Happiness

Wednesday’s Words: Loving Glances

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Whoever welcomes this child in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, also welcomes the one who sent me. For the one who is least among you all is the greatest.” Luke 9: 48

 

During Mass today, I noticed a father steal a glance toward the back of the church where the children’s choir stood. He stole a moment away from the priest and the altar to look back at where his little girl or boy was singing. Maybe he was glancing back to reassure his child of his support. Maybe he was just peeping back in pride. Maybe a little of both.

 

Distracted from worshipping God? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Jesus taught his disciples that welcoming a child is also welcoming Jesus, and God the Father. That fleeting glance away from the altar toward his child took only a few seconds, but was packed with love for that child, and, no doubt, for Jesus and the Father, too. I don’t remember today’s homily, but I do remember the message of love my heart received.

 

We were all little children, once upon a time. God loved us then and loves us now. Maybe he lovingly glances at us as we perform our jobs at work, or school, or home. Not to catch us messing up, but just because he can’t resist watching us. I’m sure that father at Mass today didn’t care if his little one hit a wrong note or two, or fidgeted, or scratched an itchy nose. Our best is good enough for our loving Father. Our imperfections can’t dampen his love.

 

Prayer: Father, thank you for lovingly watching over us.

 

Reflection: What would happen if you immersed yourself in awareness of God’s love for even just a moment?

Wednesday’s Words: Mercy, Hope, and Joy

iStock_000003550839XSmall“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, from the depth of our troubled, weary souls we cry out to you. Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we have sinned against you. Baruch 3:1-2

 

Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)

 

So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.

 

Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?

Wednesday’s Word: Invitations

iStock_000003550839XSmallI tell you all that none of those who were invited will taste my dinner! Luke 14: 24

 

Why won’t they taste the dinner? Because they didn’t want to. They were invited, but they all had something better to do than go to a banquet. (See Luke14: 16-21) One wanted to work with his new farm animals. One wanted to check out some new real estate. Who would rather work or evaluate investment property than go to a party? Another just got married. Could he possibly have thought his new bride wouldn’t be welcome, too? Who could think so little of his generous host?

 

The A-listers brush off didn’t stop the party from happening. The host in the parable welcomed other guests: not only the poor and disabled, but pretty much anybody else who wanted to what he had to offer. . Why would beggars, invalids, and who-knows-what random mix of last minute invitees accept? Maybe what they had, or didn’t have, made the offer way too good to pass up. After all, the things that kept the original guests from attending were possessions and a brand new relationship.

 

God’s generosity is not thwarted by our refusal to accept it. Who loses out when we say, “No, thanks,” to God? We do. How do we let our possessions, our work, our romances, get in the way of accepting the goodness God wants to offer us? Do we focus so much on work, new toys, or the excitement of new relationships that we have no time or energy for celebrating God’s love feast?

 

Maybe it doesn’t seem like God’s inviting us to a celebration. What if spending time with God or sharing His love in service seems more like an obligation? Did you ever have the experience of doing something you felt called to do and being filled with satisfaction? Or experience the joy of camaraderie in working together for something outside of yourself and your own plans? We weren’t meant to live in isolation. Sharing fellowship makes any experience a banquet of love.

 

I heard on the news recently that when her fiancé broke their engagement one week before the wedding, the jilted bride invited the homeless to attend the non-refundable reception at the banquet hall. Her own sorrow turned to joy, at least on some level. Caught up in her own saga, how easily she could have overlooked the needs of others, and who would blame her? Instead she opened her eyes and heart, accepted God’s invitation to do the loving thing, and shard in His love feast.

 

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to your invitation.

 

Reflection: What is God inviting you to today? Have you got anything better to do than accept?

Wednesday’s Word: Freedom from Selfishness

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Selfishness only causes trouble. You are much better off to trust the Lord. Proverbs 28:25

 

Think about it. Wanting things our way causes us a lot of misery.

  • When are we unhappy? Chances are, when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.
  • When do we get in conflict with other people? When they don’t do/say what we think they should.
  • When do we feel frustrated and impatient? When events don’t unfold according to our timetable.

