Often as a new month approaches and I am considering what I will share in my blogpost, I reflect back on the past month and the lessons it has brought me. Early last month, I listened to a podcast with Bishop Robert Barron titled How to Discern God’s Will for Your Life. I was drawn to its message and shared it with many of my friends. You can find it on You Tube.
Bishop Barron suggests that when making decisions, we keep in mind first and foremost:
What is the path of greatest love?
Or, what is the demand of love in this present situation? How would Jesus walk through this? What path opens up my capacity to love? While these are excellent questions, they are not answered easily or quickly. But I believe they are a very wise place to start. Surrendering to God with a willingness to pray, to wait, and to watch for God’s movement.
In situations involving others, my mind naturally wants to go to what I think the other person or persons may be thinking or wanting. Next, I add what I think or want, and soon my mind gets very messy or cluttered. Fortunately, God’s grace breaks in and tenderly reminds me to go to Him and ask Him to sort this all out—What does God want? How does God see this all? Ultimately, I want what God wants. If I let God calm my spirit and give Him time with the situation, clarity will come. God will grant me His wisdom. I want to keep in mind that we all are continually changing. There is always more to know about another person, about myself, and about any given situation.
I’m reminded of the well-known Scripture passage, 1 Corinthians 13, that starts with:
Love is patient, love is kind…
And ends with the promise:
Love prevails. God prevails.
That is what I truly desire. God and Love.
God is so patient and tender with all of my shortcomings. I want to be that way with others. In a recent conversation with my youngest daughter, I shared that as I age, I’m drawn to friends who want the best for me and allow me to walk through the process of discerning what that “best” is. And I want to do the same for others. I believe the way of love gives us all that freedom.
“Trying to change other people is futile, foolish, and certainly not loving.” Courage to Change
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image.” Thomas Merton
So this month, let there be love and let it begin with me.
“Wisdom comes to rest in a good heart.” Proverbs 14:33
This summer I have been reflecting back on how my life has been shaped and continues to be formed or transformed by the communities to which I belong. For over three decades, I have been blessed to be a part of twelve step recovery groups. Here is a recent reflection in a recovery devotional called Courage to Change.
“Our Suggested Closing says that though you may not like all of us, you’ll love us in a very special way—the same way we already love you. In other words, every meeting can be an opportunity to practice placing principles above personalities. Most of us are highly aware of the personalities of people around us. Instead of getting lost in petty likes and dislikes, it is important to remember why we come to meetings. We all need each other in order to recover.
I don’t have to like everybody, but I want to look deeper to find the spirit that we share in common. Perhaps I can find peace with each person by reminding myself of those things that draw us together—a common interest, a common belief, a common goal. I will then have a resource for strength rather than a target for negative thinking. I will have placed principles above personalities.
Today’s Reminder: I will keep an open mind toward each person I encounter today. If I am ready to learn, anyone can be my teacher.
The open door to helpful answers is communication based on love. Such communication depends on awareness of and respect for each other’s well-being and a willingness to accept in another what may not measure up to our own standards and expectations.”
This type of non-judgmental, open, and accepting attitude is one of the reasons I continue to attend meetings. I need to be reminded of how I truly want to live day by day. I am offered a design for living that works. I’ve heard it said that God’s Kingdom is most powerful where and when we least expect it. This was true when I walked through the doors of my first meeting. It still proves true in life today. God surprises me by showing up in unexpected places, IF I’m paying attention.
I came into the rooms of recovery with a very wounded heart. I had spent time in adulthood attempting to hide those wounds or to mend them myself. I had failed. Deep down I didn’t think I was capable of really loving well. I had lost my way and let go of the spiritual beliefs and values that had been my foundation from youth. I judged myself and everyone else very harshly.
“Never trust your tongue when your heart is bitter. Hush until you heal.”
I needed healing—physical, emotional, mental, and, most of all, spiritual healing. My heart was broken enough to be open and slightly hopeful that I could be healed. Many years later, I learned that our souls can be endangered by discord, and that we cannot let the hurting, hard heart drive our bus. I had lived many years in discord, and my heart was hard. I needed to step back, pay attention as best I could, and trust in the wisdom of others who had gone before me. I slowly began to put my trust in God.
