Skip to content

Love, Joy, Peace

Love, Joy, PeaceA few weeks ago, I began a new meditation series, hosted by Oprah and Deepak. In this series, a recent meditation focused on bliss, which included the Centering Thought, “Joy is my highest purpose.” As I allowed myself to sit still and be, with the mantra, “Sat Chit Ananda” (Existence, consciousness, bliss), I contemplated how we live out our purpose in God’s kingdom.

We are given life by the Spirit, with freedom found and reflected in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

But, where does bliss fit in? Bliss isn’t mentioned. Happiness isn’t mentioned.

What is bliss? I believe bliss, a state of perfect happiness, is best experienced when we are bearing the fruit of love, joy and peace.

The Bible doesn’t say much about happiness, with only a handful of references; the most meaningful of which are found in Ecclesiastes, and the bottom line there is that happiness is meaningless. God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but there will be times that are hard, and happiness won’t be easily found. Pursuit of happiness is as useful as chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)

Frankly, happiness shouldn’t be the goal.

The NIV translation includes only 26 references to “happy” and “happiness” combined, but there are 686 references to “love,” 242 references to “joy” and 249 references to “peace.”

In a 52-week study (which is taking me ~3 times as long) called The Joshua Code, the first three fruit of the Spirit are described as “a countenance that is obvious,” and I totally get that. I am as transparent as they come, completely lacking in guile. Although my facial expressions might not always be correctly interpreted, no one misreads me when I’m feeling well-centered in love, joy and peace. At those times, I am closest to bliss, and it shows.

I’m embracing the thought that in each moment of our lives we enjoy the opportunity to be intentional about our attitude. Happiness might be hard to self-induce, but we can certainly bring ourselves into a spiritual place where we feel peace and love, and joy becomes a likely companion.

If lost in other emotions, it’s worth noting, the best way to find this space is to turn away from judgment. In Romans, Paul advises us to stop passing judgment, for the kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (Romans 14:13,17-18)

I’ve been practicing this discipline while I’m in traffic, while waiting in line, while waiting for a webpage to load, while waiting for the children to take action, etc. It’s amazing that by simply reminding myself, internally whispering and visualizing and feeling “love, joy, peace”, I’m calmer, I’m less aggravated by inconveniences, and I’m happier.

Yes, I am happier.

Have you experienced happiness as a result of love, joy and peace?

LORD, bless us with good fruit, helping us bear love, joy and peace, in all circumstances. Amen. 

Advertisements

The wheat and the weeds

Day Lilly in the weedsMost of us are familiar with the Parable of the Sower, but what about the Parable of the Weeds, presented right after, in Matthew’s Gospel?

In case it’s been a while: An enemy (the enemy) sows weeds among the wheat, which entangle roots as they grow, so the weeds can’t be removed without disrupting the wheat. “Let both grow together until the harvest.” Then, they can be separated. The wheat will be gathered and the weeds bundled and burned.

As we listened to the Gospel reading, I was struck by the fundamental nature of live-and-let-live, and Rodney King’s ageless question, “Can’t we all just get along?” The message of the parable is clearly not “get in there and eliminate those weeds, at all costs!” Rather, it’s a message of coexistence.

It’s important to note, the wheat is not in a position of judgment; the harvester is the judge. The harvester, “the Son of Man…will sit on his glorious thrown…and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32)

As if this wasn’t enough to get me thinking, considering a world where we do our best to get along with others, the Sermon gave me even more to contemplate.

Deacon Jan asked us each to look within, and consider the wheat and weeds that grow in each of us. She encouraged us to tend to the soil of our hearts, minds and souls, so that we might well-receive the word, and by nurturing and nourishing that which is good, choke out that which isn’t.

This year, Mr. H and I’ve torn out much of our landscaping, digging up flower beds that were so overgrown with Bermuda Grass, Nutsedge and Horsetail that the roots couldn’t be separated from the flower bulbs we’d planted years ago. Neglected, as we focused on raising three young grandchildren, we lost the battle and the invading weeds dominated the terrain. In tearing out, we did our best to salvage the bulbs, hoping for future restoration. Now, the bulbs are in containers: Daylilies here, Easter Lilies there, Daffodils and Gladiolas in another. Those that were past their bloom, we easily separated from the weeds. But, I didn’t want to sacrifice the Daylilies, which were just preparing to bloom, so, they remain entangled, flowering in their new pots, thick with Nutsedge. In due time, we’ll tend to these bulbs, too.

