Our “Mission of Care”

My little spiritual formation group (which now meets on Zoom) has been struggling with the question “how can I help?” since early in the pandemic and again in the era of protests in the street. Many of us are doers. We all feel guilty safely ensconced in our homes while the world is crashing around us. We know that for now it is foolish for most of us to try to volunteer outside our homes. Most of us are using Zoom to stay in contact with other  groups we were a part of before the pandemic struck.  But the satisfaction that comes from seeing other lives impacted by what we personally do is rare.

So when I read the Ministry of Arts Prayer for Caregivers, I was struck by this phrase: “May Abundant Love lift you and Gratitude bless you as you live the mission of Care entrusted to you.”  “Living the mission of care” entrusted to me has become a helpful way to determine “how can I help?”

This week when our little group met it was easy to determine what each of us is being entrusted with. The mission of care for one was to support her grandson as his family struggles with mental health problems. Another member just welcomed a bi-racial great grandson to her family. She now has the opportunity to love, support and mentor  her granddaughter as she sorts out how to be the mother of a bi-racial child in the midst of racial chaos. Another has been asked to serve her neighbor by being her unofficial “next of kin” during her illness. A fourth member found a way to assist her church through her service on a local denominational committee.  

My mission of care is to help my husband physically, emotionally, and spiritually navigate the path of leading to the end of his life. It requires “nursing,” planning, companionship, encouragement, unconditional love, chauffeuring, phone calls, laundry, cleaning, washing, cooking – and staying home so I don’t bring home COVID-19 to further decimate his lungs. Many of these tasks seem beyond me some days and I have to rely on  Abundant Love and Gratitude to see me through. But knowing that God has entrusted me with this mission of care is motivating and empowering. 

I have also learned that putting on “the whole armor of God” can protect me from spreading my negative feelings and cranky behavior to my husband.  I see my “armor” as similar to the PPE put on by front line workers during this awful pandemic:  masks and face shields and gloved and gowns and shoe coverings  protect them from the virus.  When I get up in the morning I dress in my clothes and then don my virtual “PPE” to protect my husband and myself from the emotions that sometimes want to escape my body and contaminate both of us.

We all are uniquely crafted and blessed with talents, abilities, histories, and opportunities that make us the perfect person to be used by God for important missions – even if we can’t leave our homes.  We just need to be willing to accept those missions when God sends them our way – even if they seem small or homely. I encourage us all to welcome the lifting of Abundant Love  and the blessing of Gratitude so that we can recognize and live into every mission God sends our way.              

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Going Deeper with God – Rehearsing the Good Things (Psalm 103)

Eugene Peterson’s book “Eat this Book” teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. Psalm 103 encourages us to rehearse the good things that God has done for us and respond with passionate thanks.

The world is in a difficult place! We have a pandemic swirling around us,  a political and literal inferno in our streets, and a president who doesn’t seem to care.  My little family is in a difficult place. My husband is now in Palliative Care, the precursor to Hospice;  I am his sole caregiver. All of this has made it difficult to write. I’m sure this is temporary, so I’m re-posting a Going Deeper with God post from October 16, 2017.  It blessed me today, it’s author.  I hope it blesses you as well.

PSALM 103: 1 – 12 (NIV)  

“Praise the Lord, my soul;/all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
 Praise the Lord, my soul,/and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins/and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit/and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things/so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 The Lord works righteousness/and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,/his deeds to the people of Israel:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,/slow to anger, abounding in love.

 

 He will not always accuse,/nor will he harbor his anger forever;
He does not treat us a
s our sins deserve/or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,/so great is his love for those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,/so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

CHEWING

Psalms 103 and 104 are part of a quartet of four hymns that conclude Book IV of the Psalter.  They are closely linked, as the ‘Bless the Lord’ frames of each indicate. Psalm 103 speaks of a God who creates and sustains all life. The Message version of the first two verses reveals the passion of the psalmist writer:

O my soul, bless  God.
    From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing!