 

What can we do about it? Hiding our selfishness might fool others, but it doesn’t get us inner peace. We can pretend we don’t care. That adds denial, dishonesty, and hypocrisy to the mix. These are not peace-enhancing qualities. We can wish we weren’t pre-occupied with self, but that might not help much. Instead, we can ask God to relieve our selfishness. That’s good, honest prayer, even if we start out by telling God we don’t want to let go of and pray for the willingness to have our selfishness removed.

 

Why should we be so reluctant to let such a trouble-maker go? Well, it seems like getting our way will make us happy–even though we’ve probably gotten our way enough times to see it doesn’t always do the trick…at least, not for long. Still, we get fooled again. And again. What does selfishness get us? Disappointment if we don’t get our way. Disillusionment—at least sometimes—even if we do.

 

So what’s the alternative? According to Proverbs, it’s trusting the Lord. Even if things don’t turn out our way, they can still turn out good. I’ve seen it happen. Maybe you have, too. I was sure being laid off from a certain job was bad news; but as a result of extra time on my hands, I started writing. I was sure being forced to leave a writers conference because of back pain was a bad thing; but the book I planned to pitch there got published anyway. I was sure certain family members would be better off if they listened to my suggestions; they didn’t—and it was a good thing for all concerned.

 

Reminding myself of these times helps me trust God. His plans really are better than mine, even though I might not see it at first glance. The more I trust God, the easier it is to let go of wanting my way. So maybe instead of praying for less selfishness, the prayer should be for more trust.

 

Prayer: Loving Father, remind me it’s safe to trust you today.

 

Reflection: What plans and desires can you leave in God’s hands today?

Saturday Spotlight: Elizabeth

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When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby moved within her. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said in a loud voice, “You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear. Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me? For as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby within me jumped with gladness. How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true.” Luke 1: 41-45

 

Elizabeth had her own miracle going on when Mary arrived. In her old age, Elizabeth became pregnant after a long, childless marriage. More than that, her son John was to play an important part in God’s plan. How delighted and honored she must have felt. Even so, when she realized her cousin Mary was to give birth to the Savior of the world, Elizabeth still had room in her heart for joy and awe!

 

Someone else’s good news or success can threaten or overshadow our own, but there wasn’t a single drop of jealousy when Elizabeth greeted Mary. She didn’t need to bask in her own limelight. Was it humility or self-esteem that enabled Elizabeth to honor her younger-some might say upstart-cousin?

 

I suspect Elizabeth must have been grounded in acceptance. Secure in her own place and her son’s place in God’s plan. Elizabeth could rejoice at Mary’s good news and look forward to the birth of Mary’s son. It’s no wonder that years later, Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, was able to say “{Jesus} must become more important while I become less important.” (John 3:30) Elizabeth set the stage.

 

How about us? Is there something in us that feels threatened by someone else’s success? What might make us comfortable enough to be glad when others do well? Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but valuing ourselves to know that we have worth apart from our accomplishments. Then we can let others shine without having to compete, one-up them, or bring them down a peg.

 

Prayer: Lord, enable me to rejoice with those who rejoice.

 

Reflection: When is it easy to be happy for others? When is it difficult? What makes the difference?

Wednesday’s Word: Greed

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…Greedy people are proud and restless—like death itself they are never satisfied. Habakkuk 2:5a

 

Which came first, the greed or the never being satisfied? When we’re dissatisfied, we want more, thinking that will bring satisfaction. But there’s not enough jewelry, gadgets, booze, or anything else to bring lasting contentment. If they could bring permanent happiness, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more. We can be greedy for intangibles, too: fame, fun, attention, approval. The final “aha” is always the next purchase, achievement, or pat on the back.

 

Maybe greed develops when we rely on things to do a job they can’t do.  Money, designer clothes, or recognition can’t fix a fragile ego. If we don’t think much of ourselves, no amount of expensive trappings or lavish praise will change that…not for long, anyway. Greed—like death itself—is never satisfied.

