Why you Care Matters – BUT – How you Care Matters More

Recently, I read this reflection, “Please show me is one of the most powerful prayers you can speak. You can avoid painful trials and errors by inviting Spirit to guide you at the outset of your decision making process. He will direct your efforts telling you exactly what to do.” Alan Cohen

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 partly comes from a place long ago when I learned not to trust anyone but myself (well…that’s a scary thought!). As a child, I needed to trust my mother so I could learn to trust the world around me, but she often lied and proved to be untrustworthy, which, in turn, meant the world was untrustworthy too. The World loves those who don’t know who to trust and empowers the ego to walk itself right off every unmarked cliff until we begin to doubt ourselves.

To this day, my ego-driven mind wants every aspect of my life to be certain and laid-out clearly and at the same time believes that the Spirit that I deal with doesn’t seem to be so concise about its guidance in my life, “You’re on your own kid. Good luck!” Old memories combine with my return again and again to my default setting dredges up my monumental failures to prove I’m right – hoping that Spirit-guy will finally see that I have good reason to question what I read.

The two major events that always come to mind are: (1) writing a book, and (2) attending Graduate School – the biggest, most profound, scariest, decisions of my life that did not turn out the way I planned. It seemed so obvious to me 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 did, 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 destined for sainthood, fulfilling my need to be somebody special. But, that’s right, that’s not what happened either.

saint linda (2)

Are you still with me Spirit-guy?

All of these “failures” were confirmation to me that what I read, “You can avoid painful errors and trials by letting the Spirit guide you”, did not apply to me. 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 now 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 tell you to write a book. And, no, it did not catapult you into fame and fortune. BUT, it did develop into your blog postings and both have touched lives. How many? It really doesn’t matter because that’s not the point. Maybe a review of Luke 15:4-6 is in order here. It went something like this, “Jesus dropped everything and went after ONE lost sheep. ONE! And then he danced and sang all the way back to camp like he hit the lottery!!”

Purpose can never be driven by the world’s definition of success. But your ego is often too needy of praise to allow you to use this gift you have been given for others beyond yourself. So, stop putting expectations on the outcome and just write already!”

2) Sorry to be the one to inform you that you will not win the ‘Catholic Woman of the Year’ award. It’s actually funny that we’re still having this conversation since you seem to have pushed away from some aspects of your Catholic faith. But, that’s a conversation for another time.

So, admit it Linda, it took these experiences and growing pains to strip away enough of your own brokenness (not all, but enough for now) to open you to the love of God that resides deep in your heart. And, yes, I’m still going to be there, as always, to offer you guidance even if you pretend not to notice me: the elephant in the room!

Anyway, let’s think of the things that you have done just since graduation that you would probably never have considered being capable of before Aquinas wrested your shallow ‘faith’ from you and replaced it with a love for others.

Can you not see how much your faith grew and flourished when you cared for the dying as a Hospice volunteer? Working with the homeless you showed them love when they only knew rejection. We will soon be venturing into a new ministry together: some, maybe even just ONE (remember, numbers don’t matter), of the countless and nameless sex trafficked youth will also encounter the love of God through little ole you, Linda. This is what you have been preparing for; this is your calling. And no award, book contract, or flurry of accolades will come close to invoking those tears of love and compassion you reveal every time you think about those kids.  

Now, come on, enough with the pitty-party already. 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?

Understand that 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 on the head. Here’s your prize.

You realize don’t you that Jesus never said, “Go to church”. Never. Church is where we so often hear the word of God, rejoice for a millisecond at its splendor, 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 must 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.” When Jesus showed up unannounced at their pitty-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. 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.”

Over the past few months 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. Every day, people are suffering and dying because they have been victims of Covid or hatred or both. How are you affected by these realities? What do you think of when you witness what is surely a most profound moment in our history? Do you turn off the TV, retreat to your safe place, and pray, or send a check to a food bank? I’m not discounting those things. Both are needed for sure. But, do you also feel guilty for not having to suffer what your brothers and sisters are suffering and don’t know what to do? Is there a tugging on your heart to not just “be” a kind, compassionate person, but to act on that reality?

I think 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 now 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 who he is, and in turn, who and Whose you are.  He’s like the heart whisperer, “I love you, you are mine, and your life has a purpose.”

If I ever sound like I have totally got my act together don’t think for a moment that’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. My weaknesses don’t anger him and my fears won’t push him away. He is merciful, forgiving, empowering and likely has a wicked sense of humor! Oh yeah, and he has never lied to me. Not once.

So, let’s do this. Yes, it’s important to sit quietly to discern how and where you are called to serve. But then, just like Jeremiah, get off your butt and get over your self-doubt because God will give you all you need to do what he calls you to do. That’s a promise we can all trust.

And know this: God is a constant, unfailing certainty beyond every struggle, every perceived failure, and every disappointment.

