Being a Worrier, or a Wildflower…

by Angela Lambert

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February 26th, 2017; 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

Gospel of Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus said to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink? ‘or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus is asking, “Do I want to be a Worrier or a Wildflower?”  Wildflower please!

But, you may say, it’s the worriers who get things done.  They’re so responsible.  Wildflowers are pretty, but just passive and weak.  I have found, however, in observation of both myself and others, that worrying gives all the appearance of work but very little actual productivity.  Worrying tends to trigger stress reactions and slow a person down, if not paralyze them with anxiety altogether.  Wildflowers, on the other hand, look pretty and effortless, but retain a genetic hardiness that manages to survive the severest attempts at eradication – from fire, to flood, to weed killer – they just keep coming back…and spreading!

The fuller life becomes, the more we try to juggle.  The temptation to be super-mom or dad, super-boss, super-coach, super-spouse, super-friend, and more, can be difficult enough; add to that attempting to be them all simultaneously, and we can push ourselves over the edge!

Good motivations often drive us, and love energizes us.  Nevertheless, too much of any good thing can become a bad thing.  In our effort to be the best at everything, and for everyone, stress builds and our human limitations frustrate us.

Even just two loves can divide us – competing for space in our thoughts, ideas, time, passion, and energies.  The limits of reality force us to prioritize.  Saying no to one thing however, means getting to say yes to another.  If we don’t prioritize, and say yes to whatever calls loudest or appears first, will result in saying no to something else, which might be far more important.

Jesus asks us to do a reality check.  Only one thing can be at the top of the priority list, and thereby direct all the choices below it.  If we choose God, everything else will fall into place.  If we choose anything else – self, pleasing others, ambition, beauty, fame, wealth – God will be edged out.

When we rely on anything but God for security and happiness, worry always ensues.  A classical philboethius-wheel-of-fortuneosopher and theologian, Boethius (480A.D.-525 A.D.), wrote a famous work which examined this truth called The Consolation of Philosophy.  In it he portrays a “wheel of fortune” (not like the tv show!), which as it spins brings a man from depths to heights to depths again.  He reflects on how all people desire to secure happiness but they mistakenly look to wealth, power, fame, honor, or pleasure.  None of these, however, can deliver on the false hope we place in them, because each relies on external factors outside one’s control.  If we cling to this illusion, he asserts, we spin round and round on the wheel in endless restlessness.

Where can we find security?  Where can we find refuge from worry and from the innumerable things outside of our control?  In the Lord.  God is not in our control, and that makes us vulnerable.  But God IS trustworthy, all-powerful, and Merciful Love.  Let’s face it, we feel in control when we rely on ourselves first, but it’s not actually true.  We can’t control other people, and sometimes we can’t even control ourselves very well.  We blurt out, when we wanted to stay quiet.  We stay quiet, when we wanted to speak up.  And so on.  We don’t even work in our best interest all the time – whether from our inevitably limited knowledge or experience, or from financial or emotional pressures.  God, on the other hand, works with perfect knowledge, moved by infinite love, and almighty power to “bring to completion the good work He began” (Philippians 1:6). In truth, He’s the only one we can rely on for secure happiness unimpeded by outside forces.

One of my kids is a worrier.  He thinks ahead about all the possible problems and preparations and can become overwhelmed.  When he was smaller it was particularly difficult for him since his ability to help was so small.  I would comfort him by insisting that he let me be the mom and that he just take care of his responsibilities as a kid.  Christ says the same thing to us in this passage.  Yes, there are many things to fear and far too many things outside our control that can harm us.  But there is nothing too difficult for God, who acts at every moment as our Loving Father and whose Son shares our burden. As Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:29-30)

So, be a wildflower.  Root where God plants you, soak up His sunshine, drink in His rain. He will provide every necessary strength for you to endure anything, and to be beautiful while you do.

Consider:

  • What is your favorite wildflower?  What do you admire about it?
  • Consider how strong and resistant wildflowers are. How can trusting in God strengthen you?
  • How does worry undermine your work? How does it interfere with your relationships with others? How does it affect your relationship with God?
  • Reflect on all the good things God has provided for you, in difficult times as well as in your everyday. Consider His consistent care.
  • Reflect on Christ’s promise, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, everything else will be provided. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what this means for you in your life.
  • Prayerfully make a priority list. Include God, family, work, hobbies, etc. Ask Christ for the grace to evaluate the list and to keep things in the right order.  Consider what changes may need to take place.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray a psalm of trust each day this week. Recommended: Psalms 23, 46, 62, and 119.
  • Make a list, and keep an ongoing journal, of God’s daily blessings.
    • Look back on it when tempted to worry.
    • Glance at it each morning, and remember that you are God’s wildflower.
  • Review your priority list periodically to make sure you are saying yes to the things that matter most.