I wonder if I have ever praised God from “head to toe!” Enthusiastic worship, whether external or internal, (depending on our personality type, I suppose) is a “must” for the Hebrews – and should be for us as well. The Psalm also gives us the encouragement to practice the soul training exercise of reciting or journaling our blessings daily. 

David, whom scholars agree is the author of this psalm, blesses God (or “praises” God in the NIV) for a variety of actions: forgiving sins, healing disease,  redeeming lives, crowning lives with love, satisfying desires, working righteous and justice for the oppressed, making God’s ways known to man, acting with compassion and grace, being slow to anger and quick to love, and removing our transgressions. What a job description God has!  And how easily we forget his work in our lives.

 DIGESTING

♥  When God’s words are written in our hearts, they come into our mind unbidden.  Try to memorize these verses 1-2 (or more) 12 verses of Psalm 103.

♥  Write about a time or share with a your spouse, your children or a friend about a time when you have felt one of the actions listed in the paragraph above (forgiving, healing, acting with grace, etc.). How does this recounting sustain your faith?

♥ Make a list of the songs and hymns that these verses remind you of – Great is Thy Faithfulness or Amazing Grace, for example – and choose one or two to listen to or sing during your day for the next week.

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Lately, I have been intrigued by all of the ways churches serve as the holders of memory. Our churches, especially older churches, literally have remembrances carved into them. My church has stained glass with names long forgotten by the congregation. Our hymn board was given in remembrance of a name forgotten by the congregation. As I reflect on Psalm 103, I am beginning to see these names in new light. They are like the lines of the Psalm in that they are reminders of the ways in which God met people in their need. They are records of God’s action. Commemorations of the acting God.

“As I reflect on those names, I am also beginning to know what it feels like to forget God’s benefits. To lose the stories of God and God’s people is tragic. I am therefore grateful that the space between the lines is a generative space, capable of birthing and holding the new stories of God’s steadfast love. What is lost can be found again, what was born can be reborn, what was dead can be made alive.  (Adam Hearlson, Working Preacher website, August 21, 2016). 

Posted in Going Deeper with God

From My Reading – May

“Contemplation helps us discern what is truly important in the largest, most spacious frame of reality and to know what is ours to do in the face of “evil” and injustice. Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, January 18, 2020) . . . . . Like Jesus, Francis [of Assissi] taught his disciples while walking from place to place and finding ways to serve, to observe, and to love the world that was right in front of them. Observation with love is a good description of contemplation” (Daily Meditation, February 2, 2020).

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“The way you make apprentices [of Jesus is to ravish them with the Kingdom of God.  You set it before them in such a way that they will realize their great opportunity in life is to enter the Kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus” (Dallas Willard).

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“We must learn to be gentle with ourselves. It may be helpful, from time to time, to picture ourselves as children learning to walk. No one scolds a little one when they stumble, and we shouldn’t scold ourselves either. Falling down is part of growing up. God doesn’t expect us to be flawless, He expects us to flourish. We’re going to make mistakes, if we respond to them in the right way, we deepen in humility and He expands His likeness inside of us. “Accepting the reality of our sinfulness,” wrote Brennan Manning “means accepting our authentic self. Judas could not face his shadow; Peter could” (Jonathan R Bailey).

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Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!  Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me. And what you want to give me is love – unconditional, everlasting love”(Henri Nouwen).

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“Beauty to the spirit is what food is to the flesh. A glimpse of it in a young face, say, or an echo of it in a song fills an emptiness in you that nothing else under the sun can. Unlike food, however, it is something you never get your fill of. It leaves you always aching with longing not so much for more of the same as for whatever it is, deep within and far beyond both it and yourself, that makes it beautiful. ‘The beauty of holiness’ is how the Psalms name it (29:2), and ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee (42:1) is the way they describe the ache and the longing” (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark).

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Learning from the Serenity Prayer: Living in Harmony

The Serenity Prayer was “built” for days like we are experiencing during the pandemic. I have realized that I need the words of the Serenity Prayer more than ever. You may, too. This post completes the study of this challenging but beautiful prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.   Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;  trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

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So, here is our bottom line:  if we follow the recommendations of the Serenity Prayer, we can be reasonably happy in this life (as happy as we choose to be in a broken world) and supremely happy (as happy as God created us to be) in the next life.