“We can let down the barriers of our hearts and souls so that the God of the unexpected can come in. God can roll away the stone to your heart.”—Pope Francis
The twelve steps were the beginning of a return to the spiritual path—the faith of my youth but now through the mind and heart of an adult. God began to slowly and gently chip away at what I had allowed to stick to me. Together, God and I began to clear away the clutter so that I could learn to listen deeply. Today, I can pay attention to and appreciate the gentle wisdom of this world of wonders. I can look for sacred implications in the everyday. I can feel the warmth of God’s healing love as I am made new, again and again.
“Bless the work of our hands and hearts. God is glorified by the holiness of His people’s hearts.”
As my focus has slowly shifted off of myself and on to God and others, I am learning to view life and others thoughtfully. My heart is ready to receive God’s graces and share that love with others. I’ve heard our relationship with God described as two trapeze artists—the flyer and the catcher. I just need to fly, trusting that I will be caught.
This gentler approach extends to the other relationships in my life. As I watch someone make decisions or navigate their life in a way different from me, I want to keep in mind that they are a mature adult who has most likely thoughtfully considered their options. They are doing their best to make decisions wisely. I want to respect and honor them in that process just as I want to respect and honor my decisions, aware that if new information comes along, we each can change our minds. There are many times that it is best to simply allow others to work their way through the hard points in life. To pray and trust God in the process. Above all, to judge not. I trust that God can bridge our differences with the fire of Divine Love. God never withholds His love from me. I don’t want to withhold my love from others who may see things differently from me. I want to keep a good, soft heart so that God’s wisdom can enter in.
“Jesus, you know the strengths and weaknesses of the human heart. Share with us your patience and compassion; remind us that another may carry a cross beyond our imagining.”
Quotes taken from People’s Companion to the Breviary, The Liturgy of the Hours with Inclusive Language
I have always loved summertime—its warmth and relaxed, slower pace. For me, this summer is a break from my coursework and a chance to explore our new environment here in Arkansas. Since I don’t have reading and writing homework assignments for the next two months, I’m enjoying reviewing some of my reflection assignments. Last year in my Spiritual Classics class, we studied some of the great spiritual writers in Christian history. Our first assignment was The Confessions of Saint Augustine. For this month’s blog, I’d like to share my reflection on a portion of this work. This is Augustine’s life story, and we have much to learn from our stories. I found myself in Augustine’s story, and I pray that you may find yourself in this reflection.
“You (God) have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
I heard this quote of Augustine’s many years ago, and have always been drawn to it as deep truth. I have even quoted it to others, but after spending time with this saint reading this section of Confessions, I sense God’s Spirit deepening this truth in me. I purchased Confessions as a used book and upon opening it, I saw this inscription: “St Teresa once wrote of Augustine’s Confessions – ‘I found myself in them.’ May you have a similar experience.” After reading this section, I feel blessed that I can say that I have found myself in these pages as well. I relate both as a sinner and as a mother.
I was left encouraged by his story—a story of freedom, of God’s presence and faithfulness in the seemingly slow transformation process, and God’s prevailing grace. I related to taking wrong paths that seemed right at the time. My ego definitely reigned! I too had the false idols of money, power, education, prestige, and relationships. I especially resonated with Augustine’s over-desire to hear the words, “Well done! Well done!” While many of the other idols have fallen away, God is showing me that my desire for human approval is still too strong. I join Augustine in praying,
“Grant this, so that you (God) may grow sweet to me above all the allurements that I followed after. May I love you most ardently, may I cling to your hand with all my heart…You are my king and my God.”
God has often used the imagery of being held by His strong right hand to draw me to Himself and give me His peace.
