Will You Please Come To Me?

Joel 1
Chapter 2:12-13

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.

As I write this, Ash Wednesday is a mere 30 days away. I used to dread Lent. It was time to remember all the wrongs I had done and feel miserable, guilty, unworthy, and shamed. Now I look forward to that time. The mercy of God is as boundless as His great love.

Since my return to the sacrament of Reconciliation two years ago, I have often found myself in conversation with people who tell me that they couldn’t possibly come back to God. Not to a confessional. Not to a church. To God. It breaks my heart every time I hear it because I remember so well what that pain is like. It is a loneliness, an emptiness, and a longing that cannot be assuaged.

I’ve had people tell me that I have an “in” with God because I go to church or because I pray. Somehow to them that means that God likes me better. Kind of like the perfect older sibling that Mom and Dad always told you to emulate. It took me a long time to figure out that God doesn’t work that way. I didn’t have to measure up. I didn’t have to fix my whole life all at once. I couldn’t fix it. I needed God’s help. I was so far gone, I needed God’s help to see where I needed His help.

I look at this way, when would I be most grateful to see a trained paramedic: when I’m perfectly healthy or when I’ve been hit by a bus? In life, we all get hit by the bus sooner or later. God is the only one who can find the wounds and begin the healing. He can show us what needs healing and then how to mend it. He is the paramedic, the surgeon, the dedicated nurse and the physical therapist we need to get back to health.

As your sister in Christ, I urge you to take the next 30 days and just think about where you are with God. Maybe Reconciliation seems like a leap off a cliff and returning to church seems like trying to swim across an ocean. But maybe, just maybe, spending a little time talking to the Eternal Therapist would ease those fears a bit. If nothing else, it opens the dialogue. It can’t be any worse than lying on the side of road bleeding to death.

I’ve been there. I was lonely and scared and in desperate need of God’s understanding. I finally found it in the Confessional. The silence wasn’t enough to make His forgiveness real for me. I needed to see a friendly face and hear a reassuring voice. There was no judgment, no shock, only understanding and guidance.

In the Diocese of Bridgeport, every parish will offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Tuesdays from 7-9 PM. In other areas, call your local parishes for more information.

Think about it. Pray on it. What else do you have to lose?

Soup Kitchen Salvation

I had a wonderful conversation with a friend of mine recently that really made me stop and think about how I see my faith life. He pointed out that most people are “consumers of God” and like most consumers, there are different price brackets.

For the Wal-mart consumers, their version of a relationship with God comes at a very low cost. They lead nice lives and do nice things trusting blindly that someday God will sit down with them, pat them on the head and open the gates of heaven for them.

Then there is the opposite extreme, the Tiffany consumers. For the Tiffany consumers, that same relationship with God comes at a very dear price. They evaluate and re-evaluate their choices in life. They examine every setback and every trial trying to determine its worth in God’s eyes. Their version of heaven is a lofty goal that must be reached through living lives of near perfection. Every mistake is a glaring black mark on the most permanent of permanent records. There are some who secretly fear that this pricey relationship is out of their reach.

So where do I fit in? After giving myself a little time to consider both options I realized that I don’t fit into either category. I fall into a third category – the soup kitchen. I know I have nothing worthy to offer my God and yet I know I am welcome anyway. And I come to be fed at His table. I come because I am hungry for His love and starving for His mercy. There is no demand to fix what very little I have to offer because Jesus has already paid the price for me. I will eat my fill and whatever mistakes I make are already forgiven because He loves me so much.

God is not a commodity that can be bartered, bought, or sold. God is my life’s breath and the only thing God wants is to love me. His love is the only love that can truly satisfy me and thus allows me be more loving with others, even my enemies. Will I get that loving my enemies thing right all the time? Not even close. And that’s okay too.

Think about your own kids and how much you love them. Remember those times when they screwed up or made choices you knew weren’t good ones? Did you love them any less? Of course not.

Being in a relationship with God isn’t about getting it right or shaping up. And most important, it isn’t about later on after death. It’s about right now. The Holy Spirit resides in every one of us – that is God. He isn’t out there in space somewhere sipping a peppermint latte and waiting for us with a report card of our lives. He’s right here, right now, loving us and desiring only to have a cup of coffee and talk about life. And not in some formal, flowery prose written by some saint 500 years ago but just a chat between very dear friends. It isn’t about Him being in a position of power over us, rather it is about being in a relationship of communion, co-union with Him. As for the afterlife, that is the ultimate conversation with God, when we will see Him face to face and our own human faults will fall away. Jesus paid the way for all of us and threw open the doors of heaven to all. All God desires is a real, honest relationship with all of His children.

So when it comes to God – are you still shopping around or are you ready to accept the free gift of His love?

