Balance

Wednesday’s Words: True Self-worth

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My child, keep your self-respect, but remain modest. Value yourself at your true worth. There is no excuse for a person to run himself down. Sirach 10: 28-29a

 

It isn’t prideful to think we deserve respect. We all have inherent dignity as God’s children. Our worth isn’t dependent on our personal achievements, looks, bank accounts, or anything that sets us above others.

 

By the same token, we are not beneath other people because we have faults. There is no reason to put ourselves down because we aren’t perfect. Nobody is. We all make mistakes. No one succeeds at everything. Welcome to the human race.

 

True self-respect comes from honestly acknowledging our total self-not just the parts we like to show the world, but the shadowy parts we all have as well. That’s enough to keep us modest.

 

We all have talents. We don’t have to hide them out of false modesty. We can acknowledge our gifts without fear of being prideful when we remember to be grateful to the Giver. We can feel good about ourselves when we use our gifts to be helpful to others rather than to show off.

 

We’re delightful, unique, flawed creatures loved by God. We don’t have to stick our noses in the air or hang our heads in shame. We can be who we are because we have, not false pride or false modesty, but true value.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving me as I am. Help me become what you want me to be.

 

Reflection: What is your true worth?

Wednesday’s Words: Rest in God

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Make the people sit down,” Jesus told them. John 6: 10

 

The first thing Jesus did before miraculously feeding the five thousand was to have the people sit down.

 

When we’re spiritually hungry, the first thing we need to do is rest in God. He can’t satisfy our hungry hearts if we’re frantically trying to fill our emptiness on our own. Pre-occupation with busyness and trying to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps is self-defeating. It leads away from God. I once read a translation of Psalm 46:11, “Be still and know that I am God,” that makes it even clearer: “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” Why is it so hard to stop struggling and rest in God?

 

Yes, we must do our part. God will certainly guide and strengthen us to take the actions we’re meant to take, but we never have to do more than we are able to. When we’ve done our best we can trust God, who “lets us rest in fields of green grass and leads us to quiet pools of fresh water.” (Psalm 23: 2)

 

What if, when we are frustrated in our strained attempts to help others, we entrust them to God’s care, too? We don’t have to be anyone’s savior. Like the disciples who helped feed the five thousand, all we have to do is trust, obey Jesus’ directions, and share what we’ve received.

 

When we’re running on empty, if we allow ourselves sit down and rest, we might be astonished at how we’re nourished and our strength is renewed.

 

Prayer: Lord, may we rest in you.

 

Reflection: What is keeping you from resting in God today?

Wednesday’s Words: Easy Does It

iStock_000003550839XSmallMy child, don’t get involved in too many things. If you try to do too much, you will suffer for it. You won’t be able to finish your work, and you won’t be able to get away from it either. Sirach 11: 10

 

Sirach was right. I did try to do too much and I did suffer for it. So did my family. At one point, my idea of relaxing was tackling chores I could do while sitting down, like paying bills. I remember one Saturday in particular. I had an impossibly long “to do” list. By supper time I was exhausted, but thankful that I had done everything on my list. Did I put my feet up and relax? No. I concluded I must not have put enough on the list and quickly added three more tasks to finish before collapsing into bed that night.

 

I was not much fun to be around in those days. How could I be? I was always either busy or worn out and cranky. Looking back, I have to admit I was ego-driven. Being busy made me feel important, needed, and worthwhile.

 

By the grace of God and with encouragement from family and friends, I began a long, slow journey to some kind of middle ground. I began scheduling relaxation periods into my days, in spite of the challenges. I remember trying to lounge in the back yard with a good book even though chores kept taunting me. I could almost hear the vacuum calling, “Come on, you know you want to.”

 

Instead of giving in, I started spending Saturday afternoons at the local park, where household tasks were not within reach. I reminded myself the chores weren’t going anywhere. They would wait until I could get to them. Meanwhile, I had more important things to do, like live my life and enjoy my family. Balance brings serenity.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me prioritize according to your will, not mine.