Related Posts:

Let Go and Let God

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

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Getting the Last Word…but Making it a Blessing

by Angela Lambert

 

February 18th, 2017; 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Meditation Reflection:

In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II was shot by a Turkish assassin Ali Agca.  The attempt occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and JPII credits Mary for “guiding the bullet” which just barely missed a major artery.  Even while in the ambulance, JPII voiced his forgiveness of the assassin.  Later after he had recovered, he visited Agca in prison and offered his forgiveness in person.  Agca had not offered an apology and only inquired as to why he wasn’t dead.  This encounter however had an impact and later when he was released from prison, Agca travelled to St. Peter’s to place roses on John Paul II’s tomb.

Forgiveness and love is the mark of Christ, and therefore the signifier of His followers.  John tells us that “God is Love.”  The term “perfect” means “full, or complete.” When Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father’s perfection therefore, He means that God’s love lacks nothing and is total.  By contrast, “even tax collectors” love their friends, but their love is imperfect because it is incomplete.  Total love includes those who love us and those who do not.

But how we can love someone who hates us or hurts us?  Does Jesus mean we must be friends with people who wish us harm or take advantage of us?  No.  Love is defined as “willing another person’s good.”  Thankfully, this does not require feelings of love, or even reciprocal friendship.  It doesn’t even mean trusting the person. It simply means choosing not to act in revenge or anger, and instead doing that which promotes the good of the other.  Thus, we can pray for our enemies, in which we petition God on their behalf for graces to be bestowed upon them.  We can speak kindly, act respectfully, and do the right thing toward others, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because it’s the kind of person we want to be.

Authentic love sometimes means tough love.  It can require choices that appear unloving but are in fact healthy boundaries.  Loving an addict for instance or someone with mental illness will require tough love, but will be more effective toward their health than enabling them in their sickness.  Disciplining children is tough love, but it helps the child grow in goodness.

Christ calls His followers to imitate His mercy.  This demand goes above and beyond natural strength and even natural wisdom or common sense.  It only makes sense considering the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for our salvation, and it can only be accomplished with the aid of His divine grace.

Christ loved us while we were yet sinners.  He willed our good and worked for our salvation even when we were mired in sin and rejected Him.  As His disciples, we can work for the salvation of others, even when they too are mired in sin and working against us.

This can be tricky, but my mother offered me advice about these situations that I have found to be a guiding principle. When tempted to react vengefully when faced with difficult people and situations, she would say, “don’t let their behavior change who you are.”  Her wisdom strengthened my resolve and shed light on how to decide what to do.  No matter what others are doing or how low they sink, the truth is, if we just fire back we sink to their level too.  Jesus wants us to rise above, with the help of His grace and the light of His example.  Whether it transforms the other person or not, it will definitely transform us.

Loving our enemy is necessary to stop the cycle of violence, and our only hope for human unity.  When we are the ones caught up in it, we want to get the last word in or throw the last punch.  When we are the observer however, we just want it to stop.  As a mom, I get tired of hearing my kids bicker. Both claim it’s the other’s fault and point the finger at who started it.  Both go on and on and on, despite my attempts to break it up because they are obsessed with having the last word.  I wonder if God views our bickering in the same way.  Maybe the other person did start it, so what?  Why can’t we just stop?  No one can move on unless we do and everyone is miserable.

Loving our enemy is a supernatural virtue.  To cultivate charity, we need to connect to God and His stream of grace in prayer and the sacraments.  We must meditate on the Gospels to develop our sense of what Jesus would do.  We need to make time for fellowship with Christians walking the walk and learn from their insights and examples.  In this way, we can grow in love until it fills every gap in our heart and reaches the fullness of perfection like that of our Father in heaven.

Consider:

  • Who do you find easy to love and why?
  • Who do you find difficult to love? Who could you identify as your enemy?
    • In what way do they provoke you to strike back?
    • How might you react with love instead? How could you “will their good”?
  • Consider how we love our children even when they disobey, say hurtful things, or work against us. Do you ever feel anger toward your kids, but choose/will what’s good for them?
  • Consider God’s perspective as our Father and us as His children. How does He view our bickering, feuds, back-biting, and competitiveness?  What would He say to you about how you treat your brother or sister in Christ?
  • We can pick our friends but we can’t pick our family. Consider how loving our natural siblings can cultivate the virtues needed to love our spiritual siblings.
  • Read the story of St. Maria Goretti and reflect on her example of tough love, forgiveness, and the transformation it caused in her assailant.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pick one person who makes your life difficult.
    • 1) Begin each day with a sincere prayer for them. (not a list of all their flaws that God should fix, but rather for God’s blessing upon them!)
    • 2) Resolve each day this week to refrain from snide remarks to them or about them, gossip, or any kind of action that would anger or hurt them.
    • 3) Do one kind thing for them.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Keeping it Real

by Angela Lambert

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February 11th, 2017; 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment. “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Freedom in Christ, is founded on freedom from being fake.  We are masters at the false front.  By an early age most of us can pull off “I’m fine” to anyone who asks, no matter how untrue it may be.  Keeping up appearances, looking successful, and seeming to be more than we are occurs in every time period and culture.   Social media amplifies today’s version, as we can literally craft our public persona via selective posts and pictures.