Like Augustine, I now see how from infancy God was my Keeper. I also was given a mother who “trusted greatly” in God. Unfortunately, I join Augustine in reflecting: “I was thus carried away into vain practices and went far from you, my God.” Later, I too found myself rejoicing in all the “goods” of God rather than in THE GOOD—God. I was also left a desert, uncultivated for God. I see now how God warned me as He did Augustine, and He fashioned sorrow into a lesson for me. Reading his prayer, “Who can untie this most twisted and intricate mass of knots?”, reminded me of a time in adulthood when I uttered almost the exact words in a cry for help.
I was especially moved by Augustine’s words in chapter five, The Inner Conflict, in Book Eight: “The enemy had control of my will, and out of it he fashioned a chain and fettered me with it. For in truth lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity. By such links, joined one to another, as it were—for this reason I have called it a chain—a harsh bondage held me fast.” To me, this is a perfect description of what we now call addiction. I have personally experienced what these words express, and have listened as many others in twelve-step recovery programs spoke these words to me. What he describes here is very relevant to today’s times and struggles and definitely a topic for spiritual direction. I take hope and encouragement in Augustine’s statement: “Our King bound up the strong man,” reassuring me that with God’s help, we may overcome our addictions. Similarly, the Scripture, “Rise, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you,” (Ephesians 5:8) speaks to this image of God breaking strongholds.
In my journey of recovery, I see a lot of parallels to Augustine in adulthood. His words, “You (God) stood me face to face with myself,” describe what God did (and continues to do) for me through the twelve steps. In recovery, I experienced what Augustine describes as, “More beautiful than all those things I desired to know is the modest mind that admits its own limitations.” I was also drawn to humility as a virtue. I join Augustine in praying, “You (God) worked within me. Little by little I was drawing closer to you.” Spiritual growth includes increasing knowledge of self and of God.
God also brought Holy Scriptures into my life along with men and women who were living out a strong Christian faith. In time, I came to believe as Augustine did that “anything lacking the name of Jesus cannot wholly capture me.”
These chapters also contain information about his mother, Monica, that touched my heart. I was drawn to her as a woman of great faith and prayer. I was deeply impacted by Bishop Ambrose’s response to her as she fought for her son— “Let him be, only pray. As you live it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” As a mother, I too have shed many tears for my children, and felt God’s assurance that His hand was upon them.
As I finished these chapters and reflected on God’s hand in my own life, I was particularly drawn to these words of Augustine: “For I knew what a thing of evil I was, but I did not know the good I would be after but a little while.” I marvel at how God has fashioned me ever since I “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” I see how my great suffering has turned to even greater joy. In God’s hands, sorrow can be a healing salve. I feel that this knowing can be a great encouragement to those seeking spiritual direction.
As Augustine prayed, I desire that “a complete will to remain still and see that you (God) are the Lord” arise and be made firm in me. I long to hear God’s words: “Run forward! I will bear you up, and I will bring you to the end, and there also will I bear you up.” This is hope. I ask for the grace to believe this and to share it with those I companion on their spiritual journey. God longs to make saints out of us all!
After our move to Arkansas a month ago, I find myself in a new place with new people. A new season. A fresh adventure. I do love adventures though they can be risky. Fortunately, when I find myself beyond myself, I do reach out for God. That has been a constant saving grace in my life, and I am so grateful for that gift. I like to think that God places me in my garden and asks me to tend it. I trust that God is with me. A pervasive, pursuing presence. I love God’s tenderness–how it makes me long to be tender to all in my life.
While many here do not know me, I have come to believe that no one knows and understands me like God does. I believe that God is constantly at work in creation and that includes me. Like Mary, I am to simply “let it be done unto me.” Allow myself to be loved, to be given to, and to be worked upon. To take a posture of receiving rather than controlling. To allow the power of the Most High to overshadow me. That phrase draws me in and causes me to pause and ponder its meaning. I’m left with, “It’s you God, not me! Thank goodness!”
Almost two years ago, I participated in something called, Retreat in Daily Living*, experiencing the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in a small group. I was asked to put the program’s principle and foundation statement into my own words. At that time, I wrote:
“Life is God’s ongoing gift of love to me. All of creation is meant to be a gift. How I receive this gift, my response in love, is to allow God’s love and life to flow through me in praise, honor, and service to God and others.
