Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Just BEing

Did you think I'd left you? 

Well, fear not!  I'm still here.  But, if the truth be told (believe it or not) I just don't have much to say. 

You see, I'm too busy just BEing. 

(Stop already with the wisecracks! I know! It's not normal for me, but I'm sharing with you now to prove that it does, on occasion, happen).

Even though BEing is not that hard for a lot of people, as a wife and mother I often find it very difficult to just BE. (And who am I kidding...looooooong before I was a wife and mother it was difficult for me, too, but that's not my point!)

The point is that now, as a wife and mother, I'm often the one inspiring and encouraging and making sure that the rest of the family (including the dog) are all busy BEing the best they can BE.  So there's a constant voice in my head reading off mental checklists of things I need to do to make sure they can get their stuff done:  groceries, chores, errands, menu plans, etc.  And it's also taking notes making sure that everyone did/is doing what they are supposed to:  teeth brushed, laundry put away, limited video/game time, etc.  Then of course there's the whole listening to Husband's day and trying to help him "problem solve" whatever may be going on his life.  (FYI - Men like to problem solve out loud, women just like to vent.  This takes practice for both parties over the course of many years to understand, but Husband and I seem to be getting this down pretty well now after nearly 17 years of marriage.  Amen!). 

And here's the thing about BEing.  Though it sounds pretty simple,  for some of us (me) it takes a bit more effort.  Because, you see, BEing requires the voice in  my mind to take a back seat (and the voice in my mind LOVES to talk, so this takes a lot of coaxing and coddling from the rest, to put the voice on mute.  Or at least make it into background noise). 

But when it does? 

It feels like all the phrases we love to toss around but (at least in my case) seldom achieve.  BEing for me means I'm  content just going with the the the peace.   

So, I just wanted to share with you a little meditation/prayer that I like to use to get (and keep) me in this spot.  I learned it from (who else?) Richard Rohr, and I love that it is based on a rather commonly quoted line from Scripture, because sometimes the more common lines become SO common that they lose their "punch."  (Who doesn't do a mental eye roll when you see "John 3:16" on a poster board or banner?)

Anyway, this meditation/prayer helps bring the "punch" back for me. 

Consider it my gift to you today.

And rest assured, I'll be "off course" soon enough wondering where I'm meant to go and how I'm supposed to get there.  And I'll be all too happy to talk about it then. 

For now, though, why don't you see if you can join me in this perfect state of BEing:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.


Psalm 46:11 (NAB)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Snapshots From My Journey - #3 The Transformation

Today's snapshot is really a summary of what I learned as I reflected on my interactions with the jogger and the beggar

Those experiences created a new image -- a third snapshot, if you will-- that I hope to hold on to.

And because it's of a nature more mystical than physical, I've felt compelled to write it with words that read more like a poem than a story (which, FYI is very, very "out of my comfort zone" as they say, but I feel compelled to share it all the same.  And trust me... at this point I realize I very well may be crazy.  Especially because I have friends who are poets.  Really good poets. I am not a poet.  I'm not even sure this is poetry.  But let's just pretend it is, OK?   Because I hope that regardless of what it is, the message rings true for someone [other than just me]). 

Snapshot #3: The Transformation

On the first day:
In the moment of the fall, I offered to help and God was loving me.
I loved myself in that moment, too.

In the moment of the need to comfort and cleanse, I was there to help.
I offered help when I was able.

In the moment of a change of heart, I was allowed to help.
I witnessed the grace and courage it takes to allow someone to help.

On the second day:
In that moment, even as I said, "Sorry, no," God was loving me.
I must love myself in that moment, too.

In that moment, I let my worry and my judgment determine whether or not someone else needed what I had.
I must not let Doubt make my decisions in the future.

In that moment, of my saying "no" I was given the gift of being told, "That's all right." And the blessing to "have a great day."
I must accept that gift and remember the willingness
to be forgiving and kind in the face of rejection.