 

When we’re at peace with ourselves, we don’t have to lust after things to bolster our self-image. So how can we acquire inner satisfaction? Someone said if we want self-esteem, we have to do things that are “esteem-able.” When we do things we feel good about, we feel good about ourselves. A sense of integrity goes a long way toward inner contentment. It’s not that we don’t need positive feedback from others, but it won’t sink in if we don’t like ourselves. Ironically, coming to terms with our flaws may help us accept ourselves better. Recognizing that we aren’t perfect—and we don’t have to be—can help us accept ourselves. When we don’t have to prove anything to ourselves or others, we can begin to feel contentment.

 

When we get in touch with God’s unconditional love for us, we begin to feel a deeper sense of security and reassurance. We’re able to give and receive genuine care. We accept others as less than perfect just like we are. We may find that was what we were hungering for all the time.

 

Prayer:  Lord, fill my emptiness with your love.

 

Reflection:  What are you trying to fill your inner empty spaces with? Is it working? What can you try instead?

Saturday Spotlight: Habakkuk

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“Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my savior.”  Habakkuk 3: 17-18

 

Surrounded by violence, cruelty, and signs of coming destruction, Habakkuk trembled with fear. Even so, he chose to trust that God was in charge and would act when the time was right at the time He chose. Habakkuk’s testimony to joy isn’t based on circumstances but on who God is.

 

Our savior is bigger than any circumstances we face. Like Habakkuk, we can choose to praise God no matter what. While that might not change our circumstances it certainly can change our experience of those circumstances.

 

Once during an MS attack, physical pain made it impossible for me to function or even think clearly. I felt swamped in misery until a friend suggested spiritual warfare might be tempting me to despair. A new awareness switched on. I began to look at my situation from a different point of view. Alone at home, I turned on the radio. A song came on about praising God whether times were good or bad. “My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name.” I sang along at the top of my lungs. A sense of victory flooded me. I didn’t have to be bullied by my circumstances. I could choose to praise the Lord no matter what. Nothing had changed, but everything had changed. I felt free.

 

Of course we all feel sad, or frightened, or hurt sometimes. We’re human. God gave us our feelings for a reason. We don’t have to pretend we aren’t in pain when we are. But while happiness is fleeting, joy runs deeper. Good times come and go. Just like Habakkuk, we have the freedom to be joyful anyway because our eternal God and savior remains.

 

Prayer: I will be joyful because God is bigger than my circumstances.

 

Reflection:  When has God gotten you through a challenge you couldn’t manage on your own? Were you able to see Him working in the situation at the time or only in looking back can you see it? How might that help you in future challenges?

Wednesday’s Word: Complaining

iStock_000003550839XSmallThe Lord said to Moses, “Put Aaron’s stick back in front of the Covenant Box. It is to be kept as a warning to the rebel Israelites that they will die unless their complaining stops.”  Numbers 17:10

 

Complaining can be hazardous to our health. Research indicates that chronic complaining causes physiological changes in the brain. It affects complainers and those listening to them. Chronic complaining leads to stress, which can result in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach pain, sleep problems, and depression.

 

Everyone needs to vent at times. We don’t need to pretend things are fine when they aren’t. Keeping complaints locked inside where they can fester isn’t healthy. Naming a problem, sharing it to get it off our chest, and then deciding what, if anything, we will do in response is healthy. On the other hand, habitual complaining damages our well-being.

 

The Israelite slaves, once freed from Egyptian oppression, were chronic complainers. Granted, they had more to complain about that we do.

  • They complained when the Egyptian army was closing in on them. God parted the Red Sea, saved the Israelites and destroyed their enemies.
  • They complained about the water being bitter to drink. God made the water fit to drink and led them to a lush camping site.
  • They complained about not having bread or meat to eat. God sent quails and manna, bread from heaven. Surely that would cause them to trust God, right? Nope.
  • They complained about water again. God had water come from a rock for them. Now did they trust God? No.
  • While Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, the people complained, wanted another God and tried to make one for themselves out of gold.
  • When they were brought to the Promised Land, they complained because some of their scouts reported that the inhabitants were giants.

The Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land for 40 years because of their own reluctance and failure to trust God’s providential power despite numerous demonstrations. I used to wonder why they didn’t “get it” until I started looking at my own reluctance to trust God when faced with problems.

