The World of “Busy”

What an insane month and a half.

At the end of July, I had the blessing of working three consecutive Steubenville Youth Conferences as the admissions counselor, but only two were actually planned. Due to last-minute changes, I booked flights for Spokane, WA the week before Steubenville Northwest began. That same week I started writing for Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship, splitting a month’s worth of posts with another writer for the launch of our site on August 2. A good friend of mine and my husband’s also visited in August, as well as my parents and some Franciscan University students returning for the fall. Since I work in Admissions for the university, we’ve also been busy getting the new incoming class ready for the year (while starting to plan for Fall 2015 students on the side), so Orientation brought its own level of activity.

Needless to say, it’s been very busy lately. I’ve started two more MBA classes this fall, my husband has begun his MA Theology classes full-time, and we’re excited that we somehow get to share at least one meal together every day!

But I know you can relate . . .

Because no matter what it is we’re involved in or what we do for a living, we all know what it feels like to wake up and realize how utterly busy we’ve become.

Don’t get me wrong – I love each and every thing I’m doing. In fact, I’m very confident that I’m supposed to be doing all of them. I love the company we’ve shared this month, and the blessings they brought us are abundant. However, I’ve noticed that the difference between just doing a list of good things and truly coming alive through that work is dependent on where my focus lies.

To put it bluntly, am I focused on Jesus or myself?

Yes, I need to take care of myself – I need to make sure I get enough sleep, eat right, stay healthy, etc. or I run the risk of getting sick and inhibiting my ability to be a wife and succeed in my job. But does Jesus have my first focus, my primary one?

Too many people assume that living a true Christian life means literally giving up everything. After all, Jesus told us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. People left their entire livelihoods to follow this man! But what some people fail to grasp is that not all of us are called to live secluded lives without everything we hold dear – that is a life reserved for those whose vocation calls them to it.

On the other hand, all of us are called to give up our attachment to everything else, to place Jesus first before any other things or people.

This is something I’m really taking a hard look at right now in my life because it’s essential when I start to get busy. How much priority am I giving my relationship Jesus over my other responsibilities? If I just stopped talking to my husband because I had things to do, not only would my relationship with him suffer, I wouldn’t be fulfilling my role as his wife, I wouldn’t be truly loving him, and I would damage something that is inherently more important than other things.

Yet we do this to Jesus all the time! He literally sustains our every breath – without which we would cease to exist, thousands of times every day – and we give him a half-hearted piece of our attention on Sundays.

Living in a world of busy isn’t bad simply because it’s busy. It can be detrimental because it’s so easy to lose sight of where our primary focus should be pointed – up. By looking up first, then we can look down on our busy lives and order them appropriately. But if we never take our eyes off what’s around us, we’ll never get the bird’s eye view.

 

 

(photo cred: Brasil2 via Getty Images)

My Spiritual Life: As Clear As Mud

After an exhausting weekend of work, I went in my room to lie down for a nap. Right when I got settled and quiet, I heard a fly. Of course it was one of those small annoying ones that somehow seem louder than the big ones. I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t see very well, so I had a difficult time determining exactly where it was in the room. As I got more annoyed, I laughed to myself at how ridiculous I probably looked, trying to find a fly with no glasses. Then I stopped because I was really hoping it was a fly and not something else, but I couldn’t see well enough to tell the difference . . . Eventually I saw a tiny blur, found my glasses, and immediately felt a sense of relief because I could clearly see it was a fly, it was small, and I knew exactly where it was.

It may sound like a pointless story, something that’s not even worth remembering that many details. I mean really, if I thought it was a tiny fly, why bother even paying attention to it and going through all the trouble?

But how often do we do this in our spiritual life? How often do we let little sins and vices and insecurities buzz around without giving them any attention? How often do we ignore them and say to ourselves, “Oh, it’s just [blank] and it’s not that big of a deal. I’ll deal with it later”? Sometimes the only phrase that accurately describes my spiritual life is, “as clear as mud.” I need to get to confession, repent, clear my heart and mind, and actually get to the source of all my little blurry, annoying insects.

Self-knowledge is like a pair of glasses. It allows us to actually see the truth of what’s going on in our hearts, our minds, our souls . . . In fact, trying to grow spiritually without self-knowledge is like trying to drive a car without a map or your glasses (or kill a fly you can’t really see) – you have no clear sense of where you are, where you’re going, or how to get there. It’s only through prayer and reflection that we steadily gain a better understanding ourselves, and that requires a level of humility. All these pieces contribute to one another – prayer to self-knowledge, self-knowledge to humility, humility to self-knowledge and prayer, etc. St. Paul talked about this when he said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).

