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?
King David, who wrote this psalm, is well-known in Scripture. He killed the giant Goliath with only a sling and a few stones. He led armies successfully against Israel’s enemies. It was through David’s descendants that the promised Messiah was to come. We know Jesse was David’s father, but who is his mother? We don’t know, because the bible never mentions her name. That didn’t stop her from being an influence in David’s spiritual life.
What is important—with or without her name being known—is that she served the Lord and that David served the Lord just as she did. Apparently, his mother remained in the background, quietly setting an example of service. David started off in the background, too, minding the sheep—until God had other plans for him. Chances are, David didn’t start out to make a name for himself. He gained fame because he met challenges as they were presented to him, trusting in God, not in himself.
Although David’s mother remained in the background, God used her. Maybe we’re like her, called to serve God without fanfare. Doing what needs to be done, quietly accepting and meeting the challenges that we find ourselves facing. Maybe in doing so we preach a sermon louder than we could with a megaphone or a microphone. David’s mother had neither and she influenced a son to serve God in a mighty way that made a difference for all generations to come.
Maybe being anonymous isn’t so bad.
Prayer: Lord, may I serve you-whether or not anyone else knows.
Reflection: Who might you be influencing by your quiet faithfulness today?
I’ve got a Martha mind. That makes it challenging to “be still and know” God when I want to pray. Even if nothing in particular is troubling me, my mind does mental gymnastics anyway. I’ve tried various things to slow my thoughts: deep breathing, slowly repeating a word or phrase, focusing on an object or picture. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.
The other day, they didn’t. So instead, I pictured myself welcoming Jesus into the Martha/Mary home of my heart. I imagined myself sitting at his feet, like Mary. I even leaned my head against his knee and relaxed. I gave myself permission to ignore Martha’s clamors and just listen to Jesus, like Mary did.
Maybe that’s why Martha appealed to Jesus for help in getting Mary’s attention. Martha had tried to get her sister to join her, but as long as Mary focused on Jesus instead of Martha, Martha’s bustling couldn’t distract her.
I didn’t have to pay attention to my Martha mind, either, even though she insisted. I sat there, at peace, listening to Jesus—only he didn’t say anything, and that was okay. Just being with him was enough. After a few minutes, as any good host would, I simply asked him what he wanted. He answered simply, too. One word. Kindness. That’s all my heart heard. But that was enough.
Prayer: Come into my heart, Lord.
Reflection: If you sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, what will you hear?
Be grateful for the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family… Deuteronomy 26: 11
Counting our blessings can change our attitudes and enrich our lives.
When a tractor trailer hit my car I ended up painfully bedridden for months. It was horrible. Would I want to go through it again? Never! Am I grateful that I did? Absolutely! I’m not denying the pain and challenges, but they couldn’t keep God from operating in my life. When I remembered to look for the good, I felt better.
- The accident struck just after I’d gotten in shape by working out. Had my muscles not been so toned, the internal damage to my body would have been much worse.
- I got to see my husband in a new light as he stepped up to take over my household responsibilities while I was incapacitated.
- Being out of work, I had plenty of extra time to meditate and pray. I’m grateful that God didn’t reject my prayers even though, in a way, I was praying because “I had nothing better to do.”
- Insurance and disability benefits helped cover the loss of my paycheck.
- I was forced to stop micro-managing my teenage daughter. It was a bumpy road, but we both learned things we needed to learn. Our relationship ended up being healthier for it.
- I found out my self-worth doesn’t dependent on how much I accomplish. Like everyone else, I have worth simply because God loved me into existence.
God works for our best interest in life’s pleasures and in its challenges. We don’t have to deny our pain. We also don’t have to let it stop us from being grateful.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to your blessings.
Reflection: What good things can you thank God for today?
The first thing Jesus did before miraculously feeding the five thousand was to have the people sit down.
When we’re spiritually hungry, the first thing we need to do is rest in God. He can’t satisfy our hungry hearts if we’re frantically trying to fill our emptiness on our own. Pre-occupation with busyness and trying to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps is self-defeating. It leads away from God. I once read a translation of Psalm 46:11, “Be still and know that I am God,” that makes it even clearer: “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” Why is it so hard to stop struggling and rest in God?
Yes, we must do our part. God will certainly guide and strengthen us to take the actions we’re meant to take, but we never have to do more than we are able to. When we’ve done our best we can trust God, who “lets us rest in fields of green grass and leads us to quiet pools of fresh water.” (Psalm 23: 2)
What if, when we are frustrated in our strained attempts to help others, we entrust them to God’s care, too? We don’t have to be anyone’s savior. Like the disciples who helped feed the five thousand, all we have to do is trust, obey Jesus’ directions, and share what we’ve received.
When we’re running on empty, if we allow ourselves sit down and rest, we might be astonished at how we’re nourished and our strength is renewed.
