What If, If Only, and Why?

In the book, Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow talks about three “spiritual diseases” that disrupt our calm: What If, If Only, and Why.

What if…

Do you worry about your children, your finances, or your health? What ifs borrow trouble, causing fear about the future, rather than doing our best and trusting God. If we indulge in this spiritual disease, as the author calls it, it will lead us to anxiety. Psalm 112:7 proposes a better way: “[The righteous ones] will have no fear of bad news: their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. (NIV) God doesn’t guarantee us that all will be well, but we know God will be there with us. He will help us through, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Dillow says, “Attack the what ifs,” like Willis Carrier, who writes:

  • Ask yourself, “What is the worst that could possibly happen?”
  • Prepare yourself to accept the worst if you must, and then
  • Calmly proceed to improve on the worst.

If only…

 

We think, “If only this had happened or that hadn’t, THEN we’d be happy/calm/satisfied, etc.” But dwelling on the if onlys expresses a doubt that God is in charge of our lives, that He has our best interest in mind, and loves us very much. We may not understand His choices and the struggles He allows us to bear, but we aren’t God. We don’t see the future, or even the full story of the past and present. As hard as it is when our life seems to be falling apart around us, we must trust Him. If we indulge in if-only thinking, self-pity will lead us to anger.

Dillow reminds us, “There’s an if in every life—something God could have done differently if He had chosen to do so. He has all power, yet He often allows that if to be there.”

She quotes philosopher Epictetus, “I am always content with that which happens, for I think that which God chooses is better than what I choose.”

How does Dillow propose to overcome the If Onlys? She says,

Read Psalm 77 and hear the psalmist’s pain-drenched words:

“My soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, God, and I groaned; …I was too troubled to speak. …Has his unfailing love vanished forever? …Has his promise failed for all time? …Has God forgotten to be merciful?

These questions sound like my questions. But listen to how the psalmist’s despair changes from pity to praise.

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.”

I will remember. This is a key to trusting God. Many nights I have gotten out of bed, taken paper and pen in hand, and forced myself to remember what God has done in the past, to remember His faithfulness to me. As I list all God has done, it helps me to trust Him in the present.”

 

The third “spiritual disease” that steals our calm is:

Why?

Why did our loved one die? Why does a child get cancer? Why am I the way I am?

We don’t know why, and this side of heaven, we might not ever know why. But God does know, and He treasures your loved one, and the child with cancer, and no matter what you’ve done He loves you completely and unconditionally.

I am reminded of Corrie Ten Boom, who in a Nazi death camp asked God why, on top of everything else, her barrack had to be infested with fleas. Before long she realized that because of the fleas, the guards rarely entered her building. As a result, she could lead her bunkmates in studying God’s word. From this she learned how to be thankful in all circumstances.

After reading Ten Boom’s book, I remember trying to pray with thanksgiving on countless nights at 3 a.m., as I fed and calmed a sleepless baby. I look back now and realize she and I bonded in those wee hours when her sisters were asleep. I couldn’t have focused as well on her had she enjoyed her waking hours at the same time as her sisters. When I am stuck on asking why, perhaps I simply have not yet discovered the blessing of whatever “fleas” are in my life.

I love Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. It has become associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, but can be a guiding light for any worriers:

God grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonable happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Blessings on your Lenten week ahead! We are half way!

The Eye of the Storm

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Find your calm.

 

Sometimes we have a right to feel overwhelmed. We are bombarded with responsibilities, or challenges, or trouble. It’s as if we are swept up in a tornado. At times like those, we need to strive to get to the eye of the storm. Some call it centering.

It doesn’t need to be for long, but for our health and sanity, we need to find a way to that peaceful place. Maybe you have a favorite place you can imagine that always makes you feel better: the ocean, a meadow, a mountain view, or on the shore of a lake. Picture yourself in that place and breathe slowly. Next picture God there with you. Just sit a moment with Him. Or talk to Him and tell Him how hard things are right now. Imagine sliding a huge backpack off and letting Him hold it for you.

I’ve heard doctors tell children to imagine a pain machine with all its lights lit. Then the children picture themselves turning down, one by one, the controls that reduce the pain. They watch the flashing lights slow, and one by one, go out.

Some people need to expend energy with a brisk walk or a fast run, or even jumping jacks right where they are. Some find that a particular type of music helps them detach from their escalating emotions.

I’ve heard of therapists who ask people in the throes of a panic attack to count 5 things they can see, then 4 that they can touch, then 3 that they can hear, then 2 that they can smell, and one they can taste. This reconnects people to where they are right now, rather than reliving a past trauma, or obsessing about a future what if.

We need to find ways to move ourselves out of a hurricane-like situation and into a place of calm. If you are a caretaker, you can’t stay there long, but even a few moments will help you feel better.

Even before we have mastered claiming some peacefulness for ourselves, it is possible to…

Be someone else’s calm.

As you learn to soothe yourself, you can become the eye of the storm for others. You can be a soft resting place, a source of encouragement, a soothing person to visit. This world desperately needs people who can bring calm and reason to a situation.

Where do you start?

Not by telling someone to calm down. Particularly in the work place, a man telling a woman to calm down can come across as very patronizing. There are times when anyone, man or woman, is justified to be passionate. Being told to calm down makes a person feel belittled.