 

Reflection: When are you likely to get over-ambitious? What are some ways to let go of what is non-essential?

Wednesday’s Word: Simplicity

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God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated. Ecclesiastes 7:29b

 

When my daughter was little and I was working full time, if I wasn’t doing at least two things at once I felt like I was wasting time. It felt proud of being so efficient and getting  so much done, but I was wearing myself out mentally, emotionally, and physically. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that nice to be around. I was gaining the whole world of accomplishment and losing myself in the process.

 

What makes our lives so complicated? Trying to balance work, home life, and relationships is no small challenge. Maybe without even trying we find ourselves with more irons in the fire than we can handle. Or maybe our minds are busy planning ways to get people to do what we want or to force circumstances to go the way we think they should. Maybe multi-tasking as a way of life makes us feel smart or important.

 

How can we keep ourselves simple in the midst of our complicated lives? We can let go of self-will and practice acceptance. When we spend less time and mental energy trying to figure out how to get things to turn out the way we want, we feel more serenity. Accepting reality instead of trying to manipulate it saves wear and tear on our nerves.

 

We can try taking one thing at a time. Not everything is a priority, even if it feels that way. If we’re asking to do God’s will, we can trust that what’s meant to get done will get done in God’s time. Not necessarily today (much as we’d like to have all our ducks in a row) and not necessarily by us. Taking a few minutes to figure out what really must be done today might show a number of things that can wait until tomorrow or even longer.

 

It’s surprising how when we step out of frantic activity, we gain perspective and can take care of what’s truly important as opposed to what feels urgent. The sun will come up tomorrow and the earth will still turn, even if we don’t cross everything off of our to-do lists today.

 

Simple doesn’t mean shallow. It means eliminating the clutter so that what is important can emerge.

 

Prayer: Lord, keep me simple.

 

Reflection: How can I simplify my day today?

Wednesday’s Words: Battle of Wills

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“People of Israel, don’t fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors! You can’t win!” 2 Chronicles 13: 12b

 

Abijah, quoted above, made a good point. When we fight against God, we can’t win.

 

Abijah, the Judean leader, was speaking to his kinsmen, the Israelites, who had rebelled against their relatives, David’s descendants. Both sides had their flaws, but in this particular battle, “the people of Judah were victorious over Israel, because they relied on the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 1:18)

 

How often are we at war with ourselves? Even if we do some research or get other opinions, weighing the pros and cons of an issue can feel like a tug of war…especially when emotions are involved. Sometimes, we end up making our decision because we just plain feel like it.

 

I don’t always remember to ask God what His will is in a situation. Other times, I think of asking for God’s guidance but think, I don’t care what God wants-I want things to work out my way. The times I’ve acted on this haven’t always worked out well. I forget that God wants better for me than I want for myself. Insisting on my way can be a short-lived victory. Either I end up in conflict with others or simply bite off more than I can chew.

 

For example, I believe that God has been trying to teach me to balance activity with quiet periods for some time now, but I’m a slow learner. I planned a sight-seeing trip to Philadelphia last spring to coincide with a retreat I was leading nearby. Because it was efficient to combine the two, I refused to take my physical limitations into account when making plans. The retreat went beautifully and people seemed to find it rewarding, but I was unable to go on the sight-seeing trip. My physical resources, limited by MS and chronic back problems, had been tapped for the retreat. I spent a few days resting instead of sightseeing. My understanding husband and I have rescheduled our Philadelphia trip for another time—when nothing else is on our agenda.

 

Self-will can create problems when choices have more serious consequences. Maybe you can think of a few of your own. When we fight against the Lord, we can’t win.

 

Prayer: God of power, wisdom, and love, may I turn to you for guidance, and trust the guidance you provide.

 

Reflection: What’s the difference between getting your way and winning?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Success

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They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do. Psalm 1:3

 

What does it mean to succeed in everything we do?

