Friday, February 26, 2010

Only the Lonely

Let me start off by asking you an honest question and do not just answer right away, really take a minute and think about it, are you lonely? When we hear the word lonely we think of someone sitting in front of the television with a pint of Bluebell ice cream, some of it on their shirt, some of around their mouth, most of it already in their belly, watching a sappy romantic movie or maybe star trek and wishing they had a significant other to do something with. That is usually the picture modern day media paints as someone who is lonely, but that is far from being the only definition of loneliness. As you think about that question, are you lonely? You might think, “no, I’m not lonely, I have a great spouse, great friends, great kids, a great job, a great social life, a lot of friends on facebook…I’m not lonely.” You might have all of these, any combination of these or even one of these and think I’m not lonely.

In the meditation book I am reading right now Nouwen talks about two types of loneliness. The first being an “emotional loneliness” which is important but more on the surface, i.e. “the need for friends, family, and home.” The second is a little deeper it is one that is there even if we have some or all of the above mentioned things to fill the “first loneliness.” The second loneliness is one that cannot be filled by any of these things because it can only be filled by one thing, the love and intimacy of a relationship with God our Father. As I read the reflection this morning and began to pray, the question that popped up in my heart was, “What am I filling that loneliness with?” There is a natural desire in all of us that when we feel a sense of loneliness to begin to grab at things that this world provides to either distract or numb this yearning that is deep in our hearts. Honestly, I think most of the time, because it has become so habitual for us, we do not even realize that we are doing it to fill that void. It become such a part of our life that whether it is getting on facebook every five minutes to see what other people are doing as not to feel lonely, eating as to fill a spot in our hearts that yearns for comfort, pornography to satisfy our loneliness, empty sexual relationships that leave us feeling more empty the next morning than we felt the night before, the use of alcohol or drugs in order to just completely numb this feeling of loneliness, or it might even be buying things we cannot afford in order to feel excitement and fulfillment, when in two months when the “next great thing comes out” we will need whatever that is too.

The list can go on and on and it is a very personal list. It is something that if we step back from our lives and take an honest look and ask ourselves the question, “Am I lonely” the answer is ultimately a resounding YES. Here the thing though, the loneliness that I speak of is NOT a bad thing, in fact it was placed in our hearts by our loving Father in order that our hearts may always have a longing for Him. Nouwen says in the meditation, “It is important for us to dare to welcome the fullness of our second loneliness…In a way, this loneliness opens us to personally know the true God.” Our effort should be that we begin to readjust our thinking from a fear of loneliness to a welcoming of it. As we begin recognize this loneliness not as a bad thing but as a stepping stone that allows us to touch the heart of God, we can begin to transition “from Fear to Love” as Nouwen put its.

As we end the second week of Lent journeying towards Easter can we stop for a few minutes and take a long hard look at the loneliness that permeates from the inner depths of our hearts and not be afraid of it? Can we be honest with ourselves and really ask the question, what am I filling this loneliness with? And that question is followed by, is it truly working? The priest who celebrated Mass on Ash Wednesday at the Church I attended posed the question, “Will I be the same person on Easter Sunday that I am on Ash Wednesday?” It is during this time of Lent that we concentrate on purifying our hearts and our lives from the things that keep us from truly experiencing the fullness of God’s love and acceptance. May we take this time to rid our lives, not all at once, but a step at a time, of the “things” we are trying to put in place of a true, deep and intimate relationship with our loving Father!

Much Love,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Leaving and Returning

As I started this Lenten season to be honest it was the beginning of “returning” for me. It is funny, not haha funny, more God funny, how certain things get put in your path at just the right time to be aids in the “returning” process. On this returning process it has been a little Lenten meditation book given to be my mother-in-law. It is called “From Fear to Love, reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son” by Henri Nouwen. I have always been a fan of Henri Nouwen’s writings but this time it seems as though God has hand picked one to be an aid/guide as I begin yet again the returning process. Over the past year, as I said in the first reflection, I feel like the efforts or lack there of to deal with these issues has not truly gotten me anywhere. As a result I have often felt unworthy and honestly scared to return to the Father, whose infinite love waits patiently for the return of his son. A couple of things that I have stood out to me in these reflections that I wanted to share because I think the are applicable to each and everyone of us prodigal sons and daughters whether we find ourselves in the younger or the older son’s role.

