Tag Archives: Lent


Change my heart

Recently, I have spoken about my work at a cancer support center to several Optimist Clubs, and every time I hear the Optimist Creed, this line stands out:

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

One of my Lenten plans was to see the people in front of me. Sometimes I don’t actually see the person standing in front of me, but rather I see a version of that person which is based on my past experiences with him or her, and I know that is not always accurate.

Instead, I want to try to see as God sees—to see the potential in each person, to see the best in each one. I want to be less critical and more hopeful about the people in my life.spirituality-prayer-lentUsually, though, I form an impression of someone when we meet. If someone is prickly, I tend to think, “This is a prickly person.” I can then find it difficult to change that initial impression, to let go of my expectations that someone will act in a particular way. I can easily devote attention and energy to the faults of others while conveniently overlooking my own. spirituality-prayer-lentI know, though, that when I get a glimpse of myself as God sees me, it is a better version of me. From God’s perspective, I am capable of being my best self—loving, forgiving, accepting and merciful. When others see the best in me, and let me know that, I am more likely to be that person (or at least be more aware when I am not). The ability of others to see the best in me helps me to grow into the person God created me to be.

God invites me to focus on improving myself, on fixing my own faults before I start looking at others.spirituality-prayer-lentWhen I am aware of my own flaws, I am less likely to be critical of others. When I remember that I grow and change, it is easier to believe that others also grow and change—and also easier to see their potential.

Practicing seeing as God sees also makes me more compassionate. Seeing the potential in others and allowing them the space to grow into their potential reminds me we are all on the path to discovering who God created us to be. Hoping that I and others can live up to the vision God has for us shifts my vision from pessimism to optimism; God’s vision is always hopeful and expansive.spirituality-prayer-lentEvery person who stands before me has the potential to become all that God intended. My desire is to accept the people who come into my life without criticism or judgment and to imagine them as their best selves, the selves God created them to be.



Seeing as a spiritual practice

“You have sensitive eyes,” my eye doctor once told me.

He was referring to the fact that I came to see him whenever my vision changed—even the tiniest variation in my eyesight would send me in to get new lenses. He told me that most people lived with blurry vision for a while before coming in for a new set of glasses. But not me; I have sensitive eyes.

His observation came back to me after reading a comment on one of my blog posts about how I seemed to see deeper meaning in everyday objects, how I can look beyond the physical characteristics of something and make a spiritual connection.

For Lent, I am praying to see with sensitive eyes. I want to see with the eyes of my heart (Ephesians 1:18).

When I was in my twenties, I worked in an office with nine men; I was the only woman. My emotional state at the time was like a roller coaster. Which me would show up for work on any given day? Happy me? Angry me? Depressed me? Sad me? It was anyone’s guess.spiritual-practice-Lent

One day, when depressed me showed up for work, one of the men stopped in front of my desk, paused and then said, “Do you know that your moods affect the entire office?”

“What?” I asked, incredulously. I thought I lived in a bubble, that I was the only one affected by my volatile emotional state. I really did not know anyone else noticed.

“You are the first person we meet when we walk through that door, and when you are in a bad mood, it affects all of us,” he explained.

Oh, those poor men, I thought. They had been enduring my unpredictable mood swings. My roller-coaster ride must have been like a ride through a house of horror for them.

But, having been made aware, I decided to change. I would park my moodiness at the door and enter the office even-keeled. It took effort, but over time, I became much more stable.spiritual-practice-LentOne problem, though, was that some of the men had the image of the old me so firmly planted in their minds that they could not see the new me. They never really trusted that the old me would not reappear, so they never let their guard down long enough to get to know the new me.

It was a wonderful lesson about my own potential to grow and about allowing other people to grow—to expect the best in myself and in others, even if I am repeatedly disappointed.

That lesson has stayed with me, and I strive to be even-keeled. I also remind myself that I am not the same person I was yesterday—and neither is anyone else.

I want to be open to the people I meet every day and to look for the best in them. I want to practice seeing with sensitive eyes, with the eyes of my heart.spiritual-practice-Lent


The five freedoms

The yellowed edges on the single sheet of lined paper indicated it was old. This hand-written page, entitled The Five Freedoms, had spent years tucked away in a file folder. I don’t remember writing it or filing it away, but it is in my handwriting and in my cabinet.

A Google search indicated that author and psychotherapist Virginia Satir had written The Five Freedoms. I must have gotten them while I was in therapy or a self-help group during my thirties, when I was seeking to reconcile with my past and create a different future. The Five Freedoms are:

  1. The freedom to see and hear what is here instead of what should be, was or will be.
  2. The freedom to say what I feel and think, instead of what I should.
  3. The freedom to feel what I feel, instead of what I ought.
  4. The freedom to ask for what I want, instead of waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks in my own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure” and not rocking the boat.

