Anna didn’t start out to live the life of a contemplative. She was probably married at an early age, as was the custom at that time. Perhaps as a child, she imagined what her wedding day would be like. She may have daydreamed about married life and having children of her own. But after only seven years of marriage, she became a widow. She then spent her life fasting and praying in the Temple.
Perhaps as a young widow, Anna had opportunities to remarry but chose to remain single. Maybe her husband left her financially secure so that she could afford to spend her time in God’s praise. On the other hand, maybe she had no offers of marriage, no money, and fasted initially out of necessity. Living off the alms of others and God’s providence, she might have learned to trust that same providence. In any event, at age 84, she persevered in following what had sustained her throughout most of her life. Her husband had been taken away. If she had children, they grew to live their own lives. Lack of status, security and close family ties might have deepened Anna’s union with the one thing that could not be taken away from her: God’s love.
Anna was present when Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus for presentation at the Temple. Both Anna and Simeon, another devout believer, began praising God when they saw the child and recognized, in Jesus, the salvation of mankind.
It’s quite possible that the religious officials in the Temple looked on Anna with disdain. The Lord had condemned religious leaders for taking advantage of widows. If so, Anna’s testimony about the baby Jesus, along with Simeon’s, was all the more remarkable. As often happened throughout Christ’s minsitry, the respected religious leaders missed the significance of Jesus’ presence. The task of spreading the Good News fell to the humble faithful who were open to recieve it.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan it. Accepting circumstances beyond our control frees us to focus on the opportunities we find in our reality. People can be drawn to a contemplative lifestyle by vocation, nature, or circumstance. Some may find themselves isolated or homebound, if only temporarily, by physical challenges, or because they care for others with special needs. My own health problems left me homebound for months at a time more than once in my life. I’ve also found myself isolated in the middle of the night by insomnia. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to use these times alone for increased spiritual reading and prayer. Though initially force by circumstances, I came to appreciate, more often than not, these opportunities for time apart with God.
Even those of us with busy lifestyles do well to interrupt our demanding schedules periodically for times of rest and reflection. Whether we accept opportunities for quiet prayer or create our own, these times renew us. More than that, they can eequip us, like Anna, to share the good news with those still waiting to be set free.
Reflection: Widowed after seven years of marriage, Anna spent her life worshipping God in the Temple. When have you experienced, or observed in others, abrupt and unplanned changes in circumstances? what oppoortunities for spiritual growth were present in those times?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes”
Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, was a victim of circumstance. He was crippled at the age of 5, when his nurse dropped him while fleeing. She was trying to protect him from David. The irony is that David meant Mephibosheth no harm. Although King Saul considered David his enemy, his son Jonathan and David had a deep friendship. For Jonathan’s sake, Mephibosheth would have been safe under David’s protection.
By the time David found him, Mephibosheth was a grown man with a child of his own. Raised to believe that David was out to get him, when he was brought before David, Mephibosheth referred to himself as a dog. However, out of love for Jonathan, David gave Mephibosheth all the inheritance due him and insisted that he join the royal household, eating all his meals at David’s table. What was it like for this man, who grew up living in fear and poverty, to accept lavish generosity–especially from someone he had been told was his enemy?
It isn’t always easy to accept good things when we’ve become accustomed to hard times. What’s familliar becomes comfortable–even when it’s painful. Change–even for the good–can be intimidating. But God works in all circumstances. Yes, we need to learn to accept hard challenges and turn to God for strength to get through them, but good times come, too. Jesus didn’t refuse a good time when it came his way…in fact, he was even accused of being a glutton and drunkard. (Luke 7:34)
Mephibosheth’s story demonstrates that the way things are at any point in time is not the way they will always be. Jesus embraced his times of joy and sorrow. As did Mephibosheth. As we are invited to do.
After one encounter with David, Mephibosheth’s circumstances drastically changed for the better. What do you see as the biggest challenge in accepting a change for the good? How can gratitude help you handle both blessings and misfortunes?
Be still and know that I am God! Psalm 46: 10a (NRSV)
What if we can’t be still? What if we avoid meditating because we don’t like being still? What if we read our Bibles and talk to God, but have trouble listening in stillness to what He might be trying to tell us?
There are a number of methods people use to still their minds: repeating a word or phrase, focusing on an inspiring image, playing relaxing or uplifting background music. These techniques can set the stage for quieting our over-active minds, but a tool is not the event itself. What happens when the technique doesn’t bring the desired result?
I suggest that honesty is the best policy. If we feel fidgety or resistant, why can’t we bring that to God? What if we just surrender completely to His care? He knows us better than we know ourselves. Maybe humbly offering our resistance to Him is just as pleasing to Him as a meditation perfectly executed in our own eyes. It costs us something to carve out time to be with God when we’re itching to get on with our day. That can be a sincere demonstration that “we know that He is God.” Maybe knowing God is not so much about being able to “still” ourselves on command, but about becoming open to His supreme presence and power.
