I got nothing

What do you do when your spiritual gas tank is on “Empty”? When your prayers sound like you’re talking in an empty auditorium, with nothing but a hollow echo in response. When it looks to you like the bad guys are going to win and the good guys will be humiliated. What do you do with that sadness inside that won’t go away? What do you do?

This phenomenon is not new. Even Jesus, God’s one and only flesh and blood “begotten” son experienced the pain of feeling cut off from God. Mother Theresa lived in that blackness for decades. It’s a mystery, but it’s also a real part of the Christian experience. What do you do?

I start by praying. Even though my prayers don’t seem to have the response they used to, I stick to my prayer routine. Time and the experiences of Jesus and the saints has proven that God hasn’t gone anywhere; we’ve just lost our own personal feedback loop. Your prayers are still getting through; have faith and stick to it.

I look for someone who needs my help. It’s a basic truth even though it doesn’t seem to be logical. The best way to overcome your own sadness is by making someone else happy. It’s dark inside; look outward.

I have faith. God’s creation is immense, complex and mysterious. No human can take it all in or truly understand how one thing affects another. But God does, and his plan is for our benefit. Because he loves us.

So, when I have nothing else, I know that I have God’s love. And that’s more than enough.

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Thy will be done

Your will be done

Sometimes, I hate those words. I finish all of my prayer times by saying; “your will be done.” I lay out all of the needs that I have for myself and the people around me, and I offer up my requests for the day. And then I close with, “thy will be done.” But oftentimes that’s not what I really want.

The willful, self-centered me wants it my way. I am the man in the midst of the action, and whether it’s healing, guidance, a miracle or a parking space, I can clearly see the right solution for the world’s needs; or at least for my needs. Dear God, I’m humble, but please trust my judgement in this case.

I was sitting in church yesterday, marveling at the people around me. To my left was a family whose daughter was in the hospital suffering, and yet here they were at mass, asking God for strength. Behind me was a wife sitting by herself because her husband was at home recovering from having donated a kidney. In front of me sat a shy man who was no doubt thinking about a speech he was to give that night about his struggles to find God. Over there, an empty spot where an elderly couple had sat. Empty because the wife was in her final hours on earth, and her husband was at her side. Your will be done.

God, you have given us each our own path to walk. Each one of those paths is different. We will enjoy great moments and we will despair during great trials. You have given us self-will, to decide how to react to the obstacles, challenges and gifts that we will encounter in our path. We can tell you that the path is just too hard, and turn away. We can soldier on miserably. We can jump off the path and decide to make our own way if it looks like our way makes more sense. Or we can simply walk forward, one more step at a time; trusting that this is the right path for us.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was terrified. He knew what was coming and he was in agony, so much so, that he literally “sweated blood,” (see Luke 22:44).  He could see the next obstacle; the cross. He had a choice to make. He could have chosen to walk away. He begged God for another way out. But he closed his prayers with, “They will be done.” And because he did, he saved my life.

I doubt that I’ll be faced with the agonizing choice Jesus had to make. My obstacles are more of the, “do I say bad things about that guy or don’t I?” variety. “Do I give or do I withhold?” “Do I go, or do I stay?” I cannot save the entire world, as Jesus did. But I can relieve a little bit of suffering here and there. I can share a burden or two. I can make this small spot on earth just a little better for the people around me today.

What would Jesus do?

Thy will be done.

Jesus the man, Jesus the God

Happy Easter! Once again, God reminds us of his over-the-top, perfect, all-consuming love for you and I. He gave us everything to show us the path to both earthly and eternal joy.

Jesus the man gave us the ultimate human gift: his life. But he gave more than that. He lived among us, teaching us new ways of looking at life and at each other. He gave us a model for living that has endured for thousands of years and that is so effective it underlies the social structure of half the world. He endured humiliation, punishment, and a painful, gruesome, and worst of all an unjust, death. And at the climax of his undeserved agony, he asked God to forgive his tormenters, because, he said, they didn’t realize what they were doing. Jesus the man gave humanity a new Way to live.

Jesus the Christ gave us even more. He endured our abuse of him, our humiliation and, worst of all, our turning away from him. The One who created the world and the people of the world allowed those same people to kill their creator. He demonstrated for us what the truest love looks like. We rejected him, but he never lost faith in us and never turned away from us. And then he gave us even more.