Thanks to R. for the inspiring conversation!

Beloved – Be Loved

I have decided to give up praying. It just doesn’t work for me. I have tried every way I can think of and every prayer people recommend to me but to no avail. I have searched the Internet for prayers that may provide what I need. I read books on prayer and of prayers in search of answers I can’t seem to find. I have a number of books on prayer and spirituality on my bookshelves. I have books about healing, emotional wholeness, grieving, finding my purpose, finding my God-given strengths, and being a prayerful wife, and even a book of love letters from my King. I also have books by St Therese, St Catherine of Siena, and St John of The Cross. I have a Bible, several actually, along with books that explore the meanings of the gospels and Catholic history. I have the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a book of common Catholic prayers.

What I don’t have in this little collection of mine is the one prayer book that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been published. The prayer book that has the prayers such as “Now What The Hell Am I Supposed To Do?” and “Hello? Are You Listening To Me?” along with my personal favorite, “Have You Lost Your Eternal Mind?” Maybe I should publish that prayer book.

I have wasted so many years trying to figure out how to communicate with God. How do I do it right? What prayers and what combination of prayers will unlock the magic door to God’s presence? I approached my spiritual direction sessions as marriage counseling. God and I are supposed to be in this relationship together but I’m not communicating clearly and He’s not listening to me. Maybe if I could just figure out what I’m doing wrong it would be better. Maybe I need to learn more about spirituality or about myself or about the teachings of Christ.

I was so busy focusing on figuring out the right way to talk to God that I wasn’t really talking to Him. I had grown up watching my mother praying her rosary when she was struggling with something but no amount of “Our Father”s and “Hail Mary”s would help me. Why? Because the things I needed to say could not have been written by anyone other than me. Only I could say, “Why did you leave me that day in December of 1991 when I cried out to you?” Only I could say, “I hate You for being silent.” No one else could say that for me. I did finally reach a point that I could get past my inhibitions and say those things. More importantly, I could recognize that the painful things that I needed to express were prayers.

Prayers, like God, are not nouns. Prayers, like God, are verbs in that they are an occurrence and mode of being. God is love and prayer is a mode of being in love. So I quit. There are just no more prayers for me. I’m going to stick with being in love with God. I’m going to tell Him exactly what is on my mind and on my heart. He can handle it. After all, God calls me His Beloved daughter. Perhaps a better way to write that would be “God’s daughter, be loved.”

You Want Me To Say THAT To God?!

“Just who do you think you’re talking to?”

“Don’t you DARE take that tone with me young lady!”

“You WILL NOT raise your voice to me in my house!”

Any of those sound familiar? Most of those were usually preceded by my full name and “get in here”. My parents were no different than most of my friends’ parents growing up and my experiences of talking to my parents are pretty typical. I still say, “Yes ma’am” when talking to my mother. I try not to swear in her presence. When Dad was still alive, I never would have even considered sassing him. Some things just aren’t done. Mom says we all had “some sense of survival”. All of that respect for authority makes for a very polite child. That’s a good thing right? I certainly want my boys to respect me and being polite is one way to show that respect.

Now take that polite, respectful child and put her in a relationship with God the Father, the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Wow – better be really, really polite and respectful right? The problem is I was so concerned with being proper and respectful that I rarely admitted the things that weighed most heavily on my heart. I could tell God when others had hurt me; when I was tired; when I was sad or lonely. What I couldn’t do was tell God when I was angry with Him. How hurt I was by His seeming apathy towards me. I buried those things deep in my heart and pretended not to notice the pain. Some things you just don’t say to God. I carried one huge ugly thorn in my heart for years.

I was only 18 when it happened. I was trying to break up with my increasingly abusive boyfriend and he did not take it well. He flew into a rage that led to a particularly vicious attack. He stormed out of my house leaving me sobbing in a heap. I was so very alone and so desperately wanted Dad to be alive again to protect me from this guy. I was screaming from the depths of my soul and my screams of pain were swallowed up by a dark, cold, and unfeeling nothingness. God ditched me and I was never the same after that. I never really trusted God to be there for me again, not completely.

As I told my spiritual director, Ron, this story he asked me where I thought God was at that point. “How the hell should I know? A round of golf and a 3-martini lunch or He took a coffee break or a nap. But all I know is He wasn’t with me,” I spat back and I was surprised at the hurt and anger in my own voice.

Then he asked me the craziest question I’d ever heard: “Have you ever told God how much you hate Him for what He did?”

“I can’t do that! That’s just not right,” I answered, quietly shaking my head. “Its not right.”

And I was stuck. I had been trying to open up the lines of communication with God for months and it wasn’t going very well. Now it was becoming clear why it wasn’t going well. I was still relating to God as I would to Dad. I was trying to make Him happy and proud. I was even a little afraid of God so I was respectful and polite but that was preventing me from saying things that would offend. Those words left unsaid were poisoning me. So now what?