One translation of the above Scripture verse is, “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” That means we can even stop struggling against our own resistance to contemplation. We can abandon ourselves to the care of the Author of Peace.
Prayer: Lord, You are my God. Empower me to be still and know You.
Reflection for sharing: What helps you “be still and know” God? If you struggle with being still, what can help you surrender your struggle to Him?
And may God, the source of patience and encouragement, enable you to have the same point of view among yourselves by following the example of Christ Jesus… Romans 15:5
Patience doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve tried forcing myself to be patient with little lectures: You need to be patient…Patience is a virtue…Just be patient…It doesn’t work. The more I pressure myself to be patient, the more impatient I get—with myself.
Then one day I came across an anonymous quote: “It is a mistake to think that patience can be acquired by will-power; patience can only be acquired by letting go of self-will.” That changes everything. When do I get impatient? When traffic, people, or situations beyond my control interfere with MY schedule, MY idea of how things should be going. There’s enough self-will in my attitude already. Adding more by willing myself to be patient just adds fuel to the fire.
What a difference when I can let go of my agenda. Stuck in traffic? That’s okay. God knows all about it. I’ll get where I need to be when I need to be there. Someone doesn’t see eye to eye with my plan? It’s all right. Maybe there’s more than one way to achieve a common goal. Too much to do and too little time? Puh-leeze! God gives me all the time I need to get done whatever He has in mind for me to do on any given day. Maybe it’s ego urging me to do more than is reasonable in any particular set of circumstances.
Come to think of it, I can’t recall any gospels where Jesus rushed around to get things done or insist that people do things his way—and his “to do” list included saving humanity! What enabled him to take circumstances in stride? Maybe it had everything to do with how he often went off alone to spend time in prayer to His Father, the source of all patience.
Prayer: Lord, help me relax and trust You to provide everything I need to do what you have in mind for me to do today.
Reflection for sharing: How will letting go of self-will help you relax and patiently accept life as it comes today?
Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Psalm 131: 1-2
It was a busy week and promised to be an even busier weekend. The project I’d finished didn’t bring satisfaction. Instead, it brought dread. Now I had to contend with the mountain of things I’d put off to tackle once the project was done. That ever-growing to do list was waiting, daring me to tackle it. To top it off, the week had been an emotional roller coaster due to the health and personal challenges facing of several loved ones.
Worn out from the pressure I put on myself to get a handle on everything, I knew I should address my feelings. I didn’t want to. The process seemed time consuming and unproductive. It would keep me from accomplishing all the work I had to do. Luckily, it became clear to me that I couldn’t afford not to take the time. So, challenging as it was to “turn away from my arrogance” in thinking I could power through my to do list, I stopped. I journaled about what I was feeling and laid it all at God’s feet…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Next, I asked Him to show me what He wanted me to do. Only then did I sort through my overflowing in-box. Yes, there’s still a lot to do. But my heart is quiet about it. I don’t have to get it all done today—or even tomorrow. Reality is always manageable when I let go of my pride.
Prayer: Lord, melt my pride with your love.
Reflection for sharing: How does arrogance contribute to becoming overwhelmed? How can humility bring peace?
Some wandered in the trackless desert and could not find their way to a city to live in. Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress. He led them by a straight road to a city where they could live. Psalm 107: 4; 6-7
Did you ever have computer problems? For several days last week, I wandered around “in the trackless desert” of cyber-space, unable to find my way to a solution. Finally, I called the help desk. A kind and knowledgeable technician asked me if I would give him permission to work on my account remotely. I gladly gave my permission, entered a few codes on my end, and watched as the expert took over my computer, moving the cursor here and making adjustments there. Every now and then he asked me a question or instructed me to do something on my end. The process was definitely interactive, but it was quite clear who was taking the lead. After he had led me back to safe and effective computer usage, he ended the session and removed himself from my account.
God is always available to intercede in my life, but, just as the technician doesn’t take over my computer any time he wants, God waits for me to call on him and give him permission to intercede. It’s a question of how long I want to wander before I call on him and become willing—eager, in fact—to allow him to lead. I then cooperate by doing what is asked of me instead of stumbling around on my own. God leads us out of our difficulties, but we have to be willing to follow. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that willingness even before we reached the point of distress?
Prayer: Lead me, Lord.
Reflection for sharing: Where in your life do you most need God’s direction today? Are you willing to follow where he leads? If not, what’s holding you back? Can you allow God to lead you out of your own resistance?
“…the Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.” Matthew 13: 44
The other day I felt sick and tired of my struggle with self-will. When do I feel disappointed or frustrated? When things don’t go my way. I wish I could surrender to God’s will all the time, but I suspect that isn’t going to happen on this side of the heaven/earth plane. So I prayed, “Lord, why did you let me have such a strong will? It’s so hard to let go of it and defer to Your will.” In my heart, I felt like God answered by saying, “Because that’s how you know how precious something is. If it cost you nothing to obtain, it wouldn’t be worth anything to you. It would be trash.”
