“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Luke 15:31
I heard someone on the radio the other day talking about the story of the Prodigal Son so I decided to give it another read and do some thinking on it. Every time I read the story I get angry with the first son. According to the customs of his time, asking for his inheritance was the same as saying his father was dead to him. As a parent I just can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be so bitterly betrayed by my own son. As I read on, I sometimes find myself cheering for the second son…the one who was obedient, hardworking respectful and never asked for anything. He seems like the good son for sure…or does he? Surely the first son is the bad son…or is he? As I prayed on this passage from Luke’s Gospel I began to see myself in both sons. I’m not gonna lie…I didn’t like that idea very much!
I saw myself in the second son but not for good reasons. Yes I try to be obedient to God’s will and yes I try to be grateful and conservative and not demanding but this wasn’t what was stirring in my heart. The second son was all about entitlement. He wasn’t concerned about his brother, he was concerned about himself. He didn’t stop for 2 seconds to see the relief or joy in his father’s eyes. He didn’t stop for 2 seconds to realize what a tremendous act of “pride swallowing” his brother had just demonstrated. And he certainly didn’t stop long enough to think about how extravagantly his father would shower him with love if given the chance. It was a gigantic open and shut case of “that’s not fair!” Why is it we have such a hard time being genuinely happy for others when good fortune comes their way and not ours? I guess I need to think more about the blessing of generosity and less about keeping score. I heard a story not long ago about a wealthy couple who had attended a fundraising event and won the big cash prize. The audience was full of second sons who whispered among themselves about how that couple certainly didn’t deserve to win. What all those whisperers didn’t know is that the couple humbly accepted the cash prize and used every penny of it to buy groceries, diapers and gas cards for two struggling young families in their church.
The first son…what could he possibly have to teach me? I smugly thought I would never be so bold, wasteful, irresponsible and disrespectful. God wouldn’t let it off my heart so I stayed a while longer and thought about that lousy first son and as I sat and prayed, he began to sprout some redeeming qualities. I began to consider things like his courage, humility and desire to reconcile. He knew he had hurt his father but something deep inside him wanted to make that right. He wasn’t asking to have everything back to normal; he was willing to be a hired man, not a son. True, his return might have been motivated by selfish reasons like hunger and pride but I can’t even imagine being brave enough to take the risk. He had to be willing to own up to every one of his mistakes and face the judgment and consequences that might come. He left home prideful and arrogant and he returned broken and weak and a complete failure, but yet he returned. As he walked down that road to his father’s house every weakness was on full display. I’m not sure I could muster that kind of honesty. I can go to all sorts of lengths to conceal my weaknesses and failures; it must have been quite a task to lay it all on the line like he did. I noticed that not once did the son offer any kind of excuse or rationale for his behavior. He just told it like it was and hoped to be accepted in spite of the brokenness he brought with him; I don’t know about you but I could take a lesson there!
I spent so much time thinking about the sons, I forgot the star of the story…the father. The father in this story is our father too. Our Heavenly Father loves us with the same unconditional love as the father in the story. He will always welcome us back no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been and he will be so happy to see us there will be great rejoicing. He loves us even when we’re too busy keeping score to realize only he knows the perfect reason blessings are bestowed as they are. I realized he wants us to know his forgiveness and his generosity. He wants us to remember our job isn’t to focus on the behavior of his children; our job is to focus on the love of the Father.
A Seed To Plant: Pick a favorite Gospel story and give it a read with fresh eyes, asking God to put you right into the story so he can reveal his truth and love to your heart.
Blessings on your day!
For where two or three gather in my name, I am there among them.’ Matthew 18:20
The past two weeks have been a giant “welcome back”! I didn’t realize how much I missed live ministry and physical connection until it came barreling back into my calendar. I’ve been meeting with teacher friends, celebrating weddings and presenting teacher retreats. I’m typing this blog from a teeny airport in Kearney Nebraska at the tail end of a fabulous weekend spent with some beautiful Catholic women. My heart is so full and I am so grateful to have been a part of the two or three or many who have gathered!
After months of very little on my calendar, it took a bit of recalibrating to get back into full school/ministry mode. As I have been traveling this month I realize we are all readjusting. Some folks are are like labrador retriever puppies released from a basket. They are so happy and exited and they wanna hug everyone and talk to everyone and be right next to everyone. I’ve discovered some folks are fearful and nervous about being out and about. They want to keep their distance and they want others to do the same. The third group of people I notice are those who really aren’t sure what to feel. Guess what…they are all ok! Each group is right…each reaction is correct. I’ve gotten much better these past few weeks at noticing, observing and respecting. I suppose those are skills we can all work on a little.
I’d like to thank the lovely ladies in Nebraska and the beautiful Catholic School Teachers I’ve spent time with this month for some great lessons. I’ve learned that you can see people smile even if they’re wearing a mask. I’ve learned you can sense emotion and offer comfort even if you’re six feet apart. I’ve learned that we truly are made for connection. I’ve learned that despite the apprehension about a virus, most folks really want to get back to some kind of regular or familiar. I’ve learned that compassion trumps opinion and listening is more therapeutic than ever. I’ve learned that this pandemic has affected us deeply and so very differently and those differences are best handled with understanding and respect. It really isn’t a good time to pick sides because when we’re fragile, confrontation just adds to the brokenness and division we are all desperately trying to figure out and mend.
