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)

Positivity.

So I’ve been a lot more negative and gossipy recently, both at home and at work.

Since nothing bad or negative has happened in my life, I thought of three legitimate reasons why this could be:

  1. I’m stressed. (Um, who isn’t?)
  2. This frigid winter is seriously never ending. (But seriously – please, please get up to 25 degrees. I will never complain again.)
  3. I’ve watched a lot more TV in the last couple weeks. (Drop Dead Diva and Sherlock for the win.)

Now, I may have a stressful job and am planning a wedding that is exactly 4 months and 1 day away, but I’ve had my job for 2 1/2 years and have been engaged for 9 months. These are not new things, so that clearly does not explain the last two weeks. Reason 1: out.

This January’s average minimum temperature in Steubenville was the lowest since 1977 (11.3 degrees). February’s low has already beat the last two years, but it’s only 1/3 over . . . However, I’ve been taking Vitamin D for several weeks now (buy one get one 1/2 off at Kroger!), got moved to a window office in November, and have a comfortably heated house and working car. Reason 2: out.

So that leaves me with watching more TV in the last couple weeks. I would blame it on last Wednesday’s snow day except that I was more productive that day than any other and didn’t watch anything. Unfortunately, I think the media we consume affects us in ways we don’t realize, especially TV and movies (not to mention video games).

“But it’s just a couple episodes!” No, it’s not. The important aspects of media consumption are both what and how we consume it. I’m not saying we should never watch Netflix, but whether it’s Sex and the City or 7th Heaven, watching consecutive episodes of anything does not help us grow emotionally or spiritually. And let’s be honest, those are two pretty good gauges to determine if something needs to change.

In fact, I could have better spent that time reading – a different but less addictive form of media – or *gasp* praying! We live in a narcissistic society, one that glorifies self-gain and crowns consumerism as king. Wouldn’t it naturally follow that the more we immerse ourselves into this culture, the more we follow suit?

No, I don’t feel like all I did the last two weeks was intentionally do everything for selfish gains. I didn’t thrust myself into unabated materialism and spend all my wedding savings, doing nothing of substance with my time.

I have, however, selfishly been critical of others at work or outside. I’ve had a hard time seeing all the good in others. Perhaps because I think too much of myself?

How negative are we really? And how willing are we to look at the potential causes? Are we open to admitting that it’s our own lack of charity and discipline, or do we immediately point towards external factors? If we do point to something external, how often do we stop and qualify that reaction before affirming or disavowing it out loud?

One of the pillars of this blog is positivity, so my challenge is basic: encourage one person every day. And mean it.