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The path of insecurity towards God

 

A couple days ago I had a bad headache and a sadness in my belly, partly because I felt like I was doing work that was harmful. I was organizing an activity for a high-energy networking event for 1,100 community leaders from the region. The activity was a network map that showed how these 1,100 people knew each other. The more connections you had to others at this event, the larger of a dot you were on the map. At times, I felt like I was helping create a shallow popularity contest that encouraged posturing. I was aware of how much self-doubt I had about my contributions to this event. As I prayed about it, I became aware of how much self-doubt many of the participants coming to the event were also bringing to this event and the potential connections they would make. Underneath the event preparation and activities, it felt like there was a strong, restless current, where most of us were trying to keep our heads above the water of these questions:

Do I really belong here? Will I be found out as a fraud?

Will my gifts be recognized and welcomed?

 

In the middle of this networking event, I was feeling drained and discouraged. At that moment, a community artist who inspires me happened to walk up to me to ask about the activity I was coordinating. In our conversation, this artist surprised me by telling me about the self-doubts he had about how he fit in this large group of leaders. As he vulnerably and openly told me about this, I felt a wave of grace wash through us.

 

I’ve spent much of my life asking myself why I was so shy, and why I had such trouble connecting naturally with people around me. The morning after the event, it felt like God woke me up early and asked me to reframe this history of self-doubt and insecurity. God seemed to be asking me to see the value of the path I’ve been on from intense shyness to choosing a career as a group facilitator that stretched my natural tendencies. Looking back, it appeared that God had been helping prepare my awareness of and compassion for these insecurities. I felt called to a new way of facilitating connections and collaboration–a way that acknowledges and redeems our insecurities about belonging. I felt God offering to heal my habit of believing that I can’t deeply and naturally connect with others. God was inviting me to continue my facilitation work, but from a place of compassion for those hidden insecurities about belonging that are in me and many others I work with.

 

What does it look like to build large networks that do effective work together, while those relationships are also grounded in healing and compassion? I think God is asking me to find out.

 

As I’ve been recovering from networking event I helped organize, I’ve been repeatedly reminded of this passage from Teresa of Avlia’s poem, “He Desired Me, So I Came Close” (translated by Daniel Ladinsky):

 

**

A thousand souls hear His call every second

but most everyone then looks into their life’s mirror and says,

“I am not worthy to leave this

sadness.”

 

When I first heard His courting song, I too

looked at all I had done in my life

and said,

 

“How can I gaze into His omnipresent eyes?”

I spoke these words with all

my heart.

 

but then He sang again, a song even sweeter,

and when I tried to shame myself once more from His presence

God showed me His compassion and spoke a divine truth

 

“I made you, dear, and all I make is perfect.

Please come close, for I desire you.”

 

**

 

 

I’m a 40-something man who is ga-ga about his 2 kids and wife. I also feel warmly about bikes, mountains, and Jesus. I do consulting work with religious and secular organizations, walking with them as they look for where there is the most life and vitality in their work. My occasional blog posts are at:http://spiritofinstitutions.blogspot.com/.

 

 

 

 

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Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Blessed Are The Merciful

 

Verse 7:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (NRSV)

 

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-ful,’ you find yourselves cared for. (The Message)

 

Blessed are those who, from their inner wombs, birth mercy; they shall feel its warm arms embrace them. (Aramaic)

 

Those who are merciful are the ones who extend grace; they also receive grace in return. Where in your heart do you experience the longing for grace and mercy? Which part of you offers mercy and grace to others and which part resists? Christine Paintner, The Artist’s Rule

 

Who does Jesus choose to commend? Not the winners of great victories over Evil in the world but the ones who, seeing it also in themselves every time they comb their hair in front of the bathroom mirror, are merciful when they find it in others and maybe that way win the greater victory. Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

 

 

 

Reflections on this beatitude

Which of the five versions appeals to you now in your life?

Who has been most merciful to you in your life? How did it affect you?

Who do you feel the most mercy for at this moment? Why? What will you do?

What is your prayer for yourself and others around this beatitude?

 

 

Is God’s Grace Sufficient?

