Tag Archives: compassion

trust-compassion-God

Living the questions

As I lay on the massage table, allowing someone to tend to me, to help me release the stress I carry in my body, I started to relax.

And then these questions popped into my mind: What would it look like if I really loved myself? If I was truly compassionate toward myself?

What would it look like if I was able to let go of the expectations I place on myself, if I was able to let go of fear? What would it look like if I could see myself as God sees me and love myself as God loves me?

What would be different?

I imagine there would be inner and outer changes. My teeth would unclench and my stomach would unknot, although neither of those would be observable.trust-compassion-GodOutwardly, my shoulders would relax. My massage therapist in Pennsylvania used to suggest I place bricks on my shoulders in an effort to keep them from hunching up around my ears. (I imagine that when I am a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, I will be one of those dancers the judges repeatedly tell to, “Relax your shoulders.” Yes, I have a rich interior life—please allow me my fantasy).

At the end of this session, the Reiki Master said she got a vibe that I feel a need to get my house in order—figuratively or literally, she could not tell.

Definitely literally I told her as I thought of all the unfinished projects in my house.

Although I have been here for four years, three rooms still have no curtains. Hanging curtains used to be the first thing I did in a new place. It made me feel settled and at home. So, why no curtains? I have the fabric to make them and the rods to hang them, but….trust-compassion-GodWould self-compassion enable me to settle into my home? Or would it at least allow me to let go of my feelings of guilt for not having curtains?

My house has an enclosed porch overlooking the back yard. I created two new flower beds last summer that are blooming beautifully this year. Lavender and Echinacea fill the air with sweet scents, and black-eyed Susan, hydrangea and a butterfly bush add depth to the color palate. I feel at home on the porch and in the garden.

Perhaps I will reach the day when I feel that at home inside my house. Perhaps I will reach the day when I am that comfortable in my own skin.

Every time I get a taste of letting go and leaning into God, letting gravity pull me into a relaxed state, I know that is where I want to live. It is a place of mutuality, where God and I share a deep secret—that God has always loved me just as I am and that I can let go of my expectations that I be anyone else or do anything else. I can just let go and be loved.trust-compassion-God

 

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compassion-God-love

Growing in love

Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31

Whenever I encountered this Scripture passage, I used to think, “Poor neighbors,” what a low bar. Shouldn’t I love my neighbors at least a bit more than I love myself?

I didn’t love myself very much in my young life. I saw myself as lacking in most every way, never quite measuring up, more often messing up.

I might have re-written the passage to read, Love your neighbors as you want to be loved—or possibly Love yourself as you love your neighbors, because I can be much more accepting, compassionate and forgiving of others.

My capacity for self-love was definitely deficient.

Growing up, I knew that God loved me, and it was always a mystery why or how God could love someone I saw as so broken. It was probably my biggest Yes, but, as in “I know God loves me, but…” followed by my litany of deficiencies—all the reasons God must be wrong to love me.

Recently, one of my neighbors ripped out his front lawn. I don’t know why he did it—maybe it was dying or too weedy; maybe he just got tired of it or just did not like it and wanted something new and different.

I walked past his grassless front yard for a few weeks and then one day there was a beautiful new lawn—lush, green and weed-free. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if I could rip out what is undesirable in me and instantaneously replace it with something new and beautiful, completely erase whatever was old, worn or ugly?compassion-God-loveBut that is not how it has worked in my life. Years of therapy helped me to redefine myself more realistically. Years of prayer helped me to begin to see myself as God sees me.

I had to learn to set good boundaries and practice owning what is mine, figuring out what I believe and reinforcing that—and letting go of negative views. I wrote affirmations on little pieces of paper and taped them to my bathroom mirror, stuck them to my refrigerator with magnets and placed them in small picture frames. Reading these affirmations every day eventually began to push aside negative messages and replace them with God messages.compassion-God-loveI was restructuring the landscape of my inner self, but it was not as instantaneous as laying sod.

When I was in therapy in my thirties, I used to practice my boundary-setting out loud. When I recognized that I was regurgitating someone else’s negative belief (about myself or anything else), I would identify it. “So and so needs to say…” and then I would say, “But I want to say…” about whatever it was what I believed, or what belief I was growing into.compassion-God-loveGrowing in self-compassion has strengthened my boundaries and improved my self-esteem. To love myself as God loves me is my desire. Only then am I able to truly love others as I love myself—and as God loves them.compassion-God-love

 

grief-community-ritual

Healing and hope

Recently, I went to San Francisco for a workshop called Entering the Healing Ground: The Sacred Work of Grief. The workshop combined several things I love: poetry, writing, dancing and singing.

It also involved something I don’t particularly like: sharing my personal story with a group.

I am okay with talking about my public self, and I have gotten better at sharing some of my personal story, but there is a whole other layer buried deep inside that I rarely touch and even more rarely share. Dipping into my shadow, admitting my weaknesses and revealing my secrets—ugh.grief-community-ritualThis workshop invited me to dig deep and root around in the darkness where I hide my most private self. It invited me to touch my pain and to allow others to see the real me—not just the strong, independent me, but also the vulnerable me who has been hurt and experienced loss.grief-community-ritualThe facilitator talked about self-compassion, which was exactly the message I needed to hear. I know I need to be tender with my brokenness in order to coax my hidden self into the light.­­­­­

The workshop sessions began with drumming, dancing, singing and poetry. The facilitator talked about community, ritual and grief.