Since it was the week before Christmas, Ron told me to take some time and figure out what I was going to give God for Christmas this year. Okay, that’s a tall order but wait there’s more. Then he told me to figure out what I was going to ask from God this Christmas for myself. I really, really, really don’t like asking God for anything for myself. It makes me very uncomfortable and Ron knows that.

My spiritual homework made for a very long week. The day before Christmas, I finally decided give God what little trust I did have and He could do with it what He wanted. I asked God to grant me the courage to say all those awful things I needed to get out of my system and was too afraid to say. I really didn’t expect much of an answer despite the fact that I was both giving and asking wholeheartedly.

My answer came Christmas Eve at Mass. Fr Tom picked up the statue of Baby Jesus from the crèche and asked us why God chose to come into human form as a baby. He went on to ask those of us who are parents to remember the first time we held our newborns. I could remember looking at each of my sons and knowing I would never be the same again. I was part of them and they were part of me. Which was exactly what Fr Tom was saying. He went on to remind us that no matter how much our kids screw up, we still have that bond. That is how God relates to each of us. We are His beloved sons and daughters. And I looked at my boys and realized that no matter how many times they had screamed at me, it didn’t change how much I love them. I have heard “I hate you!” and “You’re mean!” and a host of other things on a regular basis and it doesn’t mean they don’t love me. They just need to let me know that they are angry. And as that realization sunk it, I wasn’t stuck anymore.

A few days later, I finally had “the conversation” with God. I cried and screamed again from that place deep inside as I called up all that old pain. “How could you leave me?” I demanded and this time I could feel Him all around me. I begged Him to let me know that He cared. I suddenly found myself unable to move or cry. I felt the heaviness descend and it took a moment to realize that I was resting in the spirit. I had never experienced this outside of a Healing Mass but the sensation was the same. I was aware but unable to move. I felt as though I had been draped with a warm heavy blanket and that feeling slowly seeped into me. A deep quiet peace took over the place left vacant by the anger.

I can picture God looking at me the way I looked at my babies. I can feel that love in His gaze. I now find myself in a totally new place with God. The lines of communication are wide open and nothing is off the table anymore. I can say anything I need to say and hey cool – no lightning strikes!

Meeting God – Again – For The First Time

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. I have a hard enough time accepting myself “as is” without a yearly reminder to fix something about myself. That being said, I stumbled into a resolution this year that just might be what I need. I have resolved to stop trying so damn hard to deepen my relationship with God. Okay now you’re probably thinking I’ve given up or that I’ve hit one of those spiritual roadblocks that we all hit along the line. And actually it’s neither. I am simply going to relate to God from where I am right now. He gets it and more importantly, He gets me, just as I am right now at this moment.

I have been struggling with so many old wounds and so much of that pain came from trying to understand where God had been in the darkest hours of my life. I have been working so hard to “fix” my relationship with God that I was missing out on the one I already have! I can see all the good that God has worked in my life. He’s been working overtime for me and yet I still couldn’t completely trust Him because there were those times when it felt like He had abandoned me to the darker side of the world and my own bad choices. While my head could see the love, my heart refused to risk being broken again. That inner struggle is exhausting and spiritually debilitating. I have asked for God’s help repeatedly to resolve this and He worked around my childish attempts to blockade myself from His love.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I took my mother to visit her best friend Nancy, who lives about an hour away in northern New Jersey. We all love to read and Nancy gave us a book that her spiritual director had given her to read. That was how I was introduced to The Shack and I have not been the same since. God’s hand was undoubtedly at work as I have read it three times now in a month and have given away copies to my dearest friends, my priest, and even my therapist. I have recommended it to dozens of people, even total strangers in the book store. I will not spoil the plot for those who haven’t experienced it yet. And that is what this book is – not just a story but an experience. Those that I have spoken with who have read it all relate to it differently depending on their own life experiences but no one was left unchanged by it.

This is a fictional story of an everyday man who experiences a great tragedy. Then a few years later, he receives a note from God asking to spend some time with him. He spends the weekend with God and what transpires changes him forever. Without being didactic, preachy, or cerebral this story cut right to the heart of my pain and helped my begin to heal the relationship I have with God right now. This is NOT a self-help book. There are no discussion questions or journaling suggestions. It’s just a simple story and somehow that made it so real for me. Somehow it was more approachable as a story, not a “how to” book.

If I hit the lottery tomorrow, I would give copies of this book to everyone I could. If you have not made a resolution yet for 2009 – make it to read this story. If the imagery doesn’t touch you deeply, at least you will enjoy a well written story.

For more information see the website: http://www.theshackbook.com