Instead, stop and hear what the upset person is saying. Being thoroughly listened to can go a long way towards defusing a difficult situation. Even with children, a demand to calm down without an effort to acknowledge their frustration will only increase the upset. Yes, children need to learn to control themselves. Otherwise, their two-year-old tantrums will become a serious problem when they are teenagers. But hear what they are saying, teach them how to name their feelings, and then how to express them constructively.

Ask an obviously frightened person what needs to change to feel safe. If possible, help him or her change it.

Resist any temptation to judge or criticize. Enough people in the world are ready to pour negativity into others’ lives. A person must feel safe and respected before they can learn from your experience. For now, simply be their safe place. Simply the knowledge that someone else is nearby and willing to help can make a significant difference. Maybe later you can offer them advice or very gentle suggestions, but it won’t be accepted until you have their trust and they know you value them just as they are.

It is especially difficult to bring calm to a situation when someone is angry with you. Particularly someone you care deeply about. My Grandma used to say, “When people are the hardest to love is when they need love the most.” My first reaction to someone being angry at me is to be angry in return. Of course, that doesn’t accomplish much. Rather than the very human response of defensiveness, or worse, going on the offense, take a deep breath, say a quick prayer for patience, and then, if it applies remind yourself how much you love this person. If not, try to remind yourself how much God loves this person. Delve beneath the anger for the underlying emotion of hurt, fear, or frustration. Sometimes simply acknowledging the cause of the anger can defuse the situation. “You were really frightened when you couldn’t get hold of me,” or “I hurt your feelings when I made a joke at your expense,” or “Yes, I can see how I caused you to be frustrated.”

Whether for our own actions or the simple unfairness of this world, offering a sincere, “I’m sorry,” can be the quiet eye of a storm for a person who is weather-beaten by more hardship than they can handle alone.

So strive to find your own calm, but sometimes it is even more important to help others find theirs. You might discover that helping others distracts you from your own worries, or makes you realize they are small by comparison.

Blessings!

Tactics Against Fear

Has the news disrupted your calm lately? Do you worry about the future of our world, our country, our community? Are you afraid for your family?

You’re not alone. I rarely feel uplifted after reading the headlines or watching the evening broadcasts. Within a half hour, we can be presented with terrorism, dire financial predictions, the plight of the homeless, and an increase in cancers, homicides, unfaithfulness, or depression. The news can leave us feeling overwhelmed.

Yet, over and over in the Bible, God instructs us to cast our worries upon Him, to leave tomorrow for tomorrow, and to fear not. The phrase, “Do not be afraid,” appears 70 times in the New International Version of the Bible. Frequently, “Do not be afraid,” is followed by, “or discouraged,” reminding us to act with courage. Some say other versions of this phrase appear 365 times, one for each day of the year. Often the command to not be afraid is followed by a reassurance of God’s protection. God doesn’t want us to go through life frightened about tomorrow.

Does that mean we shouldn’t plan or prepare for the future?

No.

It means God doesn’t want us to be paralyzed by fear, or even worse, to become so overwhelmed that we despair. He asks us to place our trust in Him, for faith casts out fear and allows us to become our best self, ready to do the tasks He sets for us.

When we are afraid, we have tactics we can choose:

  • We can give the situation over to God, trusting Him to be all-loving, then
  • We can face the fear and act to overcome it, or
  • We can turn our backs on the fear.

 

When is each appropriate?

 

1. We Turn to God

 

Let our first reaction to fear be to turn to God.

Yes, we will meet evil, danger, hard times, suffering, and death. We simply cannot avoid all difficulty. Our best arsenal against fear is our trust in God. He is all-good, all-loving, and all-merciful, but our world is imperfect, and we will suffer. When we do, we need to remember what it felt like to be a child comforted on a lap in a rocking chair. Then we crawl into God’s arms to be cradled, knowing this too shall pass, and that we are treasured and loved beyond limits. Our trust in God, and His faithfulness, will get us through.

Some dangers that are very real, but beyond our reach to affect. North Korea is perilously unstable. Legalizing marijuana might result in people driving under its influence. Our children may meet with evil and be unprepared. Cancer or heart disease might lurk within us or our loved ones.

There is a quote from St. Francis de Sales: “The same Everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day of your life. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts.”

So first we “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Once we have placed ourselves in God’s care, we can return our attention to our difficulty and know that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 2. Face the Fear

 

When we are afraid, worried, or overcome with anxiety, we need to ask ourselves how realistic the fear is. Are we in true imminent danger, or are we borrowing trouble that might happen?

If the danger is real, we need to determine the best way to react. Sometimes running away is a great choice. Usually though, facing our fear means we need to calm ourselves enough to think clearly. We need to assess our strengths and weaknesses, apply our strengths to the problem, and take whatever steps we need to overcome our weaknesses. Is the danger something we can lessen, or do we need help from someone else?

For instance, if I’m in danger of not being able to pay my bills, I calm myself so I can assess the situation. I might use my strengths to add part-time work, or to think through where I can cut back. If I know I’m weak in self-discipline or in budgeting, I work to improve my abilities in those areas or seek help from someone who has those strengths. In some of the weeks ahead we will consider ways to overcome weaknesses that disrupt our calm.

3. Turn our Backs on Fear

 

Many fears don’t deserve facing for longer than it takes to realize they are not worth our time. Some things are so unlikely to happen, or so trivial if they do, that we simply need to realize we are wasting our energy if we let them upset us. Does it really matter what an acquaintance thinks about what we do? Or whether a friend has more or is doing better than us at something? Or if we are occasionally embarrassed? Sometimes we turn our backs by deciding the trouble is not important enough to worry about. We let it go.