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.”

 

The Mother’s Day Card I Never Sent

Mother’s Day is not always filled with Hallmark moments. My experience growing up would have never made endearing copy. There were frequent outbursts of “I HATE YOU”! – spewing from my mouth on a regular basis. I recall first shouting those words when I was five, after having been beaten. My mother’s response followed, “I KNOW YOU DO! Now go to your room!”

Mothers are supposed to protect their children, teach them how to love by their example, and be evidence for God’s tender care. God lends children to their parents and wants them back as the same person he created. Instead I grew in fear, anger, emptiness and distrust. I never recall my mother (or father for that matter) holding me, telling me she loved me, or showing any semblance of nurturing. (A few years ago, my great-aunt confirmed that she never witnessed any affection in my family.)

I don’t recall thinking about Mother’s Day as a child. I doubt there was a card on the market that would have expressed my true feelings:

Mothers Day
you’re mean!   i hate you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was older, my pain and sorrow overwhelmed me every Mother’s Day. I would go to the Hallmark store, stand at the card rack, and cry. I tried to hide my anger and pain at the sight of the words on those beautiful cards: My Dearest Mother, Love, Thank You, Fond Memories, Laughter, Hugs.

Words I never experienced or expressed.

That emptiness stayed with me for much of my life. After I divorced my first husband, my daughter and I lived with my parents. They had to know, when I was in my twenties, that I partied and drank to excess. Did they not ever see me leave for work some mornings still drunk? They had to sense there was something wrong. At the age of twenty-two, when I tried to kill myself, no one seemed to notice. We were all just surviving – and barely doing that. There we were: mom, dad, daughter, granddaughter, and the 800 pound gorilla making messes everywhere.

Until the day my mother died I longed for her to tell me she loved me, “Please, just once” – and to say she was sorry. It never happened. My older sister suffered more abuse than me or my brother, and she needed healing as well. So, I decided that perhaps I could help her.

Seven years before my mother died, my parents decided to move to Arizona. One evening, before they left, I managed to initiate a conversation concerning my mom and my sister. As gently as possible, I told my mother that one day one of them was going to die (okay, I know that doesn’t sound so gentle!) and leave the other one to suffer memories of a relationship that desperately needed healing. Could she find it in her heart to talk to my sister and mend that relationship; tell her she loved her and that she was sorry? I recognized the empty expression staring back at me. “No” – that’s all she said. After they left I cried because I knew that I would never hear those words either.

My sister is still waiting; still unable to get beyond the pain. But by the grace of God, my life has changed because I did not want continue carrying the hatred and bitterness that was consuming me. As my heart began to mend I could see things differently. The false self I presented for so many years has been gradually taking a back-seat to the true-self God created. I have had to do a lot of forgiving, and a lot of soul searching to accept my own faults, and to seek forgiveness to help mend the hearts of those I have not loved well.

You see, it is only in experiencing God’s forgiveness, as we admit our own failings, that we can freely forgive others. It is only by standing broken at the foot of the cross, that I could now see my mother as someone who did the best she could. She failed to be the mother I needed her to be because of her own brokenness, not because I was unworthy of her love. I have forgiven her and I am sure God has too. Can I get an Alleluia!?

My mother has been gone for over thirty years. I believe it’s time for me to send her that Mother’s Day card I always longed to send:

happy mothers day

Now, how about you? We all, every one of us, is a mother, or has one. The only perfect mother was Mary and I am certain Jesus never had a problem choosing a card for her on Mother’s Day! And Father’s Day probably was a delight for him too!

As for the rest of us: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). Not some – ALL! – every last one of us. And it’s just stinkin’ thinkin’ to imagine otherwise.

So, this Mother’s Day what do you say? Go to that card shop and pick out the most beautiful card there. Give it to your imperfect mother, hug her, and tell her you love her. And if, like me, your mother is no longer with you, buy it anyway, write what you would say if she were here, and tuck it away somewhere.

If you are the mom not sure of receiving that loving card, this may be the time to ask for forgiveness. Even if your kids are a total mess – you are the parent – let the healing begin with you. It’s not about laying blame; it’s about laying a new foundation for your relationship. If you’re still breathing – it’s not too late.

Here’s a grace-filled moment for you: Recently, I was thinking about my mom and wondered if things would be different today because I’m different. I am in a place now where I could show her a love she probably has never known; that we could possibly heal our relationship. Even though my mother is gone that thought took me to the realization that when I struggle in relationship with one of my kids (even though they’re adults it happens!), I am still here! I can initiate the healing. As long as I am willing to seek forgiveness, please God, they will never be left, as I was, with open wounds in their hearts.

Is taking that first step to reconciliation with your child too hard? Then try this. Go to the card shop and pick out the card you would most want your child to give you for Mother’s Day. Take it home and pray over it. Pray that God will make you the mother deserving of that card and see what happens!