discernment

Wednesday’s Word: Freedom

 

 Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves.  1 Peter 2:16

 

How can we live as free people and God’s slaves at the same time? By not using our freedom as an excuse for evil, according to the above quote. It’s easy to see how, in the name of freedom, we can claim the right to do whatever we feel like doing—including those things that might harm ourselves or others.

 

“If it feels good, do it,” as the saying goes. Unfortunately, so many things that initially seem to “feel good” lead to problems, pain, and suffering. Lashing out in anger might release pent up emotion but hurt others and damage relationships irreparably. Excessive self-indulgence—whether with substances like alcohol, unhealthy romantic relationships, or a host of other behaviors—can trap and victimize us and hurt those we care about. Of course these activities are appealing initially—that’s why they’re called temptations. Those temptations can be subtle and patient. Who would be tempted if the pain were evident right off the bat?

 

In serving God’s plan for the greater good we become truly free—free from being bullied by whims, addictive behaviors, or out-of-control emotions. Every time we make the hard right choice instead of following the path of least resistance we’re exercising our free will. One hallmark of maturity is the ability to delay gratification, to sacrifice short-term pay-offs for a greater good. As we grow in our ability to choose and act on what’s good in the long run, we’re increasingly freed from pressures that do not have our best interest in heart.

 

Prayer:  Lord, free me from the tyranny of self-will.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What is the best thing you can do with your freedom today?

 

Wednesday’s Word: 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

 

St. Peter ranks meddling 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.” “I was only trying to help.” Our motives may be sincere, but they can still cause harm.

 

The difference between meddling and being a Good Samaritan isn’t always 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 those we’re responsible for are being harmed in some way, we have the 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, of course we should.

 

However, unwanted interference in the affairs of other adults when we are not directly involved can do more harm than good—especially if our goal is to manipulate people into doing what we think they should. It’s tempting to try and straighten out someone else’s problem instead of focusing on our own but it can cause confusion, conflict, and complications. It disrespects the other person’s free will. It sends a message that they are incapable of handling their own lives and that we are superior in some way. It may encourage unhealthy dependency. It can cause us to neglect our own responsibilities. 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: What can help me determine if I’m offering genuine help or meddling? In what situations am I tempted to meddle? What are healthier options?

Wednesday’s Words: Fighting Reality

If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God! Acts 5: 38b-39

 

Ever find yourself fighting against God? I have. It makes no sense.

  • If God is all-powerful, things will turn out the way he wants. It’s inevitable.
  • If God wills for ultimate good to triumph, why resist?
  • If God is all-knowing, why insist on having things my way? Do I really think I know better than God?

Besides, when I fight reality, reality always wins.

 

Unfortunately, self-will is sneaky and dies hard. A few years ago I attended a four-day writers’ conference, convinced it was God’s will for me. I volunteered for service opportunities, looked forward to promoting my first book and to being interviewed for an ongoing writing gig. Above all, I was excited for the chance to find a publisher for my second book. In my eagerness, I denied my body’s ongoing physical limitations. Less than 24 hours after the conference began, my body rebelled and I was forced to slink home.

 

Apparently, God and I hadn’t seen things the same way after all. It took weeks to work through my disappointment and accept reality. I have disabilities. The symptoms may not be apparent to others, but the challenges are very real. It’s self-defeating to ignore them, no matter how much I want to.

 

Evidently God, who knows all about my limitations, achieves his plans in spite of my willful schemes. Although I could not attend the conference interview, I received the ongoing writing assignment anyway.  Eventually, I was offered a contract for my second book—my new publisher hadn’t even attended that conference.

 

When my conviction about God’s will is wishful thinking on my part, whenever I’m trying to force outcomes, I’m fighting reality. Whenever I accept circumstances exactly as they are, do my best, then let go and trust God with the outcome, I feel peace.

 

Why struggle? Even if things don’t go my way, they can still turn out just fine.

 

Who guessed faith involved accepting reality?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that you have everything under control.

 

Reflection: When have you found yourself fighting against God? What happened?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Self-will


There was no king in Israel at that time. Everyone did whatever they pleased. Judges 21: 25

 

Ever read the book of Judges? It describes a time in Israel’s history when “everyone did whatever they pleased.” Many of these stories about Israel’s national heroes don’t represent their finer moments.

 

Israel stopped worshiping the Lord who brought them out of slavery.

  • Gideon, chosen by God to lead the Israelites against their oppressors, defeated the enemy against all odds. Gideon then created an idol out of the loot collected and worshipped it.
  • Jephthah, also victorious, thanks to God, promised to sacrifice the first person that met him on his return home. That person happened to be his daughter. Nowhere in the Law of Moses had God demanded human sacrifice.
  • Samson’s arrogance and willingness to put his love affairs before his better judgment led to his destruction, even though he took his Philistine enemies with him.
  • When Micah created idols, the priest he convinced to be his personal priest betrayed him for a better offer, taking Micah’s idols with him.
  • A Levite surrendered his concubine to sexual perverts to save his own skin, then, when she died as a result, he used her death to start a war.

