Three steps forward, two steps back

February 9, 2010

 

It seems like it’s taking forever for me to grow up in Christ. Just when I think I’ve learned what it is that He’s trying to teach me through my circumstances I’m tested and once again I fail and fall down.

Being patient with myself is not my strong suit. It’s easy to think I should know better, do better and be better so I can be more like Jesus. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s only by grace that we even desire Godliness. The problem comes when I think I should reach that place overnight.  I read the devotion below in Magnificat last October. It spoke to this very issue. I recorded it in my journal so I wouldn’t forget this valuable lesson.

God knows that humans are by nature slow and even slothful, and that it takes a long time for us to become mature adults and finally bear fruit. It has not been given to humans to reach perfection overnight; our conversion requires much time…For this reason he waits very patiently and gives us time: He let’s time do its work.

For that matter we should know all too well that we can only make progress with the aid of time, by trial and error, three steps forward and two steps back.          

This problem with patience isn’t just applicable to myself. I need to be careful that I don’t expect others to grow and change overnight lest I place unreasonable demands and expectations on those I love. I’m thinking I can’t be the only one who struggles with this. Perhaps, when it comes to growing in Godliness, the place to begin is to have patience with ourselves and with others.


Grace in Disguise

February 6, 2009

 

You desire to rid your life of the cross you carry and fill this emptiness you feel.  But what if this cross, this trial with its emptiness, are graces God has given you to help see your need of him? Is it possible that the very things you desire to get rid of are his gifts to you? Gifts that when opened and explored reveal the depth of his mercy and love because they make you long for and seek the one true lover of your soul.


For a Friend

January 29, 2009

 

Stop trying to map out the future in your mind. Rest in the moment. Rest in the now. Push away the burdens and create the space to be at peace. Push them away not with might and strength but with a patient waiting that will eventually bear the fruit of contentment in the here and now.  Be content no matter the circumstances and somehow the circumstances will seem less suffocating, less overwhelming.

Do not grasp for easy answers, for solutions to your problems. Stop grasping. Instead fold your hands in prayer and find within your core the presence of Christ.  Seat yourself in him, with him.  Stay and rest with him.  And when you find yourself tempted to grasp for answers bring you hands back, fold them and pray. Bring your heart and head back to that place where Christ resides within.  But be careful in that place. Do not expect to find all the answers there. Jesus is not as much about giving easy answers as he is about giving his presence, giving his life, giving his grace. 

His presence, his life, his grace…these are all the answers you need.  


It’s not always black and white

November 7, 2008

We want to put people into boxes. We become offended or turned off by something they say or do and label them.  We want it to be simple; he’s good and she’s bad, she’s got a really good heart and well, he’s just plain selfish.  But the thing is, life just doesn’t work that way. No one person’s deeds are  all good nor all bad. And yet we are quick to judge, quick to suspect their motives. And once we’ve put someone or a group of people in that “not so good” or not trustworthy or “less spiritual” category we are tempted to see all they do through that lens. Even the good they do is questionable.

 

It’s sad that we do this. We do it with ourselves too. We want our motives and actions to be pure and loving. We examine them and label them. We describe what we do as being “in the spirit” or “in the flesh.” And while there is merit in examining our motives and and it’s important to examine our consciences there is a danger in seeing things in black and white.

 

You see we are made of flesh and spirit. Seldom are the motives behind what we do entirely pure. This is why we need grace. We can do wonderful things in the name and love of Jesus and even those deeds can be tainted by self-love. But God’s grace takes those deeds of love offered by faith and redeems them and us. This is the glory and wonder of living in God’s system of grace instead of the system of the law. No longer must our deeds be perfect in order to be accepted by God. Instead, our deeds, born of the spirit and tainted by our flesh, are accepted by Father and bring glory to him despite their imperfections. This by no means gives us permission to cease striving for perfect love. “What shall we say then, shall we continue to sin so that grace may abound. Certainly not…” (Romans 6:1). No, instead this system of grace should motivate us all the more to love like Jesus and extend this same grace to others.

 

We desperately need to see others through this same lens of grace. Our brothers and sisters in Christ will not always have the same agenda as we do. Our family members will not love us perfectly. Ministry and political leaders will not lead perfectly. Like you and me they are made of flesh and spirit. Even their best attempts to love “in the spirit” will probably be tainted by their own self-interest and self-love. They too are in the process of learning how to love.  

 

We can’t write off individuals or groups of people simply because we encounter that self-interest and self-love. We can’t declare their efforts to lead, to follow, to love and befriend or to work for the Kingdom of God as null and void simply because we come in contact with their flesh. No, instead we are called to live in a system of grace.  We are called to receive one another and our deeds in a spirit of love; we are called to see the image and love of Jesus in one another offering unmerited favor to each other despite our imperfect attempts to live in unity, love, holiness and peace.

 

What individuals or groups of people have you written off lately? 

How is God calling you to extend grace so you can walk in unity and peace?


Recognizing Grace

November 6, 2008

“The greatest grace God can give someone is to send him a trial he cannot bear with his own powers–and then sustain him with his grace so he may endure to the end and be saved.”

