Thursday, January 29, 2015

He either knows what He is doing, or He doesn't.

"The steps of a man are from the Lord, and he establishes him in whose way he delights; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord is the stay of his hand." -Psalm 37:23-24
"For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!" -Psalm 36:9-10  
Lots of pondering going on in my heart right now, especially lately. I have many rich blessings of family, friends, involvement and community in my life right now, and yet some big pieces of my life still have not come together, and I struggle daily to recommit myself to trust in God's will and to keep living a holy life to the best of my abilities. I keep going back to the hope that we find in the Psalms, which tell us over and over that God is faithful to the righteous man, to those who are upright of heart. 

The thing is: I think that a tiny part of me has wondered all this time if my crosses are my own fault somehow, maybe that there is something wrong with me that I have just not addressed yet. The idea that if I was good enough, then my life would all come together, that all my endeavors would meet with success, and that God would pull out a miracle for me and fix all of my problems, all at once. 

But of course that is a total lie straight from you-know-where. 

It's not about being good enough, or even successful ("God calls us to obedience, not success" Mother Teresa reminds us). It is about living a good and holy life to the best of your understanding and ability. It's about His mercy. It's about living the perspective of eternity. It's about opening our hearts to grace. It's not about us. 

Self-centeredness is never from God--in fact any thoughts or feelings that do not call us to virtue are not from God. So, we can learn over time to call out some of those terrible thoughts and feelings for what they are and not suffer from them so much. As my spiritual director told me, the mind is a very dangerous place, and that we should never go into it alone. We should always bring Jesus with us. 

Sometimes bad things happen to good and faithful people, people trying to do nothing but His will. God's thoughts, plans, and ways are so far above what we can begin to understand. That is the message that repeats itself in the writings of every saint I've ever read about, of all Church teaching, and in the message of all of Scripture.

Isaiah reminds us of how far above us are the thoughts of God. But for those of us with hard heads...there's the book of Job. 

My friend Marianne sent out a spiritual reflection  a few days ago that I am pretty sure Papa (as she calls Him) meant just for me. I'll quote her (somewhat paraphrasing), because she put it so well and because I don't think she'd mind:

I read chapter 38 where God replies to Job after Job asks why so many trials are befalling him after he has tried so hard to live a faithful life. Whenever I read this scripture I always imagine poor Job sitting dejected and miserable, wondering why all this misfortune has come upon him. He suffered so much - the deaths of his family, loss of all he owned, ridiculed, covered with boils and to make matters worse, his friends are telling him that surely he has brought this upon himself! 

Job is innocent of any wrongdoing and cries out, "Oh, that I had one to hear my case, and that my accuser would write out his indictment!" In other words, "let me know why this is happening to me!!" The words of God's powerful reply vibrate on the page, "Who is this that obscures divine plans with ignorance?" Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers!" God continues, "Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size, do you know? Have you ever in your life commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place? Tell me, if you know all: Which way is the dwelling place of light?"

Whew! I'm sure by this time, Job has gotten the point, and so have we. 

Chapter 38 in the book of Job is a powerful speech from God reminding us that He is God and we aren't. There will be things in this life we just don't understand, but His will is perfect and He knows exactly what we need every minute of every day. Trust Him to lead you through whatever trials or suffering you may have in your life at this time; and, if, Praise God, things are going smoothly for you right now, rejoice that our Redeemer lives!

If we are really and truly living our lives God's way, and if we are doing what we think to the best of our discernment we are supposed to be doing, then at some point we have to rest in that. Even if we have to rest right in the middle of tragedy, perceived failure, hardship, derision from others, uncertainty...or in skin covered with boils, like Job.

After all, where were we when God founded the earth?! He either knows what He is doing, or He doesn't.

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all." -Psalm 34:19

Monday, January 26, 2015

The devil's favorite color is Grey

**This post is a reprint that I've actually reworked quite a bit from when I originally published it in the Fall of 2013. The movie is coming out on Valentine's Day weekend, and I felt called to share my thoughts again. 

"Guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." -Proverbs 4:23

If you eat a box of donuts, you know they are going to go straight to your hips. If you consume trashy media, it's going to go straight to your head--and your heart. Instead of muffin tops, though, the consequences of consuming "junk" from books, music and film will come in the form of nagging little feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and discontent with your body, your wardrobe, your lifestyle, or your spouse. It will also sow seeds of selfishness, which is probably the number one enemy of a happy marriage.