 

Chances are, none of these people woke up one day and decided to get themselves in trouble. They were just doing “whatever they pleased.”

 

While the results of our willful choices may not be as devastating as those listed here, self-centered choices are rarely a good idea and often self-defeating. Thwarted self-will leads to frustration, conflict, and retaliation. We end up not being “pleased” at all. Whether it seems like it or not,  it’s wiser to follow God’s will rather than our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach my heart to trust you and choose your will over mine.

 

Reflection: When have you done whatever you pleased? What happened in the long run?

Wednesday’s Word: Temptation


“I will announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours…’” Psalm 2: 7b-8

Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4: 8-9

 

God the Father had already offered his Son all the nations of the world. What did the Devil hope to gain by offering  Jesus something that already belonged to him?

 

That’s how temptation works. Who’d be tempted by something false, damaging or undesirable? The devil is a liar whose only chance is to make something harmful appear good.

 

It isn’t always easy to see through the alluring promise of gratification to reality and the long-lasting effects of our choices. Temptation promises a good that evil can’t possibly deliver or offers a temporary reward that, in the long run, demands too high a price.

 

A quick drink, promising freedom from care and worry, might be fatal to an alcoholic. Another spending spree at the mall might be fun until credit card debt takes its toll. Lashing out may provide temporary relief to pent up emotions, but wreak havoc on our relationships. Belittling, gossiping about, or betraying a friend or co-worker might pump up our egos, get us off the hook, or even help us get ahead in the world, but is it worth losing our self-respect?

 

What if we gain the world and lose our soul? All for what? To feel important? Secure? Good about ourselves? The truth is,  we already have all we need to feel good. We are loved by God. We are precious to him. We are important by virtue of the fact that he loved us into being. Can we see that temptation is promising something we already have? Can we see we have nothing to gain but damaged relationships with God, with others, and with our own selves by trying to take a short cut to the good we already have?

 

Jesus saw through the immediate results of temptation to the long view that God’s perspective gives. He accepted the world his Father gave him and chose to love rather than lord over the nations. He saw through the Devil’s empty promises. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see temptations for what they are.

 

Reflection: What looks good to you right now? How will it affect you in the long run?

Wednesday’s Words: Fear versus Joy

 

iStock_000003550839XSmall  Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106: 24

 

Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? They were afraid because they didn’t trust God to keep his promise.

 

When we reject the good God offers us, it’s probably for the same reason: fear. When we reject God’s loving plan for us, fear is probably involved in some way.

 

Let’s look at the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

 

  • Pride is giving self-will priority over God’s will. If we believe God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving, why would we ever choose our own way instead of his? On some level, we must be afraid that God won’t do as good a job as we could or that his plan is not as good as ours, so we use manipulation or force to get our way.
  • Greed probably involves fear that we won’t have enough or get enough or keep enough of whatever we feel greedy about: money, things, approval, attention. We grab for or hoard more than we need because we don’t trust God to provide for our needs.
  • Envy might include fear that we aren’t good enough, or that we aren’t as good as others. Resenting what they have fuels our feelings of inadequacy. We don’t trust God’s love for us and the value we have simply because he loved us into existence.
  • Anger, chances are, often involves thwarted self-will. Maybe someone or something threatened our fragile self-esteem, or we didn’t get our way. When our illusions of control are shattered, we get angry. We don’t trust that things can still turn out just fine-even if they don’t go our way-because God has it all under control.
  • Lust, at least in part, may include the fear that we are unlovable or perhaps the fear of true intimacy and the mutual surrender involved in sharing love on a level that goes so much deeper than the physical plane.
  • Gluttony might, in part, be connected to fear of discomfort. It might also involve trying to fill our emptiness in a self-defeating way because we fear that God’s love and his plan aren’t enough to sustain us, that his allotment of our daily bread won’t fill the gaping hole within us.
  • Sloth, laziness, procrastination, might disguise a fear that what we do won’t be good enough. We’d rather not try at all, than try and fail. Underneath may lurk a fear that neither God nor anyone else could love us as we are, that we’ll be rejected unless we’re perfect or successful in the way the world defines success.

 

In all these options, we short-change ourselves. We deny ourselves the joy that comes from abandoning ourselves to God’s loving care and protective power. It’s risky to trust that he does love us, that he knows what he’s doing, that his plans are to build us up and to give us the future we hope for (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he will keep his promise. It’s a risk worth taking.

