Wrapped in the love of God

For the last several years, the concept of “feeling God’s love for you” has been swirling around my life and times.

First, it was because I was reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved in my small faith group. Some of my friends were wrestling with feelings of unworthiness. I could not identify with this. Certainly I have had moments—plenty of them—in which I am deeply aware of my failures. But to have a global sense of unworthiness is one cross I have not been asked to bear. (Yet, at least.)

At the same time, I didn’t feel “beloved,” either. Or IN love, for that matter, as so many people like to say. I have, in my lifetime, oscillated between jealousy of such a feeling and a jaded suspicion that such things are more for show than reality.

After Nouwen, I started doing contemplative/centering prayer, and Fr. Richard Rohr, as well as William Meninger, talk again and again about how it’s in the dark emptiness of centering prayer that you encounter and experience the love of God.

Well, I experience God’s presence, but I don’t feel anything that feels like love.

This theme keeps popping up, because I have an ongoing connection with the Center for Action & Contemplation, and every time it does, a little cognitive/spiritual dissonance comes up. Not troubling, exactly—just puzzling. Puzzle is a good word. It’s like a liturgical song text, when I’m working on it. I work on it for a while and then I have to walk away for a while, because I need some distance. And every so often I return to it to see if a fresh perspective has emerged.

Friday morning, I believe it might have done just that. I think.

I was out on one of my rambles, and I landed on an abandoned concrete bridge over a creek—one of my favorite spots to sit and be still, and sometimes to work. This particular morning it was a song text, in fact—one for Advent. I was scribbling in the dappled shade and I glanced up, and my whole consciousness lit up, because the transition between near-illegible scratches on a page and the sheer, heart-stopping beauty before me was so striking.

I set my pen down and said, “Thank you, God. This is You I’m seeing here. This is your gift to me.”

And this quiet thought whispered: This is how God loves me. This is what it feels like to be loved by God.

It doesn’t look or feel like what I assumed it would look or feel like, but it’s 100% me, and maybe that’s the point.

Whatever’s Inside Eventually Comes Out

joy painting brush
Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

When I was a little girl, my mother took me to visit a relative in the nursing home. I must have been pretty small, because I don’t remember much except this: we were walking down the hallway and passed an old woman in a wheelchair—a complete stranger—who looked up at my mom and cussed her out.

Mostly, I remember the shock. Seeing my reaction, my mom said, in some verbiage appropriate enough to lodge a grain of wisdom in a small child, “We have to guard our thoughts, because when we get old, whatever we think is going to come out of our mouths, even if we know it’s wrong. Even if we always controlled it before.”

In recent weeks, as I’ve been pondering joy (and whether I have it), this truth has been working its way up through my memory. Challenging me to examine my present in light of its implications for the future. What kind of person I will be in another twenty or thirty years, if I spend these hours and days and years shadowboxing real and imaginary opponents? To do so is to nurture anger and bitterness, and in my twilight years, that is what I will do: view the world through a lens of everything that irritates me about it. To skip right over the beauty and unity and look instead for opportunities to pick fights with anything (possibly important, but more likely petty) that annoys me.

This is not what I want. I want the unfiltered version of me to be one that doesn’t evoke winces, deep breaths, or gritted teeth from those around me. To be joyful.

So what have I learned about seeking joy?

Honestly? Not much, yet. My spiritual director asked me, “Have you asked God to give you joy?” I took a breath to answer and what came out was:


gnarled treeSo lesson #1 is, relying on myself to find joy is futile. A chase after wind. Just like every other hard thing in life, it is beyond me. It is a gift of God, and I have to ask for it.

Lesson #2 is that whether it feels like it or not, I have a choice about how I react to things. You know that cliche, “pick your battles”? In recent years, I’ve been picking them all. A few months ago, I identified one major battle in my life that I was not winning, while other people were having better success. I realized that meant it was time to let them take over the fight.

In the past few days, I discovered that where another battle is concerned, I’m simply done fighting. The wound hasn’t changed, my convictions haven’t changed, but I’ve expended all the emotional energy I’m willing to expend. It’s time to seek open doors instead of banging on the one that’s closed. Shake the dust from my feet. Move on.

Lesson #3 is that being out of sync in my closest relationships is an unnecessary stress that robs joy from all of life.

Lesson #4 is that getting stretched too thin causes me to be out of sync in my closest relationships.

Lesson #5 is the one I already knew: that equilibrium in my life comes from spending time alone with God in nature. Weather, family obligations, and my husband’s lack of freedom to do the same all complicate that seemingly simple truth, but I’m trying to work with it.

That’s what I’ve got so far. What about you, readers? What have you learned about seeking joy?

Living in the moment

LS - serenely present

Another thought from Pope Francis about the underlying mindset that allows us to be better stewards of God’s creation (not to mention everything else).

#intentionalcatholic #realfaithrealworld #faithinaction #theologyofthebody #creation #environmentalstewardship #steward #green #greenliving #gogreen #climatechange #laudatosi #laudatosii #catholic #socialjustice #humandignity #goldenrule #theologyofthebody

We Were Not Meant To Live Like This

Rush Hour
Photo by ChrisM70, via Flickr

It’s a been quite a weekend week two weeks month life lately. I’m working on a novel revision which I intended to have finished the middle of last week, but between spring break, meetings, presentations, kids’ events, and so on, I missed my self-imposed deadline.

I don’t like missing deadlines.

At the same time, I was wrestling with what to do about a very specific item that was causing me great anguish. The kind that keeps you from taking deep breaths. The kind that keeps you awake for three hours in the middle of the night.

I knew God had a solution, but I couldn’t find it. I kept asking. But I didn’t have time to be quiet and still to let him talk, and when I did have thirty seconds, I couldn’t find the quiet center that would allow me to hear anything. Whatever course of action I took, I could see potential disasters.

The good news is that when you seek sincerely, God will get through eventually, one way or another. And by the time I took off on an all-day-and-evening field trip with my daughter on Friday, I had found an course of action that eased my mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Somewhat.

That day, as we walked around Kansas City, the sculpture pictured above stuck out at me. Often, I’ll look at art and be struck by it, but not really know why it resonates. This one made its meaning instantly clear. Look at those people–grim-faced, heads down, leaning into a maelstrom of overwhelming stress. Weighed down. Completely checked out of their own lives. They are prisoners of modern life.

It resonated because it was precisely how I’d been feeling: trapped, powerless, entirely in survival mode–and resentful about it. The weather was beautiful, the earth coming back to life, and I was struggling just to breathe. I couldn’t look up to see–really see–the birds twittering and the baby leaves on the weeping willow. I couldn’t hear the hum of the earth going through its yearly resurrection.

I think we all know that when we’re weighed down and all of life feels burdensome, we miss the goodness of God all around us. But that sculpture reminded me that what I lack most in those times is guidance. I am always, always willing to do whatever God asks of me, however difficult–I just need to know what God’s will is! But when my eyes are staring at internal blackness, my brain wrapped in thick chains of stress and busy work instead of resting in God…

Well, at those times I’m short-tempered, easily offended, easily goaded into fighting, more judgmental, and generally a dim reflection of God’s presence in the world. Worse: at those time, I can’t hear God telling me His will for this moment and this situation and this question.

We were not meant to live like this, in a constant race around a pointless hamster wheel. We were made for better things. Made to live in a peace and calm that allows us to recognize the whisper of God’s voice in our minds, telling us the answer to our quandaries, and God’s hand on our back, nudging us toward His will in all the complexities of modern life.

We were not meant to live like this. The question is, are we looking for a way out?