I am to partner with God to lovingly build a more just and gentler world. I may use God’s created gifts to help in my mission, holding them with reverence and gratitude. I either embrace or release them depending on whether they help or hinder me in God’s plan but they must not become the center of my life, replacing God. With God’s grace, I face life as it is, indifferent to the outcomes, trusting God’s mystery and sovereignty. My holy preference is to choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life and love in me.
I honor my own uniqueness in this particular time and space in which I live as well as the uniqueness of others. I can be me and honor you being you.
I’m struck by how meaningful these words are to me right now in this new season. How they comfort and guide me on the path before me. I pray they may be an encouragement to you as you go about tending your garden in your unique place and time.
I also ran across a scripture passage that spoke to me back in 2005 when our family was preparing to go on a family mission trip.
“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua 3:5
It is speaking to me afresh today as we enter this new adventure. Oh, that I would live every day allowing the Lord to consecrate me in order to participate in the amazing things God will do among us tomorrow.
I’ll leave you with a prayer that my youngest daughter made into a bookmark as a Mother’s Day gift to me this year. I have found it a fruitful way to start my days. I like to linger with it, allowing God to speak to me anew each morning.
A Liturgy for First Waking
I am not the captain of my own destiny, nor even this day, and so I renounce anew all claim to my own life and desires. I am only yours, O Lord.
Lead me by your mercies through these hours, that I might spend them well, not in hurried pursuit of my own agendas, but rather in good service to you.
Teach me to shepherd the small duties of this day with great love, tending faithfully those tasks you place within my care and tending with patience and kindness the needs and hearts of those people you place within my reach. Nothing is too hard for you, Lord Christ. I deposit now all confidence in you that whatever these waking hours bring, my foundations will not be shaken.
At day’s end I will lay me down again to sleep knowing that my best hope is well kept in you
In all things your grace will sustain me.
Bid me follow, and I will follow. **
*Retreat in Daily Living; Kevin O’Brien, SJ **Every Moment Holy, Volume 1; Douglas Kaine McKelvey
I’ve spent the last two months immersed in a major life change—a move. My husband and I have moved to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. I’ll share more about this later. As I finish unpacking the last box, I’m reminded of a piece I wrote almost exactly two years ago. In it I reflect on another major move—our return to the States after living almost ten years out of the country. For this month, I want to revisit that piece—for y’all and for myself.
TO BEGIN AGAIN…
“ALL LIFE IS IN THE HANDS OF GOD.” — The Rule of Benedict1
“Life is made up of a series of opportunities to begin again.” 1 I find hope, and a bit of excitement, in that thought. Looking back, I see that life has given me many opportunities to start anew. One of the most recent was leaving our ministry and life in the Dominican Republic and moving back to the United States. Our time abroad had been an all-out, all-in, out-of-the-box experience that lasted almost ten years. Returning is called reverse culture shock and that it was.
While there are no pat answers or specific steps one takes to begin again (and I so wish there were), I do see some life rhythms that have developed in those times of change and transition. They are not necessarily in this order, rather, they seem to be intermingled in my life pattern. Here are some stages I have passed through, not always gracefully, but always covered by God’s grace.
1. LETTING GO (People, Places, and Circumstances)
“It is hard to let go of the past, and yet, until we do, there is no hope whatsoever that we can ever gain from the future.” 1
It seems that all new beginnings bring with them an opportunity to let go (of someone or something) and to let God. The late poet Mary Oliver wrote: “This is a beautiful world so long as you don’t mind a little dying.” Life contains many deaths. As we recently walked through Holy Week and experienced the Easter Sunday resurrection, we saw that when one gives oneself to death/dying, beautiful things can come about.
