I recently read Alan Cohen’s quote, “Please show me is one of the most powerful prayers you can speak.”
I bulked at that, or more accurately, painful memories and an ego ever on high alert, bulked, “It’s not that simple! Life is not that simple!” That comes from a place long ago when I learned not to trust anyone but myself (how scary is that?!).
As a child, I needed to trust my mother, so I could learn to trust the world around me. But she proved to be untrustworthy, which, in turn, meant the world was also untrustworthy. The world loves those who don’t know who to trust and empowers the ego to guide itself right off every unmarked cliff until we begin to doubt ourselves.
My ego-driven mind wanted every aspect of my life to be certain and laid out clearly. I believed the Spirit I dealt with didn’t care much about its guidance in my life, “You’re on your own, kid. Good luck!” Old memories, combined with my return again and again to my default settings, dredged up my monumental failures to prove I was right – hoping that Spirit-guy would finally see that I had good reason to question everything.
Two events that always come to mind are: (1) writing a book and (2) attending graduate school. Both were significant and frightening decisions that did not turn out the way I had planned. It then seemed that the outcome of these events was confirmation that Spirit-guy could not be trusted either. And just to remind him, we had a little review:
1) One day, out of nowhere, you clearly told me to “write a book”. That was you – right? Admittedly, after laughing hysterically, I finally did believe you and wrote the damn thing. That led to me imagining myself becoming a famous and sought-after author. But that’s not what happened, is it? No!
2) Then how about this? When offered the unbelievable opportunity to attend graduate school, after much consternation, I acquiesced. Even though I fully believed I would be discovered as a fraud and be tossed out on the street. When I finally realized I might actually accomplish such a crazy endeavor (which took nearly the entire three years I was there), I began to imagine myself becoming a beloved Pastoral Associate—fulfilling my need to be somebody special. But, that’s right, that’s not what happened either. Are you still with me, Spirit-guy?
When I read, “You can avoid painful errors and trials by letting the Spirit guide you”, my “failures” seem to confirm that that did not apply to me. But in a rare moment, I sat quietly and prayed. The response came quickly. I suppose because it has been the same obsessive struggle I have had for years, and you were probably peeved, weren’t you?!
Spirit (eye roll here), “Sit down and take a deep breath, Linda. Ready? Here we go for the bizzilionth time.”
1) Yes, I did prompt you to write a book and attend graduate school. And, no, it did not catapult you into fame, fortune or recognition. No associate position in the church or loads of book sales. But it did develop into your blog, which has touched lives. How many? It really doesn’t matter because that’s not the point. The experience has changed your life in ways you never could have imagined beforehand – right?
Can you not see how much your faith grew and flourished when you cared for the dying as a Hospice volunteer? Then, working with the homeless, you showed them love, when they only knew rejection. No award, book contract, or flurry of accolades will come close to invoking those tears of love and compassion you reveal every time you reach out to those who suffer.
Maybe a review of Luke 15:4-6 is in order here. You know – when Jesus dropped everything and went after ONE (you!) lost sheep. ONE! And then he danced and sang all the way back to camp like he had hit the lottery!!
2) Admit it, Linda, it took these experiences and many others to strip away enough of your brokenness (not all, but enough for now) to open you to the love of God that had been gathering dust in your heart for a very long time. And, yes, I’m still going to be there, as always, to offer you some pearls of wisdom, even if you pretend not to notice me – the elephant in the room!
Anyway, those are the things you would probably never have considered being capable of before God wrested your shallow ‘faith’ from you and replaced it with a love for others.
Purpose can never be driven by the world’s definition of success. So, stop already putting expectations on the outcome!
Now, come on, we have lots of work to do, and you aren’t getting any younger, you know. Just sayin’.
Can you relate? Have you experienced your own come-to-Jesus moment, but you’re not sure what that means for you?
When Jesus said, “follow me,” it was a radical call, not an invitation to tea. It wasn’t the Jesus version of Simon says, “Touch your toes. Wiggle your nose. Bend your knees. Pat your head. Here’s your prize.”
You realize, don’t you, that Jesus never said, “Go to church”. Never. Church is where we often hear the Word of God, rejoice for a millisecond, and then go home to cut the grass. Following Christ means living the Word; it means being Christ to others. He told us, “I have suffered the hatred of those in power to serve those at the bottom – the forgotten and rejected. If you follow me, you will do even more and, yes, you will suffer for your efforts as well.” Our response to that call should be a resounding, “Yes”! But, it’s often, “I’ll get back to you.”
Remember that all the disciples ran for cover when Jesus was taken away. When they saw the empty tomb in unison, they proclaimed, “Bummer, this is not how we imagined it turning out.” (Does this sound familiar?) So, when Jesus showed up unannounced at their pity party, he was surely in the same place Spirit-guy has been with me so often, “Okay guys, let’s try this again. First of all, let’s get this out of the way – none of you will be sitting on any throne no matter what aspirations your mother has (Matt. 20:20-21). You’ll be sitting in the muck and mire with the least among you and, get this – you’re going to love it there because that’s what you were created for, selfless love and compassionate care for the lost and hurting.”
Today, we have been inundated by images and news concerning Covid-19, our broken economy, hunger and homelessness, and the BLM protests that have shed an uncomfortable light on the inequities in this country.
People are suffering and dying every day because they have been victims of Covid, hatred, or both. How are you affected by these realities? What do you think of when you witness this most profound moment in our history? Do you turn off the TV and retreat to your safe place? Do you pray or send a check to a food bank? – I’m not discounting those things. Both are needed for sure. But, is there a tugging on your heart to act on that reality?
This is a time of reckoning for all of us who consider ourselves decent human beings. Never mind any label you may attach to that: Christian, Jew, Atheist, none of the above, whatever – just decent human beings who know deep down we are called to lift our “caring” to a whole new level.
I love the expression: “Bidden or not bidden, God is still present”. God still lives and moves and has his being in the very depth of your heart, whether you believe in him or not. And even if you don’t, he just hangs out there, hoping you will one day acknowledge him and, in turn, recognize who and Whose you are. He’s like the heart whisperer, “I love you, you are mine, and your life matters.”
If I ever sound like I have totally got my act together, don’t think for a moment that it’s true. We are all a work in progress. We have all sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23). I’m just thankful that God’s love and grace know no bounds. Our weaknesses don’t anger him, and our fears won’t push him away. On the contrary, he is merciful, forgiving, empowering, and likely has a wicked sense of humor! Oh yeah, and he has never been untrustworthy. Not once.
So, let’s do this. Yes, sitting quietly is important to discern how and where you are called to serve. But then, like Jeremiah, get off your butt and get over yourself because God will give you all you need to do what he calls you to do. That’s a promise we can all trust.
I will end with this wisdom from Anthony DeMello, SJ:
Once upon a time, a disciple asked the elder, “Holy One, is there anything I can do to make myself Enlightened?”
“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”
“Then of what use,” the disciple asked, “are all the spiritual exercises?”
“To make sure,” the elder said, “that you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”