And then we wrote.

Each writing exercise began with a prompt. Over the course of three days, these prompts help me go deep within:

  • I remember
  • It is true
  • It hurt me
  • I survived
  • It is not okay with me
  • I miss

After each ten-minute writing session, we read what we had written to two other participants, and then we were given the opportunity to share with the larger group of twenty-four.grief-community-ritualI usually don’t speak in group settings; I listen and learn from others but rarely take the risk of speaking.

However, I am trying to move against my resistance.

At this workshop, I waited until the last opportunity on Saturday to share with the large group. Then I took a deep breath and read what I had just written prompted by I survived.

My writing was about something from my childhood, something I have only shared with a few close friends. I felt exposed and incredibly vulnerable—ugh.

That evening, I spent some time alone. I knitted, prayed and took a walk around the retreat center grounds. That is my pattern—to withdraw and isolate when I feel vulnerable.

There I was at a workshop focused on accepting our brokenness and grief, forming community, trusting—and when I most needed to be with others, I withdrew.

The next morning, I returned to the group a bit more self-aware, open and ready to dig a bit deeper. Writing on Sunday morning to the prompt I miss revealed an unhealed grief, and it was cathartic to release my sadness through tears.

grief-community-ritualThe weekend was a rare opportunity and I felt incredibly blessed to have participated. As we were leaving, another participant said, “A great gift brings great responsibility.”

What will I do with this great gift?

 

 

Aging gracefully

When I was in my mid-forties, I became more aware of women who were aging gracefully. These were women in their fifties, sixties and seventies who were not embarrassed by their grey hair or shape-shifting bodies. They exercised for health but did not obsess over the effects of gravity. Peace and wisdom seemed to emanate from them, and just being in their presence calmed me.

aging-gracefully

These women were content with themselves and their lives. They lived in gratitude for all that had been and hope that the best was yet to come—even though they had endured hardship and suffering.

One woman had lost a son to suicide and another had a life-threatening disease. Another woman’s husband had been having an affair and after forty years of marriage, he asked for a divorce. My friend was devastated by his betrayal. Yet, even in her pain, she was able to pray for the grace to see her ex-husband and his new wife as God saw them.

What courage, I thought. I want to grow old with that much courage and grace.

I know that holding onto hurt and anger can make me bitter and cynical, and that is not how I want to live. I believe God calls me to live as my friend did—to forgive and let go, to be compassionate and merciful, to try to see as God sees and to love as God loves.

Last Friday, I turned sixty-five; I am a senior citizen by every definition. We have longevity in my family—my mother is ninety and her mother lived to ninety-six—but I know I have many fewer days ahead than have already passed. That awareness gives me a greater sense of urgency to appreciate each day.

aging-gracefully

The Native American story of the two wolves that live within me has been coming to mind recently: One wolf is good and does no harm. She lives in harmony with everyone around her and takes no offense when none was intended. She is joy, peace, serenity, hope, love, kindness and compassion.

aging-gracefully

The other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set her off in a fit of rage. She fights anyone, any time, for no reason. She is full of envy, greed, anger, regret, self-pity, false pride and resentment.

The two wolves vie for my attention and energy; whichever one I feed will dominate.

I am paying more attention to the negativity within and around me and trying to counter it with positivity and hope.

I tend to think of my life in thirds—the first third was formative; the second third was restorative and this third I want to be generative.

Like those women I admire, I want to show compassion and mercy, to forgive and to encourage others to let go of anger and regret. I want to be content and grateful.

Life is short—no matter how many years we have, and I want to live each day to the fullest.

aging-gracefully

 

compassion-God

A new perspective

“How are the fall colors?” my friend in Virginia asked the other night. She is coming to see me in Michigan in a few weeks and hoping to be in time to see the vibrant colors of our fall.

“We haven’t had a frost yet,” I said. “It is actually quite warm here—it’s in the 70’s.”

She laughed.

“What?” I asked.

“It is in the 70’s here, too,” she said, “and I was going to say how cool it is.”

Perspective. Same temperature but different conclusion.

perspective2

I think so much of what goes wrong in relationships is because we jump to conclusions without seeking clarification or understanding another’s perspective.

Yesterday, I facilitated a retreat session for a group of local volunteers. My topic was theological reflection, a process that helps look at things from God’s perspective, that invites God into a situation and asks, “How does God invite me to see this person or situation?”

In preparation, I spent some time practicing theological reflection A friend from whom I am feeling disconnected came to mind, so I asked God, “What are you inviting me to learn from this disconnect?”

When I open myself to this conversation with God, I usually hear God ask me to love unconditionally, to forgive without limit and to let go. God invites me to see the person or situation from a stance of compassion and mercy. No matter how hurtful something might have been, when I look at it from God’s perspective, it looks different.