He rolled aside the stone that lay between life and death to show us that there need not be “death.” Our God allowed himself to die in the flesh to show us that the flesh will rise again, and that the spirit never dies. Jesus went to Heaven, where there is no pain, no suffering, no tears. But he didn’t stay there. He returned to us. After all we had put him through, he came back to us to show us in the most convincing way possible that there truly is a heaven, that there is a place for us there, and the Way to get there is to simply walk hand in hand with Him.

…and I haven’t even started talking about the gift of God as the Holy Spirit. More on that later..

God bless you, and may you and your family have a most blessed Easter.

Does God cry?

I have often wondered whether God cries. God is all powerful and one would think He is too strong to cry. He is the great I Am, the Alpha, the Omega and everything in between. As modern scholar/philosopher/filmmaker Father Robert Barron puts its, God is so immense and unfathomable that, “if you understand, that’s not God.”

But does God cry? We know He gets angry. The Bible is filled with anecdotes of God’s anger boiling up over our faith-ancestors’ adolescent actions. People are getting smited right and left in the old testament. In modern terms, Jesus “lost it” in the temple when he chased all the money changers out with a home made whip. The word “Anger” might not be as common a phrase in the Bible as hope, charity or faith, but it’s definitely in the top fifty Google searches.

And we know He gets happy. Especially when one of us lost sheep finds our way home. “I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk 15:17). God feels anger, God feels joy, and God IS love. So does God weep?

I think He does. After all, for every one of those lost sheep who come home, how many are led astray to their death? How many people around us are dead in faith, captives of worldly pleasure? If God rejoices over the one who was lost and is found, surely he is heartbroken by the one thousand who become lost and are never found. To know love is to know pain. How much more for the one who IS love?

One of my most painful childhood memories is my mother sobbing over a favorite antique dish that two of her rambunctious children had broken (my brother pushed me). It wasn’t the scolding that hurt, it was Mom’s tears. It was the sadness that remained after the anger. Knowing my foolishness had caused pain to this beautiful woman who I loved was worse than any punishment she may have dished out.

Does God cry?

Perhaps someday a global independence day?

Happy 4th of July, brothers and sisters. I hope your plans for the day include some strolling through your neighborhood, perhaps a few front porch conversations, a visit to the local fair, or maybe just a phone call to Mom. A midweek holiday is a fun time for the constitutionally-assured “pursuit of happiness,” whatever that happens to look like for you. Enjoy your day.

During your prayer time today, you might want to ask God to bestow a few blessings of liberty on the Egyptian Coptic Christians, who have been suffering the brunt of religious intolerance as that country learns the hard lessons on the path to democracy. I’ll be praying that the ouster of their president leads to a little less “Muslim Brotherhood,” as that particular group calls itself, and a little more brotherhood of humanity.

No religion can claim perfection when it comes to tolerance. Sadly, throughout human history, each of the major religions has taken its turn as persecutor of those who believe differently. Catholics, Jews, Muslims and others have all suffered in turn. To compound the grief, too often that suffering drives the persecuted to become the persecutors in the next generation. This is not God’s plan or desire for us. I don’t know why God created different paths for His children. There are a lot of things about His creation that I don’t understand. But I do know that He has given me two very simple commandments, and that every action I take must fit into those commands: love Him and love my neighbors…all of them.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” –Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence.

All about niggling

Niggling is a multipurpose word. (And I didn’t make it up, honest.) It’s a noun, a verb, an adverb and an adjective. All of its forms convey the same thing: pestering or being pestered by the annoying, small, and trivial things. Giving the small stuff more weight in our lives and thoughts than they deserve. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, the fly that won’t stop buzzing around your ears, and the itch between your shoulder blades.

One big problem with niggles is that, in getting wrapped up in our own problems, too often we become the “niggle” in someone else’s life. We are the rude customer, the spouse with the annoying habit or the careless driver on the highway. In our self-centeredness we forget about the people next to us, focusing on our own petty needs (or our own internal niggles), and as a result, we thoughtlessly bump into their lives.

Being human, we can’t help but deal with niggles. They are everywhere in our lives. Niggling little problems crop up at home, at work, even in church (like that guy behind you who can’t carry a tune…oops, that’s me; sorry!). Our humanity, which allows us to hunger, thirst, be bored and tired, thrives in a world of niggling. What’s a soul to do?!

Saint Paul had a niggle in his life. He never tells us what it is, so I don’t want to suggest that it’s a niggling niggle, but it is a “thorn in the flesh,” that annoys Paul. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said he asked God three times to take it away, but God told him to live with it, because God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” Rather than continue to complain about whatever was niggling at him, Paul embraced God’s word, and tells us to be “content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So the next time you’re being niggled, remember the words of St. Paul to his friends in Corinth, and “boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell within me.”