Summary – When Fear is Overwhelming

When we are overcome with anxiety, we need to calm ourselves. We pray. We take deep, slow breaths. We can meditate. Perhaps we take a brisk walk or run. We might reach out to a friend for help.

When we are calm enough to be able to think clearly, then we can decide whether we need to face our fears or turn our backs on them. If we need to face them, we can begin to plan (with a sense of strength, not fear) and prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, knowing as St. Augustine did that we can “Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on [us].”

Blessings on your week!

 

 

To Regain Our Calm

spring borderThis Lent we will pursue the topic of Calm, how to achieve it or reclaim it.

We all have our moments when we lose all sense of calm. In today’s political climate even our nation seems to lack its ability to deliberate and make decisions from reasoned clarity. Add to that our society’s tendency to expect quick, if not instantaneous results, and our constant electronic connectedness, and we risk a state of endless anxiety.

Anxiety is rarely constructive. If we are influenced by a state of nervousness – hurry, insecurity, a sense of being unsafe—then we are unlikely to think clearly and make reasonable decisions. And we adults are not alone in this. Our children increasingly suffer from anxiety, too, which can lead to depression and contribute to an unhealthy sense of hopelessness.

We must regain our calm! We must learn to self soothe, to take time to gather our thoughts, to step back from the hurry and pressures of this fast-paced life. In the next few weeks we will explore ways to bring calm back to our personal, relational, spiritual, and occupational aspects of our lives. The good news is that an improvement in any area of our lives will improve the other areas as well.

You personally may only need to work in one category of your life. Perhaps your relationships do not cause you to worry, but your work does, or you are organized personally, but your family life feels chaotic. So pick and choose the suggestions you want to try. Any growth will reap rewards!

Personally, I have always struggled to maintain a sense of calm. Although it hasn’t come naturally, that doesn’t mean it can’t be achieved. If I can move myself away from worry and insecurity towards calm and confidence, you can, too.

Here are some enemies of calm:

  • Hurry
  • Overextension
  • Dwelling on our fears
  • Giving in to our fears
  • Disorganization
  • Indecisiveness
  • Procrastination
  • Negativity
  • Selfishness
  • Fear of the future
  • Inconsideration
  • Unwillingness to say no
  • Failure to plan
  • Weariness
  • Poor prioritization
  • Weak self-discipline
  • Insufficient self-confidence
  • Too little prayer or meditation

And perhaps most importantly

  • Lack of trust in God

Do any of the above sound like areas you struggle with? Good! Then you know where to start. This Lent can be a beginning of growth, and strides can be made by Easter!

Here’s your first step. Become aware of when you lose your sense of calm. Are you feeling pressure or even panic? Is your breathing shallow? Are your palms sweaty? Are your muscles tense? Does a quick escape sound tempting, either out of the room, or out of the relationship, or out of the job?

Take a deep breath. Take a step back. Are you in real danger, or does it just feel like it? Think for a moment. Is your body in charge or your mind? Do you need a break to regain your composure, even if it’s just to count to ten? Are you overtired, overworked, or overwrought? We need good rest to be at our best, whether that means going to bed earlier, taking a day off for fun, or setting aside ten minutes to pray.

And yes, all those wise choices we know we should make really do take a toll if we disregard them. Along with rest, we need regular exercise, healthy diets, hydration, social time, creativity outlets, and attention to our spirituality. How are you doing on those areas? Which one, or ones, need attention?

Here’s your homework for the week. Notice when you’ve lost your calm. Think about the areas of balance where you might need to make some changes. We will begin to tackle strategies next time.

Blessings!

 

 

 

 

Hope vs. Anxiety

Hope and a Future   I am thinking about Hope today. In 2010 I published a novel named Hope and a Future. It was based on the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.…” God promises a prosperous future. And yet I still worry. I don’t trust him enough.

    I have a good friend who went through an unwanted divorce a few years ago. I was amazed at her resilience throughout the process. She told me, “I just always figure things will work out well.” And they have for her. Though of course she is challenged by the unanticipated changes in her life, she dwells on the new independence she’s been given, not on what she has lost. Not on how different and unplanned her future will unfold from what she had expected. She exemplifies living with hope.
    It occurs to me, perhaps whenever I feel anxious (which is often—a trait that runs in our family) I’ve lost my sense of hope. I tend to want to plan ahead for what can go wrong, fooling myself that if I anticipate well enough, I can be in control and prevent disaster. I ought to look ahead and wonder what will go right. What unexpected delights are in store for me? How might the event I am nervous about actually turn out to be a gift and a joy? In other words, I need hope.
    What we fear, we can create. If I worry loved ones are becoming distant, I might pester them with a barrage of questions and intrude on their privacy. They will respond by keeping things from me and our relationship will suffer. I could cause what I feared. But if instead I remember God’s words, “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west (Isaiah 43.5),” I can place my cares in the Lord’s hands and with his help, I know I can be strong enough to handle the challenges ahead, and hope-filled enough to anticipate the delights he has in store for me.

The Top Twelve Things about Life that I’ve Learned from Writing Fiction

BSP talk bordered 3Last Saturday, Beta Sigma Phi, the international women’s social, cultural and service organization, invited me to speak at their regional meeting. We had a great time together and I met very impressive women. Here is part of the talk I gave:

 

1. People need to connect emotionally. A writer, to be successful, needs to connect with her readers through the emotions she creates on the page. We, as women, are usually much more aware of the need to interact emotionally with people, than many men who sadly have been taught to focus on productivity rather than relationships.