I have been encouraged in this letting go process as I read…
“Everyone has to put down some part of their past sometime. Everyone makes a major life change at some time or other. Everyone has to be open to being formed again. The only thing that can possibly deter the new formation is if we ourselves refuse to let go of what was. If we cling to the past, the future is closed to us.” 1 These statements certainly give me reason to pause. I desire to see change in my life as a possibility of God creating something new.
2. WALKING WITH JESUS. PAYING ATTENTION. STAYING ALERT.
“I have a deep awareness of myself as a soul who is being led somewhere.” 2
I agree with this sentiment and am learning to trust that God is in control of my “what’s next?”. This stage involves paying attention to where God is and where He wants to take me. Listening to my spiritual longings, enjoying that which is God in the present moment, and attending to what God is opening up for me next. I can gently ask myself questions like, What animates me? and What do I want to devote myself to in this season of life?
“Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Then go and do that, because the world needs people who have come alive.”– Howard Thurman
Questions that help me discern God’s leading are, “Is this person, this group, this place, calling out the best in me? Is this where I fit? Is this the place where I can most become what God created me to be? Is this the path on which I see the footsteps of God most clearly in front of me?” 1
All this takes some time and patience. I can look at what God says through nature. How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun. It gets ready to “bear fruit”. I like to think that I am always getting ready so God can move in my life. I want to be continually growing toward being deeply satisfied spiritually and bearing fruit that will last (John 15:16).
3. LIVING ON MISSION
“For this purpose, have I come.” — Jesus Christ
For what purpose have I come? What is my mission in life or, better said, what part of God’s mission am I to play now?
“To be fully active, fully awake, fully alive.” — Thomas Merton
This stage could also be described as “moving on with purpose.” My focus is to become the best version of myself3—to make moment by moment choices that lead me to celebrate and defend my best self. To do what I can, where I can, how I can, right now to make the world a better place. My greatest strength as a human being is my ability to make a difference in the lives of other people. To speak into the lives of others. Or as my spiritual director, Sr. Betty Jean, encourages me, “You be you, Cherry.”
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” — St Catherine of Siena
My husband and I spent the first three months of 2019 visiting the Dominican Republic, an island bursting with God’s goodness—its awe-inspiring ocean, sandy beaches, majestic mountains, tropical flowers, and lush vegetation. Walking one day amidst all His glory, I felt God say to me, “Tend well what I have given you.” I love the words tend to and cultivate. Maybe it’s my farm background, but these words carry a lot of weight with me. They have value. Tending and cultivating that which God has gifted me includes caring for myself, my health-physical, emotional and spiritual– my marriage and family, and my unique gifts, such as writing, recovery, and bicultural living.
I believe that we do best when we know ourselves, our strengths, and our limits in the moment, and take good care of ourselves. When our lives are too full or we are living too fast–what my husband’s mentor calls “going over the speed limit in life” — we don’t take the time to reflect, ponder, or really put ourselves in another’s shoes. We can’t truly love well. And, “the role of committed Christians is always to grow richer themselves so that they can give richly to others.” 1
“My work is loving the world.” — Mary Oliver
As spring comes to visit us again and we see evidence of new beginnings all around us, may we drink it all in, open to the new in our own lives, and simply pray…
“God, grant that I may love you always; then, do with me as you will.”—Stations of the Cross prayer
1 THE RULE OF BENEDICT: A Spirituality for the 21st century by Joan Chittister, O.S.B.
I write this on Holy Saturday—a time when we pause and wait. My plan for this month’s blog entry had been to share a prayer that touches me and fits well with the Lenten season. As I write this morning, I also see how the prayer speaks to the pause and waiting of Holy Saturday.
As we prepare to celebrate Easter, we are again reminded that the crucifixion is not the end of the story or the final word. Fall and winter always give way to spring and summer. In the Christian experience, suffering is never the end. God always has more.
Today I offer this quote to ponder—
“So, what is the message of this strange spring, this long-awaited Easter? It’s a message that is both old and new: Love is stronger than hate. Hope is stronger than despair. And nothing is impossible with God.” Fr James Martin, S.J.
