Tag Archives: resistance

God-vulnerability-prayer

Formed by God

This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house…I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do to you…as this potter has done?…Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand…” Jeremiah 18:1-6

I love pottery and started buying it when I was twenty. My collection grew quite large until a friend who was helping me pack for one of my many moves said, “New rule: no more pottery.”God-vulnerability-prayerThe uniqueness of each piece of hand-thrown pottery fascinates me.

It is understandable then that the image of the potter at his wheel in Jeremiah has always caught my attention. How I would love for God to tell me to go to a potter’s house!

I can easily imagine a lump of clay being shaped and reshaped. I imagine that some of the form comes from the potter and some of the form from the clay. It is a partnership—the potter’s concept and the clay’s malleability.

That, perhaps, is where using the potter and clay to analogize my relationship with God hits a snag. Am I as pliable as clay? Am I completely open to being shaped and reshaped? Unfortunately, I think not.

As I read these words of Scripture the other day, I tried to imagine how God would reshape me at this point in my life. What would I look like if I dropped all of my defenses and allowed myself to fall into a vulnerable heap? How would God remake me?

I have some sense of that level of vulnerability and defenselessness from times in my life when my hopes and expectations were not met (crushed, really), and I had to accept that I was not in charge. Those times of raising my arms in surrender, of giving myself completely to God, were freeing and also terrifying. Accepting my vulnerability and admitting I have no control is so very difficult for me.God-vulnerability-prayerAnd yet, I do know that God holds all the cards.

As I read these words from Jeremiah, I remembered my spiritual director’s suggestion that I start with a clean sheet and imagine my life. I actually did the exercise, which in itself is a sign of how God has reshaped me—all of my past spiritual directors can attest to my resistance to these types of suggestions. And, like other times when I have moved against my resistance, this exercise was very insightful.

Perhaps I need to start each day visualizing myself as an unshapen lump of clay, and ask God to shape me into a vessel that will be most useful to carry out God’s will on this day and.in this place.God-vulnerability-prayer

 

 

 

 

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joy-mindfulness-faith

Trying to live mindfully

I try to live mindfully, which can be challenging, partly because of my job as the executive director of a non-profit organization. There is so much to do, and I have difficulty saying “no.”

So I practice in little ways. For example, when I am standing in line at the grocery store, I take a few deep breaths, and I find myself feeling more patient. When someone comes to talk to me at work, I set aside what I had been doing so I can listen deeply. I walk at a park along the lake.

One of the practices recommended at the Center for Mind Body Medicine workshop I attended last month was to write a prescription for self-care (these are medical people, so they think in terms of prescriptions). I chuckled to myself as the doctor/presenter explained the process, because this is something I have been doing as long as I have been journaling. My version is called “things that bring me joy.”joy-mindfulness-faithAt the beginning of each year, and every time I start a new journal, I review and update my list of things I love to do. The list hasn’t changed that much over the years. I still love to bake, read, cook and sew. I love going to museums and poking around in little shops in quaint towns.

But, I learned to knit in my late thirties, and added that to my list. Twenty years ago, I bought my first home and planted a flower garden—and then added gardening to the list.

Running changed to walking after an ankle injury fifteen years ago. Writing for blogs was added about ten years ago.

Walking by the lake the other day, I thought back over the past few months to see how I was doing in the “joy” department, and I realized there were some gaps. I had not baked or knitted for at least three months!

So I came home and baked chocolate chip cookies and blueberry coffee cake; I immediately felt happier.

How is it possible that something so simple can bring me such joy? And knowing that it does, why do I not do more?

To be fair, the past few weeks have seen me in the yard clearing out flower beds and planting annuals. But, I notice that my evenings have been spent watching mindless television—and not even knitting while I am sitting there.

That awareness leaves me feeling unsettled and even a bit discouraged. Why am I resisting doing something that brings me joy?

After a particularly discouraging day at work, and an evening of watching mindless television, I had an active dream night—I think my subconscious is busy repairing the discord of my waking life.joy-mindfulness-faithThe next morning, St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:16 spoke directly to me: “Therefore, we are not discouraged.”

Living mindfully requires paying attention to the everyday moments of my life, focusing on what brings me joy, and letting go of what is discouraging.

 

 

 

vulnerability-God-compassion

What I am learning from my tears

The other morning at prayer, these words from Ezekiel 47 caught my attention:

I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple….Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow, their leaves shall not fade nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.vulnerability-God-compassion

Lately, I have I have been very emotional, and I am unable to stop my tears from flowing.

I grew up in one of those families where crying was discouraged; tears usually elicited a response of, “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Then, in my twenties, I worked for the FBI where agents used to tell me to “toughen up.” This was usually in response to a mood-shift after my oh-so-easily-hurt feelings had been hurt. I would sulk and feel sorry for myself, but I would try not to cry.