“The Love of the Father embraces not just the return of the son but also the leaving of his child. That is really important: the whole movement of leaving and returning is a movement done under the loving eyes of the father.”

As a father myself, this reminds me of something that my son, Dude, says all the time, “Daddy, don’t see me,” He will say this when I am standing right in front of him and it usually involves one of three things, either he is mad at me about something I have just told him, he is doing something he should not be doing or he is trying to “surprise” me with something special. This is the exact same thing we try to do with our Father in Heaven. When life hurts us in a way that throws us for a loop and all out of wack we usually ask one of two questions, God why did you do this? or God, how could let this happen? And the reaction that follows is like Dude’s, “God, don’t see me” and we go off to try to “figure it out on our own.” Am I right? And to be honest I believe God’s response is similar to my response to Dude, “Ok, buddy, I don’t see you, said with a loving grin and all the while keeping a watch eye on what he is doing. The loving eye of the Father never leaves us, even though we think we are “out there on our own.” When Dude is upset with me he goes off and does his own thing and usually, being the big soft hearted lug that he is, like we all are whether we act like it or not, he comes back in to me in a matter of minutes and says, “Daddy, I’m sorry for not listening, do you forgive me?” And my response is the same every time, I wrap his little body up in a big hug and say of course I forgive you and I love you so much. If I, an imperfect father, have the ability to do this for my child, how GREATER is our perfect Heavenly Father’s response when His child returns. So the question is “Why do we leave?”

Nouwen’s response to this is:

“I believe that in a very deep sense, one has to be convinced of God’s love in order to take the risk of leaving once in a while…It is important to understand that God’s love fills you and surrounds you whether you are leaving or returning, and that God waits with longing love to welcome you on your return.”

If Dude was not certain of my love, would he walk away or would he return? If he didn’t know with confidence that he was safe to get upset and angry with me and at the same time know with certainty that upon his return he would be met with love and forgiveness, would he leave? Or more importantly, would he return? I think these are interesting questions for all of us to ask ourselves. I think written deep in our hearts is a confidence in the love of our Heavenly Father. Even with all that life has thrown our way, somewhere underneath the pain and rubble of what was once our innocent and pure hearts remains the confident love of a son or a daughter in the powerful love of their Heavenly Father. I think what Nouwen is saying is that if we can begin to realize that the love of God is not ONLY with us when we are doing everything right, but with us ALL the time, it begins to make our return a easier and quicker. If today we can try to connect with that confident love in the Father that was woven into our hearts when we were created we can begin to experience life in a new way. A new way in which our “leavings” and our “returnings” do not have to be filled with resentment and guilt, but that we can begin recognize that they are surrounded by the acceptance and love of our Heavenly Father. If we can begin to do this then the leavings don’t have to be years of hurt, anguish, and loneliness, but can be times of, Ok, God, I need a minute here to think about how I feel about what just happened, knowing that His loving eye is on you and your return can be like that of Dude, quick and confident in what is waiting for you, that being perfect acceptance, love and forgiveness.

I think that the question that poses itself naturally right now is what are we waiting on…RETURN!

Much Love,

Its been a while since I've been inspired to write but I think its returning, below is another one that I wrote recently.

Lenten Recognition

As this Lenten season begins I find myself in a place of longing. It did not begin today, it has been stirring in my heart for sometime and to be honest I did not know what to do with it. Though I knew the “church answers” I still found myself unsure of what it was I needed to do, but more importantly I was unsure of where God’s love was in the midst of this confusion. After the loss of our daughter Cate, my family and I went into survival mode. We just had to figure out how to survive the immense grief and confusion we found ourselves in the days and months that followed Cate’s passing. It was difficult to understand how this could happen and even more difficult to understand how God could let this happen. There was real sense of being ALONE, and this sense permeated through our marriage, friendships, and even my relationship with God. It was difficult to see how or if at all He was working and moving in my life because all I could see was the pain, hurt, anger and resentment. Although from the outside we may have looked like we were “moving on with God’s grace and assistance,” there was and sometimes still is, another life being lived in my heart that very much felt and still feels stuck sitting in a pool of pain and confusion.

