A much needed reminder

August 18, 2009

 

As we start another year of home schooling I find myself both grateful and humbled. I’m grateful that I can stay home with my girls and not have to work outside the home to earn a second income in order to survive. I know that not every mom who would like to stay home has that option. 

I’m also humbled by this choice. When I say humbled I mean my flesh is truly put in its place as I die to my selfish ambition and fleshly tendency to turn this temporal life into an idol.  

Staying home, teaching and raising my girls, is part of my “hidden life” with Jesus. In the eyes of the world, and sometimes in my own eyes, it’s not the most spectacular of vocations.  It’s  a simple vocation without glory in this world. Deep within I know the eternal worth and value of this hidden life but I can easily forget this truth which is why  these words by Henri Nouwen on the hidden life of Jesus are a much needed reminder…

The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden.  Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, “under their authority” (Luke 2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52).  When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events.  Jesus’ hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys.  If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.

The world beckons us to pursue fame, glory and “self”-fulfillment but what is God asking you to seek first? Your vocation will look different than mine but is it possible that Jesus is calling you, in your own way, to live a “simple, unspectacular and very ordinary hidden life” for the sake of His Kingdom?


Clearly Ambiguous

April 3, 2009

I came across this quote by Henri Nouwen the other day. I could relate to his thoughts.

   

Our hearts and minds desire clarity. We like to have a clear picture of a situation, a clear view of how things fit together, and clear insight into our own and the world’s problems. But just as in nature colors and shapes mingle without clear-cut distinctions, human life doesn’t offer the clarity we are looking for. The borders between love and hate, evil and good, beauty and ugliness, heroism and cowardice, care and neglect, guilt and blamelessness are mostly vague, ambiguous, and hard to discern.

 

I happen to be one of those people who likes clarity. On the one hand I’m a bit of an idealist and a dreamer. I desire things to look the way I dream they “should” be according to my ideals. On the other hand I like logic. I want things to “make sense.” If you’re going to give me an argument for something it should be logical and you should offer specific evidence. Neither of these ways of thinking make living with ambiguity easy. And if there is one thing clear about the realities of life it’s that more often than not they’re ambiguous. I know this is where my faith must come in–faith in something bigger than my personal ideals and thought processes.

 

Funny thing is, there are some ambiguities, or mysteries, if you will, that I have no problem living with — the mystery of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, how God could protect His church and Truth through fallible human beings, or the mystery of the Communion of Saints. Even after examining these and finding reasonable evidence for believing in these teachings there was still a certain amount of ambiguity or mystery to accept because these gifts from God are so far beyond my ability to reason and explain. And yet, for some reason these are things with which I do not struggle. 

 

It would seem that if my faith can accept these mysteries I should be able to accept the smaller ambiguities in my life. But instead, I want to know, understand, explain and define. I have questions and I want answers. This can drive those close to me crazy (sorry Scott). These questions without answers can drive me crazy too. Which is probably why I posted this not long ago.

 

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke gives some advice I need take:

 

Do not now seek answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them…the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer…take whatever comes with great trust.

 

Life is clearly ambiguous. I need to learn to live everything and take whatever comes with great trust.  I need to keep that in the forefront of my mind. Perhaps I should tattoo it on my hand. Better yet, I’ll  have my friend, Tina, inscribe it one of these.

 

My prayer today:  Lord, help me to take whatever comes with great trust.

 


Faithfulness to Your Calling

March 10, 2009

 
I received the meditation below via email this morning from the Henri Nouwen Organization . It’s timely and a good follow-up to my last two posts. Both Nouwen and Mother Teresa lived this truth. I pray I will learn to live it as well.  

Our Unique Call

So many terrible things happen every day that we start wondering whether the few things we do ourselves make any sense.  When people are starving only a few thousand miles away, when wars are raging close to our borders, when countless people in our own cities have no homes to live in, our own activities look futile. Such considerations, however, can paralyse us and depress us.

 Here the word call becomes important.  We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people.  But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world.  We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust.  Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.

