Jan 27, 2015

The Prison of Unforgiveness

The Illusion of Control

"I don't want to forgive! Not forgiving makes me stronger!" I can still see her sitting there wearing unforgiveness as a mantle of protection, a look of distaste on her pinched face, a stiff manner contradicting her polite smile. She was like a turtle stuck during the vulnerable process of pulling itself back into its shell: not yet fully protected by the tough shell, but now unable to move away from the danger.

Sometimes we may feel the same way - that forgiving will make us weak. We may hold onto anger and bitterness because they give us the illusion of control over the uncontrollable – other people. The surge of emotion that comes from nurturing our anger, dwelling on our humiliation, or plots of revenge can make us feel powerful. We create a wall of negative emotions around ourselves like a hard shell, protecting us from further harm; keeping us safe. So we think.

That hard shell of protection distances us from others, not just the one we who did us wrong. In his book Forgive and Forget, Lewis Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” When we lock ourselves away from hurt and vulnerability, we also lock ourselves away from love. Our hands are so full of bad feelings towards the perpetrator of our wound that we cannot reach them out to receive God's love and mercy into them. He longs to pour Himself out for us, but we have to approach Him with empty hands in order to receive such a precious gift.

It's Eating Us Up Inside
Holding on to unforgiveness poisons our souls. Even our secular society is realizing that unforgiveness really can "eat us up inside." Modern psychologists have studied both the positive effects of forgiveness and the negative effects of unforgiveness on physical and mental health. The Mayo Clinic website even has an entire article devoted to forgiveness. They report that forgiveness can lead to: healthier relationships; greater spiritual and psychological well-being; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression; stronger immune system, and improved heart health. 
See, God in His infinite Goodness has so much to give us in return for what we are willing to give up and hand over to Him! He won't send us away empty handed when we surrender our pain to Him and forgive. 

Ummm…God Kinda Says To
At every Mass, we pray the Our Father. At least once a week we are asking God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples, it is a gift from Him to us. Shouldn't we try to live it in our daily lives by forgiving those who hurt us?
Jesus was kind of big on forgiveness. Even from the cross He forgave those who had crucified Him and those who were mocking Him by praying, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) What better example of forgiveness could He have given us to follow?
Forgiving others is part of how we live our faith. It is one of the ways we try to imitate the One who gave His life for us; a gesture to return our love to the God who loves us so abundantly; a token of our affection for our Creator, Father, and Savior. It's a little thing, but it can feel like a big thing when we are the one who has been done wrong! It can feel impossible, but we must remember that all things are possible with God who loves us. He wouldn't ask us to do the impossible.

We Wanna Be Like Jesus!
I've had a lot of time to think about forgiveness while I've been home recovering from post-concussion syndrome. We all have a choice. God gave us each the gift of free will and the power to forgive or not to forgive. We can choose to wear unforgiveness as a mantle, to withdraw into a protective shell isolating ourselves from God and love or we can choose to wrap ourselves in God's love and forgive.
We love God; we want to please Him. We want to respond to our Lord's admonition, "You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) We are created to be like Him - perfect. Jesus wouldn't have said it if it wasn't possible. He wasn't laughing behind His hand at the impossibility of our perfection. No, He was informing us as of our incredible calling, the calling to love as our heavenly Father loves. Forgiveness is part of this love. So although the words have sometimes stuck in my throat, not wanting to come out in prayer, I say them anyway. I choose to surrender my pain, indignities and hurt feelings to God. We can choose to forgive, even when it's hard to give up that mantle of imagined protection. We can choose to set ourselves free from the prison of unforgiveness.

In my next posts I will talk about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, common objections to forgiving, how to forgive, and moving deeper into forgiveness. I'm no theologian, so have no fear of treading too deeply into theory; we shall just continue walking together along the way.

Jan 3, 2015

Square Pegs, Round Holes, Blank Paper

"Lord, do with me what you will..." Sr Carmella of the Holy Eucharist, O.C.D. 