2. Everyone needs some creativity in their lives. For me writing is therapeutic. For others it might be painting or singing, drama or woodwork. We adults need to play! By trying our hand at creativity, we discover that we can keep learning and improving as we go. Without play we can become dull and mechanical. And we won’t have the imagination to see what we could be, if we try something new.

 3. You can’t make someone like you, or what you write, or even make them read what you write. My oldest daughter can’t bring herself to read my novels because she’s afraid there will be sex in them. No one wants to connect their mother and sex in the same thought. I may have been a little devious lately when my husband drove our daughter and me to Seattle. I read novel # 3 aloud and she was forced to listen the whole way. I have to admit, she could have put on her headphones and listened to music, but she didn’t. She says she tried the door but the child safety locks were on.

4. We all hate to leave our comfort zones. Novels often open with a glimpse of the ordinary life and its challenges. Then some event or person disrupts that life or causes the hero or heroine to have to leave it behind. Our current life starts looking pretty good to us when it is proposed to us we need to change it in order to accomplish some good.

In my first novel, Hope and a Future, poor Colm, who is terrified of flying, must leave Ireland for a temporary teaching position in Portland. Otherwise he would never meet Marjorie!

We all hate to leave our comfort zones. But if no one did, even when it becomes very uncomfortable, we wouldn’t make this world a better place.

5. We are all on a quest. Our life story is written day-by-day as we work toward becoming the best version of ourselves. So is everyone else’s, so it makes sense to sometimes be the subplot friend who helps accomplish someone else’s goal. You never know, you might even be making progress on your goal at the same time. But despite setbacks and detours, we need to keep making progress toward our goal.

6. We need friends to help us along the way. Think of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. Or any 70s sitcom, for that matter. Think of your friends. Without friends, the mission would be doomed.

7. We all have flaws that keep us from being the hero we’d like to be, or doing the deeds that we’d like to accomplish. I struggle with introversion and so I don’t reach out to others as much as I wish I did. Some main characters are proud, or distrustful, or lack self-confidence, or courage. They must overcome their flaws to achieve their goals.

In Hope and a Future, my heroine Marjorie lost her husband of 25 years in a car accident. Her guilt over the failings in her marriage keep her from being open to any new love in her life. Her Irish hero-to-be, Colm, has so many phobias that he lives a very limited life, at least until he starts facing his fears one at a time.

Our weaknesses often are what bring us to growth, when we face them and steadily overcome them, or … at least beat them into submission for a time.

Our flaws, on their flip sides, can be also our gifts. One stubborn daughter is also tenacious and has persevered her way into being a successful engineer. One overly quiet, watchful child grew up and turned her deep thoughts into great academic success, and avoided many common pitfalls by observing and avoiding her friends’ mistakes. One daughter as a teen declared she wasn’t going to work too hard for A’s anymore because she was tired of being a Goody Two Shoes. Now as a school counselor, she has a special connection with the type of students who tend to fall through the cracks.

8. Sometimes going home is extremely challenging. Remember fearful Colm from book 1? He is terrified of horses, and grew up on a horse ranch. In the sequel book 2, Where Hope Leads, his father wants him to come home and take over the business. The poor guy must fly back to Ireland but suffers a panic attack, missing his plane. Going home can be an ordeal.

In book 3, When the Vow Breaks, Kay left an abusive father behind when she fled Montana and moved to Spokane. Now her mother and father need her to return to take care of them. She really doesn’t want to go.

But going home can teach us a lot about ourselves. We all need to look back on our childhood with the eyes of an adult, with the advantage of some time and distance between us and what happened in our families. Sometimes, we can mend hearts that were broken and reconnect to people we truly love deep down.

9. Conflict is good. Our struggles help us to grow so we can overcome that main character flaw that keeps us from succeeding. We fight, we fail, we learn from our mistakes and the next time we get closer before we fail again. But each struggle brings us more information and calls out a better self than we were before. Each attempt, whether a success or failure, leads us closer to our goal.

You might say, “That’s fine for a character in fiction. A good story has to have conflict. In fact, one of the most common errors of new writers is being too easy on their characters. As a mom, I spent 25 years of my life trying to limit, solve, resolve or forbid conflict. I’m not sure I’m done yet. My poor characters, on the other hand, are subject to me increasing, enhancing, and in general bringing all sorts of unpleasant conflict into their lives.

Looking back as a mom, I see how the struggles my children had in their young lives taught them lessons that continue to serve them well in life. One daughter has Tourette Syndrome and had to learn interdependence to make it through. She is just as willing to help as to ask for help and, after working as a special education teacher for several years, is now a mother of two and is back at school working toward a Physical Therapy doctorate. Her personal experience with special needs has made her tender heart want to reach out to help those who struggle to meet goals that are easy for others. Conflict is good.

10. We are often drawn to our opposites. In romance writing, the hero and heroine can be so different that they are at first repelled by each other like opposing magnets. In fact, you can predict the end of a romantic comedy by seeing which man and woman dislike each other the most at the beginning. Consider Mary and Matthew in Downton Abbey. Or Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Somewhere along the way in most romances, the magnetic field flips and the attraction becomes powerful.