 

Does that mean we need to be constantly doing and achieving things, constantly productive? No. As the Psalm tells us, we only have to bear fruit at the right time, not all the time. In fact, taking time to rest and renew ourselves is what enables us to bear fruit when the right time comes. How effective can we be when we’ve worn ourselves out trying to over-achieve, beat out others in the success department? We can be overly ambitious, not only when it comes to money and power, but in the spiritual and personal lives, too. Volunteering for worthy causes is good, but when we forget to balance serving others and God with taking care of our own needs we set ourselves up to burn out. Running ourselves ragged doesn’t lead to productivity. Instead, we become ineffective and ruin the true peace that comes from following God’s will for us.

 

The first definition for success listed in the Oxford American Dictionary is “a favorable outcome.” A favorable outcome in everything we do is attainable when we remain close to the life-giving water. It will keep our hope and spirits from drying up. Jesus said, “I am the Vine and you are the branches…apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15: 5) When we remain close to Jesus and allow His Vine-life to flow through us, we’re successful in whatever we are doing because we’re doing what we’re meant to be doing at any point in time. If God wants us to do something for His purpose, He will certainly give us what we need to do it.

 

We can hope to be successful in everything we do, and that ‘everything’ includes healthy self-care. Taking in the spiritual, emotional, and physical nourishment we need is what empowers us to bear fruit at the right time.

 

Prayer:  Living Water, renew my heart.

 

Reflection: What do you think God wants you to succeed at today?

Wednesday’s Words: Love and Responsibility

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They prepared the carnelians and mounted them in gold settings; they were skillfully engraved with the names of the twelve sons of Jacob. They put them on the shoulder straps of the ephod to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

They made the breastpiece of the same materials as the ephod…they mounted four rows of precious stones on it…each of the twelve stones had engraved on it the name of one of the sons of Jacob, in order to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Exodus 39: 4; 6-8; 10; 14

 

The ephod and breastpiece worn by the priests during worship were made following God’s instructions to Moses.  The jewels representing God’s people were worn by the priest both on his shoulders and on the breastpiece that covered his chest. The priest, as mediator between God and His people, literally carried the responsibility for those people on his shoulders and close to his heart, as instructed by God.

 

It’s a good reminder for us as well. When we have responsibility for others—family members, clients, patients, students, subordinates–it makes all the difference in the world whether we bear our responsibility for them with a caring heart or not. Authority without a loving concern for the well-being of others allows power-driven ambition, self-interest, or any number of motives to creep in and cause damage. Even with the best of intentions, attempts to control are bound to create conflict and resentment.

 

On the other hand, caring about those we are responsible for does not mean catering to their wants, whims, or demands. Caring without responsibility can keep us from acting in the best interests of others who may have short-sighted goals. Being our children’s friends rather than parents, letting the people we supervise get by with shoddy performance, giving our patients or students what they want when it’s not in their best interests doesn’t help them or us.

 

Finding the balance between caring and responsibility isn’t always easy, but maybe it starts with bringing those in our charge to God and asking Him to help us shoulder our responsibility while protecting our hearts.

 

Prayer:  Lord, please guide me to act with loving responsibility for those in my care.

 

Reflection:  What can help you act with love as you fulfill your obligations today?

Saturday Spotlight: Simon Peter’s Mother-in-Law

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Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told [Jesus] about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. Mark 1: 30-31

 

He took the sick woman by the hand, lifted her up, and the fever left her.

 

Sometimes lifting our spirits can be just as important as physical recovery. So often we can’t raise ourselves up out of our own pain. It’s easy for our morale to sink to the depths when our bodies hurt or our brains are fevered by anxious thoughts. In isolation there may be nothing to interrupt our focus on how miserable we feel. When we can’t see beyond the horizon of our own distress, sometimes others can help us shift our focus. Whether or not they realize it, they then become channels of God’s healing love.

 

After Jesus touched and lifted up the suffering woman, she had a higher vantage point that when she was flat on her back. What did she do once that happened? She began to serve others. …When we’re sick, there’s certainly a time to rest and allow healing to take place. We need to let others minister to us, as Peter’s mother-in-law allowed Jesus to help her…it’s also true that there’s something very healing about being of service to others. …Shifting focus from our cares and worries can help shrink them to their proper proportion. Simple but genuine service (rather than compulsive martyrdom) can bless us with freedom from self-centeredness.