It must be a lifelong discipline to pay attention to what is growing within us; to focus on that which is good, and to turn away from that which harms. If we’ve been neglecting this, then know that even greater effort will be required, in order to restore.

And, in the Kingdom, as we consider others weed, and ourselves wheat, remember, judging and condemning others (or even ourselves when we note our own shortcomings) is not the answer. Love, tenderness, faithfulness are the tools by which we must tend to ourselves and others.

Let’s all do our best to get along.

LORD, help us grow in wisdom, learning to trust your judgment, and learning to tend to the gardens of our hearts, minds and souls. Amen.

Good enough

Jasmine, without Elephant EarsOur 4 year old resident granddaughter is going through an interesting phase: she greets us (after any significant period of absence, such as a night’s sleep or a workday), with an enthusiastic and joyful, “You’re alive!” As though this were remarkable.

In a way, it sort of sets the bar low. I have a pulse. I showed up. I smiled, and she is overjoyed. Maybe it helps that we love her and she loves us back.

As we experience our 4th summer in this new life as parents of grandchildren, I’m learning to embrace “good enough”. I’m setting priorities and balancing attention, juggling activities and striving to keep everything upright, but it’s not possible. So, I’m also learning to accept the inevitable failures and shortfalls. Everything seems harder. And yet, we’re managing to muddle through.

This week, our perky granddaughter and I both have been under the weather. She has remained perky, while I’ve had a harder go of it. I have had to take it easy, something that is foreign to me. I’m glad I was already fully into (at least 7~10 days!) my new practice of meditation: including a 10 minute rest period in my morning routine sets the tone for the day.

On Thursday, our granddaughter woke early, and I missed this respite. Today, both girls woke early, and instead of skipping meditation, I invited them to join me. It was nowhere near as restful, but it was good enough (and better than nothing).

A few weeks ago, I posted about a flower bed that was overgrown with Elephant Ears. Too much of a good thing had overtaken another good thing, my jasmine. Finally, last weekend, as I fought off the onset of illness, I cleared out the Elephant Ears. Not perfect (they’ll inevitably return), but … good enough.

Sometimes I consider the compromises we make, and worry about the trade-offs, and fret about the gap between reality and “ideal”, and I remind myself that, by profession, Paul was a tentmaker. By this trade, he was able to fund mission trips and maintain his livelihood. But, no one talks about how great his tents were. I assume, however, they were good enough.

Because I haven’t been feeling well, I’m tempted to skip posting this week, but … I’m not going to do that. It’s important to show up, to remain faithful. If I trust in the Spirit to guide me, then I can hope that what I share will be good enough.

At the end of the day, at the end of my days, how do I want to be remembered? I pray, with enough practice, I might live (and be remembered) by the fruit of the Spirit, bearing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Bathtub rings, dirty laundry, unpaid bills, unanswered mail…these don’t define me. If I can bear good fruit, that should be good enough.

How about you?

LORD, grant us a daily dose of the fruit of your Spirit, that we might live in you, according to your will and your ways. Amen. 

 

Mindfulness

Dark CloudsThe theme for this summer seems to be Mindfulness. I am getting hit at every turn on a topic with which I’m not particularly familiar. As I give more attention to this concept (i.e. being more mindful), I’m increasingly aware of references to, and directives toward, mindfulness. The more mindful I am, the more mindful I become.

Mindfulness is awareness – a mental state achieved by focus, presence, and a calm acceptance of self and situation.

In Sunday’s 1st reading (Genesis), Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The servant was especially mindful (praying, watching, acting and recognizing) with a positive outcome for Isaac (Rebekah).

The Epistle, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, about our “wretched” human nature as we battle/succumb to temptations, despite our best intentions, advises faithfulness as a path to mindfulness (in our eternal battle against sinful inclinations).

In Matthew‘s Gospel, Jesus explains the revelation of truth as a gift to those who approach with fresh eyes, eager to understand. If we presume to know, we will never know. Jesus says, “Learn from me…you will find rest for your souls.”

In each passage, there’s a message of mindfulness.

Later in the day, as we enjoyed an afternoon swim, I became mindful of the weather. A storm slowly formed, threatening to disrupt our fun. I watched the sky and I watched radar. We could have packed up and headed inside, but it was enough to be mindful, so we continued to enjoy our time outside. The storm passed without a single thunderclap.

