I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:44-45
Sometimes a line from scripture hits me sideways and makes me puzzle over it for days. There is one verse that gets me every time I hear it. It’s one of those lines that I can't quite figure out what to do with or how to apply to daily life. God is loving and merciful and compassionate and capable of bringing great good out of unspeakable tragedy so why would a Father with all those amazing characteristics slap us with a line like, “be perfect as your Father is perfect.” What is that nonsense all about I’ve asked myself every time I’ve heard that line. Then came an insight!
Here are the words I read Saturday that made so much sense and I’m borrowing them from the Magnificat prayer book.
Being perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect means loving those who do not love you. We can do so because God has made us to be a people peculiarly his own. When we give God’s love to those who deserve it least, God raises us high in praise and renown and glory. Love shared makes us a sacred people.
Ok, so loving those who don’t love us and loving the hard to love and being patient, kind, merciful and understanding of those who push our buttons is the answer? It would seem so and it makes so much sense because his greatest commandment calls us simply to love. He isn’t asking me to build a hospital or begin an orphanage or do mission work in a Christian hating country, he’s asking me to love my neighbor…ALL of them. He even promises to give us the grace to do it. If we ask, he will open our heart and stretch it’s loving capacity far past the puny human limits we think it’s capable of. Plus, as a gigantic bonus for loving the hard to love, he slathers us with more grace, glory and love. So in a nutshell; I ask him to help me love, he gives me a super dose of love to give away, and then he blesses me for letting him do the work in my life…and that’s how I become “perfect” as he is “perfect” and that’s how I grow in holiness and gain eternal life? When you lay it all out like that, it seems too good to be true but then again, that is God isn’t it!
Two other things I realized as I’ve wrestled around with this verse, this perfection he calls us to is not a goal to be checked off, it’s a process to be lived. This process comes with success and failure all along the way and that is expected by the Father who loves us. We simply can never check the box and say LOVE, check I’ve done that. I think of that in terms of my own marriage and motherhood because I’d never look at Dave or the kids and think, “Yup, I love you enough, all set.” It’s a process that grows and deepens over time and boy am I thankful for that. The second thing is that this perfection scripture speaks of is not completely fulfilled here on earth. The perfection comes to completion at the end of our days. It’s a journey or a process not a task to cross off the list.
The perfection is in the love. I can go to mass every day and say 43 rosaries a day and donate money to cause after cause but if I don’t love those who don’t love me and the hard to love and if I don’t spend every day trying to grow in humility and holiness through my loving of others rather than self I’m not doing it right. Quite frankly, his way; his request, it so much simpler. If this strikes a cord with you, I have two ideas to help make this a part of your Lent. First, several times a day silently pray, Jesus, help me love the way you love. Second, spend some time each day with this little prayer, also from the Magnificat and me.
For those who have hurt or harmed us. Grant them every blessing Lord
For those who dislike us. Grant them every blessing Lord
For those who look down on us. Grant them every blessing Lord
For those who refuse to speak to us. Grant them every blessing Lord.
For those who test our patience and make our life difficult. Grant them every blessing Lord.
For those who believe differently and make us angry. Grant them every blessing Lord.
A Seed To Plant: Pick one of the two options above and put it in place this week.
Blessings on your day!
Love requires sacrifice…always!
It’s not scripture but it’s a powerful truth I seem to forget. Sacrifice often takes a back seat to convenience and comfort. We prefer easy, speedy and painless and then wonder why we don’t feel fulfilled. The important stuff; the stuff that leaves us joyful and alive; that’s the stuff that involves love and requires sacrifice.
I’ve had several nudges lately that remind me how true this statement is. We are called by the greatest commandment to love, and the truth is, we can’t follow that commandment without sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice is small, for instance, I love my students but spending time in the evenings and on weekends to grade or plan is a sacrifice. Other times the sacrifice is much bigger. I hugged a good friend at her father’s wake this week and she lovingly told me she was so happy for her dad and found peace just thinking about him rejoicing and being free from pain. Her perspective and strength were inspiring but the sacrifice of that love will weigh heavy on her days for quite a while.
Sometimes the sacrifice needs to look like patience. Sometimes it needs to sound like a swallowed opinion. Sometimes it needs to appear to be sand slipping through our fingers as we let go of the past or of our own agenda. Sacrifice is loving people exactly how they are and where they are. Sometimes we’re called to love someone just by being present and there is sacrifice in keeping quiet and not trying to fix or change them. The people who love us back make it easy to love but we’re also called to show Christ’s love to those who can give nothing in return and that is truly a sacrifice.
