Tag Archives: fear

Leaning into vulnerability

The day after my neighbor Margaret came to mind while on retreat recently, I walked the labyrinth. At the center, I stopped and prayed for insight: Why had the memory of my pledge to Margaret come to mind?

The words from Psalm 89 came to me: “I have made a covenant with my chosen…”

I walked back through the labyrinth repeating those words.

I have made a covenant with my chosen.

What are you trying to tell me, God?

And then I remembered that when I was fifteen years old, I had said to myself, “One day I am going to write a book about my life, and it will start like this: From the time I was eight years old, I knew God had called me in a special way.

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I didn’t know exactly what it meant that God had called me, how it had happened or why God had picked me, but I knew it is true. God had chosen me when I was eight years old.

At that early age, God had somehow made a covenant with me. And now, on retreat almost sixty years later, God was reminding me of that covenant.

The thing about the pledge I made to Margaret is that it was made with my full knowledge and consent. God’s covenant when I was eight was one-sided; God initiated it. I didn’t fully consent.

For many years, I was noncommittal about God. Having been chosen by God only seemed to make me different and somehow weird—I was the kid who loved going to church.

Church was my refuge. As I inhaled the smell of burning beeswax candles, I also breathed in the mystery of God’s grace. I loved the hushed quiet and the space to retreat into myself.

Inside church, I felt close to God. It was there that I experienced God’s desire to be in a relationship with me, where I heard God asking me to say yes to the covenant God initiated.

Inside church, I could be God’s but once outside, I did not know how to trust that relationship or to live it out.

While my fifteen-year-old self knew that something significant had happened to me when I was eight, my adult self has been clueless as to how that could be of interest. On retreat, God gave me an insight.

I went back to the first piece I posted on this blog more than six years ago. God is doing something new.

Much has changed over these past six years—new home in a new state, working in a near field, new friends.

But the most significant change is being vulnerable enough to share my story—with all its difficulties and traumas. I am learning to move beyond shame and to trust that the sky will not fall if I reveal something long kept secret.

My part of the covenant is to tell how God’s grace has infused my life and transformed pain into compassion, fear into trust.

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Taking Risks

The other day, my dog did something she has never done before—she ran out the front door and onto the lawn. I was shocked and shouted, “Get back in the house.” Instead, she ran halfway down the drive and then headed toward the back yard.

She reminded me of a child at the shore of a lake or the ocean, testing the waters with tentative steps, and then seeing a wave rolling in, running back to the safety of the shore.

Seeking safety and a solid foundation is something most of us know instinctively. We tend to crave security.

But Jesus calls us to put out into the deep… (Luke 5:4), which is the opposite of seeking safety.

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Taking risks and trusting that Jesus will be there to catch me when I fall can be a challenge—whether the risk is large or small.

During this Easter season, I have been pondering how my life compares to the early Christians. Am I on fire with the excitement of the resurrection? Am I bringing things to life (as Peter brought people back to life)? Am I spreading healing, hope and forgiveness? Am I witnessing to the restorative power of love?

I am trying to be open to how God is calling me to spread Easter joy.

One recurring thought is about unity and the way I relate to Christians of other denominations. Am I curious about how others practice their faith? Am I respectful of the ways that other Christians live out their faith and mindful that we are all seeking the same God?

I have been trying to be more conscious of my reactions to how others express their faith.

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Then, while driving to a nearby park for a walk last week, I heard a piece on the radio about the beginning of Ramadan. The interviewer asked what the appropriate greeting is for someone observing Ramadan. What is the Muslim version of Merry Christmas? Among the list of greetings was Happy Ramadan.

Just minutes after I arrived at the park, I noticed a woman wearing a hijab, a head scarf worn by Muslim women.

Maybe God is calling me to be mindful not just of Christians seeking God, but also to a deeper awareness of people of other faiths.

As we walked laps around the park, I wondered if I could muster the courage to wish this woman a Happy Ramadan.

I had said hello, but acknowledging her faith seemed to be crossing a line. I was afraid—would I say the wrong thing? Could acknowledging her faith somehow be offensive?

I watched her walk out of the park.

But then, feeling like Phillip running to the Ethiopian in the carriage (Acts 8:29-30), I ran up to the woman and asked if it was ok to wish her Happy Ramadan. She smiled broadly. “Yes, yes,” she said. “Thank you so much!”

She seemed happy, and I was grateful that I was able to step out of my comfort zone.

See my wounds

While praying with the resurrection stories this week—scripture passages I have read dozens of times, heard preached about every year and thought I knew so well—I had an “aha” moment.

The idea that Jesus’ suffering was not in vain, that his death had a redemptive quality is not new.

This year, though, the image of Jesus showing his wounds to the disciples after his resurrection took on a different meaning for me.

Recently, I have been pondering sharing more of my wounds. I have written pieces that expose parts of my story that have been long kept secret. Although I have been through years of therapy to help me get past the shame, I can still be crippled by it. Don’t tell are two words that reverberate in my mind and prevent me from full disclosure.

I admire others who get past shame and tell all and am amazed by those who seem to have escaped shame all together.