And so:
From this day forward, when I think of the jogger, I will remember:
I AM called to be the hands of Christ to those in need,
and to let others be Christ's hands for me.
From this day forward when I think of the beggar's outstretched arm with his bucket of coins, I will remember:
I AM called to discern my ability to help others from my willingness to help them.

From this day forward, I will remember that when the day began with my thoughts focused on an empty reflecting pool outside an old memorial:
I AM called to be a reflecting pool of the Living Water.

I frame that snapshot with these words:

In this moment,
I will pick up my Cross.
And in that moment,
I will remember.
That from this day forward,
I AM carries me.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Snapshots From My Journey - #2 The Beggar

(Note:  If the title of this post makes you wonder what Snapshot #1 was, you might want to click here and read it first.)

Snapshot #2:  The Beggar

It was a long morning.  We'd already walked around the perimeter of the White House, and made the loooong walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building, plus spent two and a half hours of walking around inside the Air and Space Museum.  This was also our third day of walking. Our feet were hurting, our backs were sore and we were tired. 

But I'm not sure that makes what I was about to do any better.

We were heading into the Museum of Natural History (our last stop for the day) and it was hotter now under the afternoon sun.  It was also getting more crowded by the moment.  I was growing tired and irritable but trying to keep things positive for the kids (and me).  As we were approaching the building, I spotted a man with a small bucket of change.  As I began to walk past (trying to avoid eye contact) he held the bucket out, shook it a bit and then looked me at me saying,

"Got any spare change, Miss?"

Right then about a thousand thoughts went through my head:  What if he's lying and doesn't really need it?  What if he uses it to buy drugs/alcohol?  How much change does he want/need?  Can I offend him by offering too little?  If I give to him will I have to give to others, too?  If I pull out change, should I give bills?  He seems pretty clean, does he really need it? How do I politely say no? What if I need quarters later for the Metro, or a vending machine?, etc.  (Side note here:  I still haven't needed that change.  Even now.  And its five days later).  . 

I'm sure many of you have been through this before.  It's not the first time it's happened to me, either.  But it seems like no matter which decision I give or not to give... I rarely feel right with my decision. 

This time was no exception.

Giving in to the weariness of the day-- my sore back and feet, the heat and my own irritation at the thought of having to dig through my seemingly bottomless (yet very heavy) bag-- I decided to turn him down.

"Sorry, no."  I told him, looking near--but not directly in--his eyes.

He just smiled back at me with a calmness and peace (and a clarity in his eyes that seemed to make the drugs a less likely possibility), and said in the most tender voice (picture a loving grandfather here), words I hope I never forget:

"That's all right, Sugar.  You have a great day."

And it haunts me still.

What's so haunting about that? you may wonder.

Well,  if the whole truth be told, I didn't give it much thought at first.   What haunts me is the thoughts that came later...when my prayers led me there. 

You see, sometimes at night, when I can't get to sleep I use a simple  prayer that my spiritual advisor/good friend/mentor Sister B taught me.  I find  it quite effective.  Sometimes if I think my day has been a complete waste, it's helpful to see that maybe it really wasn't.  But, I especially enjoy it when I'm already feeling joyful, (which I was that night, because our vacation was going so well!)

Anyway, it's very simple.  You just ask yourself,

Where did I see/meet/witness God in my life today?

And when you've had a particularly joyful day (or days) this is so much fun, because it helps you to see God in ways that you may not have even noticed Him while you were "going forward."  It's only in this special way of "rewinding" that you see Him in places you may have missed.

And I saw Him again and again in many ways throughout our trip.  I saw Him in the way our family worked together as a team getting to and from each spot making sure no one was lost or drifting too far.  I saw Him in the way our children made a game of every train and elevator ride as though it were their first time.  I saw Him in the way our great United States shows such reverence for both its leaders and its fallen, who I think-- often in the first  instance as well as the second-- paid a Personal Price.  I saw Him in the faces of  various individuals we'd encountered that were so kind, like the Metro lady who, though clearly worn out and beyond exasperated that someone like me could  be so ignorant of how to get a simple train ticket out of a machine, still forced a smile and said, "It's aw'right.  I'll show ya how."   

