Henri Nouwen, who was a beloved priest, author and speaker once said, "every change begins with some loss". How very true whether the loss is minor or major losing something or someone changes everything.
Change can be a welcomed guest providing opportunities and breakthroughs for personal and spiritual growth. However, when change comes un-invited as in the death of a loved one, or a loss of a relationship it can paralyze usleaving us feeling hopeless, sad and discouraged. Whether we like it or not change plays a significant role as we navigate through the peaks and valleys of daily life. How we choose to respond is critically important to our emotional and spiritual happiness, as well as our outlook on the world and the people around us.
As we continue our Lenten journey many of us are trying to change behaviors, attitudes and long standing grudges against a brother or a sister. Despite, denying ourselves and trying hard each day you may have become frustrated and discouraged at your lack of self-control. If this is your experience you are in good company... and help is on the way 'through Christ who strengthens me' (Phil. 4:13).
The Good News is..... we can't do it on our own that is why we needed a Savior"! On our own strength we will fall over and over again. But, through Christ who strengthens us we have received the power to resist and the freedom to choose what produces life for us.
We will all experience change whether we seek it out or not. I challenge you today to 'see' changes as opportunities and not obstacles to your spiritual journey. If you fall don't give up. Instead, cry out to Him who will quickly pick you up, dust you off and love you back to life again.
This week we light the second candle of Advent; the candle which symbolizes Faith. It is not the size of your faith that is necessary to be successful in loving God and others. Quite the opposite, scripture tells us if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (which is the tiniest of all seeds) you can move mountains in your life through prayer!
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1)." This is a tall order and without the gift of faith we risk becoming cynical and blind to God's presence, especially when we are suffering or when we see our loved ones suffer. It is during these times our faith will be challenged and we may experience doubt that a good and merciful God exist. If you are human you will have doubts, but experiencing doubt does not measure or define your faith. Even Jesus struggled with doubt the night before He died for us when he prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will."
During the last few weeks I experienced the loss of two very faith-filled friends; Loretta and Vicki. These two courageous women suffered for years with painful diseases leaving them isolated from others and deprived of the simple pleasures in life. Despite, their pain and suffering I was amazed and humbled by their faith and trust in God. Could I be so trusting if I was in their shoes? Yes, there were times of doubt regarding God's will and the healing that had not come. But, never did they give into the hopelessness and despair that wanted desperately to get their attention. Instead, they expressed gratitude and thanksgiving to God for the gift of life and the family and friends that surrounded them.
Vicki and Loretta's faith and example taught all who came in contact with them that we do not suffer in vain. Rather, it is in our suffering that we are transformed into His image and set free to love and be loved. In the presence of these beautiful women I encountered God and my life was changed. Now that they have completed their journey they have passed the paton to us! Let us continue to run the race with our eyes fixed on HIM echoing the words of St. Thomas, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief!"
When it comes to faith we can all agree we can never have enough! Yet, Jesus tells us in Matthew's gospel, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'move from here to there, and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." The mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, yet when planted will grow into a large tree. Therefore, it is not the size of our faith that makes the difference. Rather, it is our response to this gift of faith which produces the growth and moves the mountains in our lives.
I have listened to countless stories of people struggling with their faith due to the death of a loved one or the pain of divorce. How could a good and loving God not heal my loved one or restore my marriage? But, it is during these difficult times when faith is tried and tested we see great growth. This great gift we have been given rest not on our emotions and fears. But, rather on the promises of God who Himself experienced a crisis of faith in the garden of Gethsemane.
All Christians will experience in their life-time a period, or periods of doubts regarding their faith. According to Pope Francis (who has acknowledge his own personal faith crisis), "A Christian who hasn't doubts, who hasn't had a crisis of faith, is a Christian who is missing something". In the end what matters is how we respond during these times. Our surrender and trust to God's will and plan for our lives will give hope to others going through similar situations. We bear witness to this faith by the hope we carry in our hearts.
A seed is just a seed until it is planted in the earth and surrenders to the soil. Our faith is a muscle and needs to be exercised in order to grow and be strengthen. So the next time you feel that your faith has been shaken remember to flex this muscle and let God's graces flow. Each and every time we pray, 'not my will but yours be done' we die to self and are reborn in Him.
Begin today to move those mountains in your life!
In Matthew 16, Jesus proposes a question tohis disciples; "Who do people say that I am". They respond using a variety of examples to describe who people were claiming Him to be. Then Jesus directed the same question toward each one personally; "But, what about you, who do you say that I am"? I believe that in order to share our faith successfully we must all consider and answer the same question; Who do you say that I am"?
There is a difference between knowing about someone and 'knowing them personally'. As we grow to know and love someone we are excited to introduce them to our family and friends. When it comes to our faith and relationship with God this can be difficult if we are not really sure who He is ourselves!
Take a walk down memory lane with me for a moment; "Who taught you about your faith? What image do you have of God and how would you define Him? What difference does your faith make today in your life? " Answering these questions honestly will help you understand why, or why not you share your faith with others. Negative images and preconceived ideas about 'who God is' can prevent us from sharing our faith. Removing the obstacles that stand in the way can only be done through a personal encounter with God who loves us unconditionally and desires our friendship.
When we come to understand and accept God's great gift of unconditional love and mercy we want to share this good news with others. Despite, all our failures and shortcomings God has loved us and has called us his own. This is good news that we can't keep in. Only in God do we find the power, strength and ability to resist temptation and avoid sin.
God has, and continues to do great things for us and this is a message of hope that the world needs to know. In God, and only in God will our hearts truly be at rest. It is never too late to share your faith where God has planted you!
"Who do you say that I am"?
When it comes down to sharing our faith Saint Francis has the right idea...'preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words"! I believe we spend more time worrying about what we will say then how we act. If we are to share the gospel message there must be no ambiguity between what we say and what we do. This by no means exempts us from sharing the word of God, rather it is a reminder that our actions can bring others to Christ or turn them away.
Consider for a moment a time in your life when you realized that your actions did not convey a true Christian attitude. When you have judged someone based on their appearance or their education and treated them differently. In my own experience one place I find most difficult to maintain a Christ-like posture is while driving. I must confess, I have little patience with drivers who tailgate. I would not consider myself a candidate for road rage, but I have come to recognize that we are all capable of anything without God's grace and presence.
As Christians we are called to demonstrate to the world God's love by acts of mercy and kindness expecting no retribution. Many times our kindness and compassion have been the catalyst for healing and reconciliation. When we serve our brothers and sisters we help to break down walls and barriers that keep us apart.
In the following exhortation Pope Francis shares Jesus' model on sharing the faith with others; "Jesus' attitude is sticking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an initiation to conversation. "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again." Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patent. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience he has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understand us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. "Great is God's mercy."
Actions speak louder than words!