I think about all the times I’ve tried to find the perfect gift to show my love for someone. When I heard this line spoken by a movie character I realized I’ve been shopping the wrong way. I suppose the more we love, the more we should be willing to sacrifice. I loved my children but I’m not sure they always saw my carpool complaining as a loving sacrifice. This simple little line can bleed into doing the laundry and helping with homework and holding the flashlight in the rain so Dave can figure out why the tractor is making a weird noise. This kind of love happens in the middle of the night after a bad dream or at the end of the day when you wan’t to tune out the world but someone you love just really wants to spill their heart.
There have been times when I’ve wondered if all the sacrifice of a relationship was worth it or if it was really supposed to be so hard and one-sided, but as I’ve prayed with these words for a few weeks I realized I was looking at it out of balance. Love and sacrifice aren’t always equal. Sometimes we receive love far greater than we sacrifice and more often than not it is opposite. We’re able to sacrifice and love others but at some point we expect to receive love in return. We want to feel there is something in it for us. I forget that my call to love others isn’t to get something in return. Love is so much bigger than all the warm fuzzy feelings. Love is the duty of a disciples and the way to keep that in balance is to realize each person that crosses our path is there so I can show them the love of Christ. It’s not about loving so I can get something back, it’s about loving so I can love Jesus himself. When I look at Jesus on the cross I find the truth because it reminds me that there is more love poured out on me than I could ever imagine. I know I will never be called to love with a sacrifice anywhere near that magnitude but when I recall his sacrifice for me, it helps put my teeny little sacrifices for others in perspective. Again, I remember it’s not about me at all!
A Seed To Plant: Who can you love today?
Blessings on your day!
Do not accept anything as truth if it lacks love. Do not accept anything as love which lacks truth. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
I’ve bumped into several people lately who all shared a similar concern. At one point in the conversation truth in media came up. I think on some level we’re all a little frustrated as we try to figure out who is actually telling the truth. It’s hard to figure out what the truth really is and there is no shortage of folks ready and waiting to jump in and stir up the stories.
I suppose St. Teresa really put it all in perspective in one little quote. For those who might not know her story, she spoke these words as she and a group of other nuns were being loaded on a cattle car headed for a concentration camp. The message she wanted to leave with those who would follow is basic…speak truth in love. I think I will take her words and let them guide my speaking and listening for the next few days and see what I learn. I think it just might change a few things.
A Seed To Plant: Put this quote somewhere visible and let it guide what you say and how you process what you hear.
Blessings on your day!
“No one can serve two masters.m He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and man.” Matthew 6:24
It’s almost time for school to begin and I wanted to practice my question asking and I decided to begin with the Joyful Words readers. Question one: What are the things you love or really like? Question two: What are the things that occupy your time your thoughts and your actions? And finally, question three: What are ten things you just can’t imagine living without?
I’m sure all of our answers would provide a wide variety of information and if I had the chance to read everyones answers I imagine I would be persuaded or inspired to change some of my own. I read a quote from St. Bernard the other day that actually bubbled up these questions. The quote was this, “What we love, we shall grow to resemble.” My first reaction was; sweet, I love Jesus so I’m growing to resemble him! Then reality slapped me up side the head and it didn’t take long for me to hone in on all the ways I DO NOT resemble Jesus and that led to the three questions I’m proposing to myself and all of you who read these words.
No matter what shows up on your answer sheet it’s a great reality check and opportunity to adjust our thinking because ultimately we can’t serve two masters as Matthew reminds us in his Gospel. I can still enjoy the things of earth like coffee and sitting on my porch but I need to keep everything in the order that points me to the Father.
A Seed To Plant: Take some time this week to ponder and write down your answers to the three questions and then let the words of St. Bernard guide you to have a great conversation with the Father.
Blessings on your day!
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…1 Corinthians 13:4-8
I remember hearing a long time ago that if you were dating a person and you wanted to really understand if they were the “right person” you should read this passage from 1 Corinthians and insert their name. I thought that was excellent thinking but I was already married so I didn’t give it much thought. I have no idea what made it pop into my head the other day but it just sat there. Today I woke up to the news of more shootings and more folks sharing their opinions about gun control evil people and the woes of the world.
As the bad news bubbled in my heart I came across this quote by St. Teresa of Calcutta. "Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.” I’m not sure we understand how important it is to love one another. It was the basic command of Jesus yet we seem to get it so very twisted up.