The list of people and places I saw God in that day went on and on like that:  fun memories and realizations (revelations) of things I'd not "seen" until I played them back, looking for God.  

But when my thoughts took me to the beggar?  Well...that was when my blood ran cold. 

Because that's when I remembered (again) that  God is in all of us.

Which means He was in that man who was asking for something I was perfectly capable of giving him.  And I'd told Him,

"Sorry, no."

Now,  maybe you're thinking that I'm reading way too much into this little scenario and that the man probably WAS on drugs.  And that's fine.  You may be right.  He may have been on drugs.    He may have been an evil-hearted man with an evil plan for the world.  Still,  the fact remains that in the moment that I denied his help, he was both understanding and forgiving.  So, I can only ask you (and myself) this:  Even if all the other things were true, would that have made it wrong of me to give (or more right not to)?

Or, you may be thinking  Don't be so hard on yourself.   (Uh...thank you, but  I already know that, remember?  I just found the Y in JOY! )  Still... I can't help but think of a little story similar to this that Fr. Carlo Carretto told in his (very awesome) book Letters From the Desert.  He told of how he (a priest living in a small dwelling in the desert with literally little more than the clothes on his back) had two blankets and thought he should share one with a man he'd met on his way into town.  Later, when he'd returned to his place,  he realized that he'd forgotten to give it to the person who needed it.  And it haunted him.  At the time I read this, I remember thinking, Oh, Father Carretto, I'm sure God forgives you!  You've done many good things! 

But now I know how he felt.

You see, in my first  snapshot, I wanted to help another person, who (after some hesitation) allowed me to help, and I did.   I felt better for it. This snapshot is easy to look at, and still brings me joy.

In my second snapshot,  someone is asking me for help, I am clearly able to help (down to the point of complaining about the weight of my bag which would, arguably, be a bit lighter if I got rid of some change), but I am not willing.   So I chose to tell him NO.   This snapshot brings sadness to my heart.

The most difficult part about writing this is that I still don't have the answer.  I'm still trying to sort out what my head is telling me and what my heart already *knows*.

But I DO think the man's condition at that moment is not relevant to the choice I made.  I also think his response tells me that, at least in that moment, he was a better person than I.  Maybe he always was.  Maybe he still is. 

Regardless,  a faith journey is very often about stumbling around blind.  It's about continuing the search for God even when you think you may have turned away.   So, with the jogger as my inspiration, I am choosing to allow God's Spirit to help me see now something that I didn't see at the moment of the beggar's asking.

And I can tell you right now it is something I'd  rather not see.  But since I didn't give willingly when he was asking, I must look willingly now.  As I understand it, it's one of the best ways to grow.

It's what some Christian mystics call "seeing with the Third Eye."  They say the Third Eye sees things that our eyes see and our  mind reasons to be contradictory.  With the Third Eye, though, we hold those seemingly contradictory things together not thinking either/or, but both/and.  It often holds joy and sorrow together at the same time.

So, in this instance, this is what my Third Eye sees:

BOTH snapshots hold Truths about the person I am:  I GIVE (when I want) which brings me happiness, AND I DENY some people help when I am asked (even though I am able) which (if I'm willing to reflect on it later), brings me sadness.

Not surprisingly, if I were to draw a picture of what this looks like it would be cruciform.

Because those two snapshots I showed you?    They are, as Christians say, "my Cross."  It bears BOTH the eternal joy of a pleasant moment of kindness towards a fellow human being, AND the wicked stain of  rejection towards a fellow human being who asked me for help.

But-- just as in that moment on Calvary hill--God is with us on both sides of our decisions. 


(Even  the wrong ones!)

And if  we are willing to SEE it transforms us.

For me, that transformation lightens my burden and allows me to give both the beggar and the jogger a gift I would most likely not have given them if either she'd  told me my help wasn't needed, or I'd dropped my coins in his bucket.

And that gift is my prayers. 

Of gratitude. 

Of thanksgiving.

Of courage.

Of forgiveness.

Of humanity at its best and its worst.

And of love for humankind. 

And who knows?

