“When the king of Egypt let the people go, God did not take them by the road that goes up the coast to Philistia, although it was the shortest way…Instead, he led them in a roundabout way through the desert toward the Red Sea…” Exodus 13: 17-18
There was a reason God led the Israelites out of their way. At the Red Sea, he was able to keep them safe and destroy their enemies. Had the Egyptians caught up with them on the shorter, solid ground route, things might not have gone so well.
Sometimes God leads me by a roundabout way, too. Impatience makes me want to achieve my goals immediately—if not sooner. That means no detours. But God’s ways often seem to lead me away from my goals. Sometimes the long road is the shortest way to my hearts desire.
In college, I wanted to major in English and become a writer. Instead, I ended up with a 33 year career in social services. It was not until I retired that I was able to pursue writing. Why the delay? Although I’ve always loved writing, I’m not so sure I had anything to say when I was 20. After 40 years of living, I’ve learned a lot of things I could never have learned in college courses. Now I can put my heart as well as my mind into my writing. I’ve also acquired the humility and willingness to persist in spite of rejection—an important factor in getting published.
Other writers may have been led to write by a shorter route, but the roundabout way was the way that brought me to a destination worth arriving at.
Prayer: Lord, help us trust you when our goals seem thwarted or delayed.
Reflection for sharing: When has a roundabout route been the best way to your heart’s desire?
Have the salt of friendship among yourselves, and live in peace with one another. Mark 9:50b
Salt makes food taste good. Like salt, friendship enhances what nourishes our hearts. Of course, sharing laughter and good times with friends is enjoyable, but friends make the hard times more bearable, too. When I was bed-ridden, when family members were hospitalized, when depression had me in its clutches, friends who loved me couldn’t take away my pain. Still, somehow knowing they cared helped me face each day, when days seemed like an endless stream of pain. In God’s beautiful efficiency, it’s been a bittersweet joy and privilege to stand by my friends when their loved ones passed away, when their hearts were broken, when fear or discouragement loomed large for them. Powerless to take away their pain, I was able to do what I could and trust that the salt of friendship in some small way, helped make their trials a tiny bit more endurable.
When I was a child, I had trouble making friends and my Mom quoted the old adage to me: To have a friend, be a friend. That started me thinking about what I might have to offer someone else. Because of course, much of my hesitation about approaching others centered on fear of rejection, fear that I somehow wasn’t good enough. It helped to focus on what others might need instead of my own issues. I made several friends by “being a friend” to someone in need.
I was also on the receiving end of generous friendship. In high school, I was not “in crowd” material. By a stroke of luck, several neighborhood girls started including me in their group. I belonged. I had friends to walk home from school with and hang out with. Mutually rewarding, beautiful friendships developed among us. It wasn’t until years later that I found out those girls reached out to me because one of them felt sorry for me.
Although there is give and take in friendship, it’s not a commodity to be earned and paid for by good deeds and favors. It’s a life-enhancing gift that we are free to offer and accept.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of friendship.
Reflection for sharing: How can I invest some time in my friendships today?
Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good; his love is eternal. Psalm 106:1
The Giver is good and his love is eternal: without end, ceaseless—that includes right now. Whether times are easy or hard, we can find things to give thanks for in the here and now. In fact, hard times can spur us to look for the good even more. When life runs smoothly, it’s easy to take things for granted.
I remember the day I was driving to work and my car broke down right in front of a gas station! I just stepped out of my car and professionals took care of the problem. In a matter of minutes I was back on my way to work, tickled pink that the problem had such an easy solution. Then I started thinking about all the other days I drove to work with no problem at all. I didn’t feel lucky on those days. Why was I more grateful on the day I had car trouble? Because when things go well, I don’t notice how well they are going.
Giving thanks no matter what is going on is a blessing. If times are good, it enhances our appreciation of our lives. If times are hard, it gives us hope. It doesn’t mean we pretend there is no problem or that there’s no pain. That’s denial. But if God’s goodness and love is eternal, it is with us even when we can’t see it…nevertheless, we can find evidence of it if we look.
Complaining can become a habit. Being grateful is also a habit we can cultivate. What we practice, we get better at. Writing down our blessings so that we have concrete documentation of God’s goodness can lead to growing contentment. Why not give it a try? What better time to try it than on this holiday?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your loving presence in my life today.
Reflection for sharing? Where do you see God’s goodness in your life today?
There the angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing; yet it was not consumed. “This is strange,” he thought. “Why isn’t the bush burning up? I will go closer and see.” Exodus 3:2-3 NRSV
We know that in Moses’ day, fire gave light, warmth, and protection. Still, it’s impossible to think of something being on fire and not being destroyed itself. But that’s what happens when we open ourselves to God and his word becomes alive in our hearts. We gain insight, we are warmed by God’s love and are able to share that love with others. It’s easy to be afraid that if we surrender ourselves to God, we’ll lose our individuality and somehow become cookie cutter Christians all stamped from the same mold. But the Creator is infinitely creative. No two fingerprints are the same, how much richer is the individuality of our soul-prints?