 

Prayer: Lord, lead me to the Promised Land you have in mind for me.

 

Reflection: How is fear blocking you from the joy God has in mind for you?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Not Knowing

 

 

iStock_000003550839XSmallHe said to me, “Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?”

I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Ezekiel 37: 3

 

 

It’s okay not to have all the answers. There are some questions we can’t know the answers to, this side of heaven. There’s no shame in knowing what we have no way of knowing.

 

 

Why God asked Ezekiel if those bones could come back to life? God already knew the answer. Surely God also knew that Ezekiel didn’t know the answer. Why ask? Maybe God just wanted Ezekiel to pay attention to the issue, to consider the possibilities, and to do just what Ezekiel did: stand in humble silence and watch God’s power in action.

 

 

At the transfiguration, we’re told that Peter offered to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, although Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. The proper response when we don’t know what to say is to keep silent and listen. Then we will find out what we’re meant to know.

 

 

If we have questions, maybe it’s because God wants our attention so he can give us the answer or just demonstrate his power.

 

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that when I don’t know, you do.

 

 

Reflection: What question does God want you to consider but leave in his hands today?

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: Custom-made Roles

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It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves the servants in charge, after giving each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch. Mark 13: 34

 

Jesus makes it clear that we’re all supposed to watch, because we don’t know when the master will return, but watching isn’t all we’re supposed to do. Our Master has given “each one his own work to do….”

 

God made us all individuals for a reason. We each have a unique combination of talents, abilities, and interests. We all have a purpose and are uniquely situated to serve as we are.

 

Often, we need to grow where we’re planted. A shy homebody, hiding her beautiful singing voice out of fear disguised as false modesty, may decide to move beyond her comfort zone and take on the role of cantor when the need arises. A businessman might use his management skills to help the parish food bank get off the ground. The work we’re given to do goes beyond our vocation.

 

What would happen if we consider every person that crosses our path today as sent by God? Our work might be to give up a few minutes of our time to listen to them, offer a word of encouragement, or a simple smile. No one is going to encounter the same set of people that you or I do today. We each have a unique opportunity to reach out and touch someone.

 

The work God has in mind for us may or may not be how we earn our living, but it is uniquely ours.

 

Prayer: Lord, who do you want me to serve?

 

Reflection: What are your talents? How can you use them to be of service today?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Procrastination

 

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Farmers don’t constantly plow their fields and keep getting them ready for planting. Isaiah 28: 24

 

Preparation turns into stalling if we never move on. Why cover ground that’s already been covered? Fear, probably. What if we take the next step and it doesn’t work out? What if we fail?

IF we never actually take the action, we can always think we didn’t fail because we didn’t really try. The truth is, if we don’t follow through, we fail by default.

There’s no shame in failing if we do our best. A farmer planting seeds waters and weeds the garden. Beyond that, the results are out of his hands.

The same is true for us. We’re responsible for making our best effort, regardless of the outcome. This goes for our practical and our spiritual lives. Do we hear the gospel at Mass but never allow it to change us? Growth doesn’t happen just by hearing the word, but by doing it. Moving forward can start small. Bring canned goods to the next food pantry collection or attend a bible study.

We don’t need to keep polishing what’s already shiny. Ask God for the courage to move beyond your comfort zone. If you already spend quiet time in prayer, try volunteering for some service activity. If you’re always on the go, risk spending some time in silent meditation.

God will always guide us along the path he has in mind for us.

Prayer: Lord, show me what my next step should be and give me the courage to take it.

Reflection: What fields have you already plowed sufficiently? What’s the next step?

Wednesday’s Words: Blind Spots

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A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. John 12: 9-11

 

Religious authorities felt threatened by Jesus as crowds responded to his teaching, his loving example, and his healing power. It came to a head when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

 

Fearful of Jesus’ growing influence and demonstration of power, the religious leaders made plans to kill Lazarus. Did the futility of trying to kill someone who had already died and been brought back to life even occur to them?

 

Still, they made their plans against him and, for that matter, against the one who brought him back from death. Their plans didn’t work. When we act out of fear, we don’t always think clearly.

 

Fear-induced blind spots have led me to desperate or ineffective choices more than once. Sometimes I’ve acted hastily without stopping to think things through. Sometimes I’ve failed to take any action because I couldn’t see past my projections of imagined disaster. Either way, over-reacting emotionally clouded my vision.

 

When we turn to God instead of allowing ourselves to be bullied by our frantic reactions, we walk by faith, not by sight. That’s a good thing, because when fear looms large and we can’t see clearly, God can. Following where he leads brings us through darkness to Resurrection life!

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust you to guide me through the blind spots.

 

Reflection: How can trusting God’s plan today keep you from acting out of fear?

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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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