Maybe that was the Real Plan --for each of us-- all along.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Snapshots From My Journey - #1 The Jogger


The reflection pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial is empty and under construction.

This was all I could think about as we began walking towards all the monuments and memorials near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. 

I know.  It's petty. 

But in past visits, the reflecting pool was always one of  my favorite parts.  Something so large and calm and serene in the middle of all the hustle and bustle is just so inspiring to me!  And it's smack dab in the middle of such history memorialized:  Abraham Lincoln's presidency, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most famous speech, and several of our country's staggering wars including WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

If you've never had the privilege of going to our nation's capital, I highly recommend it.  I am doubly blessed both for having extended family that grew up there, which gave us an excuse to come visit on occasion, and for having parents that surely would have seen to it we'd have gotten there, family visit or not. 

I also had the privilege of earning a scholarship my senior year of high school for a week-long tour of the capital and its surroundings.  That particular visit is the one that is still most freshly ingrained in my memory... which is why it surprised me so much to realize that I took that trip 21 years ago!  Like so many things, much has changed in that amount of time, but much is the same, too.

I'm busy gathering pictures to post on my Facebook page of the things we saw and did during our trip, but all I can think about is what I want to capture here, in this blog.  The things no photos or videos captured, but that were significant and telling all the same.  These are "snapshots" I only know how to capture in words (and even then perhaps not well), but I am learning that these snapshots-- these slices of life-- are often the very food for my spiritual journey. 

So, I will take the next few days and to attempt to "show" you what I saw/learned/discerned along my trip. 

Snapshot #1:  The Jogger

As we were strolling under the trees along the paved road towards the Lincoln Memorial (diverted from the usual means of getting there due to the above stated construction of the reflecting pool), there were several runners jogging on a dirt trail next to our path.  Much to our surprise a woman (probably ten years older than me but clearly-- since she was jogging-- more fit) tripped and went flying through the air landing with a thud on the dirt path beneath her. 

"Are you all right?" I gasped rushing to help her up.

She was understandably embarrassed and a bit confused, floundering to justify and explain the reason for her fall (we very quickly found the culprit, a poorly-placed metal post cut off near the surface of the ground, but still tall enough for someone to catch her toe and trip).  Not knowing what I could offer her, but thinking of my kids and what I would do for them, I blurted, "Would you like some wet wipes?" 

She hesitated, and started to turn me down, then eyeing the dirt on her shins, forearms and knees (and no doubt realizing she still had to finish her run) she changed her mind and smiled sheepishly asking, "Would you mind?"

"Not at all!" I said whipping them out of my bag and pulling them out of the packet one by one, feeding each of them to her as she got herself cleaned up.  She laughed as she cleaned up, visibly more relaxed now, and shared how it seemed the older she gets the clutzier she gets, too.  I smiled and nodded.  She thanked me profusely, but now was left with a wad of dirty wipes in her hand and no where to throw them. 

"Here," I said, showing her the pocket on the outside of my bag already carrying the kids' gum wrappers and a wadded up Kleenex.  "I can take your trash."

The woman sighed, relieved, and thanked me again about a thousand times.  I told her it really was no big deal and wondered if there was anything more I could do.  

No, she said, she was fine. 

Then she jogged away.

I'm not sure that image would have stayed with me so much if it weren't for the fact that that night, as I sat with my family at dinner, my husband reflected, "God was sure smiling on that lady in the park today.  What do you think the odds were of her tripping and falling in front of a mom with wipes who could help her get cleaned up and carry away the trash?" 

And I wondered. 

I'll admit that for a moment there I felt pretty good.  I still do.  It was a good thing to do!  But... let's be honest, most moms carry wipes, and by nature most moms are pretty helpful.  There are plenty of us around, so I really didn't think that was such a big deal.  I mean, of course, my journey right now is about self love so sure my heart is smiling that in that moment, I helped and did good.  But it's not exactly ticker tape parade worthy or anything.  (Still,  maybe it will get me out of purgatory a second or two sooner when my time comes). 

But talking about my good deed isn't exactly what stuck with me from that incident.

