5 Practices – To Put a Spring in Your Step

Our life doesn’t have to be going great to experience joy.  Even when things are going well, it is easy to take it all for granted.  Whenever I am able to live with an awareness of God’s presence, even when things are bad, a can sense this joy.  Most often, it is our response to life and our outlook on our pain that determines our attitude. Here are five practices that will improve your response to problems, and put a spring in your step.

  1. Be Grateful

If you find that gratitude is a challenge at times, and let’s face it, faking it doesn’t really count,  try saying this old prayer.

Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more – a grateful heart,
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be Thy praise.

George Herbert

  1. Be Optimistic

A positive outlook, it is fair to say, is a much more helpful way to live.  For instance, studies show that optimists are generally healthier.  However,  being a realist, my heart needs reassurances; so I  remind myself that because God is good, and because His love for me is great, all will be well.  This reminder truly helps me to stay positive.

  1. Count Your Blessings

My mind goes back to an old hymn we used to sing, “Count your blessings name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Memory is a powerful ally when we are tempted to despair.  We could learn this practice by doing what my great grandmother did in her rocking chair each night:

“What are you doing?”, my Mom would ask her.
“I’m collecting my thoughts,” she would say.

Saint Ignatius spiritual practice of reviewing the day, is a way we recall the good of our days, and place value on the blessing of being alive.

  1. Use Your Gifts

A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great. Prov. 18:16 

When we practice the things we are most naturally good at and enjoy doing, we will feel so much better about ourselves, than when we try to force ourselves to fit into someone else’s mold.   When family and friends are gathered in our home, I’m in my element when I’m helping prep the meal, serve the coffee, or fix up a tasty dessert.  I don’t resent it, I enjoy it;  and of course my wife appreciates it too.  What is your gift? Please share it,  be blessed and be a blessing.

  1. Share With Others

It is truly more blessed to give than to receive.  There is great joy in living for the benefit of others.

History shows that people who put others first are the ones we remember and are inspired by.  Our chief example of this is Jesus of whom the Bible says,  “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Heb. 12:2)

We will experience some of this unspeakable joy while we lay down ourselves for one another.  This is not doormat theology, but rather it is a daily practice, refreshed and refilled by God’s love.

Staying Open

I want to stay open to the stirrings of God’s Spirit more often this year.  He is pursuing us daily but I so often miss those moments. This year, I want to be more tuned in.

With all that science, can you tell me how light enters the soul?” Henry David Thoreau.

Discovering God’s love is like finding the ivy-covered gate to a secret garden that has been closed for years and forgotten.   Once discovered, we have the choice to enter the garden and be changed, or remain outside with our longing and our safe life.   One of our human contradictions is that the thing we long for is often the very thing we work to keep out.   Like young lovers who play hide and seek with their affections, we are perhaps afraid of getting hurt by love.   We may simply fear the cost of true love, and the grace that is free but not cheap. The oddest part of this scenario is that I might be working hard at getting to know God while at the same time resisting Him.

“Divine intimacy can be powerfully appealing and yet frightening at the same time,” Mary Ann Schofield.

To move past my natural fear of change, is a choice I want to make more often this year.   That choice can mean leaving some of the familiar surroundings that feel safe, but may be blocking my growth. The self limiting perspectives and the unquestioned assumptions that I cling to,  are being tested.  The unbounded love of God cannot be controlled or tamed but continuously moves us to the boundaries. The Spirit draws me beyond the need for intellectual order into the cloud of unknowing, where love remains.  Sometimes I recoil, however, these thin, liminal places are God’s preferred points of contact with the soul.   Here we are transformed as our ego self is diminished and the fire within is able to be ignited afresh.

God is pursuing a relationship with us continuously, even as we resist Him.  How much more beautiful life will be, when we can stay open and connected to His reality.

“Contemplation is a long loving look at the real.”  – Walter Burghardt

 

Beguiled By Love

The trees look forlorn under the weight of a September snowfall, an early reminder of the chills to come.   My mind drifts to any number of friends that might be waking up today feeling like those branches. The grief for a lost love one, the concern for a troubled relative, the hoping against hope for recovery from cancer, are the burdens they carry.  Prayers are always welcome, but in the end it is love that remains.

“God is love”, says St John. This disciple whom Jesus loved has seen his share of visions. The presence of the risen Jesus once left him on the ground like a dead man.   Jesus said, “Do not be afraid!” (Rev. 1:17) “Perfect love drives our fear,” adds John from experience. (1 Jn 4:8)

 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. “ (1Jn 3:1).

It can get confusing trying to understand the love of God, especially when we suffer.   Is the “do not judge” Jesus really the same God as the fire and brimstone one?  Or,  as Marcion thought, is the angry God of ancient times a more primitive lower Deity?   I’m learning to appreciate the mystery of God as much as the answers.

The cure of the soul, as it is in the case of chemo treatment for cancer, may seem worse than the disease,  nevertheless the intention of God is for our good, for love seeks the good of the beloved.

God came near in the person of Jesus, as if he could not contain himself any longer.  In God becoming human, we see the true character of our unchanging, loving God.

God is “as it were, beguiled by goodness, by love, and by yearning and is enticed away from his transcendent dwelling place and comes to abide in all things.” –Pseudo Dionysius

Some children passed our yard in backpacks and winter coats on their way to school this morning. They pulled the snow-laden branches and released a joyous downfall as great soft clumps of white fell all around them. These troubles that weigh us down are “light momentary afflictions,” that are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Co 4:17)

In the sacred center of our being, the ground of being as it is often called, we encounter the love of God that can carry us through every season of living.

The Alphabet Prayer

One Sunday morning, a young shepherd boy was caring for his sheep when he heard the bells of the church ringing. Watching the people walk by on their way to church, he thought, “I would like to talk to God, but what can I say to him?”

He had never been taught a prayer. So, kneeling down, he began to recite the alphabet. Although the boy was hidden from view, one of the men going to church heard the boy’s voice. Peering through the bush, he saw the small boy kneeling with his hands folded and his eyes closed, continuing to say, “V, W, X, Y, Z . . . A, B, C . . .”

He interrupted the boy. “What are you doing, child?” he asked.

The boy replied, “Praying.”

The man seemed surprised and said, “But why are you reciting the alphabet?”

The boy explained, “I don’t know how to pray. But I want God to take care of me and my sheep. So I prayed the alphabet, hoping God could make the letters into words. He’ll know what I want and what to say.”

The man smiled and said, “Bless your heart, God will!” And he carried on to church, knowing that he had already heard the finest sermon he could possibly hear that day. His encounter with this young shepherd boy reminded him of Jesus’ teaching,

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3,4.