love

Wednesday’s Word: Love

How beautiful you are, my love; how your eyes shine with love!  Song of Songs 1:15

 

What’s a romantic love poem doing in the Bible? The passionate exchange between ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ found in Song of Songs is interpreted as an exchange between God and his people. With this in mind, the poem not only paints beautiful images of love, but also gives us deeper insight into our own relationship with God.  We are cherished.  God calls you and me his ‘love.’ God thinks we are beautiful.

 

Madison Avenue and Hollywood bombard us with superficial images of beauty. Beauty may be only skin deep for those who don’t look any deeper, but wisdom tells us that beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. What does God find beautiful when He beholds us? The quote from Song of Songs gives us a clue:  “How beautiful you are…how your eyes shine with love.” The eyes are the windows of the soul.

 

When God looks at us, he sees past the blemishes and wrinkles on our faces—and on our souls. One thing that makes us beautiful in God’s eyes is the love he sees reflected from within us. Maybe he sees the spontaneous response of love we feel when we realize He loves us exactly as we are.  Maybe he sees love reflected when we reach out to someone else who is also His beloved—whether or not that person seems lovable to us.

 

God loves us—just as we are—always. When we pause long enough to wallow in that awareness, how can we help but shine with love?

 

Prayer:  I love you, Lord.  May I grow in love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How does it feel to be cherished by God?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Forgiveness

“For God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that he might show mercy to them all.”  Romans 11:32

 

Sometimes we mess up. Maybe, if you’re like me, you get down on yourself when you do.  I should have known better.  Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? I’m hopeless—what’s the use?

 

Maybe we should give up.  Give up trying to be perfect, that is. Give up trying to earn salvation by being good enough. It’s been said that if God wanted us to be perfect, he wouldn’t have made us human.

 

Does that mean we shouldn’t try to do what’s right? Should we ignore those twinges of conscience?  Of course not.  But it is okay to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures.  Instead of trying to cover up our mistakes, make excuses, or beat ourselves up, let’s turn to God’s mercy, grace, and love.  He’s waiting to forgive us – but how can we receive forgiveness if we’re too busy kicking ourselves or trying to justify our own behavior? That keeps us focused on our own egos instead of God.

 

Honest acceptance of where we are – faults and all – leads to healthy humility. Instead of wasting time wallowing or rationalizing, we can give thanks and praise to our loving Father, who, through Christ, does for us what we can never do for ourselves. Freed from guilt and regret, we can become who we’re meant to be. Confession really is good for the soul.

 

Prayer:  Thank you Lord, for your mercy and love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How can savoring God’s forgiveness help us forgive ourselves and others?

 

Wednesday’s Words: God’s Love

How beautiful you are, my love; how your eyes shine with love!  Song of Songs 1:15

 

What’s a romantic love poem doing in the Bible?  The passionate exchange between ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ found in Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon) is often interpreted as an exchange between God and his people. With this in mind, the poem not only paints beautiful images of human love, but also gives us deeper insight into our own relationship with God.  We are cherished.  God calls you and me his ‘love.’  God thinks we’re beautiful.

 

“Beauty’s only skin deep” may be true for those who don’t look any deeper, but there’s another adage that says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  What does God find beautiful when He beholds us?  We get a glimpse in the quote from Song of Songs.  “How beautiful you are…how your eyes shine with love.”

 

When God looks at us, he sees past the blemishes and wrinkles on our faces and on our souls. One thing that makes us beautiful in God’s eyes is the love he sees reflected in us. Maybe it’s the spontaneous response of love we feel when we realize He loves us exactly as we are.  Maybe it’s the love He sees when we are genuinely concerned about or reach out to help someone else who is also His beloved, whether or not that person seems lovable to us.

 

God loves us – just as we are. Always. When we pause long enough to wallow in that awareness, how can we help but shine with love?

 

Prayer:  I love you, Lord.  May I grow in love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How does it feel to be cherished by God?

 

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: Compassion

Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a

 

It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?

 

We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.

 

We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.

 

When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.

 

Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?

Wednesday’s Words: True Confessions

I confess my sins; they fill me with anxiety. Psalm 38: 18

 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 1 John 1: 8-9

 

Where did some of us get the idea we have to be perfect to earn God’s love? Why do we think we have to cover up our imperfections to be acceptable? The Bible’s filled with stories of God’s love and faithfulness—in spite of our sins. We turn our backs on God, not the other way around.

 

God knows our weaknesses better than we do and loves us anyway. What else is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son about? Or the parable commending the tax collector who acknowledged his sins, trusting God’s mercy, as opposed to the religious official whose prayer to God was a spiritual resume? Or Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross to do what we could never do for ourselves—perfectly obey our Creator? As St. Paul said, if we could put ourselves right with God by keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2: 21)

 

Covering up our flaws is the world’s way, not God’s. Denying our wrongs, blaming others, creating excuses, that’s the way of the world. Trying to look good on the outside when we know the truth on the inside creates tension. No wonder the psalmist said his sins filled him with anxiety.

 

It doesn’t feel safe to be honest about our liabilities in the dog-eat-dog world. On the other hand, it‘s a relief to be honest about our faults with God and with ourselves. Surely we can find at least one trusted human being we can trust to understand and to keep our sharing in confidence. It’s fundamental to recovery for countless people in Twelve Step programs. The Catholic Church has wisely recognized it as a means of obtaining God’s grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It does our hearts good to come clean in a safe atmosphere, and what atmosphere could be safer than God’s welcoming arms?

 

Prayer: Lord, I trust in your mercy and love.