What I DO marvel at, is the change of heart the woman had to let me help at all.  I really wonder if the roles were reversed, if I wouldn't have just jogged away muddy (and bleeding) or at the very least I would have insisted on carrying my own trash!  I wouldn't doubt that I would have let my own pride win out and (as I see reflected in my own children), insisted that I DO IT MYSELF.  

But sometimes I can't. 

And sometimes I shouldn't.

I know I felt better for being able to help her.    But I don't think that makes me special.  I think most people would have been happy to have helped her.

But no one would have had the chance to if she didn't allow it. 

And there's that Super Power again. 

Always the opportunity to say NO. 

I'm realizing now it takes a certain amount of courage and a great deal of God's grace to say YES-- not just in trying something new or going down a new path, as I'd always seen it before--but also in letting others help you along the way. 

Because sometimes, to deny others the ability to help, may very well be denying them a happiness they richly need.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Super Powers

I need to read more C.S. Lewis.

In my opinion the guy was a genius when it came to "breaking down" the things we think and do on our journeys.  Take for instance this excerpt from his Lenten devotional, "A Clean Heart Create in Me," that I read yesterday:

"On the one hand, God's demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your failures.  Each time you fall He will pick you up again.  And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.  On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal....  I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone.  As we say, 'I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.'  And we imagine that when we say this we are being humble.  But this is a fatal mistake.  Of course we never wanted and never asked to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into.  But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us."

I made some of the words stand out more than others deliberately here because, though I *knew* that we have the choice to say NO to God, it was startling to read in black and white (or orange) what a powerful choice that is.  

We call it a "choice" or "Free will," but I never really thought about it as a power. 

It is. 

It is in fact a SUPERpower that we've been given when you think about it:

We have the power to say NO to GOD

I like to think I never say "no" to God, but rather "not yet."  But that, too, is probably a "no" of sorts, isn't it?  Even if only a temporary one.  At the very least it's an exercising of my power to tell God that I will work on MY timeline, not His.    

I suddently realize that I like the idea of being powerful.  I have power.  A super power.

Then I wonder for a moment where that power came from.  Who gave me this power?

And the answer to that is a very sobering revelation that makes me want to say YES just a little bit more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Going the Distance

Last week I was moved by the words in my daily meditation from Richard Rohr. (Incidentally, if you're interested in getting Richard Rohr's mediations yourself, or you just want to know more about him and his Center for Action and Contemplation, you can click here).

Anyway, here's what I read that resonated the most with me:

"God’s one-of-a-kind job description is that God actually uses our problems to lead us to the full solution. God is the perfect Recycler, and in the economy of grace, nothing is wasted, not even our worst sins and our most stupid mistakes."

This is what I am learning.

It is also what I meant when I said that God takes our sins and then gives them back to us transformed.   Because it turns out that most of the things in our lives that  we've done (or are doing) wrong aren't bad things.   They are simply things that we use in a bad way.   

Take for instance the thing of judgment.  This is, in fact, one of the things I "gave up" last year.    And what I learned is that judgment is, in and of itself, neither good nor bad. 

Case in point:  If I said to you that I was thinking of hiring someone to work for me (which is quite hysterical since I am a stay at home mom, but still...) and you said, "Be careful, she's very judgmental."  I might be cautious of hiring her because your comment suggests I might be hiring someone who isn't very open to other ways of thinking and who isn't likely to be a team player.   Now, if you said about the same person, "She uses good judgment."  I would take this to mean that she is a careful thinker and takes time to weigh the options before making a decision. 

In both cases the thing being used is judgment.  The difference in what makes it "good judgment" or "bad judgment" lies in how we use it.

I didn't always know this.

But it is why now, when I see a problem (sin), I prayerfully do my best to look it square in the eye.  Because then I can see it in its fullness and take comfort in knowing that somewhere, deep within my heart, lies a clear solution, too.

The only difficulty, really, is in my willingness to go the distance to find it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

From the Other Side of Love and Joy

I've been trying to take note of what it is exactly, or rather, how it is exactly that I've "been transformed" in this process.   While I haven't figured it all out yet, I have taken note of a few things I've realized since I "gave myself up " for Lent.

