Category Archives: spiritual growth
The Martha and Mary story with Martha doing the work to feed everyone, while Mary sat with the men and listened to Jesus has always bothered me. Even though I definitely identify with Mary and see this as a clear indication that Jesus saw women as equal to men, it seemed rather unfair.
Going through some of my old journals, I found somethings that have helped remind me of what I have let myself forget.
There is a big difference in “natural” gifts and “spiritual” gifts. Recognizing our need to listen to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and developing the habit of doing that is how we become able to seek the kingdom of God first and trust that our physical needs will be provided. This is so counter intuitive, that when I don’t daily seek God, I lose perspective and fall back into fear and trying to fix things myself even after all the miracles I’ve experienced. I seem to have Spiritual Alzheimer’s.
In my early days after a conversion from agnosticism to a personal relationship with Jesus as the human expression of the Love of God, I stayed immersed in the Scriptures and prayer for hours each day and my first response to challenges was prayer and then scriptures came to mind that related to what I was facing.
I’m going to begin sharing some small experiences as appetizers before I share some of the struggles at the beginning of my search for meaning and finding God in Jesus.
I’m 83 and a widow living alone. I’ve recently had some health issues and had become depressed. But then I read a post called: “Choose Joy.” So, when I looked out my window at the gray day, I focused on the gold and violet pansies hanging there, savoring their rich colors, the contrast that speaks to me of the marriage of joy and sorrow, remembering their velvet softness, valuing their resilience in cold gray weather. I looked around me in my warm bright study, at a cork board of cards with beautiful pictures of birds from caring friends, a picture of daffodils that are my sign of hope, a picture of Jesus holding a child and laughing, a favorite one of my husband laughing with that sparkle in his eyes, our wedding photo with my family, my loving sons and daughter at various stages of their lives, my brother and his spouse Rick, who treat me like a princess when I get to visit them, me smiling just five years ago in a Cathedral in France. How blessed my life has been. How blessed it still is. The quiet joy of peace surrounds me like a comforter. And a tiny bubble of joy rises within me. Yes, we can choose joy!
Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.
The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.
I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.
It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.
We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.
The Love of God is so incredibly different and beyond compare that it boggles our ability to believe in it enough to accept it. No matter how much we have been loved by family and friends, no matter how famous and wildly adored we may have been by the multitudes, nothing has ever been more than a barely glimpsed shadow of the Love of God.
We need nothing more than to accept the unconditional Love of God with our whole mind, experiencing it with an open heart until our spirit is so filled with it, that we can pass it on by simply letting it overflow.
We glimpse this Love when we consider that the creator of the universe chose to walk in our skin, experiencing the frustrating and fearful limits of being human. Even being born into crushing political oppression as part of a scorned minority, experiencing physical exhaustion and bodily pain, feeling the heartbreak of being abandoned and betrayed by his friends. Not only suffering public ridicule and torture, but even accepting the darkness of death to show us there is more, all because of Love.
The Love of God can free us to see ourselves exactly as we are, fragile and unfinished. To then accept our need for forgiveness without guilt, just a true sorrow that sets us free from fear and shame and gives us grace to grow. It begins to not only free us to forgive ourselves, but also others.
The Love of God can heal the insecurities that come from being tiny vulnerable humans in a huge unknown universe, insecurities that stunt our ability to love. The Love of God is the grace that uses our mustard seed of faith to begin freeing us to die to self and live again.
The Love of God fleshed out in Jesus is personal, unconditional, and eternal. The Love of God heals us and opens our hearts to joy. All else fails. There is nothing as powerful and eternal as the Love of God, the Love of God for you.
The Love of God frees us to say, “I am yours, God. Take my life and help me become the unique person you created me to be.”
I have been writing about my experiences with prejudice in the last month. I have realized that because of being eight when WWII ended, I had seen news photos of the war at the movies and then photos and stories of the concentration camps, so I had a prejudice against Germans. Then when in the 1990’s, I traveled to areas speaking German in Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic in a wheel chair and experienced prejudice against the handicapped first hand, it triggered that prejudice of mine. There were several very hurtful experiences and I came home hurt and angry and with renewed dislike for Germans. In writing and reliving it, I finally realized that most of the people we encountered during those trips were kind and friendly. My prejudice was based on just a few very mean people. I think this is often the case. I personally am vehemently anti-Trump, but I know and love and respect people who are staunch Republicans that voted for him. I admit it’s difficult for me to understand, but I know these are kind and loving people. So, like Oscar the Grouch, I am praying and working on my attitude. Pre-judging based on a small vocal group within a group is simply wrong. There are both hateful and loving people in every group, whether it’s a political, national, ethnic, racial, gender, or even a religious group. Prejudice blinds us to the good in people. In these times it is particularly important to be able to hear one another and work together to preserve our shared country and world.