In the constant buzz of our culture, it’s important that we don’t neglect Scripture, silence/reflection, and prayer. If we don’t know ourselves, how are we ever going to change?

The Art of Coming Alive

I made a change recently.

I re-branded my blog by changing the design and tagline and feel, but that might be the marketing nerd inside of me talking.

The change was actually not that huge. Significant, maybe, but not huge. In fact, my whole purpose and mission is still exactly the same. What I’ve done is made it more concise, more accessible.

For those who want me to get to the point, the most noteworthy change is the tagline, which used to read, “Truth, Beauty, Love.” While those do underlie everything in this blog, the whole idea doesn’t really tell you anything. It doesn’t quite get to the heart of what I’m actually trying to do.

The art of coming alive. Now that says something . . . something which I’ve been trying to share for over a year.

We live in a society where life and joy and purpose have been stripped from our culture. I don’t believe we really know what those look like anymore, if we ever did. So many of us – whether we’re faithful Christians or not – live painfully complacent lives, and we have a deep conviction with a tiny voice telling us that we’re made for something more! If we’re not, then why live?

But let’s not let ourselves ask that question because we’re supposed to be happy Christians, right? Nonsense. That’s the wrong doubt about the wrong question. What we ought to ask ourselves is this: If we have no reason to live a vibrant, joyful, purposeful life, then what is the meaning of my existence?

Notice I said vibrant, joyful, purposeful, not happy, easy, and free of suffering. Notice the tagline is about coming alive, not doing whatever you want, when you want.

“The Art of Coming Alive” – because it’s a process, a journey, one in which we will never feel as though we’ve attained everything our souls are meant for. Our efforts to continue searching the depths of God and His love take us on a wild adventure that will not reach its end until heaven. I’m here to share my wild adventure with you and inspire you to start or continue yours.

I was dead through sin but now have life through Jesus Christ. I lost that life without nearly as much effort as it took to gain it, and it was then I realized something very significant – a life with Christ that had hardships and struggles was immeasurably better than a life free of turmoil without him. In the midst of my complacency, or reversion back to my old life, I noticed there was a starker contrast than I had ever thought. I decided from that day forward that complacency, apathy, and contentment over the life I lived were things that I could never accept in the core of my being, my heart, my soul.

And so began my journey to discover the art of coming alive.

I realized very quickly that it’s not something you attain one day, and it’s finished . . . Living (Latin: vivus), and not just existing, is something we choose every day. We choose it when we eat healthy, exercise, study, read literature, contemplate life’s difficult questions (such as our existence), love others, love ourselves, love God, and choose “not to conform our minds to this world, but to be renewed every day.”

So it is from this perspective that I re-brand and re-purpose (kind of) my blog. Leave comments and ask questions because living the same way after coming alive is just not an option.

Imagine how passionately you would live if you were truly alive.

One Nation Under God

I absolutely love Memorial Day.

In the midst of our weaknesses, failings, and shortcomings, our entire nation is reminded of our strength, passion, and goodness. We take a day to rejoice in our brothers’ and sisters’ honor, bravery, courage, fortitude, sacrifice, love, and selflessness.

Today, regardless of anything else going on, we stand united.

In effect, what we are really celebrating is this unity, this oneness, this mutual appreciation for one another that is not dependent on whether we believe the same things. We believe in the United States of America, and that is enough to celebrate, to be grateful, and to not feel alone. And, we hope, those who have lost loved ones do not feel alone either.

Which begs a deeper question: In what other ways, and how often, do we feel alone?

If we as a nation must be reminded of our togetherness, how much more important is it that we as individuals are reminded of this? Have we let someone else know they are not alone today? Have we made ourselves vulnerable enough to allow someone else the opportunity to remind us we’re not alone? Do we believe that we actually are?

I personally feel that loneliness is one of the most common feelings, hardest struggles, and biggest obstacles to real trust and love. I have to ask myself the above questions every day just to remember that positivity and gratitude change the world. When I believed I was alone, it was so difficult to trust someone else, to give them a chance to prove me wrong. Part of me felt weird, part of me felt crazy, part of me felt like an outcast, part of me felt like nothing would change. But it’s only through trust that we open ourselves to truly loving and being loved, and I had to learn how to not be afraid of either.