Here's what I've noticed so far:

  • I worry less.  For someone who is, as my husband gently chides "genetically predisposed" to worrying, this has been a VERY unusual (but welcome!) change for me.   I have a new awareness that worry is really often  symptomatic of a lack of trust (in either God or myself, or both) to handle the situation at hand.  Now, instead of worrying, I find myself more often just "taking in" the situation.  I can't say I don't worry at all anymore, but I will tell you this, I catch myself beginning to worry much earlier and this helps me see the worry for what it is, and then put it away.  I'm realizing now that while it's OK to worry, it's also important not to let the worry win! 

  • I have a cure for the "Disease to Please":   I don't think I'd realized just how pervasive this disease was!  But when I find myself beginning to worry (I said beginning...remember, I don't let it win!) about what others think, I remember that  Jesus Himself was never concerned with pleasing people for fear of hurting their feelings or disappointing them.  He just lived the Truth.  This is just the mindset I need to help me stay focused on living my own Personal Truth.  

  • I can focus more on others.  If I'd had to describe before what a person who "loves him/herself" looked like, I can see now that the idea of "loving oneself" just sounds, well...vain!  We certainly all want to have a "healthy self-esteem" and like ourselves.  But loving ourselves just sounds a bit to much like being IN LOVE with oneself,  which generally means a person who does a lot of talking about oneself, and then bringing the subject back to oneself.  Self-love though, means that you now have, for lack of a better word...enough.  You're no longer busy trying to soak up love and attention from others and turn the light back on yourself, and you finally have "enough" love to truly give it away!

  • It takes one to know one.    It's funny.  I've known people with eating disorders who can spot another sufferer of eating disorders from across the cafeteria just by seeing what's on (or absent) from their lunch tray.  I think the best part of any transformation is  that very often, as soon as we properly identify a broken part of ourselves, God gives us a new lens with which to view the world so that we can  begin to identify and come to the aid of that brokenness in others.  Now my awareness is more finely-tuned so I can better hear the Truth behind the self-depricating laughter.  I can better see the harshness with which we judge ourselves, and the painfully high expectations we put on ourselves.  It is shocking just how often we do!

That being said, let me be the first to tell you that these changes in me are BARELY NOTICEABLE to the outside world.  

You'd never be able to see the difference in a
"before" and "after" photo.

(Though, if I thought you could see them, I'd take the photos and sell this whole program to you for only three easy payments of 39.95!) 

In truth, though, this type of transformation is the way a lot of weight loss and work out programs have been for me.  I just read something the other day that said  it takes our friends up to twelve weeks to notice a difference in our body once we've started working out and eating right, but it only takes us two. 

And I realize it sounds so... well, frankly, dumb to be talking about the need to be more loving towards ourselves, even to my own ears.  But look at it this way... how many of us really need to be educated on eating right and staying healthy?  I think statistically the number must be very small.The truth is that we already know what we need to do. And if we know what we need to do, then we must ask ourselves,

"Who is it that doesn't want me to change?"

And that just may be the moment your head will finally awaken to your (endlessly loving )heart.

As a closing thought, I realize this all may seem just too "common sense."  And I'm sure you're right.  But "common sense" is still thinking with our heads

So let me just tell you what your heart may be saying that you cannot yet hear:

It's like the conversation I have with my kids when they want me to stop nagging them to brush their teeth or put their shoes away or carry out any number of  other chores and habits I want them to develop.  Inevitably they start nagging back to me in reply, "I know, I know, I know!"  To which I always give them the same  three word response,

"Then show me."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

JOY The Greatest Commandment, Part 2


So...where was I?

Oh, that's right.   I was telling you how I learned that 

The Greatest Commandment is JOY.

Here are the highlights from Part 1, in case you missed it:

1.  I had a recipe for JOY... but no joy  (at least not a sustaining joy).

2.  I offered to "give up ME" for Lent. 

    3.  God required crazy, radical, reckless abandon from me in return. 

That's pretty much the outline.  Let' see  if I can connect the dots...