And, this prayer—
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability— and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually— let them grow, let them shape themselves,without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Recently, while looking for a certain document in my files, I was drawn to a file entitled, PSALM—In Praise and Gratitude. As I opened the file and began reading the psalm, I had the vague memory that I had written it. Yet, I heard the nagging voice saying to me, “No, you didn’t write this Cherry.” I reached into my memory, searching for when I might have written it. I was led to look at some notes I took over a year ago while participating in a course on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. There I found the psalm written in my own handwriting. So, I did write it. Or, God wrote it as a gift to me. This spiritual “find” happened as I was attending (virtually) a weekend directed retreat. It felt like another sweet love touch from God—a way God was romancing me. The scripture passage that I was living with for the weekend was Hosea 2:16-18— “Behold I (God) will allure her and will lead her into the wilderness; and I will speak to her heart.” I was pondering how God’s sustaining love permeates my entire being and my entire life story. How God has transformed me from a survivor to one who is thriving. His shaping and re-shaping sometimes come in the form of suffering and sometimes in the form of pure joy.
As we are living in the season of Lent, let us spend some time alone with God in the wilderness, and let Him speak to our hearts. I share my psalm with you for reflection. Allowing God to love me, and then to love others through me, has been a grace for which I have prayed for many years. In those moments when I feel overshadowed by God’s mysterious love, I know that I’m standing on holy ground. Awe and wonder abound. All I can do is to praise God in gratitude.
In Praise and Gratitude Yahweh, God of Wonder, May your gaze be upon me, Your creation, the one You call “very good”.
You are my constant companion, My all-in-all, the Beyond beyond me. It is you who animates me, Shaping and re-shaping me.
You favor me, beckon me near you, And invite me to surrender. You remind me that I am a Human expression of your goodness and majesty.
I can rest in serenity And peace. In harmony with my Creator, my resting place.
I contemplate you in the beauty of nature, in my beauty, and in the grandeur of the cosmos.
In your grace, Yahweh, I can let myself be loved, be given to, And be worked upon. I stand in awe of you.
I pray that we will all allow God to draw us nearer to Him this Lenten season, perhaps in a new way. Maybe even write a psalm to Him. Or let Him write one to you. Let’s lay down some of those things that hinder this closeness to God. So that on Easter Sunday, we all would look a little more like Christ, and desire to work to make this world look a bit more like He would want it to look. May we experience God’s tenderness to us, and may we mimic that tenderness in our relationships with others. May we see ourselves as God sees us, and see others and the world as God meant them to be. I believe both will please God.
I’ll leave us with this thoughtful prayer written so may years ago by Pierre Teilhard De Chardin :
Enfold Me in Your Heart Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart; and there hold me, refine, purge, and set me on fire, raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation.
I’m not sure when this phrase came into my life. Did someone say this to me, “You’re doing it wrong.”? Or, did I just assimilate it through experience? As I am allowing my word or theme for 2021—listen deeply—to live in me, I sense God’s desire to go deeper with me in healing those old wounds that hinder me from receiving this gift of deep listening. God seems to be bringing to the surface themes in my life that have existed for a very long time. Themes that have hindered me from intimacy with God and others. I can see now that if we come to sense and know God through our heart, then if our heart is wounded, we are hindered from knowing God and others to the fullest. Heart wounds and trauma from the past cause the demons of fear and anger to cling to us in the present. Their critical voices come to live with us.
Growing up I don’t ever remember my father saying, “You’re doing it wrong, Cherry.” To the contrary, I feel that I was overly favored by my father, which has caused a different set of problems within myself and my relationships with my siblings. Nevertheless, I left home with the belief that there was a right and a wrong way of doing things. I dearly wanted to do it the right way. I felt love from my father when I performed well. Conversely, if I went against his views, I felt his displeasure and subsequent coldness and dismissiveness. So, I was highly motivated to gain his approval.