To do that, we have to overcome prejudices of every kind. Even prejudice FOR the underdog. As a prejudiced person, I know what a struggle that is. But with grace, like Jesus did with the Samaritan, the unclean woman, the lepers, and even the soldier of the cruel Roman conqueror, we can see through to our shared human vulnerability and need for love and grace. Let’s pray for grace and actually work at it. It’s important.
Today I checked out a blogger that started following me without comment. She is twenty-five and the first post I found seemed to be on masturbating. Actually, it turned out to be about the Love of God that doesn’t shame us no matter where we are in our journey to become the people God created us to be. She also admitted that she kept sorrow away by physical sports and running and that it had become an addiction to avoid her feelings. She proceeded in a just a few blog posts to share wisdom that it has taken me fifty years of my journey with Jesus to learn. I have been frustrated that I haven’t been able to communicate my hard earned wisdom to younger members of my family. Maybe I should have been listening.
Here are some jewels: 1. Jesus is about PROCESS and compassion. Well, yeah, but the problem is that for most of us it’s a very long process to become truly compassionate. Compassion includes everyone. We can disagree, but there’s no room in compassion for judging.
And process is simply another word for change. Ah, there’s the rub! It’s easy to see how others need to change and judge them when they don’t recognize it. I only lack compassion for people who lack compassion. Which is my first clue that I also need to change.
She writes about forgiveness of those who have wounded us and says, “We have all left scars on the people we love the most.” My response was, “Well, ain’t that the truth Ruth!” I’ve been writing a memoir of sorts in order to share some of what I’ve learned, but in writing the memoir, I’m recognizing some ways I’ve hurt others that I was oblivious about. I’ve admitted to enough already that this isn’t a surprise or particularly devastating, just a reminder that I can’t throw stones.
Here’s three things she says God asked her to do:
1. To give my heart a voice.
2.To walk with him alone for a time.
3. To let go of everything I’ve “known” Him to be.
These are three things I too have slowly recognized, but still find challenging. 1. I’m pretty good at recognizing problems, but not so good at letting my self experience the emotional pain. Unfortunately, that’s the narrow gate I don’t want to go through, but it’s the only way to healing.
2. To walk with him alone would seem to be easy while in quarantine, but I find it almost impossible to quiet my mind. Plus, I can escape the challenge by doing what I’m doing now, connecting with the outside world through face book.
3. I thought I did this when I recognized how Jesus realized that he had to change in his understanding of his saving mission as only to save the Jews. He was challenged to change by a woman who was “unclean,” by a heretic uncouth Samaritan, and finally by a soldier of the hated enemy power. Who is “unclean” or unacceptable in Christianity today? Who is a heretic in our mind today? And who is someone with power we hate?
I realize that there is still much I have to unlearn because each generation has new eyes to see what I have not questioned.
Alexis Williams says, “I have to become fully alive in who I am, so I can be who God created me to be.”
I might express it as, “I have to become fully aware of who I am and that I am known and tenderly loved as I am, so I can with the grace of that Love become the unique person God created me to be.”
Her blog is named “Do I Stay or Do I Go?”
1. Many have stepped up their gratitude prayers or lists during the “Great Quarantine.” Which really is a wonderful attitude improving thing to do. When I really get into it, I can write numerous pages, until I have to stop for something else. I never realized I had it so good before starting this. This is something many of us experiencing the challenges of age have learned to do to help ourselves to keep on keeping on and to stop us from becoming curmudgeons.
2: The next level is praising God even for the hard parts. Though God doesn’t need the praise, it is an amazing way of connecting with God and experiencing grace, which not only transforms our situation, but eventually us.
3. The third level is to do both and then to develop the habit of reaching out to someone who is housebound by poor health, care giving or not being able to drive. Calls, cards, and asking if they need something when we plan to grocery shop all will help even after quarantine time.
Face book sent me a memory of advice I gave a friend years ago. It spoke to my condition today. My spiritual director once told me I had spiritual Alzheimer’s. I thought that was a tacky thing to say, since I was caring for my mother who actually had Alzheimer’s. But it appears he may have been right. I think I need a tattoo of these on the inside of my arm!
1. Remind myself that God loves me because of who God is, not who or what I am.
2. Pray the most used prayer: “Help!”
3. Reassure myself that struggle and dark times are a natural and necessary part of the process of living and becoming the person God created me to be.
4. Try to focus on the present moment and take the next small step
(PS I bribe myself into doing tasks I hate, by rewarding myself after I do them by doing something I like. That may not be wise, but I do it anyway!)
The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus. Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering. Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.