 

Prayer: Lord, when I can’t see beyond my own pain and anxiety, lift me up. Teach me to lift others up by reaching out as a channel of your healing love.

 

Reflection for sharing: How do you know when to rest and nurture yourself and when to help others?

 

Excerpts from:

“Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament”

Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach

Paulist Press, Inc., Mahwah, NJ

www.paulistpress.com

Used with Permission

Wednesday’s Word: Timing

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Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the Temple, and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples. Mark 11: 11

 

Sometimes following Jesus means knowing when not to act. Being called doesn’t mean being driven. I am a recovering Type A personality. I’m learning that although sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, going to ridiculous extremes to avoid it is just as bad. One time I created an impossibly long “to do” list for myself and raced through my day to get it all done. By suppertime I had crossed out every single thing on my list. Did I relax over dinner, put my feet up and enjoy my evening? No! I decided I hadn’t planned enough in my schedule and quickly added a few more chores to the list. I was not a pretty sight by the end of the day (just ask my family) nor was I very effective at completing those last-minute tasks.

 

Soon after that episode, a few physical challenges made it impossible for me to push myself relentlessly. God blessed me with the awareness that what good was it if I accomplished every chore in the whole world but lost my soul and damaged relationships with my family in the process?

 

The mission on Jesus’ “to do” list was to save mankind, but he had the good sense to realize that late in the day was not the time to tackle cleansing the Temple. He took the night off and went with his closest companions to Bethany, his home away from home. The Temple was still there the next day when Jesus returned, drove out the moneychangers, and taught the people that remained.

 

Impatience makes it hard to wait, but sometimes taking a break before we act or speak, can make us much more effective than jumping in to get something over with. When we trust God rather than our own sense of urgency, our timing improves. If God has in mind for something to get done, it will get done. We don’t have to force it. Pausing before we act might be the most effective thing we can do. It gives us time to collect our thoughts, renew our energy, and most importantly, check in with God’s plan.

 

Prayer:  Lord, grant me the wisdom to trust Your timing.

 

Reflection for sharing: How might pausing before forging ahead help you be more effective today?

Wednesday’s Word: Presumption

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“The Father, who remains in me, does his own work.” John 14:10b

 

When we surrender our self-will, God can work through us. We’re effective when we cooperate with God, do the legwork, and become God’s hands and feet. It’s when we try to be the head that we get into trouble. It’s tempting to “help” God when things don’t go the way we think they should, but it usually doesn’t work out well.

 

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many descendents, but as Abraham got older and older with no heir, he and his wife decided to help God. He fathered a child, Ishmael, through Sarah’s slave girl. That wasn’t the heir God had in mind. Ishmael and the promised heir Isaac and their descendants have been at odds ever since.

 

After Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, the eleven remaining apostles decided that they needed a replacement. By drawing lots, they chose Matthias. Ever heard of Matthias? However, a Pharisee named Saul had an astonishing conversion after an encounter with God on the road to Damascus. Saul–also called Paul–ended up becoming the apostle to the Gentiles and writing much of the New Testament. It would seem that God didn’t need help in picking a successor for Judas.

 

What about us? Ever tried to help run your little corner of the universe? Maybe we’ve tried some or all of these ways:

 

  • Trying to guide friends, family, or other adults by giving them unasked for advice on what we think they should do
  • Trying to help God judge the world by mentally passing judgment on others
  • Trying to force or manipulate situations to turn out our way, to prevent the chaos we think will ensue otherwise
  • Thinking we’re the only ones who can help others, even when we’re running on empty
  • Giving God instructions in our prayers rather than ask for His will
  • Forging ahead with our own agendas without stopping to consider what God might want.

 

The days I rush to get done all I think I need to do are often the days that get me nowhere. I am much more relaxed, sane, and able to negotiate my days when I don’t try and take over God’s work.

 

Prayer: Lord, accomplish your work through me.

 

Reflection: When have you tried to take over God’s work?

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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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