I have tremendous respect for leaders who are responsible for bringing people back together. I’m thankful for teachers who are coming back because they love kids and they know they have to figure out how to get them together because they need it so much. I’m thankful for a group of Nebraska women who choose to attend a Catholic Conference and open up their worried hearts to the love of the Father. I’m in awe of the people who shared their struggles and their burdens with me this month, reminding me that we desperately need connection so we can share and laugh and pray and sometimes cry together about the craziness that has swirled around us these past months. Mostly I have realized how important it is to pray for each other and remember everyone is trying to do the best they can and when we do gather, know He is there too.
A Seed To Plant: This week pray for school teachers and leaders as they prepare to welcome kids back to school…however that looks.
Blessings on your day!
…shake the dust from your feet…Luke 9:5
My mom used to have a famous line. She’d pull it out any time I was trying to make a big decision or plan something. Instead of telling me what to do, she would say, “Well, you could do that but then what happens if…” She would let me think and ponder and look at different sides of the issue. She might repeat that statement a dozen times as I worked my way through the possibilities. She taught me to think about the possibilities and the consequences and then she let me see them through. She was such a wise woman! Today it seems that there is no shortage of folks who want to tell each of us exactly what we should believe and do and think and support. I’m beginning to see two really big problems with that. First, they aren’t offering balanced information steeped in truth and mercy and second, too many folks are letting others do their thinking for them, believing anything they hear.
As I’ve prayed and ached a little over the past couple of weeks about things happening in the news, I was searching for some truth and peace. As always, God pointed me to a passage I’d read dozens of times, but he helped me see it with different eyes. The passage is from Luke’s Gospel and it brought peace and clarity to the mess filling up my newsfeed. When Jesus sent out the disciples their job was to bring the message of love, peace and hope. They weren’t asked to beat people with a stick until they believed exactly what they told them to believe. They were speaking truth and planting seeds. All to often today if someone doesn’t believe what we believe things turn twenty shades of ugly!
Jesus told the disciples if they and the peace the brought with them was not accepted or welcomed they were to shake the dust from their feet and move on. Nowhere in this Gospel did Jesus tell them to stay and beat folks silly until they agreed. He didn’t instruct them to shame, belittle or humiliate them, just shake the dust and move along. He also didn’t teach them to move to the next house and bad mouth the place they weren’t welcomed. It was a simple, gentle motion, shake and go. But before they shook and left, they gave the peace of Christ. It made me wonder how many times we get into an argument and desire the other persons holiness or offer them the peace of Christ?
The other thing that struck me was the dust. Dust is dirt right? And things grow in dirt right? So while they gently shook the dust and moved past, what was left in the dust? The disciples left in that dust seeds of peace, seeds of compassion, seeds of gentleness. As they quietly slipped away they demonstrated what Christ taught us; love one another. I wonder how many times the disciples shook the dust from their sandals and those left behind were inspired by their example of gentleness and non-judgement? I wonder how many people pondered on it and changed their attitude or behavior? I wonder how many through the seeds left in the dust actually came to follow Jesus after all?
As I’ve prayed with this Gospel for several days I’m reminded of that famous line from St. Teresa of Calcutta; the thing that needs to change most in this world if it is to be more peaceful and Christ like is ME! I suppose it would be a great idea if we did a little more dust shaking and less tongue wagging and finger pointing. And I know I need to work harder at desiring the holiness of all those people in the news making me crazy. My words for the week…shake, peace and plant seeds of hope in the dust!
A Seed To Plant: Read Luke 9:1-6 and see if the Lord has some direction for you in regards to creating peace on earth.
Blessings on your day!
…his mercies are not spent; they are new each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23
I am grateful for lots and lots of things and one of them is my ability to fall asleep as fast and hard as a brick being dropped from a high building! On the nights I’m not asleep in the first 3 seconds after crawling between the sheets I try to do a replay of my day and offer thanksgiving for the blessings and pray for forgiveness for my sinfulness. When I get to that part, sometimes I get pretty sad, even embarrassed about things I have done or said during the day. It’s funny that on the nights I don’t fall right to sleep it’s usually because something has happened during that day that I need to pray on, ask forgiveness for or ask God to help me fix the next day. I’m not gonna lie, some nights when I start thinking about silly things that slipped out of my mouth that shouldn’t have, or situations where I didn’t slow down enough to really listen or be compassionately present for someone I’d rather just roll over and go to sleep. Sometimes it’s like someone holding up a mirror and I don’t like what I see.
I was having one of those nights not long ago and I couldn’t go to sleep. I ended up moving to the couch so I wouldn’t disturb Dave because no matter how hard I tried to drift off, something just kept nagging at me so I gave up, opened scripture and asked God to show me what he was putting on my heart. It was a beautiful experience of his mercy that eventually led me to this verse in Lamentations. How great is our God! Even as he was pointing out something I didn’t want to see, he did it with such love. I realized that he was showing me how I could follow him more closely and after a while longer, I fell sound asleep and didn’t even roll over the rest of the night. When I woke up the next morning I felt so peaceful and content because I realized that no matter how much we mess things up, he is there for us and his mercies are new each morning.
Don’t we serve an amazing God! It’s like a “do-over” every day. The morning brings new light, new opportunity and God’s new mercies. If you’re reading this today and your heart is heavy about something you’re lugging around, put it to rest in the forgiving arms of the Father and sleep tonight knowing his mercies will be new in the morning. Admit your faults and failings, ask his forgiveness, offer apology and make peace where you need to and know things will be as fresh and hopeful as a bright new morning.
A Seed To Plant: Ask God to show you where you need to seek forgiveness, offer forgiveness and then rest in the promise of his mercy.
Blessings on your day!
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