Reflecting on these Five Freedoms reminded me of an exercise we once did in l’Arche at an assistants’ meeting. The leader read a list of ten or twelve statements, each related to some aspect of our personalities. After we listened to the list being read, we had to write down what we heard, what we remembered. Then the list was reread. We were then told that the items we missed, the ones that did not register with us, are the items we need to work on to incorporate into our lives. I remember that one of mine was about speaking what I believed, number two of the Five Freedoms.

I still struggle with it; my inner critic is powerful and loud.

Shoulds and oughts run through my mind, interfering with my freedom to feel, think, want and speak. I still find myself censuring what I say and doubting what I think and want.

I tend to be a fairly direct person, so holding my tongue can be a good thing for me. But, often I don’t speak, not because I am afraid of offending someone, but because I am afraid of being judged. Even when I figure out what I think and feel, I am often reluctant to say.

It is ironic that I have done a lot of public speaking about my nonprofit work, work that is based on beliefs and visions that have often challenged my audience. In those situations, I learned to put on the armor of God and stand firm in my convictions (Ephesians 6:10-18). But I have not yet gotten completely comfortable in wearing that armor in my personal life.

I have recently been pondering the story of Jesus calling Lazarus to “come out” and then instructing those standing nearby to “unbind him.” (John 11:43-44) Moving beyond shoulds and oughts is a way for me to come out and be free.


Anna Woofenden, 2014


Pins in my journal

Seeking a new knitting pattern, my sister suggested I look on Pinterest. I had signed up for Pinterest several years ago, but found the site overwhelming. Things seem to appear and then disappear for no discernable reason. It was beyond me.

“You have to create boards and then pin things you like on the boards,” my sister counseled. “Otherwise, you may never find them again,” she added. That had certainly been my experience.

So I created a board (called “Knitting”) and began pinning patterns I liked.

Once demystified, I can now visit Pinterest with confidence. The secret is to recognize when something catches my attention—even briefly—and “pin” it to a board.

This method of adding things of interest to Pinterest boards reminds me of praying lectio divina—that prayer method that invites me to notice the words or phrases in Scripture that catch my attention and then to spend some time in prayer with the images and ideas generated by those words. My journal is where I “pin” my Scripture ideas.

I write in my journal every morning, reviewing the previous day and recording thoughts and actions. I also record night dreams and day dreams, and I write whatever catches my attention during my morning prayer. At the beginning of the year, I write plans and goals for the year, and at the end of the year, I re-read my journals from that year. Before meeting with my spiritual director each month, I read what I have written since my last meeting with her.

I interact with my journal frequently. It is much more low-tech than Pinterest, but it is the system that works for me.

It would be easy for me to get hooked on Pinterest. Each click leads to something else of interest and is an invitation to keep exploring and collecting pins.

I think Scripture is like that, too. Each reading invites me to go deeper and collect bits of insight and wisdom. Each reading leads me to a deeper understanding of how to be more loving and forgiving. Spending time in prayer reminds me of God’s love and offers direction for my life.

Yesterday, before I met with my spiritual director, I reviewed my journal for the last month, and noticed a theme of growth. The words of Scripture that caught my attention had to do with watered gardens and gurgling springs (Isaiah 58:11) and cultivating the ground (Luke 13:8). On several occasions, I had written about moving beyond shoulds and oughts and being the person God created me to me—no matter how outrageous she may be.

The words of Scripture encourage me to keep growing, and give me hope that God does really call me His “delight” (Isaiah 62:4). I want to be that person—God’s delight—and keep “pinning” God’s promises in my journal and on my heart.

More mercy

The experience of mercy, the priest explained, is what Pope Francis hopes for this jubilee year.  Not the definition or theology, not talking about mercy or learning more about it, but experiencing it and living it. The presentation by a Franciscan priest on Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy helped me better understand this jubilee year.

The priest told us that the Pope had a transformational experience of mercy when he was a teen and that Caravaggio’s painting The Calling of St. Matthew was connected to that experience. The priest talked about experiencing mercy through the loving look of God, that look that melts one’s heart, the look artists try to capture.


Caravaggio is a bit dark for my taste; I prefer Tanner’s Annunciation as a portrait of God’s light breaking through.The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

But looking at Caravaggio’s painting reminded me of my trip to Rome and a sculpture in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria—the Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila by Bernini.



This piece of art reminds me of one of my own transformational experiences of mercy.

It happened about thirty years ago as I was praying in the convent chapel at my parish, lost in contemplation. Then I saw myself in an old, European cathedral, the kind I had visited in Spain a few years earlier—thick, stone walls and large, open spaces. I was lying
on the floor and could feel the cold, hard tiles on my hands and cheek.