I don't know about you, but I'll go out on a limb and say that my marriage has enough to work through without introducing any more junk into it. I think that is true for most marriages, simply because the nature of relationships is that there is always something we are working through. No one and no marriage is perfect. The idea of guarding your heart is as important for our teenaged children as it is for a husband or wife of thirty years. 

One way I'm guarding my heart--and my marriage--is by staying far away from 50 Shades of Grey, a trilogy of sexually explicit books about a virginal college student seduced by a handsome billionaire. The books are notable for explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. The Fifty Shades books started out as erotic fan fiction based on the Twilight series. Teresa Tomeo does a good job of explaining what's in the books and why it's disturbing and ultimately harmful. 
G.K. Chesterton wrote many years ago, "The devil's favorite color is grey." The immense popularity of 50 Shades of Grey should be a red flag. If all of these women are really just looking for a little "fiction and fun reading" or a "boost for their marriage," why are they reading what talking heads in the media have often referred to as "mommy porn"? Is their marriage being healed and strengthened deeply--or are they putting a temporary bandaid on larger issues that need attention? A lot of good women--many of them sitting right next to you at church and in the carpool line--are getting sucked in to something that's definitely not from God. And if it's not from God and not for God, where is it from? 

I'm convinced that there's a better way to do this love and marriage thing than what we learn in the catechism of our culture. And I'm convinced that Catholic teaching on love and marriage contains the fullest breadth and depth of truth, especially as explained by St. Pope John Paul II's beautiful, surprising, and truly revolutionary Theology of the Body. 
If any of my readers have never heard of or read anything of the Theology of the Body, I really encourage you to do so. The Theology of the Body is the body of material from a series of talks given by St. Pope John Paul II on God's plan for revealing Himself in the human body and in erotic love. Michael and I still have so much to learn about the Theology of the Body--and isn't intimacy in marriage something you grow and mature all your life as a married couple?--but we have given quite a few Theology of the Body talks to youth groups over the last eight years, and have even facilitated a couple of courses to youth groups about it. When we started dating, I had just been introduced to the Theology of the Body. I remember that I basically told Michael that he had some catching up to do if he wanted to continue to date me. And you know, he caught up quite quickly.:)  I don't care if you are young, old, Catholic or Protestant, married five years or fifty years--you need to hear this stuff. When you hear the Bible, Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, and all of the deepest longings of your heart woven together and explained like that, something just clicks. This is how it's supposed to be.

There are many, many marriages around you struggling with serious problems with intimacy. Maybe one of those marriages is yours. So many people--so many good-hearted, striving-for-a-good-marriage people--are desperate. Because love is so, so complicated. And sex can make everything so, so much more complicated. I think that many people are curious. And some are hearing from their friends that pornographic material like 50 Shades has "helped" them. In reality, many people are putting the equivalent of cheap, off-brand bandaids that don't stick onto deep wounds and problems. The gray area comes in when people have the legitimate and good desire to improve their marriage, but they decide to try out morally questionable means to that end. Teens and unmarried young adults, especially college students, are devouring the 50 Shades books as well. They are allowing their concepts of  "good" love, sex, and marriage to be distorted by seeds of selfishness that will become full-grown weeds of trouble in their future relationships.

For my marriage, I'm placing my bets on the triumph of real, God-centered marital love: sacrificial, unselfish, courageous love that takes years and years to perfect. Mike and I are not quite there yet. And some days--on hard days--I feel like we've taken a hundred steps backwards! But we are living a Godly life and marriage to the best of our abilities, and God will be faithful to molding us and our marriage into the beautiful witness he created us to be. I cannot deny His amazing work in my life and marriage these past seven years.

It all goes back to whether God is God...or not. If God is who he says he is, then it is ridiculous to try to follow any path but the one He's got for me. It's also ridiculous to let him into every part of my life...except for my bedroom. If God is who he says he is, then the Church--the only Church that traces its teachings and its leaders directly back to Christ--has the teachings, spiritual guidance, and wisdom I need to learn how to discern and actually live out God's plan for my life.

There are so many reasons why this topic is one that I am (could you tell?) a little passionate about. As I am finishing up this post, I want you to know that you are being prayed for as I type these words. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would touch your heart as you read this post with exactly
what you need to hear about this topic. I pray for consolation, healing, guidance and strength for those suffering and struggling righteously with intimacy in their marriages. I pray for openness to the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who need to let God in even more. Finally, I pray that those who promote 50 Shades of Grey and any other pornographic media would be convicted by the fullness of the truth. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hope, O my soul

"Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end."
St. Teresa of Avila on the virtue of Hope, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1821