The other day, I talked about the need toreevaluate lent. The lenten practice that I’ve found really helpful, especially in this time of pandemic, is both being real and having hope, understanding that it’s important to do both together. It’s a practice that the Scripture story of the “Raising of Lazarus” has really helped me understand and practice.
Being Real and Having Hope
By “be real,” I mean to courageously acknowledge the truth of what is going on – in the world, in my community, and in my home – which includes honestly accounting for feelings, whether anxiety and sadness or laughter and love. Therein, it’s the humility to be real with both joys and sorrows… with both success and struggle… with both death and Resurrection… with myself, with others (including my kids) and with God.
By “have hope,” I mean to continually have faith in the transforming power of God in the Paschal Mystery. To hope is to both trust in God and to actively cooperate with God’s grace. Hope is a bit of an elusive virtue for many of us. We tend to take it to one of two unhelpful extremes, with either too much reliance on self (while lacking trust in God) or too much professed reliance on God (without bothering to discern how God may be calling us to cooperate with grace).
I need to, I want to, and I have to do both: be real and have hope. To only focus on one without the other leads to more unhealthy extremes: negativity-and-panic… or saccharine-sweet-rainbow-unicorns. (Read more about the virtue of hopehere.)
The Raising of Lazarus
The Gospel for the 5th Sunday in Lent, the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45), speaks to both “being real” and “having hope.”
Jesus receives word from his good friends, Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus is ill. But instead of rushing off, Jesus curiously stays where he is for two more days. By the time they arrive in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. First Martha (v.21) and then Mary (v.32) each greet Jesus by, saying “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
How many times have we similarly lamented, “Why? Why didn’t God do something to stop this?” Even now, amid the Coronavirus pandemic, how many of us have wondered “Why has God allowed this to happen?!”
In The Passion and the Cross, Ronald Rolheiser, OMI redirects our “Whys?” simply and succinctly: Because our God is a fellow-sufferer and a Redeemer, not a Rescuer.
“God doesn’t ordinarily intervene to save us from humiliation, pain, and death; rather, he redeems humiliation, pain, and death after the fact” (38).
Honestly articulating our questions and struggles directly to Jesus is being real, but Martha and Mary don’t stop there. They don’t just speak their sorrow. Immediately following her lament, “If you had been here…” Martha models having hope: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:22).
And Jesus. Even though he knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, we find Jesus deeply troubled by the reality of the situation. It’s here that we read the shortest verse in all of Scripture, “And Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Talk about being realwith emotion!
Having hope in a God who Redeems (not rescues) means that things might not unfold as we would expect. Things certainly didn’t unfold the way Martha and Mary expected. Nor did things unfold the way the disciples expected following the Crucifixion.
Having hope in a God who Redeems means we are open to goodness and grace – especially when we least expect it!
(More on that in the next post!)
Are you able to be real and have hope about your joys and sorrows in the midst of all that is going on? (Or do you find yourself going to unhelpful extremes?)
When first I started commuting into town, Google Maps guided me with directions. After a few days, the routine was ingrained, and I began to appreciate her insight on traffic.
I mean traffic. No one likes it; everyone hates it. But if you’re going to drive, you have to deal with it… much like the reality of suffering in life.
Google Maps helps me deal with insufferable traffic.
I appreciate knowing how long the delay will last and whether or not there are any better alternatives. When she says, “There is an accident ahead; you can save 20 minutes by taking an another route,” I will always click ACCEPT! Who wouldn’t?
Who wants to suffer through traffic, when they don’t have to?
However, sometimes there aren’t any better alternatives. “You are in a 13-minute delay. You are still on the fastest route.”
You are still on the fastest route. Hear that affirmation. Release the angst. Stop wasting energy trying to find another way around it.
You are still on the fastest route. Thank you, Google Maps. I’ll claim the confidence that there’s nothing I can do differently—that I am doing the best I can. And with that, I can patiently wait.
Occasionally, when I doubt her wisdom, when I just can’t stand it any longer, convinced I know better, I try some back roads. More often than not, that fails. Nothing is gained, and sometimes my impatience even costs more time.
Suffering is a lot like that. Sometimes there is an alternative and we should take it. (I mean – within reason. Google Maps won’t suggest illicit maneuvers, after all!) But other times — like when you unexpectedly lose a job or a loved one, or a traumatic illness or accident leads to months of care — there’s nothing you can do differently. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.
Our God is a Redeemer who takes our pain and suffering – no matter how long, no matter how hard – and redeems them. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.
Also, when the backseat passengers start with the unsolicited advice to take those back roads (bless their hearts – they don’t know), tell them Google Maps said “You are still on the fastest route.“
I originally wrote this post three years ago, shortly after having lost a dear friend to breast cancer. Of course, in the 3-year cycle of readings, Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is (once again) the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent. This reflection also makes its way into the first chapter of Continuing the Journey(which is now available in both English and Spanish, with a Leaders Guide–also in both English and Spanish… but I digress).