 

Reflection: What secrets are creating tension within you? How can you find a safe and trustworthy way to unburden yourself?

Wednesday’s Words: Gifts of the Heart

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  As Jesus sat near the Temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich people dropped in a lot of money; then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny. He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had—she gave all she had to live on.” Mark 12: 41-44

 

While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, “What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” And they criticized her harshly.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! …She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me…She did what she could…” Mark 14: 3-6

 

One way or the other, money really is no object. At least, that’s how it seems according to these gospel stories. The widow gave what she had. Her gift of a penny was more than enough, and valued by Jesus. The woman who anointed Jesus gave what she had, too. Her expensive gift was not rejected as extravagant, but also valued by Jesus.

 

In God’s economy, it’s not about how much or how little we have to give, but the love and sincerity behind the gift that counts. This applies to more than material gifts. What about the abilities and talents we’ve been gifted with? We don’t need to worry that what we have to share isn’t good enough. We don’t need to worry that we’d be showing off by putting our talents to use. When we are offering ourselves and our abilities to God, we don’t need to worry about other people’s opinions or comments. We don’t even have to worry about the results. Neither the widow’s penny nor the lavish perfume made a huge difference in the worldly scheme of things, but both were precious and appreciated by the Lord.

 

Every time we overcome shyness, or feelings of inadequacy, or fear that people will think we’re trying to show off in order to share what we’ve been given, we are doing “a fine and beautiful thing.”

 

Prayer: Lord, help me recognize my gifts and share them.

 

Reflection: What are your gifts? Who can you share them with today?

Wednesday’s Words: Love and Obedience

iStock_000003550839XSmallThe Lord your God will give you and your descendants obedient hearts so that you will love him with all your heart… Deuteronomy 30: 6

 

What does an obedience have to do with loving God?

 

Does God give us obedient hearts so that we’ll obey his command to love him? Or do we love him out of gratitude for the gift of obedient hearts that protect us from our own self-destructive tendencies? Either way, in God’s kingdom, it seems that love and obedience go together.

 

The NAB translation of the above passage makes the connection clearer. Rather than “give” us obedient hearts, it says that God “will circumcise” our hearts. Physical circumcision removes a covering and exposes a very sensitive area. The procedure involves some pain. Thinking spiritually, you can imagine that a circumcised heart would be more open and sensitive than a heart covered over and protected. Circumcision of our hearts involves some pain, too, as self-will and self-centeredness are removed. When our hearts are vulnerable and exposed, we become more open and responsive to God, who loves us and has our best interests at heart.

 

We obey because we love and we love because we obey.

 

Prayer: Lord, open my heart to your love.

 

Reflection: What keeps you from obeying God? If you were going to respond to God’s love today, what would you do differently?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Work and Love

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Do all your work in love. 1 Corinthians 16: 14

 

“Do all your work in love.” Simple, but challenging.

 

“God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” I don’t know where I first read this phrase, but I put it on my refrigerator, next to pictures of my grandkids. I see it when I’m tooling around the kitchen and every time I do, it brings me back to what I believe is the reason all of us were put on this planet: love. Jesus told us the most important commandments were to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Do we really have something better to do than what God wants us to do? It sure seems like it, most of the time.

 

I went to my first writers’ conference some years ago, eager to pitch my first book proposal. The conference set up author/publisher five minute pitch appointments. It was a bit like speed-dating. Publishers sat stations in the middle of a huge room all afternoon as a never-ending flow of budding authors streamed past them. I was so nervous I could barely concentrate. Then a God-thought occurred to me: I’m not here to get a book contract. I’m here to love. The room was hot. The editor sitting across from me had beads of sweat on her forehead. I wondered if it would be rude or against protocol to offer tissues to a sweating editor. I decided to treat her the way I’d want to be treated. I pulled out a pack of tissues from my purse and offered them to her.  She smiled the first genuine smile I’d seen all afternoon. I felt less nervous. We were just two human beings in a hot auditorium together. Doing my work in love felt good. That editor didn’t offer me a book contract, but I think I was a success that day from God’s point of view.

 

Prayer: Lord, live your love through me today.

 

Reflection: How can you manifest love in whatever you do today?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Change of Heart

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…Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. James 1: 21b

 

God plants his word—not in our heads, not in our hands, but in our hearts.

 

Accepting the word of God isn’t an intellectual exercise. Jesus praised his Father for showing the unlearned what he hid from the learned. (Luke 10: 21)

 

It isn’t just about what we do, either. Jesus warned against praying, fasting, or helping the needy to gain approval or admiration. (Matthew 6: 1-17)

 

That could be why Jesus said the most important commandments were to love God with all our being and love our neighbors and ourselves. Living our faith goes much deeper than our heads and our hands, it goes to our hearts. We’re not equipped to go deep enough to change the kernel of our hearts on our own. Only God can get in there and do the deep surgery needed to bring about a change of heart.

 

What we can do is be open to the word God wants to plant in our hearts and nurture it. We can take actions that encourage spiritual growth. Honest prayer opens our hearts to God, He can heal what needs to be healed in us when we stop covering it up. Connecting with other people who are growing spiritually inspires us to desire a genuine change of heart. Serving others can soften our hearts to the needs of those around us and allow God an easier entrance.

 

We can come to God just as we are, warts and all, and accept his unconditional love for us. We can welcome the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our self-defeating faults. We can give our hearts back to Him.

 

Prayer: Lord, I open my heart to your healing love.

 

Reflection: What word of love is God planting in your heart 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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