to intervene. If we, or those we are responsible for, are being harmed by the actions of others, we have a right to take protective action. If someone is unconscious and can’t ask for help, we can and should administer first aid or call 911. And of course, if someone asks for help and we can help him or her, that’s great.

 

However, unwanted interference in the affairs of other adults when we are not directly involved is meddling and can do more harm than good. Especially if our goal is to manipulate people into doing what we think they should. It is so tempting to try and straighten out someone else’s problem instead of focusing on our own.  Maybe that’s why Jesus advised us to take the beam out of our own eye before trying to take the splinter out of another’s.

 

Prayer:  Lord, teach me to entrust other adults to Your care.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How can I discern the difference between offering genuine help and meddling? In what situations do I become tempted to meddle? What are healthier options?

Open To Nourishment

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. Open your mouth, and I will feed you.  Psalm 81:10

 

God heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves and–through Moses–lead them out of bondage in Egypt. God promised to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. But first, they found themselves facing a harsh trek through the desert. They were pursued by their oppressors. They complained of hunger and thirst. When they finally arrived at the Promised Land, fear delayed their entry. Time and again they complained and time and again, God provided for them, even though they were quick to turn their backs on Him in their hardships.

 

What does this have to do with us? Who, or what, have we been—or are we now—in bondage to? Someone else’s unrealistic expectations? A consumer-driven mentality enticing us to accumulate debt or work long hours to buy things we don’t really need? Maybe we’ve been slaves to our own perfectionism, fears, or need to preserve an inflated self-image at any cost. God can lead us to freedom, too.  But leaving the old pattern behind can feel like a trek through the desert. That’s okay. While in the desert, the Hebrews looked back longingly to the ‘fleshpots of Egypt’ more than once. But they did not turn back. When they faced challenges God provided for their needs in unexpected ways. They were thirsty? He made water come out of a rock. They were hungry? He sent quails and manna.

 

God provided, but the people still had to invest effort and follow instructions. They had to be willing to leave Egypt and not turn back. When God parted the Red Sea, each and every one had to walk through it. Moses had to strike the rock before the water came out of it. It was risky to do something that seemed illogical, but he did it. The people had to go out and gather the food God provided every single day. Above all, they had to be open to being cared for in ways they didn’t expect.  Are we willing to following God’s leading and accept His gifts along the way?

 

Prayer:  Lord, I open myself to You. Please feed my heart with Your love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Where are you in your journey? Are you being called to leave bondage behind? Are you in the desert? Is the Promised Land within your sight but you are afraid to enter? How can you open yourself today so that God can nourish your heart?

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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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