Mindfulness takes practice. I’ve recently added meditation to my morning routine, using an app that is geared toward beginners, which is perfect for me. The 1st week’s focus was on Mindfulness (of course!).

I am learning to sit still for 10 minutes, allowing myself to just be. For those of us who seem to be hard-wired as Marthas, always aware of, and pressured by, our to-do lists, it is hard to embrace the obedience of being, especially of being still. Yet, from Psalm 46:10, God says, “Be still, and know….” I am embracing this as Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not the same as thinking and analyzing, although, it does involve a good deal of consideration. Mindfulness turns busyness into purposefulness. It’s okay to make a to-do list, but…is everything on the list of equal importance? By being mindful, I can prioritize, and include “fun” on the list of things to do.

Fun, as a form of recreation, is the act of renewal that is vital to our spirit. Some of us (*ahem*) must list recreational activities on our to-do list, in order to ensure we don’t neglect this aspect of our lives. Whether alone or in community, we must be mindful of our need for restoration.

Ultimately, practicing mindfulness is an effort to know God. As a friend pointed out, “Prayer is where you speak to God, Meditation is where you allow God to speak to you”. With mindfulness, I can listen, hear, understand and respond accordingly.

LORD, help us be mindful of you, so that we might better know you. Amen. 

Let Freedom Ring

Elephant EarsOn this day, July 4th, as we celebrate our independence, I’m giving consideration to the significance and complexity of freedom. What does it mean to be free? And, what are we to do with our freedom?

Freedom is a funny thing. Too much of it, or not enough, can create chaos and/or discord.

I recently installed an Outlook plug-in that required me to close Outlook (restriction!). Throughout the installation, I had to confirm several times that I did, indeed, want to continue with the installation (intentional!).

I feel that way about life sometimes. Sure, I have freedom, but there are restrictions and requirements. Freedom requires balance. Freedom requires intent.

I am in the process of changing habits, in order to find necessary balance. I’ve given up a great deal of independence, in accepting God’s mission for us, in raising three grandchildren. Now, I find it’s necessary vital to be intentional, to be determined and to recognize and honor the need for some “me” time. Sometimes that means dropping balls, and sometimes that means picking up balls…the balls that I choose.

The first Biblical reference to freedom was the blessing of Adam in the Garden of Eden, as God commanded him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16b-17). However, Adam and Eve soon succumbed to temptation, eating the forbidden fruit, and ultimately losing their freedom, thereby cursing all generations. 

Fortunately, mankind is blessed with a new freedom, offered to all believers. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32)

But, freedom requires commitment and discipline, in the study and application of God’s truth, under the control of righteousness. (Psalm 119:45, Romans 6:18-20)

Outside of our sunroom, Elephant Ears have taken over the flower bed, choking out delightful Jasmine and  Moon Flowers, preventing their growth and blossoms. It will take effort and determination to dig up the bulbs and roots, to thin the crowd, to allow for diversity and balance. I love the Elephant Ears, but they’ve become too much of a good thing.

In order to write these words, I had to persist, overcoming repeated interruptions. Finding time to read devotionals, meditate (new discipline), study and consider life applications is a challenge, but I’m convinced it’s what I need to do, in order to be free (balanced). Sharing my thoughts here is my response to God’s call. It might seem small, but the effort is huge. I cling faithfully to my belief that if it’s God’s will, and I allow Him to work through me, then it will happen.

Boom! Done.

Happy Independence Day!

LORD, thank you for your faithfulness, and the blessing of your mercy and grace. May these words and meditation be pleasing to you. Amen. 

My Retreat

DeaconRecently, my church hosted a Vacation Bible Adventure (bigger and better than mere “VBS”). Adults and children gathered together for a series of four evenings, to worship, celebrate and learn about our role in the vast “jungle” of God’s creation.

I took this opportunity to retreat.

If you know me, you can understand and appreciate my need to withdraw to a quiet place for prayer, meditation, study, etc. Prior to taking custody of three grandchildren, I was an enthusiastic volunteer, glad for the opportunity to participate in the adventures. Now, three years into this mission, I’m still striving to stay steady on my feet.

I joked with friends about my opportunity to enjoy “Camp Deacon’s Office”, where I could hide step away from the normal busyness of life and find respite in solitude, graciously welcomed into a dear friend’s space (while she was knee-deep in children and adventure). I’d like to tell a lofty tale of hours devoted to prayer and meditation. The truth is far less noble, and yet, I offer it as an example of what can be accomplished with intention and determination.

