Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Live Like You Were Dying...for Others!

If you had asked me a week ago what the secret of life was...I would have told you to "live like you were dying." It seemed to me that the real "trick" to life was to always believe this could be your last moment...the last time you'd be with a particular person or the last time you'd be at a particular place...and so you had to seize the opportunity....say what you really want to say...do what you really want to do...and not put anything off...leave no regrets. I truly believed that to really live we had to be continuously aware of the significance of each moment...of how valuable each second of our lives really was...and I had to keep that in the forefront of my mind. This is what I believed. And so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to really be in a particular moment. I felt like I needed to be hyper-aware of what was going on....of the preciousness of each moment. I had to truly appreciate where I was and who I was with...and then save that moment in time...by making it incredible.

To put it mildly, I was giving myself a tall order. And as you can probably imagine...I never really figured out how to do it. It seemed the more I focused on the importance of the moment...the more I missed the actual moment. I mean I would gear myself up for some event...tell myself over and over that I had to pay attention...I had to stay focused and be in the moment...wherever I was. Somehow I had to appreciate the gift of this time with this person or these people. But inevitably, no matter how hard I tried to remain cognizant of the moment, I'd find myself after the event, thinking about how fast the time went...and how it didn't seem quite memorable enough...or how I wasn't really as "there" as I needed to be. And I would walk away feeling like there went another missed opportunity...a missed moment.

The whole thing kind of reminds me of that scene in Spaceballs where they wind up watching the movie Spaceballs in the movie and eventually (after fast forwarding) catch up to where they currently are in the movie.
Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
Colonel Sandurz: You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.
Dark Helmet: What happened to then?
Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We're at now now.
Dark Helmet: Go back to then.
Colonel Sandurz: When?
Dark Helmet: Now!
Colonel Sandurz: Now?
Dark Helmet: Now!
Colonel Sandurz: I can't.
Dark Helmet: Why?
Colonel Sandurz: We missed it.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now.
Dark Helmet: When will then be now?
Colonel Sandurz: Soon.

I really started doubting whether it was even possible to really be present in the moment on a consistent basis. I mean certainly there are times in our life when something gets etched in our minds....when something makes such an impression that we will never forget it...and usually those are moments when we were truly IN the moment (for better or worse) and we weren't really conscious of anything else in the world. But those times are rare and natural. They can't be contrived. No, it seems to me that normally we are moving through time so quickly that all we can do is look back.

But then the other day I think God rescued me from this misguided "wisdom." You see, it hit me that while I can't seem to remain self-consciously present in each moment...I can do some good...and I can be present for someone else. And there it was. I had been so preoccupied with what I thought the moment (or my being in the moment) should be for me...that I lost sight of one of the most important things in life...and more importantly in Love: we are not here for ourselves, but for God...and for others.

As I started working through this new idea...tossing it around in my head...I realized how very doable it is. While it may be true that I can't remain super aware of the meaning and significance of each moment while I am in it...and therefore am not really appreciating and valuing each moment as if it was my last...I can think about what the person or people I am with at each moment need...and then I can do what I can to meet that need.

Maybe sometimes this means lending a hand to help them accomplish some task...or at other times it may mean offering an encouraging word or sharing some piece of my own experience to help them make sense of something that is happening in their lives. But often...and maybe most of the time...it probably just means listening...validating who they are...letting them see and feel that they are worthy of attention...that their story and experience matters. Whatever form it may take...it means loving the people who are with you in each moment.

Sure sometimes this will mean sacrifice...it will mean humbling yourself...maybe forgoing your own story or experience. It may mean giving up some of your own time and the plans you had for it. It may mean pushing your body a little harder...skipping that extra sleep you thought you needed or settling for a less splendid meal. In short it may mean dying to self.

And so maybe I didn't have it all wrong. Maybe the secret to life still is to "live like you were dying"...only there's a bit more to it. The dying we do...the self that we crucify...is not for our own sake...but rather for the sake of others. We are to seize the day...but not for ourselves...we are to seize it for others. I believe God does want us to be in each moment (after all life IS a precious gift)...but He wants us to be in each moment so that we can make it better for others....not for ourselves. In short, I guess I almost had it right. We ARE suppose to live like we are dying....but we are suppose to live like we are dying for others!

Thank you Father for opening my eyes...for freeing me from the frustration of my imperfect reasoning...and for showing me continually how to live. Help me to bring Your love into each moment...and help me to make each moment better for those around me...no matter the cost.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

If I Really Want God's Help

The "Wedding at Cana" has always been a challenging story for me. I mean I get the miracle...obviously. And the foreshadowing seen in the water being turned into wine. But what I have always struggled to really "get" is the interaction between Mary and Jesus.

