Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it.” Genesis 4: 6-7
We know that Cain didn’t overcome the sin ‘crouching at his door.’ He murdered his brother Abel. Why? Because God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Abel gave his best. Cain didn’t. It wasn’t Abel’s fault that Cain didn’t do the right thing, but instead of taking responsibility for his own shortcomings, Cain blamed his brother for showing him up. Feeling anger wasn’t a sin, but it put Cain in a position to have sin to gain the upper hand.
It’s easy to resent others when their integrity shows us up. As if the key to our integrity lies in being—or appearing to be—better than others. If we could only direct our attention to our own choices instead of comparing ourselves to others. If we think others are better than we are, we become resentful, envious, or insecure. If we feel superior to others, we get self-righteous, condescending, or conceited. Either way, it’s not a pretty sight. The fault lies, not outside us, but in our own choices. We are free to put forth our best effort or not. When we don’t, we know it. Whether others know it or not, it eats away at our self-esteem. When we do the right thing we also know it. When we’re grounded in healthy self-respect we have no need to pull down anyone else.
When we catch ourselves being annoyed at someone else’s success, we’re in a vulnerable position. We can acknowledge our feelings. (it wasn’t Cain’s anger that was the problem, but what he did with it.) Honestly admitting our true feelings and working them through in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves or others is healthy. Correcting our own mistakes and cleaning up our side of the street can’t help but make us feel a sense of integrity. When we feel good about ourselves, our hearts will smile. What other people are doing or not doing can’t take that away.
Prayer: Lord, help me face myself honestly, accept what I find, and take the actions you would have me take.
Reflection for sharing: When have you envied someone else’s success? What was going on inside of you at the time? What choices did you have about how to handle the situation?
My children, keep yourselves safe from false gods! 1 John 5:21
Temptations are seductive. If they didn’t offer us something that looks good, why would we go after them? They lure us by promising to make us feel good, or satisfy our desires for pleasure, power, or fame. They promise protection from painful feelings like loneliness, helplessness, or rejection.
The problem is, temptations are impostors. Their promises are lies—no matter how many people “worship” them. At best, they let us down. At worst, they are destructive. Ask any addict who started out wanting to feel good and ended up devastated by loss of health, loved ones, and income—not to mention the freedom to choose, as they find themselves pushed around by the demands of the booze, drugs, etc.
But we don’t have to end up on skid row to be taken in by false gods. How many trips to the mall does it take until we know that more things aren’t going to bring us lasting happiness and might even leave our bank accounts in dire straits? How many times do we have to join in gossip until we recognize that tearing someone else down doesn’t build us up but instead damages our character at least as much as the person we’re talking about? How many times will we surrender our principles and self-respect by going along with what others want because we can’t risk being rejected? Physical comfort, wanting to feel important or accepted aren’t wrong in themselves, but when we let them take first place in our lives, we make them into false gods. These idols feed on pride and fear. Pride tells us we are the center of our own universe and that the way to happiness is focusing on Number 1. Fear tells us we don’t dare experience rejection or look bad or else we’ll not only feel worthless, we’ll be worthless.
Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us so often, “Do not be afraid,” and encourages us to grow in humility. The God of Truth can teach our hearts that we are valuable, precious, and loved, even if we aren’t the center of the universe. He can show us that our ultimate joy and good comes from trusting Him instead of going after happiness in short-sighted or self-defeating ways. He will teach us that joy runs deeper and endures longer than the pleasure promised by false gods. When those false gods let us down or hurt us, the One True God is always waiting for us to turn back to Him.
Prayer: God of Truth, open my eyes to see false promises for what they are.
Reflection for sharing: What false gods are promising you more than they can deliver today?
After the Resurrection, the believers who joined the apostles “all shared with one another everything they had.” Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold their property turned some of the money to the apostles but kept part of the money for themselves. Peter confronted Ananias, saying, “…why did you let Satan take control of you and make you lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping part of the money you received for the property?…You have not lied to people—you have lied to God!” When confronted, Ananias dropped dead. Later, Peter asked Sapphira, who didn’t know what happened, if she and her husband had given over the full amount they received for the property. When she answered yes, Peter confronted her and she, too, fell down dead. (Acts 4:32b; 5:1-11)
That sounds pretty harsh! Ananias and his wife gave the apostles a substantial sum of money—maybe more than half of what they got once they sold the property. Isn’t that enough? A closer look at the passage in Acts shows that Peter was not concerned about the amount of money. He was concerned that Ananias and his wife had been dishonest about it. While Ananias and his wife wanted to participate in the communal living with other believers they also hedged their bet by keeping a private reserve. Peter seems to indicate that if they wanted to keep some of the money it was their right to do so. If they’d been honest about it, maybe there would have been no problem. What was seriously wrong was to pretend a level of commitment they didn’t have, to claim fellowship with a group who had abandoned all without having done so themselves.