As all of this tumbled around in my heart and my head I remembered that I have absolutely no control over anyone else actions but my own and it made me start to think about how I loved others. The teacher in me thought about a scoring rubric or grading scale for judging my “love ability.” Somewhere in the middle of a really long bike ride on a beautiful Sunday afternoon this reading had a purpose and I realized the rubric already existed. I pulled out the New Testament, found 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and began to read it slowly inserting my own name. It sounded like this, “Sheri is patient, Sheri is kind. Sheri is not jealous, Sheri is not pompous…” I’ll be honest, there were parts I really couldn’t say out loud because they weren’t consistently true. I wanted to say “Sheri is not quick-tempered…most of the time or Sheri endures almost all things.” It was not an easy read! It was glaringly obvious where I fall short.
I can’t change the world but I can change me. There will always be awful stuff going on in the world, there always has been and one powerless teacher from Michigan isn’t going to end world violence but God isn’t asking me to. He’s asking me to love others as he loves me. This reading from St. Paul’s letter is a great place to start. The cool thing about it is, if I try harder to get it right, not only will I feel better, but the Father will be pleased and who doesn’t want a new way to please the Father. It might sound so simple but I really believe the world will get better if we all learn to love a little harder.
Blessings on your day!
A Seed To Plant: Spend some quiet minutes reading this passage and inserting your name and see where the Holy Spirit leads your heart.
Every good and perfect gift is from God above. James 1:17
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you are undoubtedly aware that there is a lot of yuck filling the news. When all the craziness from candidates to policemen to natural disasters and disrespect for life gets lumped together it can bring out the worst in us. Everyone is entitled to their opinions but folks sometimes forget others might not share the same one yet they insist on loudly sharing those opinions with everyone and proclaiming their thoughts are correct, just, moral and supreme. The result is a muddy mess that leaves me scratching my head wondering; why don’t folks remember everybody’s life matters and how in tarnation did things get so scrambled up.
I surely don’t understand all the messes we hear about in the news but there are a few truths I know. First, God is bigger than ALL of it! Second, I can’t fix it; God would never ask or expect me to and third there are two very powerful things that we can do RIGHT NOW that will matter. These things will matter in my life, my family and with the people I am close to. I can’t fix it but I sure shootin can make it better…and so can you. The greatest part; these two things will tackle the feelings of frustration, dread, anxiety and the overwhelming desire we might have to throw something at the TV or computer screen when we watch the news.
There is a tiny back story to this idea and it came from the Holy Spirit because I would have never thought to do this myself. As I was sitting in prayer sad and frustrated about the current state of affairs of our nation I was prompted to go to something happy so I yanked an Advent book from my shelf. Advent is such a time of joy and happy anticipation so I opened up the book and started soaking in the words and felt excited and happy; it was crazy! After reading several pages two things became very clear and my heart filled with hope and faith. Complaining, dwelling, commiserating and joining in on face book rants about how this country is going to hell in a handbasket isn’t cutting it…that Advent book made that very clear! We have to take part in the plan of God; and make no mistake, even in this mess, he has one…and judging by the magnitude of the mess I’m confident it’s gonna be a GOOD one for those who are faithful!
So, the first of those two things; be GRATEFUL! Yup, you read that right, be GRATEFUL. Think about it, gratefulness should be our response to the grace, mercy and blessings of God and no matter what you just watched on the 6 o’clock news, God has blessed YOU! A grateful heart sees what’s good and appreciates it. People who are grateful are merciful and kind because gratefulness causes us to be connected to the one who gave us the things we’re grateful for. If we are connected to the giver of all good things, he gives more good things. That connection leads to eternal life…that’s what we need to remember to focus on, not this short-term life we’re in the middle of right now. This isn’t the good part…that’s comin and our salvation isn’t based on the behavior of the world; it’s based on our personal behavior. If we’re living gratefully we aren’t complaining, we aren’t worrying we’re busy praising and thanking the Father and that leads to great stuff!
The second of the two things; be LOVING! If we are grateful, we realize all good things flow from love not hate, jealousy, greed or pride. When we’re loving, the atmosphere changes completely and God barges right in and brings those cool gifts of the Spirit…you remember those…joy, peace, kindness, goodness and gentleness! No elected official or community leader is going to deliver those gifts if we cast our vote for them or hold up the right poster at a protest rally. Those gifts come from only one place and there is no spot for those gifts in our life unless we are loving. Too many of us are fumbling around in a fog of bitterness, anger, frustration with our hands thrown up in disbelief…that isn’t the proper disposition or frame of mind to be loving. We need a new disposition; let’s try gratitude and love and see what gets better; I’m guessing everything will!