Years ago, I taught the Bethel Bible Series which used symbolic pictures to help students remember the basic content of the arc of the Christian Scriptures.  The first two pictures came into my mind this week as I mulled over being “reasonably” happy in God’s earthly  kingdom and “supremely” happy in God’s eternal kingdom.

The first picture shows the life of harmony originally found in the garden (depicted by the musical notes). Humans are in harmony with God (the man’s hand is outstretched to the larger hand which symbolizes the Creator)  and with each other (hands of the humans are outstretched to each other.) The man is also in harmony with himself – he is supremely happy. The scene is one of beauty because mankind is in harmony with the rest of the created world. 

The second picture unveils what happens when humans choose to separate themselves from their Creator: disharmony – the musical notes are broken are broken. God’s hand is still extended to his children. But one man has his back to God and is  looking downward, a sign that he has lost the oneness of spirit with which he was created; now he is at war with the image of God he received at creation. Humans are no longer in harmony with each other. The second  man is ready to run away in fear, or perhaps he is preparing to  inflict harm. And the garden that God created for humans to take care of has died. 

The second picture depicts the world we live in now. We are surrounded by disharmony. We can never be supremely happy in this life; there is too much conflict and destructiveness around us.  But we can be reasonably happy if we choose what the Serenity Prayer suggests:

  • understanding that we cannot fix everything or anybody, but that we can be involved in changing some situations.
  • living in the present moment (not the past or the future).
  • accepting that our present world is broken.
  • trusting that if we look for God’s will and collaborate with him, we will learn that God’s intention is to make all things right.
  • choosing a life that will make us reasonably happy.
  • waiting patiently for the harmony to be stored in all ways when God’s  eternal kingdom is ushered in and we will be supremely happy once more.

We are waiting and yearning for the life God intended for his creation, one of harmony and unity.  This life awaits all who are devoted to the God who created this world, to the life style we see in God’s son when he lived on earth, and to obedience to the Holy Spirit. Our collaboration with the Trinity will make life reasonably happy in this life and supremely in the next. 

This journey with the Serenity Prayer is complete.  But our individual journeys toward harmony await us anew in 2020.

I MAY BE REASONABLY HAPPY IN THIS LIFE  AND SUPREMELY HAPPY IN THE LIFE TO COME.

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Learning from the Serenity Prayer: Making all Things Right

The Serenity Prayer was “built” for days like we are experiencing during the pandemic. I have realized that I need the words of the Serenity Prayer more than ever. You may, too. 

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;  trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 

This phrase of the Serenity Prayer presents some huge and fundamental concepts which challenge and stretch us. Let’s think briefly about each of these:

I can trust God – Trust is like faith:  it requires acting on something that cannot be seen.  It is like a muscle: it must be used over and over again to stay strong. Trust is seen most easily in babies; babies are naturally trusting. In fact as James Bryan Smith says, they are so trusting that they are “presumptuous. They presume they will be cared for” (The Magnificent Story). It takes repeated offenses against the soul of a child to create distrust in his or her soul. Our call is to shed the suspicions and fears that we learned from untrustworthy people  and trust that God wants the best for us.  

God will make all things right – Two of my favorite scripture passages speak to this promise:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11; NIV).

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28; CEB)

I am God’s child. I am God’s handiwork, a work of art (Eph. 2: 10 NIV).  I am loved and valued. I am blessed and cared for – even delighted in. God sings songs over me (Zephaniah 3: 17). I carry God’s image within me. Of course, God’s desire is to make all things right for me!

If I surrender to His Will – If I am willing, God will use my every experience to weave a life of “rightness.” I don’t have to like or understand the weaving, but I do need to surrender and to submit to the process. Just as a mother surrenders to pain to bring a child into the world, I must surrender my will to the hands of the Potter to be molded into a beautiful and useful pot.

