Monthly Archives: February 2015

Things to Give Up for Lent: Blame and Guilt

I have missed a couple of days of writing my blog. My good intentions are just that, good intentions. Ministry and life got in the way, which leads me to the next two things on the list from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherds forty things to give up for Lent.

Blame– I am not going to pass the buck. I will take responsibility for my actions.

Guilt– I am loved by Jesus and he has forgiven my sins. Today is a new day and the past is behind.

So, here I am, three days off of my goal of posting each day in lent and of COURSE the two days that are next in the list are blame and guilt!  In my first paragraph I noted what I hadn’t done and how life and ministry got in the way. Excuses? Blaming myself? Feeling Guilty?  What a teeter totter!

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Actually, it is none of those things. I am not blaming my life or my ministry or feeling guilty. Although, I have to admit there were times in my life I would have been beating up on myself for not doing more, producing more and getting more done. And the truth is, I probably could have pushed it and gotten a couple of blogs done.  Instead, I spent more time focused on a funeral sermon, and being present with Andrew even though I had that funeral on my day off.

Seems like in our culture there are two kinds of folks: those who blame everyone else and those who always blame themselves. Neither is terribly healthy. To never take responsibility for things is arrogant and prideful. Always blaming oneself is false humility. The  other side of that coin is never feeling guilty or always feeling guilty. There is certainly a happy medium or not so happy since it usually involves making a mistake or failing.

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Neither blame nor guilt can really make a difference in the world. Blame only keeps a person from checking their own motivations and guilt is only good if it helps change behavior. Owning responsibility for good and sometimes for ill is about maturity and being real.

Blame and guilt often keep us, keep me from trying to become all I long to be as a Christian. They become excuses to not do anything, “because I won’t get it right, I am not good enough, somebody can do a better job.” The spiritual task is to balance. That is probably an excellent lenten discipline! No one balances well, but if we can find ways to understand we are not super human, not perfect, that all of us make mistakes and learn to give up the guilt trips and blame games, certainly our lives and others would be so much better.

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Brandon Sanderson’s quote says it all. How do I do what he says? Beats me. Maybe it just means to quit believing that whole world rests on shoulders. Maybe it means to trust that my best effort, your best effort is enough to truly make a difference in the world. So today, I am not beating myself at not keeping up with my lenten discipline of blogging each day. I am starting over right now and going to continue to work toward trusting that God’s love and grace are enough to carry me when I fall, to challenge when I become complacent and challenge me to continue to grow. With that faith, I am graced to serve.

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Giving up for Lent: Comparison

The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd has created a list of the forty things to give up for Lent. It is an interesting and provocative list. Each day I am attempting to reflect on the challenge for the day. Today’s is “comparision.” Oh my! How does one not compare? I don’t know about you, but I compare all kinds of things: different brands in the grocery store, what I want to eat for a meal, what I want to watch on television. I compare calories, exercise, and prices.

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And then we talk about comparing “apples to oranges.” Some of what I compare, what we compare doesn’t work at all. Yet, we all do it. We compare our favorite college sports teams or high school teams, our favorite actor or actress or movie director or author or retailer. In cheering our favorite teams it is always about being the best! And then, we compare ourselves to others.

How hard it is when we begin the comparison game. There is always someone smarter, richer, stronger, more talented, more handsome, more beautiful, and on and on. Sometimes the comparison goes the other way and we see how we are “better” than someone else. Mostly, though, the comparison game strikes at our sense of self worth and can move us toward greed, bitterness and resentment.

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Comparison truly is the thief of joy. When I am looking at others and what they have and who they are I miss what I have and what I am. In more than one letter Paul writes that there are “many gifts, one Spirit.” One gift is not better than the other, they are all necessary to the functioning of the community of faith. I could say the same thing about a family, an organization or a business. Playing the comparison game steals energy, time, joy and often love.

Our lives are a gift and it is a good lenten gift to give up comparisons. These words I found from livelifehappy.com are a perfect way to take on this lenten challenge.

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I will not compare today and be grateful that I am graced to serve.

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Giving up for Lent: People Pleasing

The next thing to give on the list of forty things is to give up People Pleasing. I suspect that would be helpful for many people. The website lists that challenge this way:

6. People Pleasing – I can’t please everyone anyways. There is only one I need to strive to please.

Giving up “people pleasing” is difficult for many reasons. On the one hand, what exactly is wrong with pleasing people? If what I do gives joy and delight to my children or my grandchildren or my husband or family or friends why should I give that up? On the other hand, if the burden of pleasing family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, the boss or whoever makes me anxious and afraid why wouldn’t I give it up?

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I am of the age, that people pleasing was part of what cultural expected of women. I was encouraged to be “nice” and to “get along” and to “not stir the pot” or “ask too many questions” and to do what it took to make myself acceptable as a woman in a man’s world. With the personality, it didn’t always work well. Nonetheless the voices in my head certainly encourage me to try and make everyone happy.