Like good romance heroes and heroines, in real life, we are often drawn to our opposites. I think this is because we are meant to learn from our “soul mates” so that their strengths teach us to overcome our weaknesses. We are meant to learn from each other, but we tend instead to polarize and become more extreme in our strengths and weaknesses. The emotional spouse takes over all feeling while the rational spouse takes care of business. Or the introvert becomes overwhelmed by the extrovert, and rather than learn to enjoy a little more socializing, becomes even more protective of privacy. Perhaps the responsible person watches the fun-loving date become an irresponsible spouse and resents him, rather than learning to lighten up a bit and helping the other grow.

In When the Vow Breaks, independent Kay eloped with compliant Wade on graduation night. When they returned home, peace loving Wade agreed to an annulment to appease his mother, thinking it was only temporary. Heart-broken and angry, Kay fled home planning to never return … but then later found out she was pregnant… with twins. (That’s the cruel writer heaping conflict on her poor characters.) But if Wade had learned some independence from Kay, or Kay some peace keeping from Wade, well… it would have been a much shorter, duller novel. As it is, the novel actually starts 18 years later when their twins have just left home.

 

11. We need to use what we’ve gained to help others. At the end of any great quest, the heroine should bring back what she learned, or accomplished, or attained, in order to improve the lives of the people she left behind. In The Lord of the Rings the quest brings peace back to the Hobbit’s Shire. Harry Potter, in every book of the series, makes the world a safer place for wizards and muggles alike. In my sequel to the first novel, Where Hope Leads, Marjorie and Colm both want the other to relocate to their homeland. Marjorie hopes Colm will stay in Portland, and he hopes she will fall in love with Ireland. I won’t tell you who wins, but I can assure you that by the end of the book they’ve grown enough to consider the needs of others as important as their own. When they are willing to be open to God’s leading, they find a way to help their version of the Shire.

And finally…

12. We want satisfying endings, and usually in books, though not always, that means happy ones. Daughter 3 once was so upset when a favorite character died, she threw her book in the freezer to punish it. I think we’ve all gotten to the end of a book or a movie and thought, “No, that’s not the right ending!” We feel like we’ve been cheated. We invested hours in reading or $15 at the theater, and we aren’t satisfied. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks as we move away from the direction he wanted us to head. I imagine he might like to throw us into the freezer for a while. Which might explain me growing up through Montana winters!

I suspect that when our time on this earth is over, we will look back and be satisfied with our lives if we’ve done something meaningful, if we’ve improved this world, either by making it more beautiful, or helping others, or by the wonderful children we’ve raised.

So, to sum up, the truths I’ve learned while writing fiction:

  • Relationships are deepened through sharing emotion. Don’t be afraid to love, laugh, enjoy, but also to cry, grieve, and let anger inspire you to positive action.
  • Expressing creativity sets us apart as human and is necessary for happiness.
  • We can’t make people like us. That’s ok. It’s more important to like ourselves.
  • No one wants to leave their comfort zone, but wombs get tight, and we can’t grow unless we do.
  • Friends make the road seem easier and help us make it through our journey.
  • We will all have challenges. They make life interesting, and as difficult and even devastating as they can be, they help us grow.
  • We are meant to learn from our loved ones how to grow stronger in our weak spots, not how to avoid growing. If both people continue to grow throughout their journey, the travel is sweet indeed.
  • We each have a quest that only we can achieve. To succeed we need to face our flaws and fears and grow through them.
  • Then we need to bring back what we learned for the good of others—
  • So that we can have a satisfying ending.

 

Wishing you all successful quests and meaningful lives.

Mercy is love in action

spring borderLast Sunday, I listened to Luke’s version of Jesus’ passion and death. The words that struck me most profoundly were, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” So spoke Jesus while being murdered; while dying an excruciating death which he didn’t deserve, his prayer is one of forgiveness. How petty I felt in my failure to forgive hurt feelings or slights to my family. How can I justify holding on, ruminating, feeling “righteous” anger, when my wounds are so inconsequential compared to his?

Jesus’ exhortation to us to forgive is not simply for the good of others. Forgiveness, he knows and tries to teach us, benefits us even more. We heal when we forgive others. We grow and discover the joy and happiness we thought someone stole from us.

I know myself. I know I’ll continue to feel umbrage when someone, in my perception, wrongs me. Even more so when they hurt my loved ones. But I hope, through this Lent and the Jubilee Year, I can learn the lessons of mercy that are available to us. May every Good Friday remind me, as I ponder Christ’s suffering, how very small my suffering is and how, with forgiveness, I can reduce it even further.

So how am I doing on forgiving? It’s a process, not a one-time decision. A few recommendations that help me:

  • We should acknowledge the anger and hurt we feel, at least to ourselves. If possible, we should voice it calmly right away to the person who hurt us.
  • Don’t continue to “lick the wound.” Dogs make their sores larger by doing this, and so do we when we dwell or obsess on them. Practice “thought stopping” when you find yourself doing this and instead—
  • Pray for the person who hurt you. Place them in God’s care. Remind yourself you want to be a forgiver.

Here are a few more quotes on mercy and forgiveness from people wiser than I:

Allen Hunt in Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody:

  • Learn to forgive the small things—with friends, family, or coworkers. Be a person of grace. Don’t dwell on the hurts. Recognize you are still prone to mistakes as you become the-best-version-of-yourself, just as others are.
  • Make a conscious decision to forgive. Resolve today you will be a forgiver. Those who forgive benefit from a better immune system; lower blood pressure; better mental health; lower anger, anxiety, and depression; and enjoy more satisfying and longer-lasting relationships than those unable to forgive.
  • Perform an act of kindness. First do it for anyone. Next week, perform a kind act for someone who has injured you. Being kind to someone who has taken advantage of you prevents you from feeling resentful and can also change his or her heart.
  • Write a letter to someone who has hurt you very much. You may choose to mail it or not, but writing the letter is an important first step toward your healing and the release of the power the person holds over your heart. Express the specific hurt and that you forgive the person.

