Guidance

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 Word: Reassurance

 

“The Lord rules over the deep waters; he rules as king forever.”  (Psalm 29: 10)

 

Although I got good grades all through school, in the real world, nobody asks or cares if I made the honor roll. What matters is how I act in the situation at hand.

 

In real life, there isn’t always time to reflect or reason out how to respond to an irate client, a sudden calamity, or a child’s question as she races for the school bus. Sometimes we have to trust our instincts. That can be scary for those of us who like to study the manual before making decisions. So often there is no manual.

 

Then, too, feelings come up that our brains can’t always get a handle on. So much goes on beneath the surface. If I can’t reason out what’s going on beneath the conscious level, how can I know what my inner self is up to?  What a relief to know that God rules over the deep waters of my heart.

 

When I start my morning with prayer and meditation, I surrender my whole self—not just my mind—to be under God’s guidance and protection. As I go through the day, even if I forget about God in the heat of the moment, I can rest assured that He won’t forget about me. Some things are too deep for my rational mind, but God is never in over His head.

 

Prayer:  Lord, rule over the deep waters of my heart.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What reassurance comes from knowing that God is in charge?

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Patience

“Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.”  Ecclesiastes 3: 1

 

Patience is not one of my strong suits.  On the plus side, I’m efficient.  Efficiency is good, but when I demand split-second timing, I put pressure on myself.  That usually happens when I’m too focused on my own agenda.  I forget that all time is God’s. I have the same amount of time everyone else does: 24 hours per day.  I have all the time I need to do what God has in mind for me to do on any given day.  It’s just that sometimes I want to accomplish more than is appropriate – or even realistic.

 

Taking time to pray can seem counter-productive, but if we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy.  By connecting with God we open ourselves to His plan for us. We gain perspective. We may come to realize some things can wait until tomorrow and others can wait indefinitely.  We won’t rush around frantically trying to squeeze in everything on our ‘to do’ list. We can trust that we’ll be given all the time we need to do what truly needs doing.

 

Of course we need to make plans, but sometimes plans change.  The unexpected comes up.  If we pause to listen to God before we start our day, we’ll be better able to go with the flow. It’s safe to trust that what needs to happen will happen in His time.

 

Prayer:  Lord, slow me down.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What are your priorities today?  How might they differ from God’s priorities for you?

 

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 Word: Clarity

As long as the cloud stayed over the Tent, they stayed in the same camp.

Whenever the cloud lifted, they moved on. Numbers 9: 18b; 21b

 

God led the Hebrew slaves to freedom through desert territory they’d never seen before. They were wise to stay put while the cloud of God’s presence covered them. It makes sense not to travel when you can’t see clearly where you’re going. Sooner or later the cloud lifted. Eventually they were led to the Promised Land.

 

Similarly, God sometimes guides me by allowing my mind to be clouded with confusion. It slows me down. When I can’t see clearly what action to take, I’m forced to wait. That’s when God has a chance to direct my thinking and actions. Otherwise, guided only by self-will, I zip along full speed ahead, impatiently following my own agenda.

 

Like the Hebrews in the desert, it’s good for me to stay put when my thoughts are cloudy. Sooner or later, the cloud lifts and I’m led to where God wants me to be. His plan is always so much better than mine.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me patient trust in your guidance when I can’t see clearly.

 

Reflection: When has patience brought you clarity?

 

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?

Wednesday’s Words: The Gift of Surrender

iStock_000003550839XSmall“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.”  Luke 1:36

 

When the angel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, she had many reasons for saying no: her youth, her unmarried status, her unworthiness, her fear of the consequences. Instead, she accepted, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Instead of serving her fear, or public opinion, or false humility, she was willing to serve God. In surrendering to his plan for her, Mary served not only God, but other people as well. She brought Christ and his saving grace into a world badly in need of saving.

 

Mary could have ignored the angel’s words, or gotten busy with some activity to drown out the call. But she listened. She pondered and questioned how it could be, but she listened and accepted.

 

What are we busy with? Might our activity prevent us from hearing what God’s plan is for us? What might keep us from surrendering to his plan instead of our own? How is God calling us to be his servants? How might he want to use us to share his saving grace with the world…or perhaps with just one other person?

 

Mary didn’t have to know the future, all she had to do was say yes and follow, one step at a time. God provided all that she needed along the way, including a husband to provide for and protect her and the child. Everything unfolded as it was meant to. All Mary had to supply was the willingness to surrender her will to God’s. That’s all we have to do, too.

 

Prayer: Lord, I am your servant. Open my heart to your plan for me.

 

Reflection: What does God have in mind for you today?

Wednesday’s Words: Inner Conflict

iStock_000003550839XSmallIsrael, you have in your possession some things I ordered you to destroy! You cannot stand against your enemies until you get rid of these things! Joshua 7: 13b

 

What do we have to get rid of in order to stand against our enemies…especially the enemies within ourselves? It can be threatening to think we are responsible—at least partially—for the problems in our lives. The good news is if we are part of the problem we have a chance to do something about it.

 

So, what are we hanging on to that keeps us from conquering the self-defeating behaviors that hurt us and those we love? When we’re willing to take an honest look at how we contribute to our pain it becomes possible to change that part of the equation. Do we rely on substances like alcohol or nicotine?  Or compulsive behaviors like recreational shopping? They seem to relieve tension but can cause more problems and tension in the long run. Is another person causing us misery? Are we clinging to an unhealthy relationship out of a misplaced sense of loyalty or fear of being alone?

 

Once we look at how we contribute to the problem, we can see which behaviors might have to go. That doesn’t mean we’ll be willing to let them go. Even unhealthy patterns can feel comfortable. After all, we must get something out of them or we wouldn’t hang on to them. But when we take an honest look, can we see that the benefits are no longer worth the price we pay in self-respect, damaged relationships, or physical and emotional health?

 

Maybe one of the things we have to get rid of is the false pride that tells us we should be able to kick these enemies all by ourselves. If we can’t see our part, or we see it and don’t know how to let go, we can seek help. I have to believe that if we ask, God will provide us with the guidance and willingness we need to get rid of anything that is harmful to us or our loved ones.

 

It’s scary to let go of even a false sense of relief if we have nothing to replace it with. That’s where asking for assistance can help us see alternatives we may never have thought of on our own. With God’s grace we can find the guidance and support we need and the courage to let go of self-defeating behaviors. We can face our enemies unafraid with an arsenal of healthy coping skills and an army of support.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me let go of self-destructive tendencies.

 

Reflection: What do you need to let go of to stand against the enemy you’re facing today?

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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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