A Seed To Plant: Write down this quote and pray with it for a while and see how your heart changes. “Gratitude flows from the recognition that all that is good is born of a divine gift of love freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others.” (Author unknown but they must be a really smart, holy person!)
Blessings on your day!
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. Habakkuk 3:19
It has been one strange winter! We have had more snow days than I can ever remember in one school year. I’ve used the time to get caught up and do some of those yucky chores you dread but I’ve also had some time to watch a few movies. I have not one athletic bone in my body, but I love sports movies. I love it when the underdog wins, the hopeless find hope and the least expected turns out to be the most amazing. I have pulled four of my favorite quotes from 3 great movies for today’s post and added a twist as if they were each spoken to us by Jesus Himself.
It’s ok to think about what you want to do until it’s time to do what you’re meant to do. (The Rookie) If Jesus said that to us, I think He’d follow it up with “so put your plans and your dreams at the foot of my cross and I’ll take it from there. Oh, and by the way, I’ll come up with something WAYYYY better for you than you’d ever dream up yourself. Wait for it….Wait for it!”
You’ve taught me to judge a man by the soul of him, rather than the look of him. (Remember the Titans) That’s Jesus talking… but all too often way too many of us still haven’t learned that lesson. It’s easy to see this quote in terms of race but I think it’s much bigger than that. What about seeing the soul of a homeless person or a person lost in alcoholism or someone struggling with anger or mental illness? It’s not always easy to see beyond the first look sometimes but we’re supposed to.
When I told you not to get your hopes up, that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to. (Invincible) One of the things that really hurts my heart is when I visit with someone who has no hope. It hurts my heart even more when I see a person smash someone else’s hope. Hope is a very powerful thing and it can make amazing things happen. Hope is a grace and it’s freely given to each of us but we have to make sure we know that putting our hope in Christ is what we need to do. When we tell someone not to get their hopes up, we seem to be trying to protect them but I suppose Jesus would remind us to say instead, put your hope in Me because I have only the best for you….I will give you far more than you could hope for.
Sometimes bad things happen for no particular reason at all. (Remember the Titans) I see two big lessons of faith in this line. Lesson one, don't try to blame everything on something or someone and don’t try to explain, justify or second guess God’s motives because He sees our whole life, not just one event. Lesson two, no particular reason you can see or understand at this moment, but give Him time, He will reveal the reason and He will bring blessing and goodness because of it. I suppose it’s also helpful to remember that sometimes the lesson and the blessing are meant for someone else and it just comes through us and our circumstance.
There, I feel better now, thank you for allowing my lazy snow day movie watching to be used for a good purpose.
A Seed To Plant: Think of a line from one of your favorite movies that has meaning and enforces a Gospel teaching in your life. If you have time, share it with us in the comment section so we can be inspired as well.
Blessings on your day!
Children let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. 1John 3:18
I love watching parents in action. I especially love it when a mom or dad can immediately halt a behavior with just a look. You know; “the look”. No words needed, just “the look”. I find it really amazing when that look comes from a tiny, gentle, sweet little mom. I observed a tiny, mighty, master mom at work in the airport Friday afternoon and I’m tellin you what, as I got caught in the cross hairs of her gaze, I felt a chill and I sat up straight myself! As fierce as that look was, it was done out of love for her squabbling boys and it was so much better than ugly words or threats. I can only imagine what this world could become if we all took a cue from this line in St. Johns letter and focused on our deeds more than our words.
The first few words of this verse give us a mission; LOVE. Love is so much more than sappy, kissey-face, goey stuff. Hollywood gets it wrong, social media gets it wrong, television gets it wrong so it’s no wonder we’re all a little fuzzy when it comes to figuring out what love really looks like! The kind of love St. John was writing about is the real deal kind of love. Love is mercy and mercy means forgiveness and forgiveness means choosing the Father’s way. Love allows us to see people as their Creator sees them and when we look through his lens, love becomes giving and not taking. Love is not a suggestion, it’s necessary to make earthly life meaningful and eternal life possible.
I don’t know about you, but I could seriously pray on this verse for weeks and probably still not get it right. We are told by the world to find our voice and use our words, but it seems like it’s all becoming a giant screaming match with everybody trying to out-talk the next guy. It’s also a little tricky to navigate through all the words and messages and pick out the truth. Words can be twisted and misinterpreted but actions are concrete and powerful. When we think about the loving things we can do for others, it’s important to think small. Most of us will not be called to build a hospital, start an orphanage or open a school to serve forgotten children. We are simply being asked to do simple things with great love.