 

Fr. Peter Siamoo:

  • Each family member, and therefore each Christian, should seek to reconcile with all the family members, regardless of the magnitude of the hurt, or who was right or wrong. We know that there are some family members who do not talk to each other. Some have been like this for years. The pope’s intention is that this Jubilee Year should not end while leaving this ungraced state of the family members unchanged.
  • Develop devotion and a habit of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily. (www.thedivinemercy.org ) Read the promises which our Lord gave to St. Faustina Kowalska. Our Lord said to her as she writes in her diary, “It should be of no concern to you how anyone else acts; you are to be My living reflection, through love and mercy. … As for you, be always merciful toward other people, and especially toward sinners.”
  • Extend God’s mercy to anyone who needs it, anyone who has hurt you at any time of your life, whether that person is alive or dead. Forgive without any condition.
  • Be humble enough to ask for forgiveness from those whom you have hurt in any way. If they don’t accept your apology it is not your problem, it is their problem, just pray for them that they may discover the beauty of forgiveness and the joy and peace that come from it so that they may have enough courage to forgive.
  • Reach out to the family and group members whom you know are struggling with forgiveness. Seek to be the reason and agent of family reconciliation, peace, and prayer.
  • Be active in the ministry to the poor and vulnerable in your community to extend God’s mercy and love to them.

 

Pope Francis:

  • Mercy is not only an action of the Father; it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offenses becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. Let go of the hurt, entrust it to the Lord and from the forgiving heart sincerely pray for that person.
  • Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.

 

 

And perhaps two of the simplest quotes, which encompass the others:

  • Mercy is love in action.   – Fr. Donald Calloway MIC
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Matthew 5:7

 

Thank you for welcoming my thoughts—and other authors’ wisdom—into your email and your lives throughout Lent. I hope you’ve enjoyed and grown from at least one of these writings.

Happy, blessed Easter!

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Works of Mercy

Beautiful MercyLast week I quoted from Beautiful Mercy, a collection of authors brought together by Matthew Kelly, about the Corporal Works of Mercy that exhort us to care for the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, imprisoned, and dead.

I suspect every one of us could practice one of the following Spiritual Works of Mercy daily, and our efforts would bring healing to our relationships. Parents, particularly, are constantly given chances to act with mercy for their children’s sakes as they instruct the ignorant or correct sinners. And, oh my, does anyone with siblings or coworkers not have to bear wrongs patiently sometimes? What teen doesn’t need counsel when the human weaknesses of authority figures cause them to doubt? Every marriage can benefit from both parties being willing to forgive offenses willingly and quickly! We struggle to comfort the afflicted as we walk with our friends through their illnesses and heartbreaks. The older we get, the more of each there seems to be. And how do we manage all this when so much is beyond our control? Sometimes all we can do, while at the same time the very greatest work we can do, is pray for the living and the dead.

By now these long posts probably seem daunting and are easy to put off for later. Instead, please read just one of the following each day and ponder the wisdom of the quotes.

Instruct the ignorant (unknowing, unaware)

  • Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6
  • Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. – Pope Blessed Paul VI
  • Instructing the ignorant aims to help each person find his or her role in this great story of salvation, giving him or her meaning and purpose—and ultimately a mission to do the same for others. – Sarah Swafford

Counsel the doubtful

  • To counsel means to assist someone in the act of deciding, not just to give vague or generic advice. Giving counsel to the doubtful is that work which helps the undecided to come to a good and upright decision rooted in the call to holiness and the goal of attaining Heaven by God’s grace. – Msgr. Charles Pope
  • We do not need a degree in theology or catechetics to counsel the doubtful. We all know that some of the most convincing people of faith have been the simplest individuals we’ve known. They just love God and their neighbor and live straight from the heart. … God doesn’t need us to defend him, but these hurting doubters do need our forbearance. People should be able to say of us: “If your God is anything like you, I want to know him.” – Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

Correct sinners

  • Are you a sinner? So am I. That is a good place to begin. – Matthew Kelly
  • Whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:20
  • The key is to recover what it means to be merciful in our communication of truth. Are we patient and self-sacrificing with those who need to hear the truth? Are we courteous and do we avoid a confrontational style that will easily lead to closed hearts and minds? Do we recognize our own weakness and sin in humility? Are you prepared to gently and reverently reveal what God has done in your life? Are you deeply aware of your own need for a savior? Love builds a bridge over which truth can pass. – Daniel Burke

 

Bear wrongs patiently

  • Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
  • On earth, did Jesus act out of a sense of fairness? No, he acted out of love. For love to endure it must be patient, especially in the face of injustice. – Matthew Kelly
  • The wounds we have received didn’t come about overnight, and the healing won’t take place overnight either. It takes time, perseverance, and determination. … Regardless of where you have been or what you have done, be at peace. The only sin God won’t forgive is the one you will not ask forgiveness for. – Matt Fradd