Here they are at a wedding...and presumably it was a relative of theirs since Mary seems to be involved in (or at least aware of) the behind-the-scenes details...and they run out of wine. Mary turns to Jesus and tells Him that they are out of wine. And no matter how many times I look at it, I always read Jesus' first response as sort of flip and indignant...something along the lines of "so how is this my problem?" But obviously that isn't what Jesus means. Still it's curious that He doesn't immediately show concern...or even an inclination to help. But of course in the end He does...and we have Jesus first public miracle.

So I started thinking through this today (while working my way through the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary), and I think God pulled the veil back a little bit on this for me. I think maybe that what we have here is a lesson (once again taught to us my Mary) in seeking God's help in our lives.

First, I think maybe the initial exchange between Jesus and His Mother reveals God's desire that we open our hearts to Him and share our true desires and wants (and fears) with Him. You see....initially...Mary doesn't ask anything of Jesus. She simply states a fact, "they have no wine." And because Mary hasn't asked anything of Him....because she hasn't really shared her desire with Him....her "ask"...Jesus pushes back a bit and wonders aloud what this has to do with Him. In essence He is inviting Mary to be more explicit...to think about what she is really saying...and to share her heart's desire with Him. And I think He wants the same from us. Certainly He hears (and answers) our prayers of "Help me, God" or "I Need You" or whatever. But I think His ultimate desire is that we develop the awareness within our self to understand our real desires and motivations...and then the courage to voice them to Him...Our Creator. It's not as if He doesn't already know them. But He wants us to share them nonetheless. He wants to hear them from us...offered freely...by choice. After all, this is what real relationship is right? Sharing yourself with another person...being open...being vulnerable. That's what God desires for each of us...to be in a real relationship with Him. And so to do that, we have to share our hearts.

The second part of this wedding lesson for me is that if we really want His help...not only do we have to ask for it explicitly (and again with full disclosure of our motivation(s))...but we also have to do what He tells us. It seems more and more as I learn and spend time with our Mother, I realize what an incredible teacher she is...what an incredible gift her life is to us. I always hear how Mary points us to Jesus. And while there was a time I thought that was just Catholics trying to make the whole "Mary thing" more digestible to non-Catholics, I'm realizing more and more that it is simply the truth. Mary does point us to Jesus...time and time again.

So here we are, at the Wedding in Cana, and we find Mary telling the servants...and us (since we are servants after all)...that whatever He says to you...do it! You see...again we find that Jesus wants to involve us in His life...in His miracles...in His gifts. I'm sure that Jesus could have simply made the waterpots full of wine. He didn't need anyone to make this miracle happen. But yet He sought the cooperation of others...of us. And just like He had done with Mary. Certainly He could have been born without her consent. The Creator of the universe doesn't need our permission for anything. And for that matter He could have simply redeemed the world without our involvement at all. But yet He didn't. He chose to bless us...not simply by saving us all to begin with...but also allowing us to experience the joy...the immeasurable blessing of participating in our salvation. And just like the first time....here at the Wedding we see Mary once again demonstrating how we are to submit to Him...to His will. "Whatever He tells you, do it." How very reminiscent of her first response, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

And so the second piece of receiving God's help is obedience....submission...letting go. We often hear people talking about "giving it to God" with the "it" being whatever your need or worry or fear is. And that certainly gets at the submission aspect. We have to truly stop trying to fix things ourselves (and ideally be like Mary and recognize from the get-go that there is no point in even starting to do it our self) and being willing to allow God to fix things. But the other aspect of that is the need for us to obey Him. If I am going to ask for God's help for a way out of something....or for a solution to some situation...than I need to be willing to do it His way...and that means doing whatever He asks. Whether that means filling up waterpots...or apologizing to someone I hurt...or cutting up my credit card...or taking responsibility for my sin...or admitting my sin out loud to my spouse...I actually have to do it. I have to cooperate with God...I have to work with Him...according to His will.

Now I am not pretending this is easy. God knows (literally) how stubbornly I work to try and fix things or make things turn out a certain way. But if I am honest, I have to admit that the best things that have happened in my life (including the best resolutions to unpleasant things) have happened either without or despite my own efforts. How truly thankful I am that sometimes God graciously works in my life despite myself. He sees my heart...and so often acts based on that...instead of the silly stuff my flesh says or does.

Yes...Mary shows us once again (this time at a wedding)...that if we really want to receive God's help...if we really want to experience His work in our lives...we first have to ask Him...and then we have to obey.