 

Dwelling on the negative certainly is detrimental to the quality of life over the long haul. It can stem from fear, a sense of entitlement, or lack of faith. If it becomes a habit, it can have a negative impact on our health.

 

What can we do about it? Habits are learned and can be unlearned. We can pro-actively practice gratitude. It’s amazing how writing down a list of things to be grateful for can turn around a negative mindset. We can invest in spiritual growth through prayer and meditation. We can read uplifting books or listen to uplifting music. We can spend time with people who have a positive outlook. Praising God for His power, love, mercy, and faithfulness can reinforce our trust that our needs will be met.

 

We can enhance our lives if we choose to let go of complaining.

 

Prayer: Lord, increase my trust in You.

 

Reflection: Count your blessings. List every single thing you can think of to be grateful for in black and white, no matter how small. You might start with things that are easy to take for granted until you don’t have them: the ability to see, hear, walk, clean drinking water, shelter, central heating.

Wednesday’s Word: Freedom

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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

 

Which is it? Do we live as free people or as God’s slaves? Surprisingly, surrendering ourselves to God’s will frees us from slavery to other people, public opinion, addictions, even our own self-will. The older I get, the more I realize that I’m never in charge, much as I’d like to think I am. My choices are always to do what I think God wants me to do and follow the guidance I get from the wise people he puts in my life, or else to subject myself to the stress that comes with trying to force things to go my way and the fears that go with it.

 

I may think I’m being free when I try to do or get what I think I want, but that’s when I seem to run into the most conflicts: other people get in my way, delays frustrate me, and I become miserable. Why do I want my own way? So I’ll be happy, of course. But trying to get my way doesn’t make me happy at all. On the other hand, letting go of my will (when I remember and am willing to) is so freeing. I can allow life to unfold the way it is going to unfold and be at peace whether I get my way or not. What could be more freeing than a peace that is not determined by circumstances? If I base my happiness on circumstances being a certain way, then I set myself up for frustration and battles with reality. It is so much easier to let go and let God and be free of the burden of self.

 

When I try to do what I believe God wants me to do, I feel at peace with myself. I am free from anxiety because even if I don’t succeed in a particular situation, I believe that God understands. I have peace of mind knowing my conscience is clear, so I am free of anxiety and guilt. I am free of fear because I can trust that God’s will will be done one way or another.  When I try to get my way, I’m never sure.

 

The choice is to surrender to God or to the negative emotions that bully me when I give in to self-will.

 

Prayer:  Lord, free me from myself.

 

Reflecton: How might letting go bring you freedom today?

Saturday Spotlight: Little Children Blessed by Jesus

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People were bringing little children to [Jesus] in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little children will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.   Mark 10: 13-16

 

The disciples probably didn’t think blessing children was all that important in light of Jesus’ mission. …But Jesus had a way of noticing the disenfranchised, the overlooked, the outright rejects of society. …Jesus scolded his disciples for discriminating against the children…He loved them for who they were at that moment…

 

What the children could absorb–whether they could explain it or not–is that they were welcomed by Jesus and treated with kindness…Think of that image: he lifted each one up and held them in his loving embrace, if only for a moment, and then blessed them before handing them back to their parents’ care. What more powerful sermon could there be about their worth as children of God and the nature of that God?

 

Children respond so well to respect. Don’t we all? …The people who impacted our lives and helped us tap into our potential are often the ones who made us feel like we were important to them…In order to grow and thrive, we not only need examples or instruction but validation that who we are is okay.

 

Time alone with Jesus can remind us that we are loved and valued in spite of our shortcomings. We can allow ourselves to be lifted up by his loving embrace…He calls us to be like little children in order to belong to the kingdom of God. What if we allowed ourselves to be lifted up by Jesus, if only for a moment, each day?

 

Reflection:  When do you feel most like a little child? Do you feel closer to Jesus at those times? Why or why not?

 

Prayer:  Jesus, you took the little children in your arms. When I feel small and helpless, may I rest quietly in your loving embrace.

 

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

Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach

Paulist Press, Inc., Mahwah, N.J.

www.paulistpress.com

Used with Permission

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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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