But I have not been able to shake off shame. I still cringe whenever I reveal a detail of my past, when I speak of something I have been warned not to tell.

Reading the resurrection stories this year and imagining the scene of Jesus standing with his fearful disciples sparked a new insight.

Jesus got his wounds in a shameful fashion. He was mistreated by his own religious leaders and crucified as a common criminal.

The disciples scattered rather than stand at the foot of the cross and watch the man they respected be humiliated and disgraced. He had been their leader, but now he was broken—not powerful at all, but humbly submitting to ridicule, abuse and death.  

And yet, just days later, there he was, standing in their midst and inviting them to look at his wounds.

For Jesus, they were not marks of shame, but rather signs of victory. He was proud to show the marks of his suffering.

The disciples had been cowering in a locked room when Jesus appeared and invited them to look at his wounds.

What was clearer to me this year is that if Jesus could endure humiliation and overcome shame, so could his disciples. He was inviting them (and me) to shake off shame, to convert what looked like weakness into power, to break free of the bonds that kept them in hiding, behind locked doors.

Jesus broke through their fears and invited them to spread the word that humiliating treatment did not define or limit him, but rather he converted that treatment into true freedom.

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Fear drives people to abuse power and victimize vulnerable people.

By showing his wounds as signs of triumph over the fears of others, Jesus was offering the ultimate freedom. He did not let what had happened to him to limit or define him, and he invites me to do the same.

Showing his wounds was the exclamation point on his message that fear is useless and that trust in God leads to freedom.     

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Fill my heart with gratitude

Re-reading a journal from three years ago, I came upon an entry about my friend Ted, who had gone through surgery and treatment for esophageal cancer the previous year. Nine months after being declared “cancer free,” it was clear that something was wrong. He was understandably a bit reluctant to go and get checked out—who would want to face the recurrence of cancer?

During that time between realizing something was wrong and getting checked out, I wrote this: “I pray for Ted to be present to what is instead of wishing for something else.”

Then I wrote, “How about me? Being present to what is instead of wishing for something else? Accept, surrender, stop resisting.”

A few weeks later, Ted found out the cancer had come back, and he died a few months after that.

Facing truths that we might not want to face, and accepting those truths can be so difficult. Fear comes into play, usually accompanied by anxiety.

As I was thinking about how Ted faced his illness and death—and pondering my own fears and anxieties—this prayer came to me: Lord, fill my heart with gratitude.

Gratitude helps me focus on what is, on the reality of my life right here and now. It helps me identify and accept the truths in my life—both the things I find difficult to accept and also those I easily embrace.

I believe that gratitude, like love, casts out fear.gratitude-God-spiritualityAnd yet, some realities of life can understandably create fear. Cancer is one of them, but there are others—loss of job, betrayal, death of a loved one, etc. Without looking for them or wanting them, we encounter bumps in the road—things beyond our control that upset the order of our lives.

It can be very difficult to be grateful in the midst of some horrible life situation, but that may be the point. It is easy to be grateful when things are going well, when everything is turning my way and everything I touch succeeds.

Being grateful when bad news outweighs the good news is the challenge—and the invitation.gratitude-God-spiritualityI work at a cancer support center, so every day I hear from people who have received bad news. Helping people find something for which to be grateful as they are facing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation—or even death—can be a daunting task. I think, though, that people come to our center not just to vent, but also to find hope.

Gratitude and hope go hand in hand.

The difficulties and challenges don’t go away, but gratitude has a way of robbing bad news of its power. Gratitude changes the focus.gratitude-God-spiritualityI have so much for which to be grateful—a home, job, family, friends, health, faith….

I want to revive the Litany of Gratitude I created when Jim was sick, add to it every day, and read it regularly. Then I will be more open to allowing God to fill my heart with gratitude.gratitude-God-spirituality

 

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Living in gratitude

A friend posted this message on social media.gratitude-God-ExamenWhat if?

The question gave me pause, and I realized my life would be poorer by far. It is not that I am ungrateful; I am grateful. But do I express my gratitude every day? Especially to God? How often do I spend time just thanking God for all the good in my life?

When Jim was sick, I created a litany of gratitude, and every day I added to it. Nothing was too small to be included in my litany—a smile from a stranger, sunshine, the funny antics of the dog.

There were bigger things on the list, too— our faith, Jim’s excellent health insurance, living near a hospital with a cancer center and the generosity of friends and family.

I read the list to Jim every day, too, to remind him of all our blessings.

In those first days and weeks, when it felt that fear and anxiety might overwhelm me, I consciously sought blessings—something, anything, for which I could be grateful.

Jim’s death was imminent and God’s generosity was abundant. Those two realities co-existed.

I would often tell Jim about the day he got sick, because it was the day I started my litany. He had no recollection of that day or any of the days he was in ICU, but I would regale him with tales of the wacky things people said and did, which had not seemed funny when they happened but took on a comedic hue in the re-telling. I was grateful I could laugh at what had caused me so much anguish.

I lived in gratitude even though I knew I was on the verge of losing something precious—or perhaps because I was on the verge of losing something precious. Remembering my blessings helped me focus on God and gave me hope.

