Monday, December 16, 2013

Life and How I'm Generally Really Dense

So I had a really awful day today. Awful in the sense that a couple years ago, if today had happened, I don't think I would have been able to handle it. I would have cried the entire way home and then fallen to pieces and been a complete jerk to the people around me for the rest of the day. Instead, I was a complete jerk BEFORE I got home. So it's not really progress... but there were no tears.

Until I went to church. After talking to a really amazing friend who always says exactly the perfect thing... pretty sure her prayers are why most of what I realized tonight was that I needed to take my own advice that I had just given her. Trust God and realize that I'm suffering for a reason. Yeah. It took 45 minutes for that sink in.

For some reason, I've really been struggling to serve God joyfully in the present. I envision this in any future plans I have for my life, but have completely ignored the present. I somehow have managed to convince myself that the problem is my current situation in life, rather than what I am doing. I guess it's easier that way. to blame my faults on my surroundings. But it's not very Christian.

So, as I'm sitting in adoration, asking Him to help me to love Him more, I started to lose focus. I started complaining to Him about my day... about all the little things that had bothered me today... and this weekend... and this year. Then I realized that I had lost focus. But I hadn't. That was the focus. Because the way to love Christ more is to love His people more. The way to grow in charity is to practice charity (funny thing... I read that at least three times today...)

All day, I was a grouchy teacher, and I justified it to myself since I was having a bad day. I took every blessing God gave me today and was annoyed that it wasn't what I wanted. Because somehow, I've decided that I know better than God how to make Him happy. I've decided that staying home and reading my bible and theology books and never leaving my house (or my church) would be the best way to please Him. Rather than, you know, actually serving Him. John 21... or even as basic as the Golden rule. I've been ignoring those. I've been pretending that my faith is just for me. Rather than meant to be used.

All year, I've avoided praying about work. I've prayed for people at work, students, teachers, etc, but I've avoided talking to God about any of the bigger issues. I've sectioned off my life into several neat little boxes. One for work, one for home, one for God. And then I've been very unhappy that I can't spend all my time in the God box. I'd rather be in a church than pretty much anywhere else. It's not that preferring church is the real problem. It's that I'm not letting God use me or speak to me in the rest of my life. It's not just that I've kept the other boxes out of the God box, I've managed to not let God into the other boxes.

The little things that annoy me... comments, glances, those are gifts that I can offer back to Him by my actions and my response. And I've been throwing those gifts away. Ungratefully demanding what I selfishly want instead of what I actually need. So instead, I need to work on my attitude, on my receptivity to these gifts. I need to learn to praise God for these little difficulties. Because they really are exactly the gifts I need right now. But only if I accept them. That the hardest part. The asking for gifts is easy- accepting joyfully what we've been given because it looks different than what we imagined, that part is tough. I need to remember that He is the Giver of Good. By turning something that doesn't appear to be a good gift into a gift by receiving it, we cooperate in that giving. Taking away from Satan what he has stolen and returning to God what is His.

Friday, December 13, 2013

God is Unchanging

I first encountered this reflection of St. Teresa of Avila last year. 
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing distress you;
While all things fade away,
God is unchanging.
Patience overcomes everything.
With God in your heart,
Nothing is lacking.
God alone suffices.

The first time I heard it was when I heard this musical version on my daily pray-as-you-go podcast. I made me stop and think. I played it over five or six times as the beauty and certainty of the message settled my mind.

It's about God. He doesn't change. He is unchanging and certain. That's a reassuring thought when everything around me is shifting and changing... including me. God is stable. My understanding of Him changes, but He doesn't. Because God is Truth and truth doesn't change. If something has been proven true once, then (under those same circumstances) it is aways true and can be used to determine the truth of something else. Maybe that's why I like math. I like the structure of the argument. That, given something that is true, we can build on that statement, and other statements to determine more true statements. What is often more interesting, though, is to determine things which are not true.

For us, here and now, on this earth, I think the number of seemingly true untruths are much more abundant than the seemingly true truths. We need something to help us sort through what we perceive to determine what is really true. Because the thing is, the untruths look really attractive. They're usually wrapped up in a pretty package and come with all sorts of attractive looking futures. We don't see the whole truth, because we are blinded by the things which appear to be attractive. And we put blinders on when things aren't going our way, or when we are suffering in some way and insist that it is the suffering part which isn't real. Because it hurts and we don't think that it should.

The thing is, sacrifice is one of the most beautiful things. Jesus came and sacrificed himself for us because of His love for us. The fruit of love is offering one's self in love. It might be in the little things. It might be in larger ways. It might be in ways that no human will ever recognize. It's not aways easy. In fact, I find it to be very difficult. I get so wrapped up in the things that I want, whether it's what I want to do with my time, my money, or my energy... or my emotions. I forget that these things aren't really mine. They just appear to be.

