For the fourth Sunday of each month, I prepare and give the welcoming and introduction part of our worship service. I study the Lectionary Scriptures for that Sunday and prepare a short reflection and prayers as the introduction to the service.
I always start preparing ahead of time and try to listen to the particular Lectionary scriptures for that Sunday as if God is speaking to my own heart and situation. My Sunday in May was a few days after my husband’s surgery for lung cancer.
The first reading was from Acts 1 after Jesus ascended into heaven leaving his disciples praying together as they wait anxiously for the coming of the promised power of the Holy Spirit.
These Scriptures describe Christianity being born. The disciples are trying to learn to trust God even when they can no longer see Jesus. But when things are going badly, they still become anxious. Jesus has asked God to protect not only them, but all of us that follow him. So we, just like our brothers and sisters from the very beginning, can bring our fears to God. The followers of Jesus, not just in church on Sundays, but even through our internet connections, gather through prayer.
The second reading, 1 Peter, tells us to rejoice when we are sharing Christ’s suffering for we are blessed by the Spirit of God, resting on us. And after we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.
Letting go of fear of suffering is a challenge that I often don’t manage until I’m overwhelmed. But, when I do, I have found that I can let go of my fear by praising and thanking God for all He has done for me. It is much better when I don’t wait for times of obvious blessings to praise and thank God. When I actually praise God in the hard times, I realize that then suffering can bring me closer to him. That praise particularly connects me to God. God doesn’t need praise, we need to praise God. It changes our focus and gives us a new perspective that opens our eyes to the blessings all around us.
Here are some generic possibilities for praise and thanksgiving in hard times that I included in my reflection and prayers for Sunday worship.
God, our father, we praise your glory. You are perfect beauty far beyond what I have ever seen. You are truth that transforms my faith and fills me with your Spirit. You are the life changing power of grace that gives me inner strength. You are perfect love that can heal my heart, mind, body, and spirit.
Thank you for the reflections of your glory that I see in the beauty of nature. Thank you for your Spirit increasing my faith by opening my mind when I seek your truth in the Scriptures. Thank you for grace that strengthens me when I pray in times of suffering. And thank you most of all for your perfect love expressed in Jesus that heals and opens my heart to You.
Since I am a devout coward and a congenital worrier, I often miss God’s call to praise and thanksgiving and have to become almost bedridden with the pain of Fibromyalgia before I remember to cast my cares on the God who loves me tenderly and unconditionally. But when I not only praise in such general things, but move on to specific large and small blessings, such as our children who give us such wonderful support, the plethora of bright red cardinals outside my window, songs of praise coming from within that lift my heart and mind to God, even strangers in doctors’ waiting rooms and people who connect with me across the world through blogs, that pray for us and I for them, and perhaps most of all, the powerful surges of the sometimes forgotten tenderness I feel for my husband, then the grace of joy bubbles up from deep inside me and my heart joins my mind in giving praise to God.
I’m seriously thinking of getting a tattoo. The problem is that it would have to go either on my back side or my stomach to have enough space. That would defeat the purpose, because I couldn’t see it well in either place. And the whole point would be to have it as a permanent and visible reminder. Here it is:
Tips for Mental Health
Feelings are not facts!
Seven important things we need to develop:
1. The will to bear both physical and emotional discomfort (and only whine on Monday).
2. The courage to make mistakes, admit them, take responsibility for them, learn from them, ask and accept forgiveness, and then for goodness sake, MOVE ON!
3. Patience with small gains.
4. The will to do what down deep, we know we should.
5. The determination to stop digging up the past. (If necessary, write it down, cremate it and let the wind carry it away.)
6. The energy and caring to help others. (Look around: we are surrounded by invisible lonely people. We don’t have to fix them, just let them know we see them.)
7. The wisdom to not let the perfect defeat the good.
to get it right now that I am old.
to give love and joy, never heartbreak.
to hold all lightly, free to let go.
to seek God’s hand when I suffer.
to forgive others and be forgiven.
to have faith there is some great purpose,
an after- life better than this one.
to while still in dark, believe in light.
and to go with hope into the night.
What kind of God are you, dying like that?
I want a real God, a “fix it “ God,
not one that gets himself crucified.
