Insight

Wednesday’s Word: Comfort

 

  “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

 

All the peace and comfort of a child nestled in its mother’s arms is available to us.  The price?  Our pride and arrogance.

 

“I can be right or I can be happy,” as the saying goes. Although an honest exchange of ideas can be mutually enlightening, arrogance shifts discussions into heated disputes.  Is verbal victory worth the price?  Why surrender our serenity over a needless contest of egos?

 

Over-reaching ambition, motivated by pride or arrogance, can also drive away our peace of mind.  I once accepted a promotion to a position I detested and was ill suited to perform, because the title sounded impressive.  A cloud of gloom surrounded me for several months until I finally came to my senses. I returned to my previous job – where I worked effectively and happily for many years.

 

When our egos stay right-sized, we fit comfortably in God’s loving embrace.

 

Prayer:  Lord, let me rest secure in Your loving wisdom so that I have no need to cling to my pride.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How is pride blocking your peace of mind today?

 

 

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 Words: Earthy Glimpses of Heaven

 “Jesus told them still another parable:  ‘The Kingdom of heaven is like this.  A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.’”  Matthew 13:33

 

Have you ever baked bread from scratch?  I have.  The process is an interesting partnership of activity and rest. Flour can’t rise by itself. You begin by adding yeast to flour and other ingredients, but that isn’t enough.  Yeast is a living organism.  The rising of the dough is a result of the yeast’s growth. In order for the yeast to make the dough rise, you have to knead it all together.  Kneading, which involves pounding and stretching the dough, takes time and effort.  It doesn’t yield immediate results.  After kneading, the dough has to be covered and left alone in a warm place. Only after this quiet time will the dough rise.

 

Jesus tells us this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.  What this means to me personally is that God’s Presence is like the yeast: a living entity.  Taking it in, whether through reading Scripture, receiving sacraments, or prayer and meditation, is not enough.  If I want God’s Spirit to be active within me and engender my growth, it will take effort on my part.  The kneading is the wrestling between Spirit and Self. Sometimes I feel pounded and stretched. Other times the process feels like a massage.  Either way, I’m pre-occupied and seldom see results during this process. Sooner or later, the effort stops.  I come to the end of what I can do or perhaps circumstances downshift. The quiet comes.  I might seek out the warmth of being with family or friends. I might take cover from my restless thoughts with simple diversions. I go on about my life.  Often when I least expect it, awareness comes. I may notice myself reacting differently to a situation that used to bother me.  Or an insight will occur to me “out of the blue.”  But it isn’t really out of the blue.  It’s just the dough rising.

 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us glimpses of heaven in the earthy ways we can understand.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What in your life could use some ‘kneading’ today?  What in your life needs quiet time in order to grow?

 

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?

 

 

Wisdom and Love

 

At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit and said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.” Luke 10: 21

 

There’s no IQ test to get into heaven. Most of those called by Jesus weren’t learned. In fact, Jesus seemed to have the most run-ins with the religious experts of his day.

 

While being familiar with scripture and the tenets of our faith is a good thing, it’s easy to confuse knowing it intellectually and living it. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God, others, and ourselves. A superior intellect isn’t needed to live a life of love.

 

God invites us all to participate in his heavenly banquet. In the parable of the great feast, when the invited guests chose not to attend, the king invited the sick, the disabled, and anyone else his servants came across on the highways and byways. (Matthew 22: 1-14) These guests weren’t given an entrance exam. All they had to do was accept the invitation and respond accordingly.

 

We respond accordingly to God’s invitation by treating our host, ourselves, and all other guests with respect and love. If we have intelligence or any other gift, let’s use them, by all means—not to build up our own egos, but to help us love.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the wisdom of love.

 

Reflection: How can your abilities help you reach out to others in love?

 

 

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 Word: Interruptions

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The apostles came back and told Jesus everything they had done. He took them with him, and they went off by themselves to a town named Bethsaida. When the crowds heard about it, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed it. Luke 9: 10-11

 

The crowds interrupted Jesus’ private meeting with his apostles. How did Jesus respond? He welcomed the intruders.

 

When I’m interrupted, I’m a lot crankier. If unexpected events frustrate my agenda, my exasperation is as plain as the thinly disguised frown on my face. Although I usually rise to the occasion, it often involves working towards acceptance rather than being instantly welcoming.

 

Why is that? Because I forget that my agenda is not God’s agenda. I forget that I was created to know, love, and serve God, as my childhood Baltimore catechism told me. I forget that serving God does not mean flawless execution of my itinerary, however noble my intentions. I forget that God’s definition of success is not my own—or the world’s—definition of success.

 

If Jesus is my role model, success is welcoming others warmly when they interrupt me, sharing God’s love with others—whether that means offering them encouragement, listening to them, or just not snapping at them for getting in my way.

 

Someone—I wish I could remember who—once prayed, “Lord, may I take every interruption as coming from you.” What a powerful thought! Interruptions might be sent by God to jar me out of my prideful, narrow focus. God’s plan is better than mine, but sometimes I need reminding. How about you?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me welcome the people and events you send my way today.

 

Reflection: When we call on Jesus, he’s never too busy to welcome us warmly. Can we pass it on?

 

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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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