on “being evaluated”

March 23, 2010

The girls had their annual home school evaluations last week. All went well. The results were what I expected. They passed and are progressing as they should. Which means, as any honest home school parent will tell you, the teacher passed too!  Whew! 😉

Evaluations are funny things aren’t they? Be it a test, job performance review or any informal evaluation…their sole purpose is to measure and assign some kind of value. That fact alone has all kinds of implications on various levels. Especially given that everyone wants to measure up.

Now a single test here and there or job evaluation may not have weighty implications for you. Though for some it might.  For most of us it’s the cumulative formal and informal evaluations we’ve undergone (and put ourselves through daily) that carry greater significance.  

At the very core of our being is a need to know we’re valuable, significant and worthy to be loved. It’s written in our DNA. It’s there because God made us in his image and his image is the picture of perfect love. After all, God is Love!

We know things got screwed up in the Garden. And it’s more than just a black and white, good vs. evil thing. When sin became part of our spiritual DNA it sure did a number on us.  

The enemy was able to get Eve to question her significance. He tempted her to believe she needed to be more than who she was, that God hadn’t made her complete and was holding out on her. She took the bait, ate the fruit and tried to become like God.

Ever since, we’ve been trying to measure up, striving to find our significance and value. Most often we try to do this a part from God. And oh the places that has taken some of us.

For some of us it’s lead to dark and scary places while others found bright and appealing places that proved to be  full of the empty promises of human praise and esteem.  I know the places it took me and they’re places I don’t want my girls to go.

That’s why I see this home school journey as so much more than providing an academic education for my girls. Although at times I worry if I’m doing enough, if I “measure up” as a teacher, deep in my heart I know my girls are going to learn.

I know that more important than passing these annual evaluations, than excelling at math, reading and writing, is instilling in them an understanding of God’s immense love for them and an understanding of who they are in Christ.

I know that if they trust in God’s love they will never have a reason to look for love where true love can’t be found. If they know their dignity and worth as a child of God, which was made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice, then they won’t need to chase after human praise and approval which seems to always lead to sin and greater selfishness.

That’s why I daily remind them they’re precious daughters of God; His Spirit lives in them and they are His. Sometimes I whisper it in Ella’s ear when she’s sitting on my lap in the morning. Or, I remind Claire when she’s sitting close to me in the pew at church. 

I try to tell them often and in simple ways that their worth and value is not based on whether they’re smart, cute, talented, accepted by others etc… 

I want them to learn that our Father’s love can not be earned; their adoption into His family at their baptism was a free gift of grace given when they were helpless babies, unable to even approach Him on their own. Now, there’s a picture of unmerited favor and love!

There’ll be countless evaluations to come in Claire and Ella’s lives. Just like you and me they’ll find they’re being evaluated by others and they’ll constantly be tempted to evaluate themselves. At times they may feel humiliated and even defeated by these evaluations. And in some evaluations they may find confidence and take great pride.

But, my prayer is that not one of these will compare to the evaluation our Father made of their worth when He asked Jesus to die for them on the cross. It’s in this evaluation alone they will find both true humility and their greatest confidence.

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Security Blankets

January 22, 2010

 

If your sense of well-being, peace of mind or self-worth are based on anything that can be taken away from you then you’re living with a false sense of security.

 

What in your life, if you lost it tomorrow would leave you reeling, I mean the “downward spiral, don’t know which end is up, my world is crumbling”  kind of reeling?

Is it your …

intellect, health, your ability to see, hear, walk?

reputation, the admiration and respect of others or perhaps your friends?

job, ability to provide for your family or  life savings?

spouse and kids?

dreams and talent?

Any one of these things disappearing tomorrow might make you feel like the carpet has been pulled out from underneath you. But, there’s a difference between falling down and falling into that abyss where we feel like we’re drowning in a tidal wave. Or being so freaked out that you’re trying to control anything and everyone in order to restore your sense of peace and security.

If you really want to know what temporal idols you cling to in this life then think seriously about what it is that would send you into that downward spiral?

If you want to take it out the of the hypothetical, ask yourself “what is it that steals my peace?” Then, take some time to examine how you actually react when you any of these things are threatened in the smallest of ways. This will tell you a lot about to what and whom you cling. 