After the lack of lightning bolts and thunder claps, I did what I always do when I pray--went about my business doing chores.  Sure, I still thought and wondered a lot about the "recipe" for JOY I'd been given, but there was also work to be done!  Plus, God can talk to me just as easily if I'm folding laundry as he can when I'm kneeling--as long as I keep my ears and eyes open.

Unfortunately, I can't remember now what exactly it was that prompted me to look at the Greatest Commandment.  Perhaps I was remembering a connection between it and the recipe for JOY that I'd learned in Dummies.  Or perhaps the very thinking about the recipe was echoing The Greatest Commandment for me. 

After all, I think you can see a connection in the recipe:

If you love Jesus first,  Others second, and Yourself third,

you will have JOY in your life!

I was pretty sure I knew the Greatest Commandment by heart, but just in case I was missing something, I decided to dig around in my bible and find it. (Actually, I think I looked it up in an online bible because I'm lazy like that, but humor me, will you?) 

I found it in Matthew and this is what it said:  

[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."   
Mt 22:37-39

I don't know.  I was a little disappointed. It still seemed like the Dummies version was the same as Matthew's, except that Matthew wasn't promising joy, so maybe the Dummies had that part wrong.

Of course, I should clarify here that it's understood by me (and most Christians, I think) that loving Jesus is as good as loving God, since Jesus is simply one of three persons in whom the Christian Triune God is manifested.  So I was fine with that variation in wording.  (Plus, if  you use God instead of Jesus for the recipe, you end up with GOY which isn't nearly as cute.)


Also, I'd been taught enough to know that my "neighbor" really meant "everyone" -- all the "others" on this planet besides me, so that still seemed right, too. (Again, if you use God instead of Jesus and Neighbor instead of Others you're really slaughtering the whole recipe for JOY, so you kind of have to play along.  I mean who would want a recipe for GNY?).

That being said, the only other real difference I could see between The Greatest Commandment and the Dummies' recipe for JOY was the Dummies' insistance that I should love the other two first.  But still, putting others before ourselves isn't unbiblical as far as I knew so...hmmm. 

I tried again.  A different Gospel this time.

[Jesus replied]   "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 
Mk 12:30-31

Ugh.  Aside from requiring me to use my strength to love God, too, I didn't really see anything different in Mark's version.  


Something was urging me to look closer.  I went back to Matthew.  Closed my eyes, took a deep breath and opened them. 

And I about fell over.

I'd always seen The Greatest Commandment as two commandments.  In fact, Jesus even says there are only two.  It seems pretty clear.  1) Love God above all things.  2) Love others as you love yourself.   

But this third time when I read it, all but six words fell away from the page,  and I was seeing something that explained a lot.  In fact, it was as obvious as the nose on my face, but I'd never seen it that way before. 

Do you wanna know what it was?

 It was this:

[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 
Mt 22:37-39

Well, I never.

Now, if this isn't a news flash for you, and you've always understood The Greatest Commandment as a command to love yourself --and you've always been able to do it--then I have only three things to say to you:

1)  You are a Wise Soul.

2)  Why didn't you ever tell ME?

3)  I apologize for wasting your time.

As for the rest of you,  (if there are any of you left) before you go off feeling sorry for me and my lack of love for myself, let me tell you a little bit about me. 

First of all, before I had this revelation I did love myself.  Or at least I was pretty sure I did.  Every time I'd read that commandment before I'd read, "love your neighbor AS yourself."  This to me was saying, "Love others as much as you love YOU."  And it seemed to me that I loved myself an awful lot. After all,  I knew my gifts (even if I didn't always use them).  I also knew that part of loving myself was knowing what things aren't my gifts, and I was fine with that, too. 

But these words were coming at me in a new way.   I was seeing God taking that love for myself to a level far deeper than anything I considered possible.   Here I was staring at a command from God, delivered by the Son of God telling me (and now you, too) to:

Love yourself.

It doesn't say love your perfect self.