No one executed Ananias or Sapphira. They simply died on the spot once their lie was exposed. Don’t we all die a little bit when we pretend to be something we’re not? When we hide the truth of who we are from others, we classify ourselves as not good enough. We convince ourselves that we have to put on a front to be accepted–but whatever acceptance or honor we receive under false pretenses doesn’t really count. In our hearts we know it. Our self-respect is doomed when we deny our truth, whether or not other people find out. As Peter points out, we aren’t lying to people, we’re lying to God. We often end up lying to ourselves as well and start believing our own self-image.
It is life-giving to acknowledge who we are, warts and all. After all, who are we trying to fool? All the popularity in the world doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t like ourselves. And why hide from God? After all, he knows the truth about us. He loves us anyway. What have we got to hide?
Prayer: Lord, lead me to the truth about myself.
Reflection for sharing: What keeps you from facing the truth about yourself?
Wednesday’s Word: Authenticity
I am not afraid. I am going to talk because I know my own heart. (Job 9: 35)
Sharing what’s in our hearts takes courage. Knowing what’s in our hearts in the first place takes courage, too.
When we’re afraid of being judged, criticized, or rejected, we’re not likely to expose our deepest feelings. There’s nothing wrong with putting our best foot forward, but when we consistently put on a false front or try to live up to others’ expectations, we can lose ourselves. We bury those parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there without even realizing that we’re cutting ourselves off from a very real part of ourselves. No matter how many friends we gain with our false front, we’ll still feel alone if no one knows the “real me.”
The negative feelings we don’t acknowledge don’t go away. Buried alive they sometimes leak out sideways. Just ask those we live or work with. The irony is that we need to face our shadowy secrets and accept that they are part of us before we can let them go. This isn’t easy to do. Meditating on God’s unconditional love helps us feel safe enough to face our true selves. In order to grow in this awareness, it helps to have encouragement and emotional support, whether from a spiritual director, a psychological counselor, or a wise and understanding friend in whom we can confide.
“Yes. I wish I weren’t vain, or judgmental, or greedy…but the truth is, I am.” When we dare to face the truth—however unflattering it is—it’s a relief. Sharing this truth with another human being in a safe environment, whether in a confessional, a psychologist’s office, or over coffee at a trusted friend’s house, is healing. There is hope for change and for genuine relationships. We can communicate authentically once we’re not afraid and we know our own hearts.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to be honest, starting with myself.
Reflection: What’s going on inside your heart today?
And so it was that Joseph, a Levite born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “One who Encourages”) sold a field he owned, brought the money and turned it over to the apostles. Acts 4: 36-37
Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and many people were brought to the Lord. Acts 11:24
Barnabas was a good guy. He earned the nickname Barnabas because he encouraged others—and not by words alone. Barnabas was also a Levite. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus used a Levite to demonstrate that those who are religiously scrupulous can fail to love the people in their path. Not Barnabas. His experience with religious rituals and laws didn’t keep him from living a life of love.
Barnabas demonstrated absolute faith in God by giving up his financial security. He sold his property and donated the money to the apostles. When the disciples were skeptical of Paul’s conversion because Paul had persecuted Christians, Barnabas interceded on his behalf. Barnabas worked with Paul and together they shared the good news with Gentiles, despite facing persecution themselves. When Paul refused to take John Mark with him because John Mark had abandoned an earlier mission, Barnabas took Mark with him.
Encouragement for the Christian community. Encouragement for Paul. Encouragement for Gentiles. Encouragement for John Mark. All without saying a word.
What was Barnabas’ secret? He was “full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” He trusted God, not religious practices, wealth, popular opinion, or the infallibility of fellow believers. He gave people the benefit of the doubt. He relied on God’s guidance and his own observation, rather than on what others had to say. He believed in second chances.
How about us? What are we trusting in today? Our efforts to be good or God’s love and mercy? Do we take for granted our material security or see it as a gift of God’s providence? Do we rely on the court of public opinion or reserve judgment? Are we willing to give others the benefit of the doubt? Can we give them—and ourselves—a second chance?
Prayer: Lord, may our faith in You encourage us and empower us to encourage others.
Reflection for sharing: What encourages you? How can you share encouragement with someone else today?