Think of a stained glass window. When the sun shines through it, its beauty is enhanced, but the colors don’t all turn sun-colored. The reds glow with a more vibrant redness. The blues shine a richer blue, and so on. When we allow God’s love to burn in our hearts, we won’t lose our uniqueness. We’ll reflect God’s light through the prism of our own true selves. The fire of God’s love won’t destroy us. So, like Moses, it’s safe for us to get closer and see.
Prayer: Lord, draw me closer to the fire of your love.
Reflection for sharing: When have you felt on fire with love? Did that fire nourish you or consume you? Why?
To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:29
When I’m working hard or struggling, it’s easy to think I’m on my own. But St. Paul seems well aware that Christ is working within him. Even so, Paul acknowledges that he himself has to toil and struggle.
Christ said that he is the Vine and apart from Him we can do nothing. That doesn’t mean that with His vine-life flowing through us we have it made in the shade. Quite the contrary. God often leads us out of our comfort zone. Take Jean Dimech-Juchniewicz. She began a support group for couples coping with infertility in her parish because she herself needed such a ministry. As a result of the research involved and her experience working with other couples, Jean ended up writing a book about the subject. She wrote it in spite of her demanding work schedule, family responsibilities (she home-schools), and a disinclination to write! Because she was willing to toil and trust God’s strength and guidance, Jean produced a successful book: Facing Infertility: A Catholic Approach*, a helpful resource for couples coping with infertility and for those who care about them.
Like Jean, we can’t do a thing without God’s grace, and yet we’re not puppets. If we supply the willingness, He supplies the power. It isn’t always easy, but it is always good.
Prayer: Lord, guide our efforts and keep us humble.
Reflection for sharing: How can you become more aware of God’s presence in your struggles?
*For more information on Jean or her book, Facing Infertility: A Catholic Approach, visit: https://store.pauline.org or amazon.com
Abram put his trust in the Lord, and because of this the Lord was pleased with him and accepted him. Genesis 15:6
All we have to do to make God happy with us is trust him? We don’t have to be perfect? We don’t have to be models of virtue? Who knew it would be that easy—or is it? If we trust that God knows what He is doing, we will follow His directions. If we trust that God loves us, we won’t be afraid to be honest with Him about our weaknesses. If we trust that God is powerful, we won’t have to be afraid of other people and their opinions.
Trust sounds like an attitude, but that attitude shows up in our choices and actions. Maybe that’s why the Bible says so often, “Don’t be afraid.” God said it to Abram when He promised to give Abram many descendants. The angel said it to Mary when announcing that she would give birth to Jesus. Jesus told his followers not to be afraid because the Father is pleased to give us the Kingdom.
It’s not that we have to be afraid we won’t make the cut if we aren’t good enough for God; fear holds us back from following God’s plan for us. When we trust God, He accepts us but we also accept Him. We can trust what He has to offer instead of trusting our own financial security, or status, looks, or fill in the blank. Fear can keep us from true satisfaction when we hold back from using our talents, like the servant in the parable.. The king was unhappy with the servant who let fear keep him from using what he had been given.
We take a chance when we put ourselves out there. What is fear of failure or fear of other people’s opinions holding us back from today? If God is prompting us, we will be good enough for whatever we feel called to do. It’s safe to trust Him. Just because we don’t do something perfectly, or it doesn’t work out the way we planned or hoped, doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust you more.
Reflection for sharing: If I trusted God more, what would I be doing differently today?
God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1
Hurricane Sandy brought a “time of trouble” for many along the East Coast. Images of overwhelming destruction, heart-breaking personal stories, and firsthand experience have impacted us over the last week. The Psalmist doesn’t say there will never be times of trouble, but that God is always ready to help in those times. Where is God in all this?
Other images, stories, and experiences are interwoven throughout Sandy’s aftermath. Heroic efforts by dedicated first responders and other professionals; political opponents working together; outreach by community and faith-based organizations supported by generous donations; individuals sharing their homes with those without heat, food, or other resources.
Countless people are reaching beyond themselves and doing what they can to help, whether on a large scale or simply one family at a time. After the NYC marathon was cancelled, some runners remained to help with hurricane relief efforts. When their goals were thwarted, they abandoned their personal ambitions and redirected their energy to serve others. One of many fine, if unspectacular, examples of selfless helping in “times of trouble.”
There’s a story about a man who watched a poor little girl begging in the street. The man said to God, “Why don’t you do something to help her?” God answered, “I did do something. I made you.”
Prayer: Lord, open our eyes and make us always ready to help in times of trouble.
Reflection for sharing: Who has been my shelter and strength in my times of trouble? How can I provide shelter or strength to someone else today?