Just how do you react when your reptutation has be sullied, your job performance has been a little off, your credibility is questioned, your marriage hits a few bumps in the road, your kids reject you,  your plans don’t happen in your timing or at all and others notice yours is not the ideal life afterall?

In short, what things make up your security blanket…what are your idols in this temporal life?

And don’t you think it’s time to give them up?


Our Common Vocation

January 21, 2010

 

Our vocation is to work out our identity.

 Thomas Merton (paraphrased)

First things first. This word vocation may be something Catholics toss around but I can tell you that when I was a Protestant I rarely used the word.  When I did hear the word used it was when referencing “technical or vocational” schools. For the most part though, vocation is not a commonly used word. Unless of course you are Catholic and then the word takes on a whole new meaning–as in, a vocation to the priesthood or religious life or the vocation of married or single life. Ideally, Catholics should be taught by the Church and raised by their parents to consider these vocations and discern the vocation to which God is calling them. And this is a good ideal.

Merton’s words however, suggest something different about our vocation. He’s not talking about discerning our vocation nor is he equating our identity with our specific vocation in life.  Instead he’s saying that each of us, no matter our specific vocation (the priesthood, religious, marrid or single life) are called to the same and ultimately higher vocation of working out our identity in relationship to God.

It sounds like a simple truth and yet few grasp this. Most of us, once we’ve discerned our vocation fall into the trap of allowing that vocation to become our identity. And this brings with it a host of problems. When your identity is based on something that can be taken from you then you are living with a false sense of security.

The husband/father/business man who loses his job, the mother who loses her children, the artist who loses his eyesight– if indeed their identities are built on their vocations then who are they after their loss. Most of us know this insecurity exists (if not consciously then unconsciously) which is why we strive for affirmation, praise, promotion, and affection. We compete with the person next to us because we’re looking for that security we long for. 

It’s only when we realize that our identity and security is rooted in the fact that we are His beloved children, that we can truly rest. For Merton, the work of discovering and living in this truth is our vocation.

Our specific vocation or state in life is not who we are, it is instead meant to be an expression of our life as God’s sons and daughters. It is a means to an end, not the end. Henri Nouwen puts it this way: It is very important to realize that our vocation is  hidden in who we are. And, who we are is hidden in Christ. Searching for this truth, embracing it so that we can express and share this truth with others through our various roles in life, this is our vocation.


My Great Temptation

March 21, 2008

bread 

*** 

No, it’s not “carbs” as the picture might suggest. I’m sure that’s surprising to those of you who know I have a huge sweet tooth and a penchant for Blue Moon beer. No, my great temptation is something different.

I’ve come believe that knowing who I am in Christ and who I am a part from Him is the key to persevering in His grace. The great temptation I (we) face on a daily basis is to deny, forget and lose faith in our identity as God’s beloved son or daughter.  

Why is this such a great temptation?

Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete expresses it beautifully. Here is an excerpt taken from one of his meditations found in yesterday’s Magnificat readings.

Meditation on the temptations of Jesus has always been part of the Church’s celebration of Lent…

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves.” (Matt. 4:3)

All particular temptations are expressions of this one original or “primordial temptation. This is the temptation to believe that the fulfillment of the desires of the human heart depends entirely on us. Dependence on another leaves us at the mercy of what we cannot control. Therefore, we are tempted to reject all forms of dependence.

The most radical dependence is love. Therefore, the original temptation is to deny that our existence is a pure and perfect gift of an infinite Love that deserves to be loved in return. The fullest revelation that God is love is the incarnation of Christ. Therefore, the primordial temptation is to reject the incarnation and its consequences.

Even Jesus himself was subject to this temptation. He was tempted to deny the very experience of his own identity: “If you are the Son of God…” The boldness of the temptation is terrifying. The temptation of Jesus is to doubt his own identity as the Father’s Son. It is really not a matter of proving his divinity; it is a tempation to reject his absolute dependence on the Father as the revelation of his own divinity! It is to betray the revelation of God as Trinity, of God as Love. [Magnificat: March, 2008, p. 122]

This is my daily temptation as well.

It seems the world, my flesh and the enemy conspire to lead me down my own path of independence and self-reliance.  They whisper lies to my heart that tempt me to forget what my innermost being knows to be true: I am sustained by my Father who loves me, who calls me his beloved daughter and has my very best interests at heart.