Yesterday I sat in a huge, old, gorgeous cathedral and I was captivated by the beauty, but I was more deeply touched watching the people and the way I saw this verse come to life. I got to watch the woman in front of me reach over to touch the shoulder of a hurting friend. No words were spoken, just a simple touch and a look that was steeped in compassion. As I was gazing at the stories being told in the stunning stained glass windows, I was distracted by a man who used his neck tie to play peek-a-boo with a restless toddler in front of him whose mom was trying desperately to hold on to his wiggly body. As I listened to the Bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City deliver a powerful homily, my gaze shifted to the usher as he welcomed a disheveled and frazzled looking little old woman and took her fail arm and escorted her to a seat. She wore years of worry on her brow but as that usher put out his arm and led her to an empty seat you could see the look of gratefulness and peace on her face as she settled in to listen. As I left the Cathedral, I noticed the little house next door that served sandwiches to the city’s homeless every day. God gave me a line from scripture during mass and then illustrated it for me in living color. I love it when he makes it so easy to see!
Maybe today is a good day to just be quiet and do something. Loving deeds speak louder than words…let’s get busy!
A Seed To Plant: Spend a couple days praying with this verse and ask God to put people in your path who need a little action packed quiet love!
Blessing on your day!
Jesus said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Mark 1:17
Growing up, Sunday was a great day. Mom and Dad made sure it was a day we slowed down. It was often the day we would take a drive and go visit my Grandmas or play games at the kitchen table. Winter Sundays were great but spring, summer and fall Sundays often involved a relaxing activity that I hated…fishing! Everyone in the family except me loved to go, so not wanting to spoil anyones fun, I never said anything but man I hated it when it was a fishing Sunday. To me, it was completely ant-social, totally uneventful and absolutely boring! You couldn’t talk or you’d scare the fish away, the hook began and ended with something wiggly and gross and if I actually ever sat still enough to catch something, the great prize was eating it. Since I don’t like fish, even the prize wasn’t a good deal. The only Sunday fishing trip I ever really enjoyed was the one where I convinced my mom that some boys at school told me Chocolate Chip Cookies were great fish bait. I told her that if I used those as bait, nobody would have to help me or listen to me complain about spearing a poor, little, slimy worm with a hook. It was a great day. I left my empty hook in the water all afternoon while I laid in the summer sun slowly nibbling on my two cookies and then announcing at the end of the afternoon that those boys had no idea what they were talking about! Any good fisherman will tell you, it’s all about the bait.
I love this verse from Mark’s gospel even if it does remind me of fishing Sundays. These words Jesus spoke two thousand years ago were not just meant for the disciples; they were for us in this place and this time as well. It’s one of those verses we read and think…oh no…he’s not talking to me! I’m not qualified to preach the Gospel or evangelize and lead others to the Lord. That’s for religiously smart, holy people who know lots of stuff about faith and the bible. If that’s what we’re thinking then we’re making a big mistake. Sharing the good news of Jesus’ love and mercy is a job that belongs to each of us. After all he’s done for us, he’s asking us to be willing to publicly “show him a little love!”
The most important part of this verse is the phrase “and I will make you”. Those five little words take all the pressure off of us. He's saying very clearly that he will give us what we need to do what he’s asking us to do. If we follow, he will arrange the situation and circumstances perfectly. He isn’t asking us to convert a continent or preach an eloquent sermon to thousands, he’s just asking us to take him with us wherever we go and share him with others. If you’ve ever asked someone to “put in a good word for you” then you understand what he’s asking. He’s asking us to make the introduction and he’s so amazing, he’ll even point out the folks he’d like us to introduce him to if we agree to follow and help him make a difference in peoples lives.
If we agree to let him make us fishers of men the best part is the bait! The bait he’s asking us to use as we “fish for men” is love. It isn’t knowledge or power or strength. We don’t have to buy any equipment or supplies, he’s given us everything we need to do this work. He has loved us abundantly and if we share that love with others, hearts will be changed, lives will be changed and the world will be changed. This is one fishing trip I can get excited about! The request is clear so pick up your pole, spend some time in prayer so you can load up on his love and then take that bait and tell a true fish story about the things you’ve seen him do when people grabbed onto the bait and let him change their life.
A Seed To Plant: Take this verse to prayer with you this week and ask the Father to show you where to take some of his famous bait!
Blessings on your day!
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