Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Journey Doesn't End Here

For the past few years, I have taken Lent to actually mean something. I've recognized the importance and purpose of it. But, I've really never been into the sacrificing of something during the season, simply because I never thought that simple thought of "giving up chocolate" or whatever it is really is the point. The point is to do something during the season of Lent and using that time to bring you closer to God.

The last few years, instead of giving something up, I had made the decision to write a post a day. This was something that would draw me closer to God (since these posts are, for the most part, about God). And I continuously failed. And I really didn't feel any closer to God. I mean, yeah, maybe a bit... but that's not anything that has been particularly special to the season... it's just something that sometimes happens regardless of the season.

So this year, I went a bit further. I brought others (knowingly and unknowingly) on the journey with me. I decided I would spend less time with some people; and more time with other people. I would spend more time in prayer, making certain to do both morning and night prayer every day. I would quit drinking and smoking. And I would write a post every day.

The day after Ash Wednesday, I realized that there needed to be a theme to these posts. They'd be about Lenten sacrifices. Not the "I'm not going to eat meat on Fridays".... "I'm giving up chocolate"... ."I'm giving up coffee".... "I'm giving up going out to the bar"... kind of things. I wanted to write about the things that really pull us away from God. The things that pull us away from each other. The things that ruin relationships of all kinds.

So.... how did this journey go?

The less time with people fluctuated. The more time with other people fluctuated. Sometimes I held to those things, sometimes, I just couldn't. Spending more time in prayer - I actually did do fairly well with this, although I admittedly failed at making sure to do both morning and night prayer every day. Quitting drinking and smoking? Well... I'm writing this a bit tipsy and just took a smoke break. So I guess that answers that.

So that leaves writing a post a day...

Yes, I did fail on that one too. In fact, I am currently writing this post the Friday AFTER Easter Sunday. Many of my posts were written a day (or several days) after when they should have been. Those who've known my original plan of writing one a day have picked on me for back dating my posts. And yet, I don't regret it.

Once I came up with the theme for the posts, I also realized that I couldn't just write about anything. That isn't the point of Lent. Lent is one of those times for personal reflection, and the personal journey. One of my latest posts talks about how we're on this  journey of life together... but Lent truly is different... at least in my eyes. It is a time self-reflection and self-growth spiritually.

So my posts had to reflect that. Every Lenten post has a bit of me in it. Perhaps a past me. Perhaps just a small piece of my thoughts. But they're me. They all hold a lesson that I know I need to work on. They all hold a sacrifice I know I need to make. They all are a personal reflection.

Because of that, I do not feel guilt or failure at the fact that I didn't meet the once a day decision I had made. I am filled with peace and joy at the fact that God has given me the words when I needed them the most. I am filled with peace and joy that God always gives the words when they are needed the most.

Today's Lenten sacrifice:

Don't stop your Lenten practice after Lent season is over

Of all I have learned on this Lenten journey, the one thing that stands out the most is that there was a purpose to all I decided upon. Yes, perhaps I failed in the moment at holding true to those decisions. But those decisions were given to me by God for a reason. Perhaps some of those have been met and aren't needed to be continued. But some do. And just because Lent is over does not mean we just go back to the lives we had before. If you did Lent right... you figured out that your "sacrifice" was a way to keep you on the correct path in your journey.

That journey does not end here... it does not end because Lent is over. The journey never ends.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Are Some Emotions and Feelings Evil?

Many of us grew up being taught that certain emotions and feelings are wrong. They're sinful. We're taught that anger is a sin. We're taught that depression is a sin. We're taught that wanting things is a sin. We're taught that sexual desire is a sin.

This teaching can create some really insecure and withdrawn adults. It causes us to hold in our feelings and emotions, trying to ignore them. It makes us feel constantly ashamed because we cannot get rid of those feelings. It sometimes causes people to finally give up attempting to control them, and instead makes them turn those emotions and feelings into sinful acts.

Don't get me wrong, these things can quite easily become sinful if we let them. If we get angry about something that has happened, it can turn into anger towards a person or group of people, and can lead to us thinking harmful thoughts towards that person. Depression can lead to self-pity, selfishness, lack of caring for self, others, or God. Wanting things can lead to us actually wanting something someone else possesses, and perhaps even to theft of that possession. Sexual desire can lead towards lust towards someone other than our spouse, and possibly to sex with that person.

But the underlying emotions and feelings are not in and of themselves sinful.

Today's Lenten sacrifice:

Stop believing certain emotions are sinful.

God created these feelings within us. God created us to have emotions, and to have biological needs. We cannot stop these things from existing, and we shouldn't. To see any of these as evil on their own is to say that God screwed up. To try to stop these things from existing is to put our own idea of perfection above what God has already said is good.

However, God also gave us the ability to make choices. This is when these emotions become sinful, or not. What do we do with the emotions we feel? Do we turn to God and ask for help in handling them in a good way? Or do we rely on ourselves, and often times wind up turning them into sin?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Don't Dine Alone

I have always been the type of person who believes spirituality is a personal relationship with God. But I used to believe that's where it all ended.