"I think of this new year as a white page given to me by [our] Father, on which He will write, day by day, whatever His divine good pleasure has planned. I shall now write at the top of the page, with complete confidence: Domine, fac de me sicut vis, Lord, do with me what You will, and at the bottom I already write my Amen to all the proposals of  [His] divine will. Yes, Lord, yes to all the joys, the sorrows, the graces, the hardships prepared for me, which You will reveal to me day by day. Grant that my Amen may be the Paschal Amen, always followed by the Alleluia, uttered wholeheartedly, in the joy of a complete gift. Give me Your love and Your grace and I shall be rich enough." 
Sr. Carmella of the Holy Spirit, O.C.D. via Divine Intimacy (My favorite book!)

"We plan and God laughs!" How many times have I heard that over the years? I've said the phrase myself, when things don't go as I've planned, with a bitter humor not-so-well-concealed beneath my forced laugh. Even though it's come out of my own mouth, I don't really like that particular saying. It gives me an image of God the Father rubbing His hand together in glee, cackling at my foolishness, poking fun at me. It gives me the image of a God who mocks me when I make mistakes, or thinks I'm  so stupid that I haven't figured out His perfect plan for me yet. It makes me afraid of what He may write on the pages of my life.

Despite my abundant inadequacies, I have finally grown to realize that even if our loving God does laugh at my feeble attempts of plans, it isn't in a mean way. There is no mocking or delight in my sufferings. He's not sitting up in Heaven ready to drop a big gavel and shout, "You've failed!" Our Good God is full of more love than we could ever imagine, the entire Bible is His love letters to us, He gives us His very self in the Eucharist. We can only begin to imagine the vastness of His love for us. All our Good God writes on the pages of our lives is for our ultimate good, or can be used for our ultimate good (which would be - Heaven!) if we cooperate with His grace.

If  Our Good Father does laugh, it is like a loving parent watching their toddler try over and over again to smash the square peg into the round hole instead of the square hole. The parent smiles knowing that as the child grows and develops, this almost impossible task will soon become a simple one. The doting parent finally tries to gently guide the toddlers hand to the proper combination, but the little one grabs the peg away shouting, "Mine!" The toddler, with her limited experience and knowledge of life, doesn't realize the big person is trying to help. She feels like the big person is trying to take away "Mine!" 

Sometimes maybe we feel that way with God, that He is taking away what we want, what we think we need. Our impulse can be to cry out, "Mine!"  But really, Our Good Father is just guiding our hands like that parent guiding the toddlers hand. We may fight Him just as that little one fights their parent, as we keep wedging that square peg into the round hole, over and over again, confused and frustrated that it doesn't work right. Sometimes we even become angry at Our Good Father because what He gave us doesn't work right! And for some of us, there may be a bit of a temper tantrum now and again, before we give in and accept Our Good Father's assistance.

I want to grow in holiness and wholeness, I want to be a good mother, a good daughter, a good friend, to be of some benefit to society and to God, but sometimes it feels as though my world is falling apart and I am none of these. It's hard to say "Amen" when the day holds sorrow, pain or hardships, let alone to exclaim a heart-felt "Alleluia!"  as Sister Carmella of the Holy Spirit asked for the grace to pray each day, "in the joy of a complete gift."

It's easy to become so focused on what I want that I forget it's His handwriting on the pages of my life, to forget that right now is where He allows me to be, right where I am. I forget that He is the Author of Life, the Author of my life and that He is with me at every moment, through all the lines written by His Good Hands on each page. His writing, His love and grace, can make a happy ending to even the worst story. Our Good Father wants my ultimate good, your ultimate good, even during those moments when we feel totally bereft of Him; even during those moments when we feel like something we want is being pulled out of our hands. If God is emptying our hands it is only so He can place within them a more perfect gift.

Although my life didn't go as planned (by me) last year (especially the concussion part,) it did lead me to appreciate more deeply what a shear gift each day and each moment is to us. Therefore, I do gratefully rejoice, by the grace of God, for the gift of each of the days and moments of 2014, and with Sister Carmella of the Holy Eucharist I say, "...Amen and Alleluia!"

I also say, "Welcome 2015!" and pray,
  "Lord, do with me what You will. I trust and believe that you will fill the pages of each day this next year with what is best for me, Please help me to accept each moment "in the joy of a complete gift," remembering Your great love for me, and that because You long for me to join you someday in Heaven, each line you write on the pages of my life are a gift to lead me closer to You."
Amen, Alleluia!