Futureophobia

I’m feeling miserable this morning. I am at my cabin in the woods. It’s a peaceful winter morning. I was up early, my favorite time of day. I have a warm cup of coffee, I’m sitting in my easy chair, wrapped in a blanket, looking at the beautiful view in front of me. God has given me way more blessings than I deserve. And I feel crummy.

Why? Futureophobia. Instead of enjoying this blissful quiet moment with God and His creation I am stewing about a meeting I have to attend four days from now. I’m worrying about a handyman project in the basement, and whether a flaw in the concrete floor will create problems years from now. I have a chest cold, and I’m worried that it could become pneumonia. I have futureophobia; the fear of tomorrow.

Can I change tomorrow? I can prepare for it, but, no, I can’t change it. Will Thursday’s meeting be a disaster? No; there may be some conflict between strong personalities, but we’ve all been through that before. Will the basement floor be a problem in five or ten years? I have no idea, but if it is, there are solutions that can be applied. Will I develop pneumonia? Probably not, but that’s why we have doctors, nurses, and patient spouses who know how to brew tea.

In all of these cases nothing has to or can be done about them now. It’s 6:30 a.m., and it is my private meditation time. Now is the time for contemplation of God’s beautiful world. I have set aside time later today to prepare for Thursday’s meeting; I will read up on flooring techniques before I install a finished floor over my bad concrete (months from now); and I will drink fluids, rest, and keep an eye on my cold. None of those things require my attention right now.

God wants us living right now, not tomorrow and not yesterday. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”–Matthew 6:33.

Enjoy this day that God has made.

The $64,000 question: Why does God allow suffering?

God, I am hurting today. It hurts bad. Why do I need to hurt? Please make it stop.
Have you ever said those words to the Almighty? I suspect we have all said some version of that prayer, if not about ourselves, then about a loved one, friend, coworker or victims of a senseless crime or natural disaster. Lets face it, no matter how joyfully we live our lives, there is pain in this world, a lot of it. People get hurt who have not done anything wrong. The innocent pay. And we ask our God, who is love, why?

The frustrating thing is that, while I have had many prayers answered in my life, they are seldom the ones I ask in the midst of agony. Those times when you would seem to need God the most, when you are flat on your face begging for relief, are the times that the door to heaven seems to be closed tightly, the windows are dark and no one is answering the bell. Why?

When Job, the Bible’s poster child of suffering and injustice, asked God, what he received in reply was a strongly-worded, “I am God; what’s your next question?” From Job until today, humanity has never been satisfied with that answer. And we have never divined a more complete answer to this question.

Is it that God does not answer the question, or could it be that He knows there is no answer that would satisfy us? While we are in our pain we are deep within ourselves and not willing or able to understand a universe-size, eternity-long “big picture.” We want the pain to go away, we don’t want to understand why the pain is necessary.

My two year old granddaughter taught me this. A few days ago, she was staying with us while her mom and dad were out of town. She was upset at the breakfast table, and no cajoling, stern commands or threats of lost privileges would get her to eat. The situation deteriorated, as situations with toddlers do. Finally, she cried in woeful honesty, “I want something,” but when asked what she wanted, she would only repeat, “I want something.” She didn’t know what she wanted, she just wanted her unhappiness to go away.

Us “big people” may think we are not like that, that we know what we want, particularly during times of pain. But is our understanding of our own wants and, more importantly, our needs better than our Eternal Abba’s? Aren’t we after all as simple as my granddaughter in God’s eyes? We see with human eyes; our vision of eternity is veiled. We feel human hurts and we see human injustice, but we can’t comprehend eternal justice or the balance scale that God uses.

Think about world politics, economics, or the environment. Would you say humans have done a good job balancing the wants and needs of our world? Any of them? Is your own world “in balance”? Are we really fit to judge when suffering is unnecessary?
There was no way to console my granddaughter with dietary logic, philosophy or discipline. The only thing that made any difference was holding her in my arms, and assuring her that she was loved, until the pain went away.

Suffering will come again. We will cry out in pain, in anger, or in confusion. “God, why? Please make it stop.” Perhaps that prayer will be answered for you right at that moment. But if not, take a lesson from my granddaughter. Accept that there are some things that you can’t understand, and then allow yourself to be cuddled by an eternal Father who loves you and wants what is best for you and for all his children.