Unfortunately, these themes of striving to do it right and gaining the approval of another accompanied me into adulthood. I thrived on excelling in whatever I did, craving recognition and approval. Things went along this way for about the first decade of adulthood. I married and easily conceived, and received the precious gift of two healthy children who looked good and performed well. Sadly, my husband and I pursued cultivating our careers but not our marriage. I was far too focused on myself and my success to care for and love my husband well. At 35, he asked for a divorce. Quiet during our ten-year marriage, he then began to voice all his unhappiness and criticism of me. Coming from a place of deep hurt within him, his angry, harsh words shocked and stung me. I heard, “You’re doing it wrong, Cherry.” All my fears and insecurities came rushing out. I immediately scurried to “do it right.” To make up for what I had done. Unfortunately, my husband was not open to my offer to change. For him, it was too little too late, so we did divorce. Out of that deep pain and by God’s abundant mercy and grace, a new phase opened up for me. A surrender on my part that resulted in a spiritual awakening if you will. It felt like a fresh start, a new beginning, for which I’m very grateful, but I see how the lie, “You’re doing it wrong, Cherry,” came with me into this new life.
I love the phrases: God is not finished yet and It’s not the end of the story. God often reminds me of these truths as He gifts me with the grace of patience and hope. God is able to open our eyes to the light that drives out the darkness within us. The words of a recovery friend frequently come to mind: “Figure it out is NOT one of the 12 steps!” I would so love a nice neat list of steps to follow that results in a healed heart and deep intimacy with God and others. I hope that God is pleased with this heart’s desire of mine, but I believe His plan is different. I don’t need to figure it out because God already has. God offers to take upon himself the care of our affairs. God is giving me the gift of time and drawing me to stay awhile in each moment, each event, each thought, and each conversation. There is power in silence, in prayer, and in waiting. The soul comes to rest in God as God works in the soul and heals the heart. I can trust this, trust God, and ask for His help when I falter and doubt. I can simply BE right where I am today and who I am today praying to trust in God’s goodness and wisdom.
Amidst all the voices that speak to me daily, including that critical voice that says “You’re doing it wrong,” I am beginning to hear a higher voice above all the others. A voice that calls me to come (empty and trusting), to rest in God’s loving embrace, and to receive. Gradually, anger and fear no longer cling to me. I can go forward on the journey to my best self, clinging to my God who walks with me, and who never fails me. From this place of God’s fullness, His love and beauty ooze out of me onto others. This is the work of a lifetime. But God has given me a lifetime.
“What the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared for those who love…” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
P.S. While reflecting and writing this blogpost, a long-time favorite read of mine keeps coming to mind. Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard is a tenderly-written allegory of a young woman called Much Afraid and her journey with the Good Shepherd to the High Places. In the end, her pain and suffering are transformed into grace and glory. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15
Last month I invited us to take some time and ask ourselves what the phrase Listen deeply means to each one of us. Recently, a friend reached out to share their experience with the phrase, and asked me to share mine. First of all, I am profoundly grateful to have friends in my life who want to engage in these types of conversations. A true gift from God. Shortly after that conversation, another friend shared that after reading the blog, she was going to make Listen her word for 2021. These conversations caused me to reflect more on what this phrase means to me at this point in my life. I plan to make Listen deeply my word for 2021. This blogpost is a response to my friends prompting me to go deeper with this phrase.
My starting point is my strong belief that there is always more than meets the eye in any experience. I pray to expect and live from this belief. I know there is a difference between ordinary everyday seeing and listening and the searching, penetrating vision that comes when God opens our hearts. We can then listendeeply with our hearts. We can ask God to stir into flame our awareness of the Divine presence in and around us as we say, “Come Holy Spirit.” We then live aware, open, and expectant. 2020 has allowed many of us the time and space for this type of intentional living—listening and seeing. We are able to stay awhile in each moment.
“God and silence are great friends. We need to listen to God, because it’s not what we say, but what God says to us and through us that matters.” Mother Theresa
In addition to this gift of time and space, I can allow God to make more room in my heart by cleaning out the things that keep me from closer union with the Divine. Personally, I incorporate a daily examen in my life. I sit before God and allow the Holy Spirit to show me those things that block me from God and from others. My experience is that when we go to God with an open mind and heart, God is faithful to gently heal our wounds and revive our hearts. Spending time with God truly does make us more like Jesus who is, above all, meek and humble of heart. I can shed some of my skin that does not serve me or help others.