P.S. Ummm...Lord, it would be nice if my brain problem would keep getting better... But take your time... I trust you...really I do! 

Nov 2, 2014

Of Returning, Brain Injuries, and the Little Way

It has been so long since I last posted here on Little Steps Along the Way that there is nothing to do but to take a giant step of courage and proceed. You may not remember signing up to receive these email updates, and it has been about a year since one would have landed in your inbox.

If you no longer want to have these little visits, please feel free to "unsubscribe" by clicking the link at the bottom of the email. The way I write may be different, and my words may not appeal to you. That's okay, you won't hurt my feelings to "leave" by unsubscribing.

*WARNING! Read at your own risk!*  
My writing may not be smooth (or may not even make sense) because my brain is not always quite right while it is recovering from it's little injury.

Life changes us, God changes us, His love and mercy change us. So much has bubbled up inside me, asking to be shared, but I have lacked the courage to "say it out loud" through my writing. My brain doesn't cease to compose and explain and examine, but rarely have the words come out of my fingers via pen and paper or computer keys, partly due to physical pain and partly due to a fear of the vulnerability that comes sharing oneself through the written word. As friends and family lifted the paralytic through the roof, so my friends and family have begun encouraging me to write, and I hear the Lord saying, "Take up your keyboard and write!" as He once commanded the paralytic to walk. This in no way guarantees the quality of my writing, so don't hold it against our Good Lord if my words don't make sense, annoy you, or are just plain boring. Instead, take an opportunity to offer it up for the Holy Souls this month.

So here's my story. Three weeks ago today I tripped over my own two feet and fell down, landing on my right side and bumping my head. It was enough of an impact to stun me and leave me with a variety of symptoms called post-concussion syndrome.  I have had severe headaches, dizziness, am quickly fatigued, vision disturbances, anxiety some interference with my speech when I have "over done it." There have been three emergency room visits (did I mention anxiety?) with two cat-scans (meow) a neurologist and an upcoming MRI, The cure - "brain rest." Limit TV, computer, reading, music, everything. Even music - a comfort and joy but now I can feel the notes as they seem to land in my brain, and although it is not extremely painful, it is quite disconcerting and in no way relaxing.

During this time my brain has not ceased to put words together (accept for the afternoon that it sang "lalalalalalalalalala" for so long that I thought I was losing my mind!) I have allowed these words to languish within - all the words and phrases and sentences and thoughts and reflections and praises of God. I have felt a growing compulsion to allow to these words to pour out through my fingers and into cyberspace that reminds me of Jeremiah 20:9 "I would say to myself, 'I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more,' but then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not do it."

And so here I am, still struggling along the little way, one day at a time, seeking His will, seeking to serve Him as He asks at the moment. This article is my small "yes" to Him today. It is my little gift to Him. I am picking up my mat and following Him one little step at a time.

Aug 29, 2013

Jesus and the Jar of Pickles - Distractions at Prayer

I admit it. I am not a "morning person." Morning prayer times were not fruitful for me for many years. By "not fruitful," I mean that I would fall asleep whenever I attempted mental prayer in the morning. Even if I was sitting in an uncomfortable pew after morning Mass and wanted to stay for a bit with the Lord, my head would nod and I would startle awake, only to nod off again. I could pray in the afternoon, or late at night and stay awake, but not in the mornings. I read and was told that it was preferable to have a morning prayer time, but I just couldn't stay awake through one!

Well, I have been quite pleased with myself for faithfully praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours the past months – and staying awake. Maybe it's because I pray the Liturgy of the Hours from my phone using the Laudate App and electronics really do keep us awake? Or maybe it's just - cough, cough – middle age? Whatever the grace, I was doing so well that my spiritual director suggested I add the daily Mass readings to my morning prayer time, and that was a nice thought - a little time to meditate on the scriptures before starting the day.  

Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so pleased with myself and my success. After all, Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." I was feeling a little proud, kind of full of myself. Should have known better and remembered - it's all a gift, not me at all, whether I am awake or asleep, it's a gift from God. But I forgot and this week in my exuberance I added in a little something extra in the morning instead of waiting til later in the day. I read the verse of Jesus washing the feet of the disciple, meditating on it and praying for the grace of humble servitude.

