Tag Archives: gospel

God-hope-letting go

Holding on and letting go

A woman I know became sick a few months ago—suddenly. I learned about her illness through social media. Her family asked for prayers and said she was “gravely ill,” but it was not until they used the word “hospice” that I realized how gravely ill she was. In a matter of a few weeks, she went from posting pictures of her husband, children and grandchildren on social media—to dying.

Life is so fragile.

When death is near, what is happening in the rest of the world seems distant and unimportant. The passing of a loved one becomes the most important thing and offers great clarity about what really matters.

I try to remember those moments—the times when I had great clarity about what truly matters in life.God-hope-letting goThese thoughts came back to me while reading the Gospel of Mark. I wonder if St. Mark had clarity as to what was really important, if he had a sense of urgency about spreading the story of Jesus’ life and message.

I thought of how God uses us to spread the Good News. Was Mark a writer? Or was he just compelled to write the story of Jesus? As I pondered Mark’s mission, I was reminded of some notes I received when my friend Jim was dying from brain cancer.

Several friends wrote to me during Jim’s illness reminding me that we were living the Paschal mystery—facing death and resurrection every day. It was true that we knew Jim would die soon and yet every day we found a way to laugh and every day we recited our litany of gratitude.

Jim was unable to read for most of the time he was sick, so I read his mail to him, and I also read any notes I received. One of the notes about the Paschal mystery sparked a conversation about the everyday deaths we faced.

Jim’s physical decline was an obvious death, but there were others that seemed as significant. We kept being faced with situations where we needed to let go so that we could truly live.

Holding on and letting go was part of our daily conversation.

At some point, I realized that it was not just at the time of one’s death, but that living the Paschal mystery was a continual invitation to see things in new ways, to look from different angles and to be open to change.God-hope-letting goAs I reflected, the words to Unsteady by X Ambassadors, popped into my mind.

Hold

Hold on

Hold on to me

‘Cause I’m a little unsteady

A little unsteady…If you love me, don’t let go.

Holding on can offer a sense of security and stability, but there’s always the question, What am I holding on to?

While our world may seem to be spiraling out of control, Christians are called to remain “steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5:9), not caving in to popular culture or the “prowling Satan” but holding on to Jesus’ message of hope.

 

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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.

Holding on and letting go

On my recent retreat, we prayed with Luke 24:13-35, the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus. Jesus joins them, but they do not recognize him. As they near their destination, they say to Jesus, “Stay with us.”

christ-appears-on-the-road-to-emmaus-large

As I prayed with this Gospel passage, those words jumped off the page, Stay with us. I repeated the phrase again and again—Stay with us—and pondered how I invite Jesus to stay with me.

And then, as often happens in prayer, different words came to mind. Stay with us became Don’t go. The message is similar, but the words seem more insistent. Don’t go.

My friend Ted was on hospice at his sister’s home in Portland when I last visited him in January; he was nearing the end of his life. We shared memories of our thirty plus years of friendship, prayed together and planned his funeral Mass. It was a lovely visit.

On the day I was to leave Oregon, the day I was to say good-bye to this dear friend, he said to me, “Go, catch your plane, and I’ll see you in heaven.”

Go. The word touched something deep within me, and I began to cry. Ted’s sisters were in the kitchen, and I ran to them and shared Ted’s directive. “He told me to go,” I sobbed.

Don’t go is what I wish I could have said to Ted. Don’t leave me. Stay with me. But it was not to be. I did leave that day, and a week later, Ted died.

Then I thought about my friend Jim’s last days. Two days before he died, he also told me to go. “Go, be with your sisters,” he had said.

My sisters had driven in from Michigan the previous day; it was the first time I had seen them since Jim got sick nine months earlier. Jim’s directive for me to go and be with them was a shift. During his illness, he always wanted me to stay with him. Don’t go were the words I had become accustomed to hearing. Stay with me.

Another memory stirred—from the last days of my father’s life fourteen years ago. The hospice nurse had called me and said my dad was “ready to go,” but that my mom was holding on. “You have to come home and help your mother let him go,” she had said to me. I bought a plane ticket and flew home the next day.

My mother disagreed with the nurse’s assessment; she felt she had let go. But while her words were telling him it was okay to go, her whole being was saying don’t go. When she was finally able to let him go, he died within an hour.

These days of retreat helped me look at holding on and letting go, of staying and going. I came away with a profound sense of gratitude for all that has been and a renewed­­ hope for what is still possible.