[Postlude: This may seem small and insignificant to those reading this...but I had to share it. Just a few days ago I downloaded a Bible app to my blackberry that includes the feature of having the Bible read out-loud to you. I checked this out briefly when I downloaded it and started with John 1:1....for no particular reason than thinking it would be cool to hear, "...and the Word was made flesh." But after a few seconds I closed the app and went about my day. Now here I am writing this blog entry (many days alter)...and I tell you truly...I start to hear someone talking...and I realize that it is the guy from my Bible app reading the Bible AND....here is the real knock-me-to-the-ground-shut-the-front-door thing...he is reading...are you ready...the Wedding at Cana. I mean come on! The blackberry was in my belt holster (not my pocket where you could argue I pocket-dialed the app)...where it is suppose to "sleep" once it is put in there. Aside from that...it wasn't like I left off at the end of John 1 or anything...i was only a few verses in....but somehow it skipped all the way to John 2. I'm still trying to drink it in. But wow...talk about a God moment. Talk about being in His presence. Amen, Father...and Thank You!]

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Isaac

Many of us are probably familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac...and how God called Abraham to sacrifice (meaning kill) his only son. In the end, God intervenes and prevents Abraham from actually seeing this through. We knew from the beginning (though Abraham didn't) that this was a test from God of Abraham's trust in Him. And in the end God confirms Abraham's faith:
Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." -Genesis 22:12b
Recently it came to my mind that perhaps we're all called to sacrifice our own Isaac.

You see, I've been struggling with an area of my life that isn't working as I think it should be. I've read about it (and am still reading about it), researched it, and feel like my expectation is consistent with the Bible and with Church teaching. And so my dissatisfaction and frustration feel justified. I'm not being unreasonable...this is how it is suppose to be. But the other day (while out on my daily walk with our dog), it occurred to me that despite that my desire for this aspect of my life to be a certain way may be good and valid...the whole thing may now have too much importance in my life. I have become obsessed with things not being the way I want them to be. I get too distracted and/or too distraught when I'm reminded that things in this area of my life simply aren't right. And it hit me...this is my Isaac.

We have to remember that there was nothing wrong with Isaac. He wasn't evil or bad (he was just a boy)...and in fact, he was the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham and Sarah. He was a divine gift. So the fact that Sarah and Abraham treasured him made perfect sense. But maybe things started to get a little skewed. I mean if we think about it, Abraham had been wanting a son for a long time....years upon years. At one point He even took one of his servants as a wife just for the sake of hopefully having a son (even though that was not God's plan). And so when God finally opened Sarah's womb and she gave birth to a baby boy, you can only imagine how much love and attention Abraham poured out on his son. And of course that is good and as it should be. We are to love out children whole-heartedly. But the truth is, we are to love nothing...nothing and no one...more than God. And so maybe Abraham was a little too obsessed with his son...plans for his future...dreams of him taking over for his dad one day. Maybe Abraham was a little too distracted by this love for his son...or maybe he became a little too distraught when things didn't go exactly as he thought they should with his son. So God stepped in to set things right...and to remind Abraham of the proper priorities for his life. And how could God do that? He asked Abraham to let it go...to remove it...to cut out of his life that thing that took him away from God. God asked Abraham to sacrifice...to kill...to permanently remove whatever was in his life that was usurping God's position.

And so here I am...recognizing the Isaac that is in my life. I know that God has led me to where I am in my life. He has brought me to this place where I can realize all these incredible gifts. But I have let one of these gifts become an idol. I have let myself become obsessed with one of God's gifts...I have let it become a pursuit separate from and above God Himself. And most telling of all...I have come to value this gift so much that not only do I not want to be without it...but I can't imagine God wanting me to let it go...in fact I practically deny it as a possibility.

So my choice is clear. I must sacrifice it. If it is that important to me...if it has become an assumed "must have" in my life....then I am not trusting God...trusting Him to meet my every need...in whatever way He sees fit. So it must be let go. I must be willing to carry the fire and wood all the way to the altar. I need to be willing to take the knife and prepare to slay this part of my life. I need to be prepared to let this gift go...to live without it...to pluck out my eye for the sake of it not causing me to sin (Mark 9:47). And I can't bank on God's intervention. I can't do all this hoping for...counting on...God stepping in as He did with Abraham to stop me. No...I have to be willing to see this through. I need to be willing to actually let this good thing go...because by giving it more importance than it deserves...I have twisted it into something bad. And it is better that I live without this good thing...than to let it distract me from my first priority: To know Him, to Love Him and to serve Him.