“Live simply under the loving direction of the Spirit of God.” John of the Cross
Over time, this practice is changing me. I now long for God’s loving embrace to be my dwelling place. I know that the Lord is always near. God’s light always dispels the darkness in me. No one knows me like God does. I am drawn to a further letting go of the things of this world—to simply let life happen. This attitude helps me lay down my own agenda and listen deeply to the God who is in everyone and everything. For me, the phrase less of me and more of God is becoming none of me and ALL of God.
Listening deeply requires that I maintain a posture of resting and receiving rather than engaging in frenzied activity or attempting to control—a person or situation. I can be patient with myself, with others, and with life. I loosen my sure hold on what I think I know. I listen to learn rather than to judge. Criticism can be a distraction that keeps me from getting to know God and myself. I recently read that we cannot criticize even interiorly without detriment to our own soul. A thought that sobers me. I believe that we all have toxins in our lives that need to be released—whether that’s drinking, drugs, or disordered attachments to others, or other unhealthy attachments. This type of letting go makes space for the Divine to enter in, to surprise us with God’s goodness. It enables deep listening.
Thinking of my word for 2020, I see that I have been able to savor more of life— to experience life’s awe and wonder, and not just at Christmas time. God is so attentive to me. I want to be attentive to God. I recently felt God give me the phrase,
“Cherry, you have no idea!!”
I want to reflect more on what God is saying through these words. For now, they keep me humble, reminding me that I know only a little. Yet, I’m filled with excitement, expectant of what is to come from God—more than I can hope for or imagine. I have no idea!
“I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And You gave it to me.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel
Lately, I have experienced times where I feel that I am more fully present to the moment. I just sink in and let the wave of life carry me along. This seems to be a fruit of listening deeply. Another new fruit of this type of listening is the awareness that the critical voice, that unfortunately still comes to visit me from time to time, IS NOT GOD’S VOICE. God’s ways are slow, gentle, tender, and loving. They draw me closer rather than cause me to retreat in fear. When I hear the critical voice, I can simply run to God for help. God can sort it all out for me.
I pray that I can have more of these awarenesses as I continue on this path of deep listening. God promises to share Divine wisdom with us—God’s secrets. A wise person can step back, wait, listendeeply, and be patient. Wait for God to move. Look to God alone as a dear faithful friend. Then relax and stay awhile in the moment.
“Call to me and I will answer you; I will tell you great secrets of which you know nothing.” Ezekiel 33:3
Advent 2020 is upon us. The end of a year like no other. The hope of things to come. The preparations for celebrating the Christmas holiday. We hear that Advent is a season of waiting. Recently, I heard the challenge to listen deeply. As I engage in this Advent waiting, I am drawn to this idea of listening deeply—to others, to myself, to life.
I encourage us to take some time and ask God what that phrase means for each of us. For me, I know listening involves paying close attention to life as it presents itself moment by moment. I’m called to not resist life but allow God to open my spiritual eyes and to heal my blind spots. This type of listening calls for less words and more silence. In keeping with that spirit, this month my only words are to challenge each of us to sit with the phrase listen deeply, and ask God to lead and guide us along that path as we finish out 2020.
I leave you with two of my favorite Advent traditions—a poem and a prayer. The poem is God’s invitation to us, and the prayer is our response—our invitation to God.
OPEN THE DOOR When you step over The threshold of Christmas There’s a mystery For you to explore. A story. A message. Rich beauty. The music of color and love. There’s a sense Of the Creator’s presence. The wonder of childlike joy. The texture of worship. The power of peace. Turn the handle And open the door. —Greg Asimakoupoulos
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, Send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen. —Henri Nouwen
As we encounter dazzling Christmas lights everywhere, may we be reminded to seek the natural light of God, the Divine, and listen deeply.