The parable of the pearl came to mind. The man who found the pearl sold everything he owned to get it. Then I thought – What if he sold everything and only thought the pearl was precious…what if it really wasn’t precious after all? But even if the pearl wasn’t valuable on the world market, it was to the purchaser himself. He gave up EVERYTHING for it. It didn’t matter whether others valued it or not.
I have such a long way to go in my faith journey. I want to lay my will down but it is so hard to do. When I do lay it down, it just springs back up again a little while later or in some new area. Maybe I have to be content with just practicing, by sheer repetition, to lay it down over and over. Maybe it will get easier as the habit gets strengthened. Come to think of it, isn’t that what pearls are made of? Layers of response to some irritation inside the oyster?
Prayer: Lord, please grant us the trust in Your Love that relieves us of the bondage of self.
Reflection for sharing: What does your heart treasure?
Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Although sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day—I don’t really want longer days, I just want to accomplish more. God often reminds my heart that I have exactly as many hours in a day that everyone else has. I will be able to get done all that I am meant to get done within the 24-hour period at hand. That does NOT guarantee that I will get done all that I want to get done. The truth is, there’ve been days when I finished everything on my to do list, figured I hadn’t put enough on there to begin with, and quickly added more! So it’s safe to say that the problem is not with how long the day is, but with my over-ambitious attitude.
Of course we all have days when circumstances seem to gang up on us, but if that becomes a way of life, we need to stop and look at how we contribute to the pattern. It isn’t always easy to see our part in creating or perpetuating never-ending busy-ness. That’s why it is so helpful to stop, look, and listen to what God offers us—but it seems hardest to do when we need it most! I think it was St. Francis De Sales who said we should pray for half an hour every day unless the day was going to be very busy…on very busy days, we should pray for an hour!
God never asks us to do more than we are able to do and I can’t believe it is His will for us to run ourselves ragged. How effective can we be if we’re worn out? Jesus offers us an ever-available oasis in a sea of activity. To gain perspective, all we have to do is take the time to accept his offer.
Prayer: Lord, help me accept the rest you offer my mind and heart.
Reflection for sharing: How can I create time and space to rest with God—however briefly—today?
Our Best is Good Enough
“Is there anyone among you who can still remember how splendid the Temple used to be? How does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all. But now don’t be discouraged, any of you. Do the work, for I am with you…” Haggai 2:3-4
We don’t have to compare what we’re doing with what others have achieved. We don’t have to be discouraged by comparisons. We can focus on the task at hand. If we honestly give it our best shot, that is sufficient. We never have to do more than we are humanly capable of. Our best is good enough.
If we are sincerely invested in the present task, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, has done, or may do in the future. When we concern ourselves with being useful, rather than being impressive, we are more effective, and we take pressure off ourselves at the same time. If our efforts to do what we believe God would have us do are sincere, whatever we’re doing will end up just the way it’s supposed to. We can be confident and at peace.
Prayer: Lord, I know you are with me as I go about my work today. Help me trust that my best effort is sufficient and the outcome is in your hands.
Reflection for sharing: How can focusing on the effort rather than the outcome help you today?
I refuse to reject the grace of God. But if a person is put right with God through the Law, it means that Christ died for nothing! Galatians 2:21
Grace is a free gift. Why would anyone reject it? Too much of a ‘can do’ attitude might be one reason. Of course, we all need self-confidence or nobody would dare attempt to do anything. But it’s unrealistic to think we can do everything perfectly, or even “good enough” on our own. Sadly, somewhere along the line, some of us acquired the idea that we’re supposed to be perfect, to handle life, and to do it all without needing any help.
Sometimes we try to cover up our inadequacy by staying in the shadows. We avoid calling attention to ourselves. We don’t risk failure by doing anything that would put us out there. We may feel safe, but we cut ourselves off from a large part of life.
On the other hand, some of us try to cover up our inadequacy by showing off. We advertise our accomplishments to make sure others know all about the good things we have done. Or we may cover our imperfections by pointing out the flaws and transgressions of others. Blame keeps us out of the hot seat.
Not Paul. He not only admits depending on God to do for him what he could never do for himself, Paul brags about it! We don’t have brag, but if we could admit to ourselves that we really aren’t as good as we want to be, or think we should be…if we could just put down the burden of trying to be—or at least appear—good enough, we could open ourselves to the grace of God. We could genuinely accept the precious gift Christ offered us…his life and love. He came for sinners. He came for us. If we could ever have been good enough on our own, don’t you think our Creator would know that?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for doing for me what I could never do for myself.
Reflection for sharing: In what ways do I reject the grace of God? How can I grow in accepting the grace of God in my life?