Prayer: Lord, may we rest in you.
Reflection: What is keeping you from resting in God today?
When I struggle to make things to go my way I feel frustrated.
When I accept circumstances exactly as they are at any given moment, I have peace.
I can relax and accept reality instead of trying to control it. That doesn’t mean I don’t make choices. Once I accept things as they are instead of wishing they were different, I can decide how I want to respond.
When I resist others who don’t say and do what I think they should, I feel resentful.
When I don’t take other people’s choices personally, I have peace.
It’s no longer a battle of wills. That doesn’t mean I become a doormat. If I can’t make others do what I want, they can’t make me do what they want, either.
When I fret about not living up to other people’s expectations, I feel stressed.
When I focus on what I think God wants me to do instead of trying to impress others, I have peace.
I don’t have to worry about pleasing them. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to honest feedback, but I know other people’s opinions of me don’t make me better or worse than I am. My self-worth is never truly in jeopardy because I am loved by God.
In other words, whenever I get out of my own way, I have peace. Trusting that God is in charge instead of me relieves tension. God has all power and is always on top of things-whether or not it seems like it to me. I can trust that things are unfolding the way they are meant to. Even difficult people and situations have a purpose. They can be learning experiences, opportunities to grow, or motivation for change. I can trust that if I am trying to do what God wants me to do, I will have all the power and resources I need to do whatever I am meant to do. I can trust that the results are in God’s hands, not mine.
When I surrender to God’s will, my bitterness turns to peace.
Prayer: Lord, increase my desire to live for you.
Reflection: If living for God instead of ourselves or others brings peace, why resist?
My child, don’t get involved in too many things. If you try to do too much, you will suffer for it. You won’t be able to finish your work, and you won’t be able to get away from it either. Sirach 11: 10
Sirach was right. I did try to do too much and I did suffer for it. So did my family. At one point, my idea of relaxing was tackling chores I could do while sitting down, like paying bills. I remember one Saturday in particular. I had an impossibly long “to do” list. By supper time I was exhausted, but thankful that I had done everything on my list. Did I put my feet up and relax? No. I concluded I must not have put enough on the list and quickly added three more tasks to finish before collapsing into bed that night.
I was not much fun to be around in those days. How could I be? I was always either busy or worn out and cranky. Looking back, I have to admit I was ego-driven. Being busy made me feel important, needed, and worthwhile.
By the grace of God and with encouragement from family and friends, I began a long, slow journey to some kind of middle ground. I began scheduling relaxation periods into my days, in spite of the challenges. I remember trying to lounge in the back yard with a good book even though chores kept taunting me. I could almost hear the vacuum calling, “Come on, you know you want to.”
Instead of giving in, I started spending Saturday afternoons at the local park, where household tasks were not within reach. I reminded myself the chores weren’t going anywhere. They would wait until I could get to them. Meanwhile, I had more important things to do, like live my life and enjoy my family. Balance brings serenity.
Prayer: Lord, help me prioritize according to your will, not mine.
Reflection: When are you likely to get over-ambitious? What are some ways to let go of what is non-essential?
God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated. Ecclesiastes 7:29b
When my daughter was little and I was working full time, if I wasn’t doing at least two things at once I felt like I was wasting time. It felt proud of being so efficient and getting so much done, but I was wearing myself out mentally, emotionally, and physically. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that nice to be around. I was gaining the whole world of accomplishment and losing myself in the process.
What makes our lives so complicated? Trying to balance work, home life, and relationships is no small challenge. Maybe without even trying we find ourselves with more irons in the fire than we can handle. Or maybe our minds are busy planning ways to get people to do what we want or to force circumstances to go the way we think they should. Maybe multi-tasking as a way of life makes us feel smart or important.
How can we keep ourselves simple in the midst of our complicated lives? We can let go of self-will and practice acceptance. When we spend less time and mental energy trying to figure out how to get things to turn out the way we want, we feel more serenity. Accepting reality instead of trying to manipulate it saves wear and tear on our nerves.
We can try taking one thing at a time. Not everything is a priority, even if it feels that way. If we’re asking to do God’s will, we can trust that what’s meant to get done will get done in God’s time. Not necessarily today (much as we’d like to have all our ducks in a row) and not necessarily by us. Taking a few minutes to figure out what really must be done today might show a number of things that can wait until tomorrow or even longer.
It’s surprising how when we step out of frantic activity, we gain perspective and can take care of what’s truly important as opposed to what feels urgent. The sun will come up tomorrow and the earth will still turn, even if we don’t cross everything off of our to-do lists today.
Simple doesn’t mean shallow. It means eliminating the clutter so that what is important can emerge.
Prayer: Lord, keep me simple.
Reflection: How can I simplify my day today?
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?
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?