Tag Archives: abundance

Imagination in prayer

At Mass last Sunday, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son with intro parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15:1-32) These stories introduce us to at least nine (9) characters:

  1. a shepherd whose one sheep has strayed
  2. a woman who lost a coin
  3. the friends and neighbors who rejoice when the sheep and coin are found
  4. a man who has two sons
  5. the older son
  6. the younger son
  7. the pig farmer who starved his workers
  8. the father’s servants and
  9. the older son’s friends

Nine different personalities inviting me to step into the stories and imagine myself in each role.

All week, I have engaged in imaginative prayer with the scenes in this Scripture, placing myself in each of the roles portrayed, letting the scene play out and looking at how I am like the person or how I am different.

For example, when am I put myself in the place of the shepherd, I wondered if I would be willing to leave what I have in search for something lost. It is a risk to leave the safety of the known, and I wondered if I would take the risk.

My opportunities to take risk don’t usually involve sheep, but as I let this image play out, I thought about the safety and security of my circle of friends, and I wondered if I am willing to take the risk of inviting someone into my circle of friends or even just to reach out to someone who seems to be on the outside. Do I tend to play it safe or am I willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone?

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The woman who searches for something precious that has been lost is an easy one for me to imagine because I frequently lose things (mostly earrings, which is why I had an extra hole pierced in one ear so I can still wear the remaining earring). I tend to tear the house apart and retrace my steps looking for a lost earring. But what about other things? Do I persevere or give up? Do I persevere in prayer? In hope?

How am I like the forgiving father? The rebellious son? Or the dutiful son? When am I like the servant who has to prepare something for others to enjoy while I just look on? Or like the local pig farmer who cares more for his pigs than the people who work for hm? How do I react when a friend complains about unfair treatment from a parent?

Each of the people in these stories help me to see myself in relation to God and to others. Each invites me to imagine myself inside the Scripture passage and learn something about myself, others and God.

On my walk one day, I realized that each person represents a different character trait, and it reminded me of the words stenciled at my neighborhood school—incoming messages through different avenues.

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Lent reimagined

I have lived through many Lents, and I have my usual ways of observing the season, focusing less on giving up something and more on doing something different.

This Lent, I read of two Lenten observances that were new takes on Lenten practices.

The first was a walking Lenten observance. Since I love to walk—both for exercise and as a meditative practice—this suggestion appealed to me. It came from a Lenten blog called Walking the Path of Lent with Friends which offers different ways to walk through Lent.

One suggestion was to walk with Jesus—that is, to walk 90 miles, the distance Jesus walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The idea of intentionally calling upon Jesus to walk with me during Lent intrigued me, and so I began inviting Jesus to walk with me on my daily walks. I tried to look at my surroundings through Jesus’ eyes, to view my neighbors and nature as Jesus might see them.  

Almost immediately, I was aware that my walks are all circular—I start and end at my house— while Jesus was walking toward a destination, so I adjusted my idea of walking to think more of the path I am walking, because my path has a greater possibility of forward movement, of going somewhere.

What path am I walking? Where is Jesus leading me?

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Then I read an article by Brother Tom Smyth, CFC.  He writes:

This past Lent I decided on a different approach; focusing on my gifts rather than my failings.

About a week into Lent, and after some reflection, I identified a number of gifts that I feel I have and printed them up on 8” x 4” placards. I taped them on the wall, in a circle around the crucifix. Putting them there helped keep me focused on why I was doing this, to recognize the abundance in my life that has come through God’s gifts. A few weeks further into Lent, I came across some files containing worksheets from vocation meetings….Instead of identifying the gifts we saw in ourselves, participants identified the gifts they saw in others. I added those gifts to those I had placed around the crucifix. It was powerful, not just to read what others had seen in me, but to recognize that God has truly gifted me, in abundance…After considerable time in reflection, I realized that there is a whole other side to this gift thing. It’s the why. Why has God been so generous to me? My response became, “It hasn’t been for me; we are gifted for others.” We are called to use our gifts in the service of others. The abundance is given to us so that it can be shared.

I like the suggestion of naming my gifts and displaying them. Also, the idea of being gifted for others has been a recurring theme in my prayer. God gives abundantly for us to share abundantly. How am I gifted for others?

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Where is Lent taking you?

Set an intention

Make room for

more light in your life and

more joy in your heart.

Set an intention for

peace and love to flourish

and chaos and fear to diminish.

Let generosity grow and scarcity shrink.

Count how many times a day

you say thank you or

offer a compliment.

Notice the abundance in your life and

act for those who have less.

Pray for those in your family or neighborhood

who face challenges and are struggling, and

those around the world who face tyrants.

Remember those who are grieving.

Reach out to those who are lonely or lost.

Every act of kindness ripples out into the world and

then comes back to us,

bridging the space between us and

reminding us that we are one.

How many?

Cleaning out a closet recently, I came across a baseball cap that had belonged to my friend Jim. I emailed his friend Patrick to see if he would want it. He replied that he already has a baseball cap and doesn’t need another. He only needs one? I probably have a dozen baseball caps, so I found his response disconcerting. I have hats in different styles and colors for different occasions. How can he only need one?