It doesn't say love yourself as soon as you (______fill in the blank________).
a.  eat right, exercise and lose weight.
b.  win Mother/Father of the Year. 
c.  win Wife/Husband of the Year.
d.  confess all your sins.

It doesn't say love yourself only after you're done (literally) loving God and everybody.
Turns out I was so busy focusing on the order of things, that I didn't see the fullness of the commandment. 

But it is clearer to me now.

God is asking me to look at my not so lovable parts.

Look at them, accept them, and love myself with them (not in spite of them), too.

In other words, I am to love myself the way GOD loves me.  

And that's when I realized where I'd gone wrong with the recipe!  I was loving Jesus (which is good).  I was loving Others (which is also good).  But when it came to myself...I was only loving the good parts.! The parts I thought God would want to see.  The parts I'd be too embarrassed to show you, (or me).

Yep.  I was all too *happy* to let those "darker" parts hide in the shadows where God (and I) wouldn't have to look at them except maybe once every Lent or so when I was feeling up to it.

So do you see why I couldn't find the fullness of JOY? 

I only had JO. 

Now, I know what some of you may be thinking.  There's a saying that states, "Hate the sin.  Love the sinner." That's all fine and good.  And that may be what you think I'm saying right now.   But it's not.

What I'm telling you here is that I'm understanding this commandment to be saying even more.  Granted, I'm no theologian or spiritual advisor, so feel free to check with either or both of those before you take my word for it.   But as a Child of God, I'm telling you what I *know.*  And  what I *know* is that God doesn't hate our sins.  What he hates is the fact that we don't "give them up" to Him! 


We hang on to them. 
We hide them.
We ignore them.
We wish them away.

But we don't accept them. 

And we certainly don't "give them up." 

In doing this, we miss the Mystery of God's love working in our lives, and we do not allow our sinful selves to be transformed.  Even worse, in hanging on to our sins (or hiding them, etc.) we continue to transmit them to others.  
Any guesses who is happiest then?

The only "fix" then, is to accept ourselves in our fallen, broken, sinful human state and dare to love our very weaknesses--our sinful side-- as well as our strengths. 
Understanding this changes things, doesn't it?
If it seems to you like I overstated it, I apologize, but...

it feels pretty crazy, radical and reckless to me.

What's more, realizing this about ourselves makes the fullness of The Greatest Commandment more powerful, too.  As I said earlier, I always saw it as two things:  1) Love God and 2) Love Others AS you would yourself.  But, like so many things Jesus said, there's a catch!  If you don't love yourself fully--even the deepest darkest parts-- then it's more difficult to love others that way, too.   And you're not allowing God to be God and love you the way only He can:  with total abandon.

So the kicker for me on this "step" of my spiritual journey is the paradox of loving God.   The Great Mystery of His love to me now is that instead of wondering and worrying about what He will think about "the dark side" of myself, or what Others will think, I am free to bring my sins out into His light and examine them.  When I do this, then, it's not so much about crawling my way back to God, and dressing myself in sackcloth and ashes.  Instead, it simply puts me in the position of a child gazing at an old favorite toy with an understanding that perhaps I've outgrown it.  I now see the toy I used to love playing with as something that suddenly doesn't bring me as much pleasure as it once did.  And instead of struggling with big words like CONFESSION and RECONCILIATION and CONTRITION and PENANCE,  I'm now free to amble up to God as his child, hold up my sin and say,

"Daddy, could you fix this, please?  I think it's broken."

And you know what?

He will.

And the even crazier thing is he'll give it back!  Only now it will be transformed. 

Don't believe me? 

Let's review: 

1.  I offered up my very SELF to God for Lent, in an effort to find JOY.

2.  In return, God gave me the most complete version of something I didn't even know I was missing...ME!

3.  He made the gift of loving mYself the missing ingredient to a recipe I already had for living a life of  JOY.

That, my friends,  is the radical gift of love only God can give. 

And you know something?  That radical kind of love is worth dying for.

Which is why I'm not in a spiritual desert right now.

I'm too busy living the Resurrection.