 


Be Not Afraid

January 7, 2009

A few days a week I’ve been getting up early and going to the 7:00 am daily mass while Scott and the girls are still asleep.  Normally the girls and I try to get to the 11:00 am mass but as their schooling needs have changed so has our schedule. We have a loving and perhaps unlikely community at the 11:00 mass. We miss many of the people there, especially Papa Joe (a dear man whom we’ve adopted and who has adopted us into his family). Joe is one of my few regular readers. If you’re reading this Joe, we miss you.  That’s Joe in the photo below.

The girls with Papa Joe

Although we miss the crowd at the 11:00 mass I’m really enjoying the early mass.  It probably has something to do with the quiet drive there, the peacefulness in the pews without a squirming 5 year old 🙂 and of course the sweet presence of Christ. I also think it has to do with giving the first fruits of your day to the Lord. It reminds me of that song verse…Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning my song shall rise to thee.

This morning the Scripture readings at mass reflected a theme that has shown up in some of my other reading. “Be not afraid.”  In the Gospel reading when the storm rages around the disciples in the boat Jesus tells them, Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid! (Mark 6:50).  The Epistle reading came from First John,  There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear

Lately I’ve been afraid of letting go of some things. They’re things I have absolutely no control over and yet I insist on holding on tightly as if I do have control. Foolish I know. The problem with this is twofold: 1) I’m not trusting Jesus and forgotten that my Father has my best interests at heart and is in control. 2) I’m so busy trying to control my circumstances that I’m not listening to the Holy Spirit. I’ve let my fear of letting go get in the way of love.  

I read the following quote from Henri Nouwen last night and it really challenged me.

God asks us to jump from our secure perches, to stop calculating the risks. Jesus bids us,”Take up your cross, follow me, leave even your father and mother if you must. Don’t insist on knowing exactly what comes next but trust that you are in the hand of God, who will guide your life.” We can do so, because we are told again and again in Scripture, Don’t be afraid. Give me a chance. I am your Savior, Guide, Friend, Bridegroom.

First the Nouwen quote and then the Scripture readings, I think God is trying to tell me something. That part about “don’t insist on knowing exactly what comes next but trust that you are in hand of God” really resonates with where I am today. Today I need to offer up my fear. I to need jump from my secure perch and trust that my Savior, Guide, Friend and Bridegroom is in control. 

What are you afraid of today?

  • Losing a loved ones?
  • Not finding someone to love?
  • Losing your job?
  • Not finding your ideal  job?
  • Your deteriorating health?
  • Giving up your dreams?
  • Not being able to pay the bills?
  • Being alone?

Jesus says to you and to me, Take courage, it is I, be not afraid.


Successfulness vs. Fruitfulness

January 4, 2009

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There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.

                                                                                                                                          –Henri Nouwen

 

This Nouwen quote spoke to me today. It’s easy to get caught up in the world’s idea of success. If you’re a results driven person or you have any “over-achiever” tendencies then you can lose sight of what we’re really called to, fruitfulness (Gal. 5:22-23).

I like what Nouwen has to say about “fruitfulness;” it’s the product of weakness and vulnerability. No wonder the world and our flesh are so attracted to successfulness. I mean let’s face it, weakness and vulnerability aren’t exactly qualities you’d want to list on your resume. But God isn’t looking at our resumes. He’s looking at our hearts. He wants to produce fruit in us and through us. And the only way fruit will grow is if the seed falls to the ground, is broken and dies.

Jesus replied, “…I tell you the truth , unless a kernal of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life…(John 12:24-25,)

I’ve been on this faith journey long enough to realize that the best fruit in my life comes from moments of brokenness and vulnerability. The moments when I’m unsuccessful, weak and I finally acknowledge that it’s God who is really in control. Those are the moments when I “lose” my life and often it’s painful. But they’re also the moments when God’s love, grace, mercy and humility seem to flow through me to others. 