Religion was just a bunch of unnecessary traditions, and the church was where those traditions were put into practice by a bunch of people who a) were after money; b) thought they were better than everyone else; and c) didn't truly know what it's like to have that personal relationship with Christ.

While I do still believe it is about a personal relationship, I have begun to believe that it is also about interpersonal relationships with others. It is about the unity of us all in Christ. It's not just about our own journey, but about the journey of all those who cross our path, walk with us, sometimes carry us, and are sometimes carried by us.

This truth has become clearer these past few years, and especially on this night - Maundy Thursday.

The church I attend usually does Holy Communion one person at a time. We form a line, each one being given their bread one at a time, given the wine one at a time, and then going back to their pew, one individual at a time. This night was different.

The communion rails were in place, and in groups of 8-10 (or however many could fit at the rails), we knelt before the altar, received the bread and wine, and received the blessing together. And then together as a group, we were dismissed.

We were in unity, dining together as Christ and his disciples did.

I was reminded that those at the table with me were also on a journey. They were on their own personal spiritual journey. But they were also on the same journey I travel - a journey we walk together.

Today's Lenten sacrifice:

Let go of the assumption that it's only your journey.

Dine with others. Share the great feast with others. Pray with others. Embrace all who walk the path with you. Don't let go of your own personal time with God - this is important too. But remember to let others in and recognize their presence with you, and the unity you share in Christ.

Dear Heavenly Father: Thank you for those with whom you've blessed me, both in the past and in the present - those still with me and those who've moved on. Too often we remember our personal journey with you, but forget that we are in need of the unity of others with you. Help us to recognize and accept the gifts of friends and family, the sisters and brothers with whom we share our journey. In the name of your son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Remove the Dark Shades

One thing that has always just made me roll my eyes… annoys me to no end…

Those who seem to see their boyfriend or girlfriend with rose-colored glasses. I see this a lot in teenagers and young adults – people so desperate to be loved, they refuse to see any sort of fault in the other person. They are blind to the verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. They are blind to cheating or spending money frivolously or their lack of responsibility. All they see is “Ohhh… he’s so perfect and loves me so much!”

But, sometimes I think maybe we should all take off our dark shades and put on rose-colored glasses.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should be blind to any kind of abuse or harmful behavior. However, we should be blind to the little things. We should stop seeing only the faults in those we claim to love. We should focus on the good. We should learn to recognize the good. We should stop letting their faults overshadow the beauty and love we’re given.

We should stop letting the faults of this world overshadow the beauty and love God has given us.

Today’s Lenten sacrifice:

Stop seeing only the “bad” things.

Before you go to bed each night, write down one good thing your significant other has done for you. Write down one good thing God has done for you. Let yourself go to sleep focusing on those positive thoughts. Wake up in the morning and reread what you wrote. Start your day remembering the good in your life, and giving thanks for that good.

Lord, help to be more positive and see more positive in our relationships. Let us focus on the beauty and the love we give and receive from others, rather than on the faults of others or ourselves. Help us to focus on the beauty and love we receive from you, rather than on all the chaos and pain that exists in this world, so that we can reflect that beauty and love onto others. Remove these dark shades from our eyes so that we can see clearer all the blessings in our lives. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Score is 10 to 3

I work. I take care of the kids. I clean the house. I do the laundry. I cook. I take care of you. I tell you I love you. I make time for you. I let you pick the movie. I let you have you-time.

You said you love me. You let me have a little time to myself. You asked how my day went.

Obviously, I’m a better spouse than you are. I love you more. I am working harder, trying harder. The score is 10 to 3 – it’s pretty obvious who is winning here…

How often do we tend to get like this? Not just with our spouse – we do this with friends, co-workers, people in our church. We like to think we’re doing more in our relationships and responsibilities than the other person/people. We like to keep score.

There are a few problems with this. First – in some cases, we really don’t know how much the other person is actually doing. But regardless if we do know everything or not, it is not fair to compare. Are you doing these things out of true love, caring, and generosity? Or are you doing them to simply be the better person… to win some non-existent game?

Are we babysitting the children of a friend, and helping them out with yard work or financial issues or personal problems because we actually care about our friend? Or, when they are unable to return the favors we’ve done, are we comparing and keeping score. Are we saying “well, I’ve done this and this and this. And she can’t even be bothered to do something for me?”

No one wins when we play that game. No one wins when we start keeping score. Resentment builds, distance grows, and eventually relationships wither.

Today’s Lenten sacrifice:

Stop keeping score!

Imagine if God kept score. Imagine if God looked down on you and thought “Okay, the score is 50,000 to 10. I’m done helping until she gives me a little more.” Thankfully, we have a God who does not keep score – a God who continues to help us and forgive us and love us, and continue doing so forever.

And this is how we should be to one another. We need to continue helping those in need and loving those in our lives – unconditionally.

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