We not only mask our imperfections, we often mask our sins as well.  From the back-handed compliment, to disparaging remarks prefaced by “God bless her soul, but…”, to shallow mantras like “You only live once” or “it’s not like it’s against the law”, we rationalize our viciousness in countless ways.  Like addicts, we deny we have a problem with sin and we excuse and blame our behavior on everyone and everything but ourselves.

Just has sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin can only be wrought from an utter realness about ourselves.  When Moses asked God to reveal His Name, God responded that it is “YHWH” or “I AM”.  God revealed that He is.  God is being and existence.  Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.

C.S. Lewis writes about this mystery in a brilliantly imaginative way in his book “The Great Divorce.”  The divorce in this case refers to the divide between heaven and hell, and describes the process of purgation for those still travelling to heaven.  He describes inhabitants of hell, drawing from scriptural imagery, as phantoms.  On the opposite spectrum, he calls those in heaven “solid people.” The main character arrives at a gray bus stop, phantom-ish, and his journey toward heaven is one of becoming more solid – or more “real”.  To do this he must surrender all that he keeps false within himself.  I won’t give away more than that, as I highly recommend this read!  I will only offer this teaser – Lewis creates numerous characters whose struggle to move from ghostish versions of themselves to the authentic provides deep insight into the rationalizations with which most of us struggle, the pain of conversion, and the joy of authentic freedom.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us interior conversion and introspection.  In today’s Gospel passage, He directly calls us out on how we tip toe around the truth and avoid real virtue and, in consequence, real love and relationship.

How many times have we heard the excuse, “well, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone.  I’m a decent person.”  Yet, harboring anger can be deeply destructive and emerge in violence that might be more subtle, but no less real.  Passive-aggressive behaviors, online bullying, slander, gossip, critical remarks and callous attitudes prevent relationship and they hold us back from heaven.  Jesus states clearly, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”  (MT 5:20) and “be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (MT 5:48)  A man who loves his wife, doesn’t look lustfully at other women.  A woman who loves her husband, doesn’t flirt with other men.  Does it matter whether or not it’s technically adultery?  Jesus calls out the dishonesty.  Either way, it certainly feels like cheating to the other spouse.  Why?  Because love is total, exclusive, and lifelong.  Our love for our spouse should mirror love for God. In fact, God created the first man and woman in the state of marriage because as two persons in a relationship of life-giving love, they imaged the Triune God.

Authenticity begins by simply letting our Yes be yes, and our No be no.  Drop the exaggerations and minimizations.  Leave the white lies.  Take down the false fronts.  It feels like going a day without make-up at first, but not forever.  As we become more at peace with ourselves, we become more comfortable in the truth.  Eventually the fake-ness we clung to in the past will feel like too much make-up, caked on, that you can’t wait to wash off at the end of the day.

Jesus wants us, not the façades we create.  He accepts us as we are and helps us become the truest version of ourselves.  When this happens, we can begin to experience the real relationship, and real love necessary for heaven.

Consider:

  • List your most common struggles in a day, then pray about what interior attitude or disposition underlies it.
    • consider the 7 capital sins for ideas (pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony)
  • What is your most common/tempting rationalization?
  • In what ways have you grown in authenticity over the years? Reflect on how good it feels to be yourself.
  • Who is someone you can be completely yourself around; who knows the “real” you?
  • Consider how honesty is necessary for relationship.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tackle one rationalization this week.  Be direct with yourself and with God.  Name the struggle, occasions of temptation, and the rationalization you use.  Decide on how you will avoid the temptation or create a counter-mantra to repeat when you hear yourself rationalizing.
    • Example:
      • Daily struggle: Crabby toward your spouse and kids
      • Occasions of temptation: Getting out the door in the morning, right after a long day at work, or when interrupted during a project.
      • Rationalizations: “They’re my family and should love me unconditionally – this is just who I am”; “I work hard to care for my family, and it just means I will be stressed out”
      • Counter-mantras: “They’re my family – they deserve my best behavior”;  “I need to find balance in my life so I can be a peaceful person to my family”
      • Avoiding temptation – Begin the day 10 minutes earlier so you aren’t stressed about running late (even better, begin with a prayer!); create transition time between work and home – listen to Christian music on the drive and count your blessings so you arrive with a positive attitude; adjust expectations for completing projects – expect to get interrupted by kids and be grateful for them, try to include them in the project if possible

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

Lighting the Path and Seasoning the Journey…Because Blending in is Bland

by Angela Lambert

 

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February 5th, 2017; Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Meditation Reflection:

People often complain that they need to see something to believe it.  Although faith requires going beyond sight, the seeds of faith can be planted through allowing others to see for themselves the work of Christ in our lives.  Authentic, Christian discipleship causes deep transformation.  This supernatural change witnesses in an evidentiary way, the reality of the Holy Spirit and the life of grace.