Now, I know I cannot, just like all of us know that. I suspect, many of us still try. Most of us want to be liked and one way or another, depending on the situation, we may please people so that we will be liked. Often the pleasing other people means that we get lost in other’s expectations and we lose our own sense of self and purpose.

As I was pondering how it was I found ways not to give in to my own tendency to give in to pressure to please people I ran across these seven strategies.

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Good advice for anyone who is looking to live authentically and faithfully. People pleasing means that I, you, we end up giving more of our life and energy to what other people want and not near enough to what we want and what God wants. It is not selfish or self-centered to be careful about how we spend our time and our resources. It is not selfish or self-centered to be clear about who we are, what is important to us and how we choose to live our lives. That is honesty and faithfulness.

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Paul says it well, it is not people approval we need, but God’s. God has called each of us to a life of faith and authentic living. Today, let’s give up people pleasing and take on a life of loving and serving God. I truly am graced to serve.

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Giving Up for Lent: Retirement

I have taken on the challenge to blog each of the forty days of Lent (taking Sunday off, because Sundays are not counted in the days of Lent.) The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd posted an article on forty things to give up for Lent and it seemed a good thing to write a blog about the list. That is, it seemed a good idea until today, which is only day five! Today’s challenge is to give up “retirement.”

Since I am not retired, and probably won’t be for a few years, this seemed odd to write about. I also would not want to presume to tell retired people about retirement. Here is the statement from the article:

5. Retirement – As long as you are still breathing, you are here for a reason. You have a purpose to influence others for Christ. Our work is not always tied to a paycheck.

I agree with the sentiment, all of us have a purpose and that is usually not tied to a paycheck, but this seems a bit critical. Perhaps it is wrong of me, but I am looking forward to retirement. I would like to have more space in my days to spend with family, to do some of things I have always wanted to do, to volunteer more with organizations I believe in. Many of the retirees I know are just as busy now as they were during their “working” years.

So, what does it mean to give up “retirement” for Lent. I decided to reformulate the question. Are there things in my life and spirit that I have, for lack of a better term, retired from? Are there causes or beliefs that I have retreated from sharing because I am weary or tired or so over the “battle?” It seems that sometimes I get tired of the arguments that don’t seem to go anywhere, the letters and e-mails that are ignored or worse yet, sent a form letter response that has nothing to do with the content of what I had written.

So it isn’t about paid work or unpaid work that challenges me. It is that I don’t want to retire from life itself.
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The truth is I will retire from a paying job someday. When I do, I want my life to still count for something, to make a difference in my community and in the world. Life, like retirement, is a journey and the journey can be amazing. I don’t want to withdraw from the world, I want to continue to be engaged and involved. I want to continue to support those institutions and ministries I believe transform the world and change lives and spirits. When I am no longer “working” for a living, I want to dream new dreams and have new visions and participate fully in this amazing life and world God has given.

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So, on this fifth day of Lent, I am blessed to be working at a job I love and am challenged to not let myself retire from the people and the causes I believe are important. It is enough to walk with God, know I was created for a purpose and loved by God more than I can imagine. With that knowledge, I am graced to serve.

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Impatience

The Lutheran Church of Good Shepherd posted forty things to give up for Lent. I am blogging each of the 40 days of Lent as I reflect on what to give up. Day four is to give up “impatience.”

As the blog lists number four as impatience, it also states, “God’s timing is the perfect timing.” My first response to that sentences is “WHAT?” The second is “REALLY???” I understand the sentiment, but in the midst of the some of my most difficult moments in life, I am not sure how I would have responded that “God’s timing is the perfect timing.”

Doesn’t it sound like a trite phrase that someone says when they have no clue: about life, about pain, about grief, about fear or uncertainty. When I popped the word impatience into a search engine and asked for images, this was the first that that came up:
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Impatiens, not impatience came up. I immediately smiled. Now, I happen to love impatiens, the flower. They are perfect for the shady area on my back deck. I just didn’t expect to “google” the image impatience and come up with flowers. Flowers seem to be an image for all things going well, not when life is falling apart and a person is impatient to change whatever is happening. The dictionary defines it as “the tendency to be impatient; or irritability or restlessness.”

It is true, we tend to be in such a hurry and are so restless and snippy when things don’t happen quick enough. It seems like we can’t wait to grow up, then we can’t wait to retire, we are impatient for “life to happen” whatever it is we envision that life to be. We miss things because in our impatience we don’t attention, or at least I don’t.

Today I had my hair cut. The beautician was “behind” and so I had to wait half an hour before she would be done with the client before me. She was most apologetic. I was not in a hurry. In fact my husband and I have worked hard not to be in “a hurry” whenever we are shopping or waiting in line. The only thing impatience does is make me more irritable and it doesn’t make the line or the wait go any faster.