Now, we know that distractions at prayer are common, even Theresa of Avila described them in her writings, but it is truly strange what our minds can come up with. My mind came up with a doozy. Somehow while meditating on Jesus washing feet, I could see Our Lord reaching into a jar of pickles and passing them out. Oh, and I knew they were dill chips, because I don't like sweet pickles and Jesus' pickles looked crunchy and tasty; and Our Lord was so very generous as He handed them out.

I didn't realize I was in LaLa Land, not even when I started thinking it would be kind of gross for hands that were just washing feet to be in that pickle juice reaching for pickles and that Jesus MUST have washed his hands before he reached into the jar. But as I continued my prayer time, I couldn't remember any hand washing in the scripture verse. I became a bit befuddled about the pickles and sanitation before finally coming to my senses with The Grand Revelation: There was no jar of pickles at the Last Supper!

It took that Grand Revelation for me to realize that my mind had made it all up. Why? I don't know. Just a random thought that my imagination took and elaborated on, and I followed down that bunny trail of imagining for quite a bit, trying to figure out just when Jesus washed His hands.Or maybe I fell asleep and was having a pickle dream that integrated with the verse I had just read. The "why" doesn't really matter. 

What matters is what we do about distractions. We must pay no attention to them and not get too upset with ourselves. When we realize we have succumbed, the saints say we should "recollect ourselves." We turn away from the distracting thoughts and refocus on the point of mediation, on the scripture verse. St. Theresa of Avila said she always had to have a book when she prayed during a particularly distracting time in her life. Now I understand why! 

As for me, I still can't get that pickle jar out of my mind, and it seems that whenever I picture the Last Supper there will now ALWAYS be a jar of pickles in the hand of Our Lord as He stands up from washing His disciples' feet. I just hope that by the time Holy Thursday comes around this pickle-distraction will have ended. I don't want to feel something is missing if the priest doesn't open up a jar of Kosher Dills after the last foot is washed. Sigh….

We will just keep moving along, one little step at a time. Even when the path is strewn with pickles.

Aug 6, 2013

Can You Love God for Just One Minute?

Edited Image from Microsoft Clip Art Collection August 2013

We want to do great things for God, but sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference. Fr. Rick Pilger gave a small challenge to the parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church  a couple of weeks ago - spend one minute a day telling God you love Him. Just one minute and no one was off the hook. He explicitly said that those who already practice other devotions or prayers should still do this. It's just one minute, after all.

It doesn't sound like much does it? In fact, it sounds like such a little thing that it isn't even worth doing. How can one minute loving God be anything but a waste of time? "Bring on a bigger challenge that is worthy of our greatness," says our pride.

But here is the secret: That one minute is like a tiny seed, planted so quickly and then forgotten. But it grows unseen, finally sprouting above the surface into something beautiful. Just as it isn't a waste of time to plant a seed, our time loving God isn't wasted either. Each minute has an effect on our lives and souls beyond what we can imagine and as much as we permit.

Fr. Rick isn't the first to realize the importance of something small. The Little Flower knew the power of small things, too. Her little way wasn't about doing great and mighty things for God. St. Therese did small things with great love and allowed those seeds to sprout up into even greater devotion. The Little Way is about giving to God the small things that come our way each day and trusting Him to use them for our sanctification and the salvation of souls. We get an awful lot of minutes each day, many opportunities to set just one aside for loving God.

Just one minute loving God. Funny thing how that one minute so easily stretches to five minutes or sometimes more. This has been such a gift for me as I have struggled with prayer time. Meditating on scriptures has been hard for me lately, but I can love God, I can praise God. I love God for that one minute, a minute that I can choose to extend when impelled by love, but at least that one minute each day. By lifting my heart to God, by giving Him just one minute, He is meeting me there and leading me to respond more deeply to His love and mercy.

He is God of the mountains and God of the minutes. Are you willing to do something small and unimpressive for God? Will you love Him for one minute or instead wait to climb a mountain for Him? He will meet you in that minute. Go ahead, love Him and let Him love you back, one minute at a time.