My years at the FBI did toughen me up. I tried to keep inside any emotion that might make me look weak or vulnerable. Being tough (or at least looking tough) was my goal, so I swallowed my emotions.

At some point in my life, though, I realized the pendulum had swung too far and that I had developed an impenetrable shell to protect myself from criticism that I was weak. That shell helped me feel invincible and kept me from feeling vulnerable. It also kept others away.vulnerability-God-compassionOne of the good things about getting old is that I can look back on so many opportunities God has given me to move against my resistance to being vulnerable. God invites me not to toughen up but to soften up.vulnerability-God-compassionAs I read the words of Ezekiel, I wondered if my tears are the river that gives me life.vulnerability-God-compassionRecently, as I watched a high school volleyball game, tears started rolling down my face. The same thing happened a few weeks earlier at the Motown Museum while watching the movie about the early days of Barry Gordy and the high school students who would become his stars.

Reading a novel about Puritans in Connecticut, tears welled up and spilled over. Watching television, seeing a rainbow, spotting a butterfly—I have no idea what will set off a tearful episode.

I try to let the tears flow freely. I want the emotions to be set free—rather than tamped down or stifled.

My recent tears tell me that my protective shell has a crack in it, and I want to widen that crack. I want to acknowledge my fears and insecurities. I want to be softer. But it is not easy.

My early training sets me up to be afraid of showing my vulnerability, and fear can be a powerful paralyzer.

But, God keeps prompting me—with the words of scripture, my memories and my tears. I know I that I can sit with the discomfort of feeling vulnerable and not be overwhelmed.

Let the tears flow.vulnerability-God-compassion

 

 

 

 

 

Brussels sprouts and loofas

God promises to do something new (Isaiah 43:19), and I believe the promise. I have been praying to be open to the something new God wants for me, but I sometimes wonder how God can do something new if I am clinging tenaciously to the old.

So I have also been praying to be more aware of what I am holding onto and where I am resistant to change.

The prayer seems to be working; almost every day I am aware that I am being resistant to something. I catch myself saying, “I don’t like…” or “I don’t do…” or “I don’t eat…” or some other words which express that I am being obstinate.

For example, I tend to be fairly adventurous when it comes to trying different foods. My one disclaimer is that I don’t eat Brussels sprouts. (Ok, full disclosure, I also don’t eat those baby chicks on a stick they sell in the Philippines, and I get a bit queasy about some of the greens I have had in Africa, but otherwise, I am willing to try just about anything.)

A few weeks ago at dinner with a friend, she suggested we share a Brussels sprout salad. “I don’t eat Brussels sprouts,” I said. She was willing to order a different salad, but the restaurant was known for this particular one, so I moved against my resistance and agreed to try it. I am not sure what they did to alter the taste, but these Brussels sprouts were very good and I actually enjoyed the salad.

Later that same week, I received a gift bag full of spa-type products, including a loofa. I have received loofas before, but not used them; I use wash cloths. This time, though, I decided to try the loofa. When I went to work and gushed about my discovery of the wonders of the loofa, my co-worker looked at me quizzically. She has been using loofas for a long time. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I asked. “Why didn’t I listen?” is probably the better question.

The habits, patterns and guidelines I have created to give structure to my life can lead to a rigid rejection of anything different. That which is familiar and comforting can get in the way of receiving the new that God is offering.

Whether it is trying a new food (or one I have previously decided I don’t eat) or trying a new endeavor or welcoming a new person into my life, whenever I hesitate or hear myself say no, I know I am  being resistant. My little resistances are signs that I am not free, that I am holding too tightly to something.

Every day, God offers me the opportunity to live my life in a different way. Brussel sprouts and loofas are just two steps along the path to freedom.

Moving against my resistance

My desire is to live in freedom, and at the beginning of Lent, I prayed for the grace to face the fears that keep me unfree.

Ironically, from the outside, I don’t look scared at all. In fact, many people have told me how much they admire my courage because of the risks I have taken. I have done lots of things other people fear—like moving to places where I knew no one, travelling alone internationally, visiting people in prison, living in l’Arche and taking in a sick friend so he could die the way he wanted.

I could take those risks because they posed little possibility of rejection.

But, telling someone who I am and how God has touched my life—that scares me. I fear being asked, “Who are you that God chose you?” I am an unlikely candidate for God’s abundant graces. I don’t know why God chose me, but I do know that God lifted me from a dark place and drew me into safety and that God desires for me to know myself as His beloved.

I also know that I want to live in the freedom God offers me when I let go of my fears and move against my resistance.

My deepest fear is of being rejected. It is well-entrenched, and I have been working to uproot it for a long time.