Forgive offenses willingly

  • The Our Father is an incredibly powerful prayer. Pray it slowly, and let the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” sink deep into your heart. – Matthew Kelly
  • Mercy is required when we are faced with the inexcusable and tempted to declare those offenses unforgivable. When we experience the scandalous, unjust, lavish, outrageous mercy of God at the depth of our being, it will utterly transform us. Our attempts to hold on to past grievances and harden our hearts to those who have caused us injury will seem to be mere comedy. – Fr. James Mallon
  • While forgiveness is a decision, an act of the will, it is rarely an event. For many of us, forgiveness is a process. First, a person has to realize that he has been hurt. Second, since mercy is rooted in justice, one needs to weigh what the other person “owes” him. Third, he or she is called to make this one decision: “While justice demands that you give me what you owe me, I will not make you pay me back. I release you from your debt.” You may have to repeat this process many times for the same offence. But each time you do, you will become more and more free, and you will become more and more an image of Jesus Christ himself, who forgives our offenses willingly. – Fr. Mike Schmitz

Comfort the afflicted

  • Blessed be…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:4
  • In the midst of a sin-saturated world, people need to know that they matter, that their pain matters, that they are seen. … What a difference the presence of a comforter can make. … Nothing makes us more effective ministers of comfort than having suffered ourselves. Not one of your tears of pain will be wasted if you allow them to be redeemed in the life of another. God can use every ounce of what you have been through to make this world a better, kinder place. – Lisa Brenninkmeyer
  • To step out of my own needs and my own preoccupation and take notice, and then to move into another’s life with comfort, is not only a revelation of the nature of the universe and the God who freely chose to create it, it is also the key to unlocking God’s mercy in our own lives. – Curtis Martin

Pray for the living and the dead

  • The basic belief is that nothing, neither life nor death, separates us from the love of Christ (see Romans 8:35). Praying for the faithful departed is an expression of great love in Christ. – John Michael Talbot
  • Perhaps one of the greatest joys of heaven will be seeing how much of a difference our prayers made, even the distracted and perfunctory ones. … Our deceased loved ones go to the judgement seat of Christ. And that is worth praying about! How consoling and merciful our prayers must seem to our beloved who have died! – Msgr. Charles Pope

 

Blessings on your final week of Lent!

Corporal Works of Mercy

Beautiful MercyIn his book, Beautiful Mercy, Matthew Kelly enlists the help of 26 authors to discuss the quality of mercy, particularly organized around the corporal works of mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead) and spiritual works of mercy (instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, correct sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead.) He suggests we imagine how the world would be different if everyone practiced just one work of mercy each day. Are you willing to take him up on the challenge?

Here are ideas from his book, and a few suggestions from me (B) for the corporal works of mercy. Next week we can look at the spiritual works.

Corporal Works of Mercy

Feed the hungry

  • Give money, adopt a child in a poor country, volunteer at a food pantry, make sandwiches for the homeless, give change to a beggar, take food to a shut in. – Fr. Larry Richards
  • Organize a food drive, start a food pantry at your parish, make dinner for a family in need, make dinner for your family with love, “bring home the bacon” for your family, start a walkathon to provide for the poor. – Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC
  • See if your church, like ours, takes meals to the homeless regularly. Bring a casserole or be one of the servers. Volunteer for Meals on Wheels. – B

Give drink to the thirsty

  • “The Latin word for mercy, misericordia, means ‘a heart which gives itself to those in misery.’” Become a living witness to the well of Christ’s “living water” for others. – Christopher West
  • I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to find folks who thirst. A friend who single-parents a child with special needs thirsts for compassion, understanding, and welcome. And often my own family thirst for my care and attention. – Lisa M Hendey
  • Conserve water at home. Consider a donation to organizations that provide safe water to communities; see http://water.org . – B

Clothe the naked

  • Give your extra clothes to those in need, knit caps for those losing their hair to cancer, extend your Christmas gift lists to buy clothes for those in need. – Dr. Allen R Hunt
  • Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12
  • Choose a day annually or seasonally when you simplify your closets and donate the excess to local charities. – B

 

Shelter the homeless

  • Support groups like Catholic Charities who provide homes for the homeless, volunteer at a homeless shelter. Family must always be home, the shelter for the lonely, disabled, or elderly family members who can no longer care for themselves. Family members should never feel homeless, no matter what their condition. – Cardinal Donald Wuerl
  • Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2
  • Work for legislation to help the homeless. – B

Visit the sick

  • There is no substitute for human interaction. You can send a gift, make a phone call, write a letter, even say a prayer, but nothing compares to a smile and a hug. Nothing says “you matter,” “you have dignity,” “you are loved” quite like a personal encounter. – Matthew Kelly
  • Whether they are physically ailing or “sick at heart,” just a visit can be healing…. Just being present and praying is all that is needed. Do not forget about members of your own family who might need a visit. Without being a medical professional, you visited, you healed, and you gave comfort! – Fr. Donald Calloway MIC

Visit the imprisoned – ransom the captive

  • One of the wonderful parts of being in a merciful community is that our fellow community members are able to see things in us that we might not see in ourselves. … gifts, talents… They see our faults too. We help each other stay on the right path when we can. And even in our imperfection, our own brokenness, we can help others heal. Together, and with the grace of God, we are lifted up, let out, set free. – Kerry Weber
  • The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Luke 4:18
  • Treat a caregiver to a break, whether by babysitting, or sitting with someone’s elderly parent. Volunteer with prison ministry. Look for groups that assist families of prisoners. – B

