JUDGE NOT…

“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 healingphysical, 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 artiststhe 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

HEART TO HEART FRIENDSHIPS…Centered on God’s Heart

As a mother of three adult daughters, I have precious memories of cuddling with my girls and watching Anne (with an “e”) of Green Gables.  I was particularly drawn to Anne’s heart cry for a “bosom friend–a kindred spirit”.   Just as now I am drawn to how God is described in Scripture as loving us with “tender strands” that gently hold us to Him (Hosea 11:4).  God’s holy chords of love gently binding or tethering us to Him and to others.

Growing up in a home with much turmoil, I didn’t have a lot of solid role modeling for healthy relationships.  In grade school, I was a part of a group of three girlfriends. Those groups usually come with troubles—comparison, competition, and jealousy with one person feeling left out.

In high school, I had a best friend, Bonnie, whose heart, like mine, was wounded by her family life.  At that time, I was ashamed to have people come to my home out of fear that my dad would embarrass me by drinking too much and misbehaving.  But Bonnie seemed to understand. She was one friend I could have over to the house, and I would spend time at her home as well.

In college, I got very close to my first roommate, but she took a turn towards alcohol and drugs and unfortunately, for both of us, she dropped out of school the end of freshman year.  The rest of my college days and my early years in the business world did not yield a real bosom friend.  I was much too self-focused — on my education and then on my career — to genuinely invest my heart into forming an authentic friendship. My wounded heart had withdrawn from God, who I now know as the source of all true human connection.

That wounded heart eventually led me to a very broken place in my mid-30’s — divorced and a single mother — where God was able to reach out to me with those “tender strands” of grace and mercy. He rescued me, and I tentatively began a journey of recovery. A time of discovery of who God is and who He created me to be.  This was the beginning of my heart healing and the foundation for cultivating authentic friendships with women.

Fast forward three decades later, what do I now feel about friendship? Do I still long for a bosom friend? Is that possible? My answer is yes, and, by God’s grace, I have experienced those types of friendships through the years. As I write, their faces come to mind, and I smile with deep gratitude for each one of them.  Those that are in my life and my hometown right now and those who live across the United States and in other countries. Other than my faith and my family, they are my most prized possessions.

Now as a woman in my sixties, I would describe friendship as a precious gift from God that He grants to us for His divine purposes. He uses those same “tender strands” to gently bind us to another—a “bosom friend.”  I am learning that my relationship with God and with myself will define my relationships with others.  I’ve heard it said that our horizontal relationships are dependent on our vertical relationship with God, as the cross so vividly symbolizes.

We each have had friendships that have seemed to work or to have gone the distance and those that have not.  But who are we to judge how God sees those relationships. Rather, we are to simply hold them gently and loosely, to enjoy them for the time and trust the big plan to God.

So, if friendships are a gift from God, what part do I play? What creates the bond? Years ago, I shared with my mentor a struggle I was having with a friend and she wisely asked me, “Have you asked God what He would like that friendship to look like?” I had not, but instantly sensed the wisdom of her advice, which has stayed with me ever since.

When we returned from living abroad for almost ten years, I sensed God tenderly prompting me to allow Him to gift me with the women with whom He now wanted me to share my life and my heart.  Sacred companions who will run the good race with me. And when I let go of my expectations and allow God to provide, I am always pleasantly surprised, humbled, and oh-so- grateful for His goodness. I meet with a Franciscan nun for spiritual direction. The first time we met, I sensed that she was excited (almost with childlike excitement) that God had brought a new person into her life. Of course, that made me feel wonderfully encouraged and made me want to live my life that way—wide open to all the gifts God has for me day by day.

I could share much more—and maybe I will in another post—but I’ll leave you with these thoughts on finding that “bosom friend” …

  1. Start with prayer. Let God lead. Make your relationship with Him your top priority. Allow Him to heal your past heart hurts so you bring a heart-on-the-mend to the relationship.
  2. Remember that in friendship, as in many deeper things, less is probably better. We only have so much time, energy, and space in our life. Live within the boundaries that God sets for you. We all change over time, so relationships change and may come to an end. Be okay with that. Let go with grace and gratitude.
  3. Be prepared to give the gift of time and presence to another—both are necessary to really hear and understand a heart.
  4. Be willing to share deep troubles and celebrate victories without comparison or jealousy.
  5. Genuine friendships are characterized by a shared passion, honesty and mutuality—a give-and-take flow to the relationship.
  6. God’s divine purpose for each relationship will be different, but this we can be sure of: His desire is for us to want His best for the other person and to patiently walk alongside them as they grow into His perfect design for their life. Two people each growing towards God is a powerful partnership and force for good in our world.

A book that one of my bosom friends and I read together is Sacred Companions, the Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction by David G. Brenner.  And I read it again with my husband.  You may want to put it on your reading list or, better yet, read it with a friend.

I welcome your comments or questions.