No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. Job 7:11
Job had a lot to feel bitter about: loss of loved ones, property, and physical health. He was criticized by his wife and misunderstood by his friends. Who could blame him for feeling angry? We’ve all felt like that—and sometimes with a lot less provocation.
Job is famous for having patience, but he was no hypocrite. He was honest about his feelings. It’s good for us to be honest about our feelings, too. Swallowing our anger or pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t healthy. Anger turned in on ourselves can lead to physical symptoms or other problems. It isn’t honest, either.
We need to express our anger, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to lash out or hurt anyone. So what do we do? We might take a lesson from Job. He poured out his anger to God. Like the psalmists, Job wasn’t afraid to bare his soul to God. We can do the same. God is truth. If we can’t tell the truth about what we’re feeling to God, who can we be honest with?
Once we’ve vented safely with the One who can handle it, we’re in less danger of being pushed around by our feelings or acting on them in a harmful way. But after we’ve had our say, it’s time to listen, just as Job listened to God. When our lines of communication are no longer clogged with negative static, we can receive direction. We can turn our anger over to God and act as He directs us.
Prayer: Lord, I’m angry. Show me what to do.
Reflection for sharing: What are you holding back from sharing with God?
…James and John, the sons of Zebedee…were in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them; they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus. Mark 1: 19b-20
I wonder how Zebedee felt. I’d have been jealous, resentful, and concerned for my children’s well-being—at least initially. Did Zebedee understand his sons’ need to follow Jesus? How long did it take him to adjust to the impact their response had on his own life?
What happens when someone close to us makes choices—even good choices—that are out of our comfort zone? God’s plans for our loved ones sometimes seem to take them away from us. Can we feel all our feelings without getting stuck in them? Can we put ourselves and our loved ones in God’s hands?
Prayer: Lord, grant us the grace to accept Your plans for us and our loved ones.
Reflection for sharing: What helps you entrust your loved ones to God’s loving care?
Do whatever he tells you. John 2:5b
When the wine had run out during the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus’ mother told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. Servants are used to following instructions. Us? Not so much.
Our culture fiercely prizes independence and that’s a good thing…to an extent. But there are plenty of times “my way” just doesn’t work. The truth is, I simply don’t have all the answers. Of course I do my best to deal with life’s difficulties using the brains God gave me. Even so, bombarding problems with my own efforts sometimes leaves me as dry as the wineskins at that wedding in Cana. When I come up empty, I become open to what God has in mind for a situation. I can honestly say that there isn’t a single situation I’ve been up against that I haven’t survived, although there have been many that haven’t gone the way I wanted them to.
When my husband Ray proposed, he was living in another state. My determination not to relocate left us deadlocked. Ray gently challenged me to pray for God’s will. I agreed, convinced I’d be told to stay put. To my surprise, the answer God sent to my heart was like a bud opening from tight resistance to open-mindedness and then to willingness. My shift in attitude surprised me. I saw that much of my reluctance was fear-based, and began to see the move as an opportunity. Although we moved back to my home state less than two years later, the experience of yielding my will and trusting the unknown was well worth the adventure. The people I met were great. Moreover, the new hometown we ultimately ended up living in has been the birthplace of my writing career. I couldn’t have known that back when I stubbornly refused to yield, but God did. Looking back I can see it was all part of His plan. I am so much better off when I rely on God’s wisdom and follow His directions rather than calling my own shots. How about you?
Prayer: Lord, help me listen for your instructions and follow.
Reflection: What is God asking you to do today?
“But avoid stupid arguments, long lists of ancestors, quarrels, and fights about the Law. They are useless and worthless.” Titus 3:9
St. Paul advised Titus, a fellow missionary, to avoid stupid arguments. Spreading the gospel among non-believers must have given Titus plenty of opportunities to get drawn into controversy—all the more because he was a Gentile. Although he wasn’t physically circumcised, it’s clear Titus’ heart was circumcised. Titus was willing to witness to his faith and endure the challenges of making his faith known publicly for the sake of sharing the Good News with others.
How can we handle controversy? We can speak our truth quietly but firmly. We can choose how we want to respond to antagonizing comments. Our demeanor can be more effective than brilliant words in convincing others of God’s love. We can share what we believe knowing that the truth doesn’t change whether or not people believe it. We can also respect God’s gift of free will to those we share with.
Prayer: Lord, may I respect those who disagree with me while also respecting myself.
Reflection for sharing: How can asking God to speak through me help me avoid the pitfall of useless arguments?