St. Justin Martyr (100-165 AD)


Empty Places Filled

September 14, 2008

From the Imitation of Christ...

Christ: My child always entrust your affairs to Me. In due season, I will dispose such things properly. Wait until I order things and you will recognize it was to your advantage.

Disciple: Lord, I willingly commit all things to Your care, for my endeavors bring poor profits. I wish that I were less concerned about what the future might bring, but could abandon myself more completely to Your divine pleasure.

Christ: My child, people frequently pursue a thing they eagerly desire, but when they have achieved it, they begin to see it was a mistake. For our inclinations are unsteady and do not last long, but instead tend to urge us on from one thing to another. For all these reasons it is most important to forsake self, even in the small things… 

When you have wholeheartedly delivered yourself up to God, seeking neither this thing nor that, according to your own wish or will, but placing yourself entirely in His care, you will find yourself united to Him in peace; for nothing will so satisfy you or give you greater pleasure than the will of God being accomplished in you.

Therefore, raise up your intention to God in all simplicity, detaching yourself from all disordered love or dislike of any creature or created thing; then you will be more apt to receive grace…

Where the Lord finds vessels empty, He fills them with His blessings.


“How are ya Ralph?”

March 13, 2008

The other day I was in the sacristy at church looking over the readings and preparing to serve as the lector and I ran into Ralph, the altar server. I glanced up from my reading and in our society’s ritualistic manner of greeting said,

“How are ya Ralph?”

Expecting the typical ritualistic response, “Fine and how are you Amy?” I was surprised when, with a grin and a nod, he simply said,

“I’m ok, just carrying my cross today.”

My cross that week was feeling especially heavy and so I smiled, nodded, and said,

“Yep, me too Ralph, me too.”

Ralph’s simple response and our exchange meant more to me than the other possible options. In those few seconds Ralph gave me an honest response. It wasn’t a fake, let me hide who I am and pretend life is a bowl of cherries response. But neither was it a litany of complaints or a “woe is me” response. It was both real and yet hopeful.

In that simple statement Ralph was honest about the fact that his life right now isn’t necessarily easy. And yet his words were full of hope because they were so Christ focused. Ralph understands that Jesus calls us to carry our cross and when life presents those crosses we shouldn’t be surprised. He also knows we shouldn’t be completely overwhelmed because there’s grace. Hence the smile and the nod.

In that brief exchange I felt like I saw a piece of Ralph’s heart which gave me the freedom to in turn share mine. No need to share all the details or have a long drawn out intimate conversation. No, the 17 words we shared were more than enough for some genuine Christian fellowship. And more than enough for Ralph to share a bit of hope with me.

I’m not alone on my journey. You’re not alone on this journey. We’re on this journey together. We each carry our cross but we carry it with the hope of something better in the future. And we carry it by grace. Sometimes that grace comes in unexpected ways. On that day, Ralph was a bit of God’s grace sent to lighten the load of my cross.  Thank you Ralph.


The grace of an imperfect life

March 7, 2008

 

When we think of God’s grace we often think of the grace of forgiveness and mercy; the grace of salvation.  You know

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like meeeeeee.”

But over the years I’ve learned and still am learning something. While I desperately need His grace when I sin and fall short of living the ideal of a life fully surrendered and directed by the Holy Spirit, I also need His grace when life falls short of my ideals, hopes and expectations.

We all have ideals for our life. Many of these ideals we seek are “good.” These hopes or ideals we have for our lives, our families and our friends are very often born out of virtue and the very nature of our created being and our vocations in life.

The man who desires to provide for and protect his family.

The missionary who wants nothing more than to care for the poor and feed the hungry in her midst.

The woman who longs to carry a child in her womb.

We hold onto our ideals. We dare to hope for what is good. All the while knowing that we live in an imperfect, fallen world; a world where often the distance between our hopes and reality is marked by disappointment.

This disappointment of the man or woman who never dreamed they’d end up divorced.

The disappointment of the parent whose wayward child is off doing a Prodigal Son tour.

The disappointment of the one who gives up their personal dreams to serve and take care of a sick relative.

The disappointment of the widower who loses his beloved and must live the rest of his days without her.

When our disappointments are rooted in an unfullfilled desire for something that is essentially good it can be especially difficult. It’s at times like these, when life is less than our ideal, less than perfect, that we need God’s grace.

We need grace to live with disappointments and still hold out hope for what is good and virtuous.

We need grace to offer up our disappointments as a sacrifice and see them as part of living in this fallen world and sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings.

We also need grace to see that sometimes our loss or disappointment can be a gift of grace itself.

It may well be the grace we need in order to allow the Holy Spirit to align our ideals, hopes, and dreams with his will and ways. Or, our loss or disappointment may be the grace we need to see a sin that we didn’t even realize we’d latched onto.

Big or small, our disappointments, our losses and sufferings make up the landscape of grace in our lives. Sometimes it’s hard to see the beauty of this landscape. We’re so focused on a specific disappointment or loss that we can’t see the forest for the trees. But if we are patient and we keep our gaze on him, we will eventually see the big picture and appreciate the grace of an imperfect life.