Slowing down

Wednesday’s Word: Patience

This, now, is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I am placing in Zion a foundation that is firm and strong.  In it I am putting a solid cornerstone on which are written the words, ‘Faith that is firm is also patient.’”            Isaiah 28: 16

 

Solid.  Strong.  Firm.  The foundation we rest upon is faith.  What’s important enough about that faith to be engraved on its cornerstone?  If it’s firm, it’s also patient.  Faith and patience go together.  Although I’d like to think I have faith, I don’t have much patience at all.  What does that tell me? When something isn’t going fast enough to suit me, I’m relying on my limited point of view. I’m not trusting that that things are unfolding according to God’s wise and loving plan.

 

If I can leave situations and people in God’s caring hands, there’s no need for impatience.  Even when I don’t see a solution, if I’m rooted in faith, it’s okay. Nikos Kazantzakis reminds us that, “God, it seems, in never in a hurry, while we are always in a hurry.”  In talking about the foundation of our faith, St. Paul said the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. He holds the whole building together. In union with him we’re being built together into a place where God lives through his Spirit. (Ephesians 2: 20-22)

 

If the Lord is our cornerstone, and he is never in a hurry, what’s the rush?

 

Prayer:  Lord, grant me the patience that comes from faith in your wisdom and love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  When and how has your patience been rewarded?

 

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 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 Word: Timing

 

Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the Temple, and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples. Mark 11: 11

 

Sometimes following Jesus means knowing when not to act. Being called doesn’t mean being driven. Although sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, going to ridiculous extremes to avoid it isn’t much better.

 

One morning I created an impossibly long “to do” list for myself, then raced through my day to get it all done. By suppertime I’d crossed out every single thing on my list. Did I relax over dinner, put my feet up and enjoy my evening? No! I added a few more chores to the list. It was not my wisest decision. What good is it if I accomplish every chore in the whole world but lose my soul and damage family relationships in the process?

 

The mission on Jesus’ “to do” list was to save mankind, but he realized late in the day was not the time to tackle cleansing the Temple. He took the night off and went with his closest companions to Bethany, his home away from home. The Temple was still there the next day when Jesus returned, drove out the moneychangers, and began to teach the people.

 

Taking a break before we act or speak can be much more effective than jumping in just to get something over with. When we trust God more than our own sense of urgency, our timing improves. If God has in mind for something to get done, it will get done. We don’t have to force it. Pausing before we act gives us time to collect our thoughts, renew our energy, and most importantly, check in with God’s plan.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me the wisdom to trust your timing.

 

Reflection: How might pausing instead of forging ahead help you be more effective today?

 

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: 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?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Contemplation

iStock_000003550839XSmall  Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41-42

 

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?

Wednesday’s Words: Easy Does It

iStock_000003550839XSmallMy 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?

Wednesday’s Word: Simplicity

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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?

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?

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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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