From February 2013…
My dear friend Amalour passed away last week. And in my grief, I am still having a difficult time paying attention to almost everything. So it didn’t come as any surprise when I had a hard time following the homily today at mass. The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28:-36).
Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
Years ago (before kids), I facilitated a faith sharing group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Maryland, and one of the women explained how the story of the Transfiguration was one of her favorites because it offered a glimpse of Jesus Christ glorified. I heard her words and felt moved by her passion, but that’s not how the story struck me.
Personally, I find myself identifying with Peter, James, and John. Like them, I would have been happy to follow Jesus up a mountain. Like them, I would have probably been overcome by sleep. Even before kids. And like them, I would probably been so awestruck, I would have been happy to to pitch a tent.
Actually, I would have been happy to have my husband pitch the tent while I set up camp.
At the Vigil service for Amalour’s funeral, her husband Brian offered one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard. Brian talked about Amalour’s unending quest for improvement. In their marriage–in their lives–they’d do the work and come to a plateau. It was a nice plateau, on which Brian was ready to pitch a tent and enjoy the view. And Amalour would say no; we’re not there yet. We can do better than this. There’s more to see; there’s more to do. Again, and again, and again in their lives, Amalour was always striving for something more… for something better… in all the ways that mattered.
I am a do-er. I’d like to think of myself as someone who walked alongside Amalour on the path of growth. In many ways, I know I have. But I also know one of my weaknesses is doing too much. I have been guilty of distracting myself from the real, true, important things in life with busyness… filling my days with so much stuff that I don’t have time to think. When I’m in this mindset, pitching a tent and enjoying the view sounds like a GREAT idea! In fact, I’ll even busy myself with setting up camp.
Thing is, life is more of a journey than a sit-down and watch (or in my case, get everything ready to sit down and watch). And sometimes that journey is hard. Very hard.
I can imagine that witnessing the Transfiguration was to be a gift to inspire Peter, James, and John for the journey that lay before them. It was not meant to be the end of the journey… or even a break from the journey.
So the challenge, I suppose, is to take those moments of grace, peace, hope, and light and allow them to inspire us along the path. To avoid the temptation to pitch a tent as though that moment was the end-all-be-all. To avoid the temptation to busy ourselves with setting up camp instead of doing the real work of journeying through life.
Adults crave quality connections with other adults, where we can have good conversations about the things in life that really matter.
For a variety of reasons, we don’t always have the opportunity to do this; to have these quality connections and conversations. Our schedules become busy with kids, work, commitments, activities, sports, responsibilities, and so on. We often find ourselves socializing with the people who keep similar schedules in similar spaces. We talk about the things we do or the things we see, but not always what’s going on inside our hearts.
Sharing the yearnings of our hearts–our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows, our brokenness in pain and suffering–takes trust, vulnerability, and love.
Trust, vulnerability, and love aren’t characteristics easily found in today’s impersonal, fast paced, technology dependent world.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
Yet trust, vulnerability, and love are at the heart of true spirituality, discipleship, and Christian community. Or at least, that’s what Jesus had intended, that’s what St. Paul wrote about, and that’s what Acts of the Apostles describes.
Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. (Acts 2:46-47)
The experience of quality conversations and connections is invigorating; these moments fill our hearts with love, peace, and joy. When the topics touch upon spirituality, discipleship, and Christian living, these conversations are evangelizing–kindling our passion for God.
So when, and where, and how can we find quality connections and quality conversations with other adults? In today’s Church, we can certainly find this within small faith sharing groups.
My last post explained what a small faith sharing group is. This post begins with a vision for what kind of experience we want (quality conversations and connections) and will focus on Howto implement small faith sharing groups.
Five Keys For Small Faith Sharing Groups
Just because you get a group of people together and give them a topic does not mean you’ll get these fantastic evangelizing conversations and quality connections. Have you ever been part of a never-ending meeting that goes nowhere? Or one that devolves into either a therapy session or venting and complaining?
Beyond the logistics of who, where, when (and what to discuss), there needs to be a great deal of attention dedicated to how. I suggest Five Key C’s to cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections:
Confidentiality – the atmosphere of the small faith sharing group needs to be one of trust, vulnerability, and love. Whatever is shared in these conversations must not be repeated in any other context. This is a confidentiality based in agapic-love, willing of another’s good… the only exception to confidentiality is if someone’s life is in danger. Care and concern for the well-being of another always takes precedence when someone’s life is in danger.
Conversation– participants enter into small faith sharing groups with the expectation of conversation. Good conversations extend from mutual respect. To get to a place of mutual respect, sometimes “ground rules” need to be made explicit, such as:
encourage laughter and joy… but never at the expense of another.
express concern for one another… but not by offering advice, criticism, or judgment of others.
recognize and validate emotions… but resist the temptation to counsel, advise, or solve problems (unless specifically asked for).
honor one another’s time with both brevity (when sharing) and patience (when listening).