When I listen to the lies and forget this truth I am tempted to pick up the stones around me and feast on them. I look for sustenance where sustenance can’t be found.  In the process I’ve nibbled on those stones and suffered the consequences. 

That is why I need and choose to run to to the table of our Lord as often as possible. It is there I am reminded of the truth of who He is and who I am in Him. It’s there that I feast on true sustanance, Jesus, the bread of life.

This is the truth that Jesus knew:  

I am the Son of God and my Father will sustain me. How simple and yet profound and powerful.

We can know and rest in this truth too.  Living in this helps us overcome  that great temptation to depend on ourselves instead of the loving provision of our Abba Father.

We must always remember we are His beloved sons and daughters and Father will sustain us by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Son Jesus, the true bread of life.


Life lived in a Distant Country

September 19, 2007

I do not know a single family that in some way has not been affected by “addiction”–be it the most obvious addictions like food, alcohol, drugs and sex, or the sometimes less obvious but equally entangling addictions of greed, materialism, work, prestige and honor. It is so prevalent in our society today that when one mentions the discovery of an addiction in their family tree or themselves it is no longer surprising.

It is easy to simply label many addictions as “sin” and “of the flesh” (and to be sure that is what they are). However the sin of addiction often has a complex and large root system that is in many cases wrapped around a deep need to know who we are and that we are loved unconditionally.

It makes sense that addictions are often passed down in a family from one generation to the next. If mom and dad do not understand and trust in the unconditional love of God the Father, if they don’t know who they are in His family because of the work of the cross then they cannot share this love and truth with their children. Instead they pass on their pursuit of self-fulfillment and unconditional love in the flesh to their kids. And consequently we have generation after generation lost and looking for love and wholeness in things that will never really satisfy. In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love I will remain “hooked” to the world–trying, failing and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest cravings of my heart.

Addiction might be the word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary society. Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs.  As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in the “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in a distant country. It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.

I don’t think Nouwen’s perspective on addiction and “a distant country” is written only about the unbeliever who is searching for Christ. No, I think he’s talking about the children of God who wander off to the distant country because we do not fully trust our Father’s will, love or provision for our life.

The prodigal son went looking for something more in life. How often do we as children of God do this? How often during the day or week do we wander from the will of our Father, from our true home, in search of another “high” in life–be it a physical experience or an emotional (i.e. the love and approval of others, success or the praise that comes with it, or vain ambitions and imaginations)? 

How often are moments of your life lived in a distant country?


Prodigal Son Tendencies?

September 6, 2007

I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?” 

The quote above is taken from Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. I first read this book last summer. I’m re-reading it this summer. My copy is full of yellow highlights and at least 10 pages are permanently dog-earred so they can easily be referenced (yes, I’m one of those kind of readers; every spine of every book I own is cracked and if it’s a book I like then it’s almost always full of underlined and highlighted passages).  

This particular book has challenged me in so many ways. I see myself in the Nouwen’s understanding of both the prodigal son and the elder brother. And, I see who I want to be in the way he writes about the Father.

I can identify with the quote above. I am the prodigal in many ways. I haven’t necessarily wandered away from my faith or “intentionally” turned my back on Father and the family of God. But I do see a tendency in me, a pull. The world around me offers exciting and tempting ways to spend my God-given gifts (my time, talents, treasures and thoughts). These temptations often appeal to my need to be loved, to feel important, to feel useful and productive. Some of those tempting distractions are Godly activities but they aren’t necessarily where I’m supposed to be. And yet the pull is there, tempting me to meet my needs in the flesh instead of trusting in and relying on my Father. Sometimes it is a daily struggle and I know my Father is always waiting for me convert to my heart, thoughts and my will to Him.

If I were to change this passage by Nouwen at all it would be to add a word or phrase or two. It might read like this:

I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love and my identity and worth where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love, fulfillment and peace and persist in looking for it in places, activities and people where it does not exist? Why do I keep wandering off to a “distant country” to squander my time, talents, treasures and thoughts on things I do not need and on things my Father would not approve?  Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?”

In what ways do you have prodigal son tendencies? Have you squandered some of the gifts the Father has given you on worldly distractions? Have you looked for love, acceptance and fulfillment in the wrong places — your work, relationships, accomplishments? Have you forgotten who you are, His beloved son or daughter, and left home, wandering off to build your identity and self-worth in the flesh? Do you know your compassionate Father awaits your return?