I started looking around my house at other multiples—blankets, tablecloths, sweatshirts, shoes, etc.—and asked myself how many of anything I really need.

Like baseball caps, some things just seem to multiply in my house. It’s like a fairy tale where elves are working throughout the night to create more blankets, coats, shoes and so many other things that fill up spaces in my house. But how many do I really need?

Intellectually, I know I need way fewer of most things than I have (for example, I have three metal tape measures, three sewing tape measures and two yard sticks—how much measuring do I even do???)

And then there is my knitting. Every year I tell myself that I am going to knit up the yarn in my stash before I buy more yarn, but then a new baby comes along, and I need to get a specific yarn for a blanket, or another knitter is retiring and plans to travel in an RV, so she needs to get rid of her stash. How can I pass up her treasures?

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Fabric is also in abundance in my home, even though I have not done any serious sewing in years. And I have enough cookbooks to start a library.

I remember telling my friend Philip one day that I was going to go through my kitchen utensils to see what I could get rid of—how many spatulas do I really need? A few hours later, he sent pictures of two large trash bags he had filled after going through his closets (I had inspired him, he said). Meanwhile, I had pulled exactly one wooden spoon from my collection of kitchen utensils. Do I really need five spatulas? I know I don’t but getting rid of them seems to be beyond me.

I keep thinking of Patrick turning down Jim’s baseball cap and asking myself how many of anything I really need. I think of people who have so little—migrants, people whose homes were destroyed in fires or natural disasters, women fleeing abusive spouses—and I wonder how I can move things from my home to theirs.

Our local domestic abuse shelter has a second-hand store that supports their work; I will start taking my extras to them.

And, when I am tempted to buy something, I will check what I already have and ask myself how many?

Think of the money I will save, the space I will create and the freedom I will enjoy by living with less.

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Love heals

Love healed me.

Sometimes poured out generously,

like the snow that covers everything in its path as it falls,

until what was there before has been transformed into

something unrecognizable,

something pure.

Love healed me.

Sometimes with strings attached,

doled out sparingly

as though there is not enough,

as though the love that is given to me robs someone else.

I snatched those bits of love tossed my way and

gathered them together until there was enough to cover me and my brokenness.

Love healed me.

Imperfect love.

Whether abundant or scant,

overwhelming me or nibbling at the edges of my brokenness,

all love heals.

Don’t be cheap

I had flown to the East Coast to visit a friend for the weekend, and as she and I were leaving her house for a trip to the Shore, her husband said to her, “Don’t be cheap.” Of all the adjectives I might ascribe to this friend, cheap is not one of them. She is one of the most generous people I know. Already on this visit, she had gifted me with a box of chocolates, a sweater and a poncho.

To be fair, her husband is perhaps even more generous than she. I remember once when she and I were going out to dinner and he was meeting up with friends. We all ended up at the same restaurant, and he put his credit card on our table and said, “Order whatever you want. This is on me.”

I sometimes wonder if this is their competition—to see who can be the most generous. There are worse couple-competitions, and I am often the happy recipient of their big-heartedness, so I am not complaining.

Anyway, his comment came back to me a few days later after I had flown home and was on the parking shuttle. I had meant to get change for a tip for the shuttle driver but had forgotten. Normally, I would give a $3-$5 tip (which I think is the going rate), but a $10 bill was the smallest denomination I had. My interior conversation went something like this, “Ugh, I forgot to get change. Well, that’s on me; this will be an early Christmas gift for the driver,” and I decided to give him the $10 bill.

Just then, the man across from me said to his companion, “A $5 bill is the smallest thing I have for a tip.” His companion reached into her wallet and pulled out two singles.

“Don’t be cheap,” I wanted to say, but didn’t.

I know there are times when I can be cheap, when I act out of a sense of scarcity instead of abundance. I often catch myself after, but by then it is too late.

I shared this lesson with my spiritual director, and she suggested I expand my understanding of the admonition “don’t be cheap” to all the talents and gifts God has given to me freely and abundantly.

I am deeply grateful for all the many good things in my life; my life is rich beyond anything I could ever have asked or imagined.

The admonition “don’t be cheap” will hopefully be a reminder to catch myself when I am tempted toward living out of scarcity and fear—financial or otherwise—so that I can instead live out of abundance and generosity.

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Check your ego at the door

I once belonged to a networking group of about a dozen people, all leaders in our field. One of the ground rules for our networking sessions was to “check your ego at the door.” We all claimed to be “servant leaders” which would imply that our egos would be kept in check, but the reality was that when two or more successful people got together, a game of one-upmanship often ensued.

Some of these people had international reputations; others were leaders in our local community. The “ego” rule made it possible for us to meet as equals. If someone started name-dropping or praising their own achievements, another member would gently recall the rule. It got to the point that only one word was needed to rein in an inflated sense of self. “Ego,” someone would say.

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I have often thought of that rule, especially when working with nonprofit boards which are usually made up of successful community leaders. I gently remind them that the most important thing about nonprofits is the mission, and I invite them to stay focused on advancing the mission of the organization rather than focusing on their individual contributions.