The first converts to Christianity were moved by the way Christians lived differently than everyone else.  In a callous, hedonistic culture, Christians treated one another with love and respect.  Christian men and women treated each other with kindness, dignity, and fidelity.  Slaves were considered brothers and sisters in Christ.  Martyrs sacrificed everything, joyfully, in witness to their belief in the resurrection.  The way martyrs faced their death so peacefully and courageously, converted many onlookers who could see plainly that the dying Christians were acting with a strength and calm that exceeded the limits of human nature.  Tertullian famously articulated this phenomenon saying, “The blood of the martyrs, is the seed of the Church” (197 A.D.).

As modern Christians, our lives ought to witness the reality of grace as well, by following Christ beyond our comfort zone.  Sometimes we can make our faith life a little too neat and tidy.  We make Sunday Mass a casual commitment, and parish fellowship a comfortable social club.  We might look to faith for comfort, but we don’t expect the impossible from God, and we ask that He not expect the impossible of us.

Although this sounds like a reasonable relationship, it doesn’t do much to reveal the life of grace or of the reality of God’s supernatural love and aid.  After teaching the Beatitudes, the heart of the New Law, Jesus followed up with this analogy to salt and light.  The journey of faith, though very personal, also has an evangelistic element; it’s a gift we both receive and give in return.  Christ urges us to follow the path of the Beatitudes to its end.  He’s honest that authentic discipleship will not blend in.  Simply living the Christian faith, is a witness to truths that others try to avoid, and can result in numerous pressures from others to be quiet.   Those pressures come in many forms – accusations of being overly zealous, judgmental, intolerant, or making one’ private faith public.  Secular culture continues to find ways to diminish the witness of faith and put a bushel basket over the light by re-defining religion as personal sentiment, and forbidding it to bear external fruit unless that fruit can be limited to, and labeled, secular humanitarianism.

At the same time, although Christ was persecuted by some, He was sought out by many others.  Jesus promised, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).   Blending in cannot transform us, and it cannot transform society.  Rather, discipleship can make us free and add freedom to our culture.  St. Paul told the Galatians, that the fruits of the Spirit are not of this world.  By drawing near to God in prayer, the Spirit bears fruits within Christians of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  The world needs these fruits and hungers for them.  If we keep our faith in a box that we only take out on Sundays or Christmas, we put a bushel over the light of Christ and make it impotent, leaving the world to suffer rather than to offer it hope.

I love Jesus’ analogy to salt.  I love salt.  It’s so basic, but it makes everything taste so wonderful.  Our faith is the salt that makes life seasoned and enjoyable.  If we offer the world a bland form of our faith, what is the point?  We wouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable, but we would also deny them the chance to taste something remarkable.

Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  He teaches us the path to follow and provides the necessary grace needed to make the journey.  When we live in relationship with Him, our life can’t help but radiate His peace, love, and wisdom.  If we can have the courage to follow Christ beyond our comfort zone, Christ promises that we can be a light for others to shine the truth they need to be free, and we can be the salt that seasons their life with His joy.

Consider:

  • What do you find comfortable about your Christian faith?  What’s easy or natural for you?
  • What do you find uncomfortable? What teachings seem “too much”?  In which areas of your life, or among which people, do you try to downplay your faith?
  • How might you live your faith more deeply or more authentically?
  • Reflect on the effect of salt and light. Fast from salt for a day and consider the difference without it.  Try functioning with only the aid of natural light rather than light bulbs.  How does it limit your work and your experience?
  • Consider each aspect of your day – home, work, activities, etc. Reflect on how you can live your faith in each place.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • At the beginning of each transition in your day, begin with a prayer for Christ to teach you, and help you, live as His disciple in that part of your life.
    • The prayer can be a spontaneous prayer of your own words, or a written prayer you recite at each transition. Ideas: Our Father, Glory Be, Hail Mary, Memorare, a verse from a Psalm, a prayer to the Holy Spirit, the Disciple prayer by Cardinal Newman, etc.  (I personally like the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Grant O Merciful God, that I may ardently desire, prudently examine, truthfully acknowledge, and perfectly accomplish, what is pleasing to Thee, for the praise and glory of Thy Name.)

Additional Links:

The Beatitudes: Climbing the Mountain of God by Way of the Valley of Humility

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.