Not surprisingly, the people who’ve most influenced my faith journey are not the “successful” ones but instead those who were willing to share their own weakness and vulnerability. One of the reasons I’ve spent 10 years serving on those bi-annual ecumencial retreats is because of the vulnerability and transparency shown by the women who give the talks. They share openly about how the grace of God has come into their sometimes very messy lives and transformed them. The fruit that comes from such transparency is beautiful. It gives others the freedom to admit their own weaknesses and humble themselves before God. And just as Nouwen’s quote states, we experience intimacy when we touch one another’s wounds and a community is born through our shared brokenness. It’s the power of God working through weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Despite this knowledge and experience I must confess that my flesh still rebels. It’s the “falling to the ground” and “dying” part that my flesh hates. Like many, I want to look (and feel) like I have my act together, like I’m successful. But the truth is I don’t and I’m not. Even though my flesh rebels, my spirit rejoices in the fruit that comes when I finally abandon my will and follow His.

Instead of a successful new year I think I need to pray for a fruitful new year; a year of falling to my knees and dying to myself. Not exactly a glamorous new year’s wish. I doubt Hallmark is going to ask me to write any of their Happy New Year cards. But, I know it’s what I need. Maybe it’s what you need too.

Here’s to a fruitful new year!


The Correlation

August 25, 2008

I’d like to think that I am a compassionate person. However, I’ve spent time examining some of my responses to friends when they’ve suffered or struggled through difficult circumstances and I’ve realized the depth of my compassion can be very shallow at times. 

In his book, Turn My Mourning into Dancing, Henri Nouwen has this to say about compassion:

 

The word [compassion] comes from roots that mean literally to “suffer with.”‘ To show compassion means sharing in the suffering “passion” of another. Compassion understood this way asks more from us than a mere stirring of pity or a sympathetic word.

To live with compassion means to enter others’ dark moments. It is to walk into places of pain, not to flinch or look away when another agonizes. It means to stay where people suffer.

 

I don’t think any of us really like “staying where others suffer.” I know I don’t. Consequently I am quick to offer solutions and advice. I am quick to suggest that “we must pick up our cross” forgetting that even Jesus had help carrying his cross (Luke 23:26).  I wonder how many times my words of “exhortation” have only made a friend’s cross seem even heavier? As Nouwen puts it:

 

We try to help our friends quickly process grief…All the while however, we act less out of genuine suffering with and more out of the need to stand back from the discomfort we might feel…Our hesitation to look squarely at another’s suffering, to sit or stand with someone in pain, weighs on conversations an obligation for the other to “act happy”…Our evasions do not help others but rather cause them to put up defenses and drive away those who need someone to care. By offering premature advice on how to cope, by rushing to reassure, by prodding with advice, we say much about our need for easy closure. When we barge in with such consolation, we make hurting souls into objects or projects.

One reason we react to others this way grows out of our skirting of our pain. We resist getting near the suffering of another partly our of our unwillingness to suffer ourselves. For another’s hardship suggests to us what can also hurt us. 

 

As I’ve reflected on Nouwen’s words I’ve come to the conclusion that I often lack compassion because I do not suffer well. When suffering comes my way I am slow to accept the trial and quick to complain. If I cannot embrace my own suffering and difficulties then how can I sit with someone else in the midst of their suffering and pain. I’d never made this correlation before but it does makes sense.  Those who embrace their own pain and suffering (like Jesus) are better able to show compassion, better able to suffer with others in the midst of their pain. 

I am hesitant to even write this next sentence because of what it implies.

Father, help me to be more compassionate.


Jesus’ Self-Portrait

May 23, 2008

 

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If you hang around this blog long enough you’ll figure out that I’m a Henri Nouwen fan. His writings seem to speak to my heart. This simple meditation from the Henri Nouwen Organization was just the message I needed this morning. Hope it speaks to you too.

 

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Jesus’ Self-Portrait

 

 

 

Jesus says:  “Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for uprightness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness”   (Matthew 5:3-10). 

 

 

 

These words offer us a self-portrait of Jesus. Jesus is the Blessed One.  And the face of the Blessed One shows poverty, gentleness, grief, hunger, and thirst for uprightness, mercy, purity of heart, a desire to make peace, and the signs of persecution.

 

 

The whole message of the Gospel is this:  Become like Jesus 

 

We have his self-portrait.  When we keep that in front of our eyes, we will soon learn what it means to follow Jesus and become like him.

 

-Henri Nouwen