Church in spain

As I lay prostrate, the floor began to shift, and then I was being lifted up. The section of floor that was holding me became the hand of God, and God assured me that I was safe.

That was not the first time I had felt the hand of God lifting me up—that happened when I was just eight years old—but it is the memory I return to again and again when I want to recall God’s mercy toward me. It is the experience that melts my heart and makes me want to reach out to others to remind them that God holds and loves each of us, and that we are safe.

That vision encourages me to be merciful, to take risks with forgiveness and acceptance, to let go of my need to be right and allow others the chance to be heard.

In his presentation on Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy, the priest noted that we live in a culture which is more focused on people getting what they deserve and how antithetical that is to mercy. If each of us got what we deserved, he said, there would be no hope, because we all make mistakes, we all sin; most of us just don’t get caught. But when we are caught, we pray for mercy.

Experiencing more mercy by focusing on God’s love and forgiveness—and then being more merciful—that will be my Lenten prayer.

Good grief

My mail piles up, unopened. Appointments are missed. I don’t cook, knit, exercise or practice Polish. Frequent naps are the order of the day. The television drones on as background noise.

I am grieving.

If someone had asked me five years ago, “How do you grieve?” I would not have known the answer. Now, unfortunately, I do. I recognize the signs—the unopened mail, disruptions to my routines, the lethargy. “You forget to eat when you grieve,” a friend said the other day. She is right. Food has little appeal.

My memories sustain me these days and I can spend hours lost in the past, reliving the joyful moments of a friendship that helped shape my life.

I let my tears flow, even if at inopportune times. I don’t want to stifle my grief, because I know what happens if I deny expression to this sadness—it will not be stopped but will manifest itself in other ways, upset stomach, anxiety, restless nights. No, I have learned that it is far better to let my emotions have their way, certain that they will not overwhelm me completely, that I will survive this ache, this loss.

I am blessed, really, to have loved so deeply that I hurt so deeply.

That is what I remind myself when I show up for a meeting on the wrong day or find that hours have passed and I have accomplished nothing. “Be gentle with yourself,” friends advise. That is probably one of the greatest gifts grief has given me—the capacity to be gentle with myself, to accept myself in the vulnerable state. I cut myself slack and explain my loss when I miss a deadline or am at the wrong place at the wrong time. People are kind and compassionate; they honor my pain.

We begin Lent next week, walking with Jesus to his death, and I think I will be in a good place for Lent this year, this latest loss so recent. Mary Magdalene will be my companion, and the words of scripture my consolation. “She did what she could,” Jesus says (Mark 14:8) as much about Mary as about me. I did what I could to be a good friend and loving companion.

And then at Easter, I hope to rejoice as Mary Magdalene rejoiced, to be ready for a new life with a deeper appreciation for what has been and a greater hope for what will be.



Living Easter Joy

Sometimes I am in sync with the liturgical seasons; for example, this past Lent. Part of my plan for Lent was to identify and face my fears, and I spent time pondering what keeps me unfree and praying for the grace to let go of fear and grow in trust. It was a good Lenten practice.

But now that we are in the Easter season, I am feeling a bit disconnected.

Our daily readings from the Acts of the Apostles provide the backdrop for this season, capturing the reactions of the early church to the resurrection —stories of jubilation and passion for spreading the Good News. As I read these passages, the joy and passion grab my attention and offer me a standard against which to measure myself. Am I that joyful about the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection? Am I that passionate about spreading the word?

I am not feeling it. Perhaps I have not moved beyond the fears I recently identified. I think I needed an extension on Lent, a few more weeks to come to a deeper resolution.

One way I know that I am living in fear is how I relate to money—or the lack thereof. I don’t usually worry about money or even give it much thought at all. I grew up without money and have never earned a very high salary. I live fairly simply and within my means.

In one job, my board president called me “lilies of the field” because I trusted so completely that there would be enough money to do the work we were doing. At one point during a government budget standoff that upheld contracts, other programs like ours were laying off staff and cutting programs, but we continued on as if we had no money worries. I trusted, and God provided. It is really that simple for me. I have that much trust.

So when I find myself concerned that there might not be enough money, when I start to check my bank account daily or even worse, start thinking about a second job, I know something is off.

When fear infects my life, I know I have moved away from living in gratitude, away from awareness of God’s abundance. Fear is the antithesis of trust, joy and freedom.

Prayer is the antidote to fear. Spending time in prayer is what I need right now. Placing myself in God’s presence and allowing myself to know God’s love for me moves me back to living in gratitude, to remembering God’s abundance. In prayer, I hear God called me His beloved and remind me that I am more important to God than the lilies of the field. God provides.

In this Easter season when we celebrate new life through Jesus’ resurrection, I need to remind myself to stay focused on all the good in my life and to be grateful.