The Serenity Prayer teaches us that no matter how much we have failed, no matter how much we have hurt ourselves or others, no matter how headstrong we have been, we can bow our heads and our hearts and trust that God is longing to collaborate with us to make all things right.

TRUSTING THAT HE WILL MAKE ALL THINGS RIGHT IF I SURRENDER TO HIS WILL.

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Learning from the Serenity Prayer: Life as We Would have It

The Serenity Prayer was “built” for days like we are experiencing during the pandemic. I have realized that I need the words of the Serenity Prayer more than ever. You may, too. So for the next four weeks (April 12 – May 2) I will repost blogs featuring one phrase or cluster of phrases from this challenging prayer on Mondays and Thursdays.  

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.   Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;  

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My  mother lived a difficult life: rheumatic fever as a young child which put her on bed rest for a year; loss of my father, a beloved husband, a war hero who never returned; raising a child on her own post-WWII America; a sometimes difficult second marriage. The result was her life-long battle with this concept in the Serenity Prayer: she wanted life as she would have it and it was denied her.  The result was a life of bitterness and fear.

As I was musing about how we can live in a world that does not meet our desires or expectations, a phrase memorized more than fifty years ago jumped into my mind: 

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so (Shakespeare’s  Hamlet). 

That phrase dovetails with the words of a famous Christian preacher and thinker, John Chrysostom.  St. John Chrysostom was born  in 347 in Antioch, then part of Syria.  Just  35 years earlier, the Emperor Constantine had ended persecution of Christians and began the process of institutionalizing the Christian Church. For 12 years, beginning in 386, Chrysostom established himself as a great preacher, offering his listeners impressive sermons. In 398, St. John was requested, against his will, to serve as archbishop of Constantinople. He had  many steadfast followers who loved his preaching, but he also made religious and political  enemies.

In 403, Emperor Arcadius banished him from Constantinople. He died in exile in the mountains of Armenia after suffering harsh winters, separation from beloved friends,  and frequent illness. Certainly the life he had in this sinful world was not the one he would have liked to have.  However, while in exile, Chrysostom penned these words: 

“The events of this life in themselves are indifferent matters and take on the character of good or evil for us according to our response to them. . . . Those who stumble over the events God allows to occur “would be more correct in reckoning their stumbling to themselves, and not to the nature of the events” (from On the Providence of God).

How do we live in a sinful world that does not meet our desires or expectations?  Perhaps we, too, can begin to think that the events and circumstances of our lives are neutral – not good or bad. The way we think about them and act because of them determines whether we will live in serenity and gratitude for the daily mercies of God or in discontent and bitterness because God dealt us a bad hand. 

“TAKING, AS HE DID, THIS SINFUL WORLD AS IT IS, NOT AS I WOULD HAVE IT.” 

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Learning from the Serenity Prayer: Hardship and Peace

The Serenity Prayer was “built” for days like we are experiencing during the pandemic. I have realized that I need the words of the Serenity Prayer more than ever. You may, too. So for the next four weeks (April 12 – May 2) I will repost blogs featuring one phrase or cluster of phrases from this challenging prayer on Mondays and Thursdays.  

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace;”

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Hardship or happiness. Which would you choose?  The Serenity Prayer suggests that if our goal is to be at peace, “hardship” is what we should value. Happiness is comfortable, but hardship teaches us what we need to learn.  

What exactly is a hardship? The hardships referred to in Serenity Prayer are not inconveniences like waiting 20 minutes for a train to pass, running out of bread, losing a library book, or being too sick to go on vacation. The dictionary lists the following words as synonyms for hardship:  adversity, destitution, suffering, poverty. The death of a spouse, incurable or serious illness, betrayal by a friend, dysfunction within families, loss of a job,  loss of your home, floods, fires, and other natural disasters, not enough money to feed your children – these are hardships.  

Many people are able to say that they have learned the most from their suffering or hardship. But it’s a level beyond that to say that our hardship is our “pathway to peace.” Can this be true?  I venture to say that yes, hardship is our teacher – if we are willing to be a student.  And the lesson we are studying is finding peace. How does that work?