If we all said one encouraging thing to another person each day, I bet we would feel a lot less alone and a lot more supported, loved, and trusting. Whether you believe we are one nation under God or under no one, we are still one nation, one human family. And that should be reason enough to let someone know they are not alone. There won’t be a holiday for that, so we can’t wait around for it to happen.

A Lenten Reflection

Today marks the beginning of Lent, a time for us to prepare for Easter through prayer, penance, and almsgiving. As I reflected on this season being a time for growth – and as Facebook exploded with everyone’s thoughts, opinions, and suggestions – I decided to add one more short list of things on which to reflect this Lent based off the three pillars of Vivus: simplicity, positivity, and gratitude.

So, here is mine:

  • SIMPLICITY. Choose one or two things that you can do to simplify your life. Spend some time at the beginning or end of each day in silence/prayer. Reflect on how you can intentionally live better than yesterday. Fast from music or other media once a week. Learn to simply be in the presence of others when you are with them . . . whether it’s at a party or one-on-one, detach from everything else occupying your mind and simply be.
  • POSITIVITY. Encourage one person a day. When something negative comes to mind, think of one positive thing that has also come out of the situation. Fast from complaining. Grab coffee with the one person you have a hard time talking to or don’t “click” with. Talk about at least one positive thing every day that happened at work with your significant other/family member/friend.
  • GRATITUDE. Wake up each day and say, “Thank you, God.” Remind yourself that, because you woke up today, God must have a specific plan for your existence and you must fulfill it. Find at least 5 things to be grateful for each day and journal them. At the end of each week, look in your journal and read everything you wrote. Tell those whom you love most that you are grateful for their presence in your life. Feel free to be specific.

True joy comes from sacrificing and giving of oneself. If you do any of the things above, I guarantee you will be happier.

So, with that being said . . . Happy Lent, everyone!

Be Still and Know

In my last post, I pointed out how the stillness can help us grow in relationship with God, but we often try to pray the same way we do other things in our lives – with busyness and productivity. I didn’t really mention anything on how to do that or what to do instead.

So, I’ll take the bible verse from the end of the post and share an exercise I learned.

Find your quiet place, be it in a church, a chapel, your room, or outside. Start with the entire verse and reflect on it in your heart:

“Be still and know that I am God.”

After a minute or two (or however long you feel called to at the moment), remove words one by one and internalize each new part of the verse until you feel ready to move on:

“Be still and know that I am.”

“Be still and know.”

“Be still.”

“Be.”

Practice listening like this every day for a month, and see how the Lord speaks in the silence of your heart.

In the Stillness

Our lives can at times (or all the time) be . . . chaotic. I don’t know one person – even among the most social go-getters – who has not wished at one time or another that life would slow down a little bit. Even a 15 minute respite during the day is gladly welcomed by anyone living in the busyness of today’s society.

We know we have responsibilities, relationships, and hobbies, and they are good. But even someone living the most fulfilled, purposeful life will agree that you cannot keep going and going and going and going . . .

So in our spiritual lives, why do we fall into the same trap and expect different results? In other words, why do we turn it into a busy checklist of good things we finished today and expect that great growth and holiness will somehow find their way into our souls?

In fact, we see that the results are the same (many things have gotten “done”) but we often do it over and over again, still expecting something to change. (Note: this is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. Just sayin’.) And when we decide to spend 30 minutes or an hour in church praying, we fill that time with devotional after devotional, feeling good about ourselves because we are reading good things and telling God all our petitions and problems.

I can just picture Him lovingly looking down on us, saying,

My child, why are you so worried and busy with the affairs of the world? Why do you fill our time together with the problems of My other children? I have so much I want to give you, but you won’t stop to listen. Please, be satisfied in My Presence and let Me speak gently to your beautiful, wounded heart. I love you so much. Let Me be your Father, your Beloved, your Savior. My yoke is easy and My burden light. My perfect Love casts out all fear.

When else can we learn to hear the Lord’s voice more deeply and surely? He does work and speak through everything and everyone us, yes. But if we are called to relationship with Jesus, we must understand that no relationship is sustainable without true, two-way communication, void of distractions.

As in any human relationship, if silence or alone time with the beloved is uncomfortable or instills anxiety or fear, then something is wrong. And the silence itself is not to blame.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)