How could I not trust God when so many blessings were being poured out on me?

My awareness of God’s generosity was probably more acute during Jim’s illness than at any other time in my life.gratitude-God-ExamenAnd then Jim died, and I grieved. I got out of the habit of adding to my litany of gratitude and out of the habit of reciting it.

My litany of gratitude came back to me last weekend when I facilitated a Day of Reflection for a volunteer group. They are at the beginning of their year of service, and I wanted to offer them some tools to help them navigate the ups and downs of service and community living.

I shared with them my own volunteer experience in l’Arche and what I learned about expectations and letting go—two subjects that continue to pop up in my life. I encouraged them to pray the Examen, an Ignatian prayer that helps keep us moving in the direction of God and gratitude.

God continues to pour abundant blessings on me, and I want to be more mindful of thanking God every day for my blessings
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Resistance

About fifteen years ago, I got a bike as a Christmas gift. It is an expensive bike, with twenty-four speeds! It is not what I would have chosen—I would have picked one of those no-gear granny bikes with a wicker basket on front. I don’t even need hand-brakes. But this is the bike I got and still have.

I have thought of giving it away or selling it and buying a less-complicated bike, but I haven’t.

While riding last night, it occurred to me that I am resistant to this bike. I have not embraced it, appreciated it for the gift it is. Why is that? I wondered.

Resistance is a funny thing. Sometimes it can be so obvious, but other times it can be subtle.

My first spiritual director often made suggestions that she thought would be helpful. She suggested I pray for fifteen minutes at the same time every day, and she sometimes suggested books. I usually said, “No, thanks,” or said nothing and didn’t do what she suggested.

One of her book recommendations was An Interrupted Life by Etty Hillesum.

A year or so later, a women in my book club proposed this book. The title sounded vaguely familiar, but like most things I resist, I had blocked it from my mind and did not recall that this was the book my spiritual director had recommended.

The book was transformational (and I highly recommend it). At some point, though, I remembered that this was the same book that I had refused to read.

Why had I been resistant to this book? Why am I resistant to nonfiction in general? Am I afraid I will be invited to change?God-resistance-vulnerability“Stubbornness is not a virtue,” my current spiritual director recently told me. I didn’t think it was, even though I often act as if it is.

Stubborn is just another word for resistance. There are others: obstinate, pig-headed, inflexible….None of which I want to be.

But, there I was last night, riding my bike, when it occurred to me that I am resistant to this gift. This resistance is much more subtle; it has taken me fifteen years to even see it!

I think the bike says something about me which is not true. I think the bike says, I am a serious bike rider, which I am not. The most I ever ride is five miles, and at a leisurely pace. When people invite me to go for bike rides, I decline. I fear I could not keep up and that I would be a burden.

And there it is—fear of disappointing.

How much of my resistance is connected to my fear of disappointing or fear of failure?God-resistance-vulnerabilityGod invites me to move against my resistance—to welcome, accept and embrace what is offered. To look at the world through eyes of awe, wonder and amazement. God invites me to say yes to all that life offers. Accept the bike, I told myself. Embrace the bike.

 

 

 

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Moving on

Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a regular part of my spiritual life. Reviewing my thoughts, words and actions, looking at where I need to make changes and admitting my shortcomings to another human being helps me live more intentionally.

One transgression I don’t ever remember confessing is envy—because I tend to be quite content with my life.

Recently, though, I heard myself saying words I regretted the moment they out of my mouth. I knew I needed to apologize, but before I did, I wanted to understand what had prompted this comment.

I prayed for insight.

Pondering the situation, I realized I envied the woman I had spoken to; I was envious of a part of her life that reminded me of what I used to have but have lost.

Five years ago, I moved “home” after having lived away for almost forty years. That move changed my proximity to some friends and the things we used to do together. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that part of my old life until I heard this woman talking about a trip she had recently taken with her friends.

I was happy for her and the fun she had, but a week later—and not even thinking or talking about her trip—I said something totally irrelevant and rude. I was speaking out of the past, a past I have lost and apparently still mourn.vulnerability-grief-hopeUnderstanding doesn’t change or fix what is wrong, but it helps me to apologize sincerely and to figure out what adjustments I need to make to act differently in the future.

In this situation, my words led me to reflect on developing more friends in my new home—or perhaps initiating more with my family and the friends I do have.

When I moved home, I decided that I would not expect people to accommodate me—to make space for me in their lives—because I did not want to have unrealistic expectations. I knew that their lives had gone on without me while I chose to live away.

Developing realistic expectations can be tricky because expectations that are too high can lead to disappointment and expectations that are too low can lead to—well, I think in this situation, loneliness.

I realized that a fear of disappointment or rejection led me to develop extremely low expectations.

As I look back on the five years since my move, I can see that some of my attempts at initiating have been rejected and I have been disappointed on occasion. But more often, family and friends have embraced me and responded positively to my suggested activities.

Building a new life has been a challenge, and even though I am deeply grateful to be living near my family, my rude comment tells me that I still have a ways to go before I am totally content with my new life. Admitting that is the first step toward changing it. Letting go of what was also helps.vulnerability-grief-hope