So, back to giving up impatience for Lent. While the saying “God’s timing is perfect timing” seems trite, perhaps it points to a deeper truth. Trying to force circumstances and time to do what we want them to usually doesn’t work and honestly, often makes things worse. Waiting for clarity, waiting for a sense about decisions and waiting and just being can be true gifts.

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Perhaps this is what is meant by “God’s timing is perfect timing.” The season of Lent means waiting, pondering, praying, meditating and finding a stillness that “lets the mud settle and the water clear.” In the clarity, giving up impatience, our life can unfold before us. Maybe that is why Jesus spent “forty” days in the wilderness. Rushing the process might have meant no clear sense of calling or vision. He came out of the desert ready to be in ministry.

So I shall continue to work at giving up “impatience.” I will allow space in my head and heart so that clarity might occur about my life and what God has in store for. me. On this fourth day of Lent, I continue to be graced to serve.

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Feelings of Unworthiness

On the “third day of Lent” the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd’s list of forty things to give up was to let go of “feelings of unworthiness.” Good grief! Isn’t that like a leopard changing it spots? Or maybe it is more like thinking tomorrow I will take care of the economy and find a way to solve all the world’s problems.

Sure, anyone can give up feelings of unworthiness, right after breakfast! It should be easy, and yet, who is not plagued with feelings that they are “not enough.” Not good enough, or smart enough, or talented enough or old enough or young enough, we are just not enough.

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I find it interesting that the images I could find of “feeling unworthy” were 90% women. Now, I do not for a minute believe that men do not feel unworthy, but certainly women struggle with those feelings. In fact our culture thrives on selling us products to make us better.  We sold products because we are “too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too tall, too short, too klutzy, or not talented enough.”  And often our faith traditions thrive on telling us how “unworthy” we are.

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In the Christian tradition, Lent is a time of “confession” and “penitence” where believers are invited to look at their own unworthiness.  And yet, it is also a time to see in Jesus the amazing love and grace of God. Jesus did not shout at the people he was teaching, instead to the least, the lost and the lonely he shared God’s love. God like a shepherd with a lost sheep will search until that sheep is found or the woman with a lost coin, not content until she finds it. It is not that we are perfect, it is that we are good enough that God is not content until we are found and living in the midst of that Divine love and grace.

So I should give up any sense that I am not “enough.” I, we are unique and unrepeatable gifts from God. We are created and called for a purpose and loved deeply by God.

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So today, I will give up those feelings of unworthiness so that I might live into who God has created me to be. I will quiet the voices who say I am not enough and listen instead to that still small voice who reminds I am loved more profoundly than I can imagine.  With that love I am graced to serve.

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Your Comfort Zone

Today is the second day of Lent. I am blogging each of the forty days as one of my spiritual practices. I got the idea from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd’s suggestion of forty things to give up for Lent. Instead of the usual chocolate or coffee or meat, giving up things that keep me from God seemed a good challenge. I wanted to share those here.

The second thing to give up for Lent was “your comfort zone.” Now I don’t know about you, but I like my comfort zone just fine, thank you very much. What does it mean to give up my comfort zone? Yet this is the task for day two of Lent.

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Moving out of my comfort zone challenges me to look at my life and my spirit and ask if my comfort zone is helping me grow? Is my comfort zone keeping me from becoming all God has created me to be? Traditionally, the first Sunday of Lent begins with story of Jesus’ temptations. In the gospel of Mark it says after Jesus has been baptized, “At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan.” (Mark 1: 12-13 Common English Bible, CEB)

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I wonder how hard it was for Jesus to get out of his comfort zone and hang out in the wilderness for forty days? At the river Jordan how wonderful it must have been to come out of the water and hear the voice of God claiming him as God’s beloved. In that moment, the Spirit goes from blessing Jesus, to forcing him to go where maybe he didn’t want to go.

Perhaps Jesus understood that he could not truly embrace his call, embrace his ministry unless he got outside his comfort zone. Jesus’ time in wilderness may have helped him see his weaknesses, his blind spots where he was most likely to be tempted. Facing those temptations strengthened him and it could only happen if he was willing to get out of what was comfortable.

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The same is true for me. If I am not willing to think new thoughts, go new directions, try new things and get out of my ruts or my comfort zone then I miss so much of life itself. I miss the possibility that I have not heard the still small voice of God that may challenge me to live differently or more deeply or more faithfully.

I don’t know about you, but I have many ruts. What if I drove a different way to work? Or read a different version of the Bible? Or what a different channel for the news or read a different news source? What if I listened harder and spoke less? What if I prayed, listening for God’s guidance and opening my heart more deeply to the Divine Spirit?

Today, I am going to get out of my comfort zone and open myself to the new possibilities that God has in store for me. With the love of God, I am graced to serve.

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