Because the truth is that everything we have is a gift from a loving God. It's a gift freely given to us, but that doesn't mean that He wants us to use it selfishly. No, He is Love and so His example of sacrifice should make it apparent to us what we are to do with the gifts He has given us. We are to offer them up- back to Him, because it is in the exchange of love that we truly experience love. We may offer them back to Him by sharing them with others. For if we are determined to become one with Him, then we should join in His work. In His efforts to bring love to everyone. He offered Himself for us. He sacrificed His life so that we could live with Him and abide in Him. He suffers daily from His immense love for us, and somehow, I manage to convoke myself that suffering is the bad part. When in reality, those feelings are also the fruit of love. When it hurts because we can't fix everything... that's just the smallest piece of what God must feel when His children turn from His love. So instead of complaining, instead of asking Him to take it away, we're given the chance to share in it. To share in His suffering, to comfort Him just a little. Because part of being given a gift is in receiving the gift. His greatest gift to us is Love itself. In order to receive it, we must use it. And sometimes, that means that we must join in the pain of His love for us.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So I guess I am growing...

I always look back at the end of the year and think about the highlights, and low lights of the year and set goals for the new year. I guess it's something most people do, but I always do it right before midnight on the 31st. I've been very down on myself and my progress recently, which isn't helping me to improve. Because improving, drawing closer to God each year, each month, each day, that's the goal. My over-analyzing and criticizing myself isn't helping me to reach this goal.

Maybe it's because I'm looking at it from the inside, where everything blurs together and I see either a long flat line or feel like I'm at the bottom... only looking up at the progress I want to make, and not noticing the little (and sometimes the bigger) steps up I've made. Because I am growing. Because my prayer life today is much stronger than it was a year ago. My faith is more solid and steadfast today because I'm learning that faith isn't about me. It's about Him. It's about surrender and trust. And it's about not trying to do everything and fix everything on my own. It's about realizing that there's a reason God gave us free will. Not so we can persist in trying to do everything on our own, but so that we'll find joy in the surrender. So that we will actively choose to allow ourselves to be loved by Him. Because when we let Him into our lives, we let Him work through us.

A couple months ago, everywhere I turned the parable of the mustard seed kept coming up. It's strange because I've read this parable so many times, but it kept showing up, and I kept feeling confused. I thought I understood it, but then I realized that while I understood the words and the story, it hadn't actually taken root in my heart. I was missing the bigger picture. For some reason, it had never really registered with me that it wasn't the mustard seed- sized faith that could move mountains. It was the growth of that faith. But the mustard seed part is the most important... and that's the part that I usually don't give enough credit to. Because that's when it needs to be nurtured the most. That's when it needs to be cared for, tended to, protected. And that's the time when it's sometimes hardest to find it. And it's way too easy to grow discouraged. But the faith is there, freely given to us, and that little bit grows. That little bit is the biggest gift because it grows. Because it doesn't stay small forever.

So it's a little early to set my goals for next year... and maybe this will be expanded upon later. But for now, it's simple. A year from now, when I'm looking back at 2014, I want to be able to say that my faith is stronger. That my prayer life is better, and that I'm doing a better job of listening to the "gentle proddings of the Spirit" in my life. I had written that phrase last February as a topic for a future blog post, but I can't remember why. It's a beautiful phrase, and certainly the way that I usually experience Him... gently, softly calling. A year from now, I want to be closer to Him so that I hear that voice more strongly.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Taking Time to Prepare for Christmas- An Advent of the Heart

It occurs to me that over the last year, I've made myself so busy that I don't have any time left to think or to contemplate my life. I complain that I can't tell which direction I'm headed down, that I want God to give me a direction so I can follow it, but I haven't been doing a very good job of following a very basic direction. Slow down. Take time to think, and to communicate with Him. I guess I've been doing an awful lot of talking about Him, and reading about Him, but not a very good job of listening or spending time talking to Him. Or even taking the time to know myself.

Advent seems like a good time to work on that. So I think I'm going to actually start blogging. For some reason, I have to have a way to order my thoughts before I actually think them. I'm not sure why... or if that's normal. Maybe it's insane. But I think better when I'm writing or speaking. This way, at least I can look at my thoughts after I've written them. Maybe I'll find some clarity in the quiet.

So... there are 15 days left until Christmas. That's fifteen days to blog. This first post was a little short... I'm guessing the others will be more lengthy.
~Have a blessed day!