First, hardship peels away our tough outer public shell and exposes who we really are and what we really believe. We are forced to examine our values. Do we value our social standing, or do we value our integrity? Do we value our productivity or do we value our relationships – especially with God?  Do we value approval or do value truth?  Do we value security or we value the risks of love? When we lose what we think we value most, is our faith still strong and vibrant?  When hardship brings us face to face with who we really are, the journey to peace can begin.

Second, hardship teaches us detachment. Do we expect good health? Illness teaches us to detach from that expectation. Are we proud of our wealth and/or focused on our financial security? Financial setbacks help us gain perspective on the importance and wise use of money. Do we need the approval of others? Rumors, political disagreements, jealousies, misunderstandings, and raised eyebrows or outright attacks on social media can help us see how fleeting that approval really is. Detachment from wishes and expectations helps us become more “attached” to God, our rock and our salvation.

Here’s what Scripture says about hardship and peace:

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, CEB).

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1: 2-4, MSG).

And listen to what Jesus calls us to do with hardship – and the result we will find:   “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

So, hardship or happiness. What do we choose?  Ultimately we can have both, if we change the word “happiness” to peace or joy or rest. Walking confidently with God through hardship ultimately  is the pathway to peace and joy.

ACCEPTING HARDSHIP AS A PATHWAY TO PEACE

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Learning from the Serenity Prayer: The Present Moment

The Serenity Prayer was “built” for days like we are experiencing during the pandemic. I have realized that I need the words of the Serenity Prayer more than ever. You may, too. So for the next four weeks (April 12 – May 2) I will repost blogs featuring one phrase or cluster of phrases from this challenging prayer on Monday and Thursdays.  (This series originally appeared in December 2016 and January 2017)

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.   Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;” 

The phrase in bold above starts off the part of the Serenity Prayer with which most people are unfamiliar. It raises this question: is it possible for human beings in 2020 to focus on the present moment, let alone enjoy that moment? This question is the basis for blogs, podcasts, articles, news reports, and books that focus on our addiction to social media.

Living in the present is difficult because we usually live in the past or in the future.  We are stuck with memories, good and bad, in the past, and many of us waste precious time trying to renegotiate our history. On the other hand, we look forward to the future, dreaming how wonderful it will be, or about how we will handle its problems.

Richard Rohr reminds us that “the mind is always bored in the present. So it must be trained to stop running forward and backward” (Daily Meditation for 11/20/17). Spiritual exercises (silence, solitude, intentional awareness of everything around us, contemplative prayer) can train us to live in the present moment. But these exercises are difficult for most people. Perhaps it is because  of one question we haven’t faced:  Do we even want to live in the present? Do we feel more in control when we  replay the past or worry about the future? The present moment really doesn’t lend itself to our control; it is offered to us as an experience. 

Rohr also reminds us that Jesus “teaches and is himself a message of now-ness, here-ness, concreteness, and this-ness.” The only time Jesus talks about future time is when he tells us not to worry about it. . . .  Thinking about the future keeps us in our heads, far from presence.” And Jesus talks about the past in terms of forgiving it. He tells us to “hand the past over to the mercy and action of God. We do not need to keep replaying the past, atoning for it, or agonizing about it.”

Another reason that most of us who are raised in the traditions of western culture do not live in the present is that we are trained from childhood to be busy and productive.  We must have something to show for our efforts or the day is basically a waste of time. If we not multi-tasking, we are not really working. In contrast, however, living in the moment requires paying attention to one thing at a time and appreciating how it enriches our live:  a child who is excitedly sharing his life with us, a new bloom on a flowering plant, beautiful writing or singing or painting, the peaceful presence of the wood, the aroma of a family dinner, the comfort of a hot shower, a robin’s song, the warmth of the hand we are holding.

Twelve step programs have turned this phrase from the Serenity Prayer into a slogan or a mantra: One Day at a Time.  The idea is we can handle anything if we take it one day (or one hour or one minute at a time). The deeper beauty of the slogan is that if we aim to fully experience each moment of that one day, we will not only handle it better but also be graced by it.    

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