From God’s perspective, the person who hurt me is loved as much as I am. God invites me to see that the hurt was a result of my unrealistic expectations and/or that person’s limitations or brokenness. Theological reflection helps me understand the Biblical injunction to love my enemies and to pray for my persecutors (Matthew 5:44).

During the retreat session yesterday, I asked the volunteers to recall a specific incident which showed that their expectations had not been met, a time when they thought, “I didn’t expect that” or “That is not how I imagined it.” Unmet expectations often lead to disillusionment, and disillusionment can lead to negative feelings and actions.

Once they had an incident in mind, I asked them to invite God into the situation, to describe to God what happened and to sit with God and look at the person or situation through God’s eyes.

Reframing the situation from God’s perspective helps to see a bigger picture. My unmet expectations then become more about me instead of about the people or situation that let me down. Changing my expectations—or at least being more aware of them—can change my perspective and help to me understand people and events in a different way. When I see things from God’s perspective, I can more easily let go of hurt and anger. I can be more open to compassion and mercy, less judgmental and more forgiving. I can move toward freedom.

 

God whispers

Whisper is a word that has been catching my attention lately—as in, hearing God whisper.

Figuring out God’s will for me has not always been easy. For many years, I was watching and listening for God to proclaim the plan for my life in obvious ways—like peals of thunder and flashes of lightening or neon signs—something I could not miss.

But, as I look back on my spiritual journey, I can see that God’s guidance was much quieter; God mainly whispered.

My conversion experience when I was twenty-two set me on a path of trying to discern God’s will. My deepest desire was to hold nothing back from God and to live the Gospel radically. Ten years later, I still felt unsure of a direction for my life that would be enough to repay God for the forgiveness and love God had given me.

I considered becoming a Catholic sister, and when that did not seem radical enough, I moved into a l’Arche community and several other Christian communities after that. Even though some of those experiences were incredibly difficult and painful, none seemed radical enough. I am not sure what I was looking for, but I knew the things I was trying were not enough.

And then on retreat one year, when I was pleading my case before God, explaining all the ways I had to find God’s will for me and how I had tried to live the Gospel radically, God spoke. I never told you to go to l’Arche, God told me. I was pleased with the way you were living and the work you were doing. You wanted something more radical. You were not satisfied with the good work you were doing. Your life was radical enough for me.

Walking the retreat center grounds, I replayed God’s words in my head. Had it really been my will instead of God’s? In a flash, it became clear—I had been projecting my insecurities onto God and acting out of my belief that I was not enough and whatever I did was not good enough.

God’s assurance that the work I was doing was good enough and radical enough freed me. Suddenly, I saw that the radicalness of living the Gospel is a new way.

While I had been looking for some big sign, God had been whispering, “That person, love her,” and “That person, forgive him,” and “That person, be compassionate to her.” If I could do that and do it consistently, I would be living the Gospel radically, I would be doing God’s will.

One thing I learned from my earlier efforts to live more radically was that just about the most radical thing I could do was to touch my own brokenness and vulnerability and to allow others to see my wounds. Loving, forgiving, being compassionate to the people I meet every day—and doing that from a place of my own brokenness—now that is radical.

Mercy and compassion

Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Year of Mercy.

A friend told me she has been pondering the connection between compassion and mercy. She had read that compassion is being with and mercy is doing for. If that is true, than the Year of Mercy will suit me because I am much more inclined to be a doing for kind of person than a being with.

The question then becomes, “For whom will I do something?” which is closely followed by “What will I do?”

Every year, my parish participates in a shelter program for people who are homeless, this year offering overnight hospitality to twenty-five men during the week after Christmas. Like many shelter programs, the people go out during the day and return in the evening. But on New Year’s Day, the men were able to stay in for the day. I signed up to be a “host” for the afternoon.

It seemed a good way to spend New Year’s Day of the Year of Mercy.

I have volunteered at emergency shelters and meal programs in the past, and I have been on the verge of homelessness twice in my life.

I say “on the verge” because my homelessness was short-lived and connected with my living in another country; transitional homelessness is how I think of it. In both situations, I was fortunate to have friends who helped me find places to live, but the experiences gave me some insight into the vulnerability of not having a permanent place to live and helped me be more empathetic toward people who are homeless.

During that time of transition, I learned a lot about vulnerability and pride.

A woman who lived across the street from me and knew my situation offered me food from her pantry, but I was too proud to accept her charity and instead went to a local church pantry. When she found out I had gone to the church, she chastised me for being too proud and pointed out that I was willing to take charity from strangers but not from someone who knew and cared about me. She was right and I was humbled. The next time I needed food, I “shopped” in her pantry. It was very humbling.

That experience helped me to see that mercy needs both a generous giver and an open receiver. I was not open, and in the process, I prevented her from being able to be merciful. I had been given the opportunity to allow someone to be generous, and I said no. It was a powerful lesson, and one that I have tried to hold close to the surface of my awareness.

Mercy needs to be both offered and received.

So in this Year of Mercy, I want to be open to opportunities to do for others, to show mercy. I also pray to be humble enough to allow others to do for me, to receive mercy.