I am fortunate that my dad was not into hero-worship; he often said that everyone “puts his pants on one leg at a time.” No one was any more important than anyone else in my dad’s eyes. His attitude has stayed with me, and I think it has served me well. (I do have to admit, though, that I was somewhat starstruck the time I was standing next to Ray Charles at JFK Airport and when I was sitting just a few feet away from the Pope.)

Competition is a cornerstone of capitalism, and it is common to encounter successful people who love to tell you how they built up their company or scored some big deal. My eyes tend to glaze over during those monologues; I am much more interested in those who praise all the people who made their success possible.

My friend Ted was one of those people. He was a successful lawyer, well-known in his field and treated like a big deal at his work. He was very generous with his resources and often donated to the nonprofit where I worked—always requesting anonymity. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) was one of his favorite Bible quotes.

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I think all of this has come to mind because I am leaving my profession to embark on the next chapter of my life. When I told my boss I was leaving, she repeated something she has said to me several times since our two nonprofits merged a few years ago—she is amazed that I gave up my job as executive director and set aside my ego for the sake of the mission.

Perhaps it is unusual; for me, though, it was remembering to stay focused on the mission and to check my ego at the door.

On retreat–I had hoped

On the sixth day of my retreat, my spiritual director suggested I pray with Luke 24:13-35, the Road to Emmaus. The story is that two disciples are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem after the crucifixion. They are sad and disappointed.

Then Jesus is walking along with them, but they don’t recognize him. He asks what they are talking about, and they relate what has happened in Jerusalem and what happened to Jesus. “We had hoped…” (Luke 24:21) they said.

Those three words jumped off the page at me, and I repeated them a few times. “We had hoped.” Then I personalized it to, “I had hoped.”

What had I hoped?

I had hoped…

  • To be loved, cherished, valued and respected;
  • To stop the negative messages in my head;
  • To go to college after high school;
  • To visit Poland again;
  • To live in l’Arche for the rest of my life;
  • To reconcile with a friend from Winnipeg, and on and on.

It turns out I had a fair number of dashed hopes. Like the disciples who were feeling let down, I also had hoped and been disappointed.

After a few hours of creating a list of my unfulfilled hopes, I went back to my Bible and finished reading the Road to Emmaus story in Luke.

Jesus says to these two disciples, “How foolish you are and how slow to believe…” and then he explains what happened to him from a different perspective; he reframed the situation.

What Jesus says to these two disciples on the road to Emmaus is that their hopes and their vision were too narrow, too small. The resurrection was bigger than anything they could have imagined or hoped.

Jesus says the same thing to me, too—my vision is to narrow, my hopes are too small, and what I need to do is broaden my vision, to get a different perspective. I need to think big thoughts, to focus on God’s abundance and to remember all the good things that have happened to me.

I thought back to the litany of blessings I had done a few days earlier and how I call myself “the luckiest girl in the world.” It is true that I have had unrealized hopes and dreams; it is also true that I have had opportunities beyond my wildest hopes or dreams.

God’s vision for me is much bigger than I could ever hope or imagine.

More than enough

During my morning prayer on Christmas day, I asked, what is being birthed in me? Where is God inviting me to grow? In what ways am I being called to live more fully alive?

I went through a list of new projects I am pondering for the future or already working on, of my dreams to visit distant friends and my hopes to travel in Europe for an extended time. I thought about my writing and considered attending a workshop on writing a memoir.

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As I let these ideas play out in my imagination, though, another thought popped into my head: Heal your need to please others.  

What? Is this the secret to my being able to live more fully? To give greater glory to God? Do I need to move past my fear of disappointing people and my need to please in order to give birth to my true calling?

Ugh, I sighed. It is so much easier to work on external projects than to deal with my old nemesis, that voice inside my head that tells me that I am bound to disappoint people, that I am not enough and that whatever I do is not enough.

It is a message I heard from early childhood through my teens, this idea that I am not enough. For many years, I have worked on erasing that message and replacing it with more affirming words, reassuring phrases that shift parenting from my mom to God or to my adult self, changing the messages in my head to ones that remind me that I am not only enough, but that I am more than enough—I am plenty.

But every once in a while, my you-are-not-enough button gets pushed. It happened just before Christmas when two people made demands on me that I could not meet.

Their needs were real, but I was already taxed by other responsibilities and could not do what they asked of me.

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My internal critic spoke up, telling me that I was not enough, because if I were enough, I would be able to do what these people want.

I was in a snit all day and night, feeling guilty and angry. The next day, after talking it out with a friend, I got a different perspective.

That is the thing about those old messages—they are powerful and can take control in a blink of an eye.

Maybe it is time to tape up affirmations around my house and read them multiple times a day to remind myself that I am enough. Things like:

I am good enough.

I am loved.

I respect myself.

I honor my own needs and desires.

And perhaps it is time to return to Scripture passages that affirm that I am precious to God, that remind me that I am wonderfully made (Psalm 139) and a royal diadem (Isaiah 62:3).

Maybe I need to create a screen saver that says, I am an exquisite gem, and God delights in me.

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