On the first evening, I worked, catching up on email, and finding peace in knowing work was somewhat under control. And, I meditated for ~3 minutes.

On the second evening, I spent only a brief interval working, then I began a book-based retreat, Your Living Compass. I relaxed. I reclined. I crocheted a bit. I visited with friends. And, I did some recreational writing, which is always a source of joy.

On the 3rd (and final) evening of my self-imposed retreat, I read, walked the grounds, and did whatever felt right at the moment, including meditation and prayer, and preparation for future, daily retreats.

On the 4th evening, families came together for a final celebration of the children’s adventures. Music, art projects, and ultimately bread broken, as we enjoyed our lives together in a Christian Community. All wonderful, surely, but, for myself, I treasure the moments spent in Camp Deacon’s Office.

As I drew away from everyday demands, I was able to contemplate my role in God’s kingdom. I’ve been reading and studying about the Benedictine Rule of Life (Chittister) and Experiencing God. Like tilling the soil in preparation for the sower, I’ve been (albeit unwittingly, perhaps) preparing myself for whatever is coming. This week, I began a new discipline of daily reflections, seeking wellness of mind, heart, spirit and strength, reflected in thought, word and deed. Now, that’s lofty, indeed.

I keep reminding myself that even in the thickest, heaviest, most intense moments of his ministry, Jesus found time for prayer. We are called to prayer. We are called to be in relationship with God, and we can’t do that if we’re always busy with other demands. We have to be intentional in what we do, to avoid sacrificing the thing that isn’t tugging on our shirttail, or shouting at us from the other end of the house, or creating chaos. The thing that isn’t forcing our attention is the thing that needs it the most: our own well-being.

I intend to continue this practice of stolen moments, retreating from the demands and seeking God. I boldly share this with you here, in hopes that you’ll join me, in your own private retreat. Let’s do this!

LORD, help quiet the storm and let us seek the sound of your voice. Help us be still. Help us find you, trusting that you have never lost sight of us. Amen. 

Life goes on

BirdsI posted this on Facebook a few weeks ago:

I don’t suppose he will be overly missed. I pay more attention than many, and I am not certain who he was.

I heard a homeless man died last weekend (near my office). I asked about it, from the only source who will have information to share…another “homeless” person, working that intersection.

“John,” she said. She said everyone thought it must be him, because they haven’t seen him in a while. He was known to drink a bit (a lot). Apparently, he’d gone downtown, gotten drunk, got in a fight which resulted in a head injury, got staples and released from ER, made his way back north, to his home (the campsite near the intersection), or maybe directly to the intersection, where he went to sleep (passed out?) under the bridge and died.

“What’s your name?” I asked, as the light turned green.

“Elisha.”

Elisha, I wish you well. It’s a hard life.

They aren’t really homeless, or without friends, but they exist beyond the fringe. And, when they die, they disappear without much notice.

We see them on the corner, working. Like it or not, they are part of our society. Let’s notice. Maybe offer food (something soft, since many have dental issues) … (or socks or a bottle of water) and a kind word.

I never met John, but I probably saw him. Maybe he was working on a day when I squeaked through under a yellow light. Or on the phone, or distracted, or….

It doesn’t take much effort to roll down a window and have a 30 second conversation, especially if you are already stuck at the light. It might even help you start your day with a better perspective.

This FB post was effectively my first “blog post” in almost a year, reminding me of the process: contemplation, urge to share, freedom in writing, concern for public opinion, and ultimately, confidence that if it’s God’s will, it will be blessed.

Sunday’s readings included God’s revelation of plans for Abraham and Sarah, that they would conceive and bear a child in their old age, and of Sarah’s response (laughter) and her anticipation that others would laugh with her. (Genesis) And, from the New Testament, we heard Jesus’ instructions to his disciples, sending them out, like sheep into the midst of wolves, to share the good news of his coming, to perform miracles of healing, raising from the dead, cleansing lepers and casting out demons. And, we heard of the risks (betrayal, hatred, flogging, persecution, death). (Matthew)

Although we’re not told of their reactions, I can imagine the range of emotions that must have followed these instructions. I can relate, even though my challenges (and risks) are significantly less than theirs.

I am striving to be more intentional, raising my own awareness of God at work in the world around me, listening carefully for instructions, trusting God. It’s what we’re each called to do. It’s our lifelong mission.

LORD, help us hear your voice. Help us know your instructions. Give us grace, to overcome our emotions, so we can carry forth with courage and strength. Amen.