Bury the dead

  • I have seen the birth of such life in young women who came to the fountain of mercy after suffering from abortion and in young men who came seeking healing after being wounded in the darkness of pornography and addiction. … Yes, it is painful to be at Calvary, yet because there I meet Jesus, the one who is the life and Resurrection, even when I’m there to bury the dead or walk with those who are spiritually dead, I stand there with hope, to carry hope, and to pass on hope. – Mother Olga Yaqob
  • You matter. When everything boils down, that is what this work of mercy—burying the dead—is all about. Looking closely, we see that this work of mercy actually hits home in the most intimate place of our hearts: our deep thirst to know that even our greatest vulnerability—death—doesn’t take away the meaning and purpose of our bodies. Rather, in death, our bodies separated from our souls in the ultimate poverty and powerlessness, await Someone who will come and bring this body back to life. In burying someone we are saying: “You are worth reverencing. You are sacred. And you belong to Christ.” With this act, we surrender to the earthshaking reality of the truth of ourselves, body and soul, and the mad love God has for us. – Sr. Marie Veritas, SV

I’ll close with this quote from Fr. Larry Richards: “Now you might be thinking, ‘OK, OK, I should start to do something.’ But thoughts and good intentions are not enough—you need to turn these thoughts into reality. So what are you going to do? [..]. Let God use you and start to change the world!”

 

Letting Go of Guilt 2

B hat bordered

 

 

Welcome back!

Last week we began Fr. Peter Siamoo’s steps to forgiving ourselves, or granting ourselves mercy.

 

We covered:

  • Acknowledge what we’ve done.
  • Talk about it.
  • Learn from it.
  • Make peace with it.

 

This week we will continue with Father’s words.

Since we are social beings created for a purpose in life, any mistake we commit has three dimensions. It is against God, it offends and hurt others, and it hurt us. If we want peace to be restored after mistakes, then we need to touch or address those three dimensions, namely God, others, and oneself.

Ask for and accept forgiveness from God.

 

What kind of God do you believe in? The majority of religions including the three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) believe in God who is loving and forgiving. Those religions have different ways of seeking and obtaining God’s forgiveness. (Sacrament of Reconciliation, Lent, Yom Kippur, Ramadan.) The common point is God readily forgives our transgressions when we sincerely ask for it.

Use whatever you are familiar with according to your faith tradition and seek God’s forgiveness to free yourself from the negativities of past mistakes.

Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).

Forgive and request forgiveness from others.

 

Give forgiveness. Despite the hardship of forgiving major transgressions, choosing not to forgive is not an option for the spiritual, psychological, emotional, and even physical wellbeing of the offended.

The perpetrator has already wounded you. He or she does not have the credibility, dignity, nor honor to be remembered and carried in your heart all the time. We might occasionally remember them when we are praying for their conversion, asking God to change their hearts to make better choices for their sake and the sake of other people who might be the recipient of their poor choices, as we once were. Otherwise we need to let them go from our hearts.

What is the right thing to do when I feel that I cannot forgive, at least not for now? Do not condemn yourself by saying “I will never forgive!” Rather, it is better to tell yourself or the other person for that matter, “I do not feel ready at this time!” You need to process more. You may need help from a professional counselor, spiritual director, or your clergy to assist you as you explore and make a safe way out of that mess. It means you are not permanently putting yourself in the corner of “lack of inner peace” where you might not have an escape.

Be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. The scriptures indicate that God prefers reconciliation over sacrifice. We read, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24).

 

Since asking for forgiveness works whether the victim accepts your request or not, it gives you 100 percent control of the situation or process. This means you are not under the mercy of anybody while working to free yourself from the bondage of those negative emotions which rob you of your peace. This fact makes you ultimately in charge of the entire process of restoring your peace.

Forgive yourself

 

Do you remember the saying, “Charity begins at home?” If it is good for other people to be forgiven of their transgressions, it is good also for me to forgive my own transgressions. But forgiveness of self is a very unfamiliar concept to most of us.

Self-love is biblically mandatory and demands self-forgiveness: When our Lord was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He replied:

“The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Luke 10:27)

In summary, forgiving yourself after messing up is:

  • An act of appreciation for God’s love and forgiveness; it is accepting it and owning it
  • Self-love that restores your inner freedom and peace
  • A choice you make to acknowledge and accept God’s mercy and choose to treat yourself better than what you think you deserve for doing that wrong thing
  • Worth doing it because you are special and unique and therefore you deserve a better life than carrying guilt around
  • A way of imitating God who has forgiven you, and
  • Important to be happy, since life is short, and we should make the most out of it

 

Make amends

 

As a last step of the process of inner peace restoration, do something small or big, as the situation demands, to repair the damage and restore the relationship.

Where possible, pay back the whole of what is owed and repair the damage in full. More often it is impossible to make a full repair. In that case amends as a token should be made. It is necessary, acceptable, and enough.

It might demand further action to prevent future occurrences of the same mistake such as attending anger management classes, DUI classes, AA meetings, or seeking help from counseling professionals, etc.

As a closure of the process, making amends is intended to open a new page and start a new chapter of the restored relationship. Psychologically, it might make the perpetrator feel better that at least he did something positive to make up for the mistakes, and to the offended that the offender desires a new beginning and cares enough to do something about his mistakes.

Yes, being perfect is our call and our goal, but it is also true that no one is there yet. Demanding perfection of ourselves sets a path for hopelessness and despair which are a good recipe for low self-esteem and depression.

The point is, love yourself enough to forgive!

 

Thank you, Fr. Siamoo, for your wise words. We hope it won’t be long before your full book on this subject finds a publisher!

 

Next week, Works of Mercy. Blessings until then!

 

 

 

 

 

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