After the year anniversary of sweet Cate’s passing there definitely felt like a lighting of the load of which we had been carrying, but the pain and confusion still lay so deeply in the hearts of my little family and myself. A few months ago I began to just feel like it was time for me to begin a process of slowing trying to sift through this darkness that I had been in for so long. I felt like because of past experience I knew in my head that God was not separated from this place I found myself in but that in fact He was in the middle of it, even though I did not “feel” He was anywhere near me. One day back in December I shared in a nutshell with a brother of mine what was going on in my heart and asked him to pray for me. He of course agreed to pray for me, like a good little Christian brother, and then he asked me when the last time I had met with my spiritual director was? I honestly told him that it had been quiet a while since I had seen him so he encouraged me gently to call him and set up an appointment to meet with him. About a week later my brother sends me an instant message, asking if I had called my spiritual director yet? To which, I honestly answered, no. The next day he call my cell and left a rather strong message of encouragement that told me to put on my big boy pants, get off my rear end and call my spiritual director, this is a very loose translation of what was actual left on my voicemail.

Due to his persistent encouragement I called and set up an appointment with my spiritual director. The appointment went well as they usually do and the direction that I was pointed in was to recognize my own helplessness to get through this pain, resentment and abandonment I find myself, which is VERY hard for me to do. I am the kind of guy who says, no one is going to do it for me, so I have to get it done myself, this is a lie comes from an old wound in my heart, that I struggle with often. Well, here I am a year and half after Cate’s death and I am STILL trying to do it by myself and needless to say, it has not worked very well. What I believe God is calling me and all of us, is to actively recognize where He is, where is HAS been, and what He has been doing all along. He is the reason that I began to recognize that something was not right in heart, He is the reason my heart was moved to share with my brother about where I was found myself, because HE lives in my heart, He is the one moving me back to Himself, not because of what I can do for Him, but for the simple fact that He loves me.

My sweet wife left a Lenten reflection booklet by Henri Nouwen, under the keys to my truck this morning. As I went to walked out of the door I grabbed the book and thought, “you know, I can take few minutes to read this in the morning and pray at my desk before I start the work day. God in all His divine persistence, chose to continue shining His light on my heart and to continue revealing his love for me this morning and to remind me that the only reason that I know that I am lost is BECAUSE I know His love. Here is a few excerpts from the reflection for you to chew on:

“If there is no parent, we cannot be lost. If we have no parent to return to, there is no experience of being lost. We are only lost, when we can be found. Only in the light of goodness and forgiveness do we discover that we are lost.”

“The love of a parent makes the child aware of being lost.”

“We only know that we’re in darkness when we come into the light of God’s love. It is only in the light, in the fullness of the sun, that we know there is a shadow.”

These simple words remind us that our Father in Heaven is the one who even helps us to see that we are lost, so that we may choose to return to the safety, comfort and love of His arms. The two things that really jumped out at me in my own life were: 1) the only reason I knew I was lost was because I knew the love of our Father in Heaven, otherwise what would I have noticed was missing? and 2) It was only through God shining His light in my heart to help me to realize that I was lost and then shining His light through my heart to my brother to encourage me to meet with my spiritual director did God not begin, BUT continue the process of drawing me back to Himself.

My prayer is that this Lent be one of recognition. That I truly begin to recognize how God has been working in me and around me over the past year and half, that I begin to recognize that it is not ME, but HE who lives in me, who will heal the hurt and confusion, and that I also begin to recognize again His movements in my daily life. May this Lenten draw us all into a deeper understanding of God’s immense Fatherly love for his children!

Much Love,