You’re just as helpless as the rest of us.
Here we are dying together.
What a weird way to save a world!
Such sorrow pierced your mother.
Yet, she didn’t run away.
She stayed there suffering too.
Was she filled with a mother’s self doubt?
“Could she have done anything?
Would it have made a difference?”
I watched my mother die by inches.
Her dignity destroyed
by fourteen years of Alzheimer’s.
I’ve seen my children make choices
that would cost them for years.
I could only ask, “Am I to blame?”
I listened to my friend whose mind
had become her enemy.
I heard her pain, yet could not help.
I hate being helpless, not good enough
or smart enough to help
even the ones I love the most.
Not long ago, you did miracles
even in my own small life.
Now I just see our brokenness.
You are a Good Friday God.
I think about the expectations
you gave your Apostles.
Only Judas got the picture.
How disillusioned he became.
He must have felt that you
were betraying them all.
Sometimes I’m just like Judas,
recognizing that we
are all sheep being shorne.
I’m even as cowardly
as Peter in asking
more or less, “Jesus who?”
But I know as well as John did
that your love is perfect.
That we need nothing more.
Even though like doubting Thomas
I fear a hard ending,
you are my Lord and my God,
my only God.
So I ask for grace to follow
though through the cross you call,
my Good Friday God.
Theologians are theory people…and yes we need theory people…but they often miss the obvious. Yes, God is awesome, way way beyond our human understanding, worthy of our praise and admiration, but God is also practical!
YES! PRACTICAL! The BIG TEN weren’t traps, tests, or a spoil sport kind of thing. They are the incubator that helps keep us alive until we and finally all humanity mature enough to love others as much as, or like Jesus-more than-our small selves. They are for OUR protection! God is FOR us.
What about number 1? Does God need our love? God doesn’t NEED anything! WE need God What we admire and love, we try to be. But how do we imitate a God beyond our understanding? Duh! God’s goodness and love is fleshed out, visible, understandable, in a prototype so to speak: JESUS, a human growing into a Love that’s way beyond the “Big Ten,” a human struggling with the human suffering of sadness, discouragement, rejection, fear, and physical pain…but always open to God, both within and in others, open to grace to make the loving choice in the end, a human that moves beyond the “Minimum Ten” to fleshing out the beatitudes…a whole other level of love.
“Sins” against the Big Ten are just plain stupidity, once you realize that Jesus showed us that this very fleeting life isn’t all there is and that instant gratification and gathering toys are for children and need to be outgrown before we can move on. The truth is that coveting, stealing, killing etc., end up making our lives miserable, even hell.
And it takes finding that source of grace which we call God, both within and outside ourselves to out grow our childish shortsighted selfishness .
In my seventy-eight years of life I have held the hands of those I love as they died, I have lived to walk again after years of a crippling condition, survived to laugh again after scary strokes, and suffered enough prolonged pain to free me to embrace the relief of death. And I have, in turn, been freed by each of these to experience greater joy in living.
One of the gifts of age is learning not to take the smallest beauty, kindness, insight, or experience of love for granted. I can see the door from here, which reminds me daily that this moment may be the last of life as I know it now. Yet knowing that life’s greatest mystery lies on the other side of that door gives an aura of light around its darkness.
Though I realize that getting through that door may be terribly hard, sometimes I imagine all my atoms, with my spirit now one with the Spirit of All within them, being freed from the limits of my body to join in the dance of eternity. I can almost feel them shooting off joyously into the farthest embraces of the exquisite glory of pure beauty, truth, and love…..in other words, God.
Check out the blog, Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane’s post “I Drive Like a Horse in Central Park.”
Same theme, more explicit and touching.
Homing through a frost
of silent shooting stars,
the blowing icy flow
of winter’s crystal breath,
my car lights tunnel
through its frozen milky way.
Suddenly, I glimpse a shadow,
a hitcher thinly coated
with the jacketed nonchalance
of adolescent bravado,
James Dean image not quite masking
the soft edges of his youth.
A fragile hope flickers
at my moment’s hesitation,
then quickly disappears
behind me in the night.
My “Good Samaritan” – extinct,
afraid of death – dead of fright.