It’s curious what we remember about our childhoods. What stands out is usually the really bad stuff or the really good stuff. But scattered here and there amongst the memories are some poignant stories that just have a category of their own. One of these stories for me started out as an innocent adolescent’s question but has taken on more theological significance to me now than when it happened.

I was in junior high, probably about confirmation age, experiencing a fabulous week of summer Bible camp, something I looked forward to all year. The week was jammed with sports, swimming, boating, ping pong and hiking, in addition to the mornings of Bible study and Missionary teaching. And then there were the boys. One of the reasons we loved camp was that we developed crushes on boys at camp. Maybe there were just more opportunities to be together there but it always seemed special to go out in a boat together or to sit holding hands at campfires. It seemed magical. Actually the whole experience seemed magical.

But this particular year during the teaching time in the morning the pastor said that the definition of sin was “anything contrary to the will of God.” That confused me and, being the curious girl I was, I started wondering just how we would know what the will of God was. This was an exceptionally important question because at the church of my childhood, sin was a mighty big concept. We were taught to take it very seriously. If you accumulated a lot of sins you could potentially be damned. And being damned had serious consequences; an eternity in you-know-where.

I knew what the big sins were for teenagers; dancing, SEX, smoking, gambling (including Bingo), card playing and movies. Then there were the really big sins which seemed more for adults; adultery, murder, wanting other people’s stuff, and working on Sunday. But this idea of sin being anything contrary to the will of God troubled me.

After thinking about this all week at camp, I went to ask my cabin counselor a confusing question. “Does God will us to fall into big holes?”  She said “Of course not,” and tried to reassure me. “So,” I asked, “Why isn’t falling into a big hole sin if it’s against God’s will?” She got a troubled look on her face, almost a panicky look as I recall, and took me immediately to the pastor so he could counsel me. I told him my question and his response was simple; God’s grace is sufficient.

That may have solved the problem for him but it did nothing for me. He didn’t ask me to elaborate on my question so he could find out what was behind it. I may have not even known what was behind it but I’d guess it was something about an arbitrary and sometimes mean-spirited God who felt a lot like my father. My pastor’s answer wasn’t wrong theologically, it was just too abstract for my junior high mind to grasp, and I got no further explanation, so I went away bewildered.

But that phrase “God’s grace is sufficient” has hovered around the periphery of my life ever since. I must have assumed there was something positive about this grace, yet it remained pretty abstract.

Then I went through a multi-year period in my life in which everything I thought I needed to be happy disintegrated, leaving me with just the bare core of who I am. During those years I came into contact with a powerful women, an intelligent, funny and theologically deep woman from the 16th Century who became my spiritual mentor and friend. Teresa of Avila, saint, mystic, reformer. She had many of the same struggles I did and she developed a keen and rich intimacy with God as a result. She taught me to trust that God was involved in everything because all of life was meant to teach us more about ourselves and about God. Her theological stance was “all is gift.” She even wrote a treatise on intimacy with God called The Interior Castle. Her life and writings really spoke to my heart about the journey to intimacy with God. The more I went to God with all of my fear and anguish, the closer I felt to God.

It took years for me to really grasp this intimacy, not to be afraid of it, but once I owned its truth, God transformed my life. In my darkest hours I still felt like I was mysteriously on the right track. But the most important thing she taught me was not to rely on myself for anything but to rely on God alone. Her favorite phrase, one she used as her motto was “Solo Dios basta,” meaning “only God suffices” or “God is enough.” Her shortened version, the words she muttered as she walked the convent halls was “Basta, basta, basta.” What caught my attention was the word suffices, meaning enough. There was that word again. It felt like I had returned to a journey I began in 8th grade.

Teresa, a feisty wonderful woman of the 16th Century brought home to me, in practical and concrete ways, the true meaning of the phrase “God’s grace is sufficient.” Now I know in my soul that it is true. God’s grace IS sufficient. And now, when I think of that junior high school girl within me who was already seeking God’s compassion and unconditional love with her questions about God’s will and deep holes, I just whisper “Basta, basta, basta.”

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

 

Reflections on this essay

What do you remember most about your childhood religious teaching?

Was it life giving or neutral or fear based?

How do you define sin for yourself today?

How have you found God’s grace to be sufficient?

How do you find more intimacy with God in your life?

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