Over the years, I seem to have developed a sixth sense for the potential of rejection. I have also developed evasive maneuvers to avoid situations where I might be rejected. “I don’t usually do that,” is a stalling tactic I employ when asked to participate in something I sense has the potential for rejection.

This resistance is interwoven so deeply in my life that I am often unaware I am being resistant. Generally, some outside force is needed to clue me in. Usually, it is something out of the ordinary—some unknown person speaking to me or some writing I would not normally see coming across my desk, something that causes an “aha” moment.

Before Lent, my church publicized an upcoming Lenten program—six weeks of small-group faith-sharing. I read the bulletin notices and heard the pastor encourage participation, but I did not consider signing up. I don’t usually go to these types of programs, because I am uncomfortable sharing. Uncomfortable here is another word for scared. My experience of sharing my faith in parish settings has sometimes left me feeling different or odd—rejected.

On the Sunday that people were signing up for this program, a man I did not know said to me, “You should come to this.” I told him I would check my calendar, another avoidance technique. I really had no intention of checking my calendar because I did not intend to go. But then it occurred to me that I was being resistant, and I recognized in his invitation an invitation to face my fears and move against my resistance.

I participated in the Lenten program. Rejection? None. Freedom? Plenty.

Expectations

On our daily walks, my dog Detroit and I usually pass by Lucy, a small, brown dog who lives a few blocks away. Lucy always greets Detroit the same way— racing back and forth along the fence, barking, baring her teeth and growling. Friday morning was no exception.

“She looks how I feel,” I thought, all agitated and angry.

Then I remembered the Native American story of the two wolves that live within me. One 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.

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. Seeing Lucy reminded me that last week I had been feeding the angry wolf.

A series of unexpected events marked the week; each day brought new challenges—schedule changes, phone calls and emails to communicate among family members, and lots of uncertainty. I was frustrated, angry, concerned and scared. It was a week where I was reminded of how little control I actually have.

Unanticipated events are not new for me; I have had lots of them over the course of my life—opportunities to practice adjusting my expectations and letting go. I would say I am better at it now than when I was young, but I still have a long way to go.

One thing I have learned about unanticipated events is that I can make a choice in how I react. I can resist the change and hold onto how I think things should have been—and become an angry, resentful pile of self-pity. Or I can let go and accept that things have changed and I need to adjust my expectations.

A downside of choosing the former is that while I am focused on what I cannot change, I can I miss the good things that are happening right in front of me.

For example, on Friday evening, my mother invited me for dinner and gave me some things I need for my house. And when I got home from dinner, a package greeted me—a gift from my friend Michele who is living in Japan. Gratitude triumphed over self-pity. Agitation and snarling were replaced by appreciation and delight.

In the midst of upheaval, gifts continue to be offered. I need to let go of my expectations, live in the moment and be grateful—or else I may end up like Lucy.

Resistance

“Just say ‘yes’” was my mantra in the year after my friend Jim died. The life-is-fragile lesson was fresh, and I wanted to be open to all that life and God were offering me.

All of the “yeses” of that year led to wonderful opportunities for travel and retreat and reimagining my life. I felt untethered and free.

I have had other periods in my life when I was in that same space, periods of transition when I felt like the trapeze artist who has let go of one swing and was waiting to catch the other. It is for me a place where the ground has fallen away and I am deeply aware of my dependence on God, because God is all I have.

While in that state, I tell myself that I want to remember the lessons of those times—to let go, to be open, to trust, to say “yes.”

Eventually, though, I come out of the freefall and start to rebuild a foundation and reestablish routine.

So now my life is now much more settled and getting back to normal—and I am aware that I have slipped away from living the lessons and have reverted to some of my old ways.

Two years ago, when I started thinking of returning to Michigan, I remember imagining what my new life would look like. I made lists of the things that are important to me, things I would be sure to build into my new life.

Some pieces of my life would be fairly easy to replicate—book club, knitting store and gardening, for example.

But one of the most important pieces of my life—a faith support network—is more difficult to find or build. In Pennsylvania, I had a number of friends with whom I could share my faith, friends who are on the same spiritual page as I am.

This part of starting over was one of the most daunting aspects of the transition.

Finding or building a faith support network requires like-minded people who are willing to expand their network. It also requires that I let go and trust, that I make myself vulnerable. In short, that I return to that liminal space where I acknowledge that I don’t know all the answers (or even all the questions) and that God holds all the cards. It requires that I be open to the opportunities presented to me, that I say “yes” to invitations.

In the short period of one year, I had forgotten to say “yes” and recently became aware that I was being resistant to an invitation to join a faith-based group.

Thankfully, God is patient and persistent—and keeps inviting me to let go, to be open, to trust and to say “yes.”