Coordination through Facilitators – a good facilitator is a good listener and servant/leader. More than a host or a coordinator that plans the meetings, a good facilitator knows how to:
invite everyone’s participation in the conversation… but not force it; no one has an obligation to share. Some folks are natural talkers who easily share; others are introverts that need time to think and process. A facilitator’s job is to prevent “conversation ball-hogs” by making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and contribute.
be patient as participants share their stories… but also be attentive to staying focused on the discussion topic and keeping the discussion within the time allotted.
Conversionand Application to Life – it is easier to talk critical analysis–what you think about a topic–than it is to consider how the material applies to your life. It’s easier to talk about concepts or other people’s stories than it is to consider how the wisdom of Scripture and Tradition is personally calling you to conversion in your own life. Faith sharing group discussions are concerned with:
How you currently experience [the topic] in your life – whether with success or struggles.
Ways in which you feel [the topic] is calling you to live your faith differently or better… a call to action of sorts.
Centered on Prayer – Faith sharing groups always need to be centered on our Life-giving, Loving God. We need to remember to:
begin by inviting the Holy Spirit into the discussion.
choose discussion material that helps us focus on how the wisdom of the Christian Tradition applies to our lives today.
pray over, for, with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling through difficult times… even if it is in the middle of the discussion.
end with a prayer of thanksgiving and/or petition.
One last thing to keep in mind when working with adults in a faith sharing group setting: busy adults don’t always have the time to read and prepare. Or sometimes they do read and prepare, but then time passes, life happens, and they forget. In a classroom setting, it makes sense to emphasize coming to class prepared. In a faith sharing group, the focus is on evangelization; quality connections and conversation about faith and life.
Catechesis is an essential “moment” in the process of evangelization (General Directory for Catechesis, 63).
To help adults focus their conversation, it’s always a good idea to offer a summary that reminds participants about the key points in the material before opening the discussion.
Faith Sharing with Continuing the Journey
You know what material easily lends itself to small faith sharing group discussion? That’s right! My book, Continuing the Journey: Cultivating Lived Faith.
Even more, you know what will help with the Five Key C’s of cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections? My brand new Leader’s Guide.
I believe so strongly in the value of small faith sharing groups that I am offering the Leader’s Guide as either a free PDF (click here), or a hard copy can be mailed to you for $5.99 with free Prime Shipping through Amazon.
Note: all Amazon links include my affiliate link, which means Amazon gives me a couple of extra pennies from your purchase.
Go forth and share your faith! And let me know if I can be of any help in the process. In addition to these resources, I am available to offer trainings and workshops for small faith sharing group facilitators. Just email me!
My LEGO loving boys have been watching the Ninjago series on Netflix. One recent episode captured more of my attention than I would readily admit in certain social circles.
In the episode “Wrong Place, Wrong Time,” the bad guy (Lord Garmadon) wishes that the good guys (Ninjas) never existed, so he goes back in time to make it so. The Ninjas follow him, intending to save the day, but are warned by their mentor (Sensei Wu) that if they change anything, they change everything.
The episode reminded me of a conversation I had with my Grandmom in one of her last visits to my house.
“Kid, there were some difficult times in my life. I’ll tell you. 1936 was hard. Extremely hard. But let me just say this: I have no regrets. Isn’t that something? At my age ? No regrets.” She paused and turned to look at me, “Can you say the same for yourself? Do you have any regrets?”
I looked at her with tears in my eyes. “No. I can’t say that. I do have a huge regret. My first marriage was a huge mistake. I regret that it ever happened. I regret making that choice. With every fiber of my being, I regret that.”
Grandmom does this vice grip pinch of my upper arm with surprising strength for a feeble old lady and tells me, “I’m not saying I never made any mistakes. Kid, I made plenty of mistakes. PLENTY. Ask anyone. I’m talking REGRETS.”
“I know, Grandmom. I do. I wish it wasn’t a regret. But it is.”
“I hope one day you change your mind. I hope one day you can get to my age and say that you have no regrets. Because that’s really something.”
Grandmom died December 8, 2011, still having no regrets.
So as I sat in the dining room, sipping my tea and finishing breakfast, I hear Sensei Wu tell the Ninjas that if you change anything, you change everything. And I finally got it.
Regret and Remorse
Regret and remorse are two different things. I have sincere remorse for the series of well-intentioned, yet ill-informed decisions that led to one of the lowest point in my life. I am deeply sorry. The turmoil, crisis, depression… I am very sorry.
But Grandmom was talking about the kind of regret that wipes the event off the face of the earth. And as Sensei Wu said, change anything, change everything.
My husband… my boys… my friends… my community… my personal and spiritual growth… No. I don’t want to risk changing who, and what, and where I am now. So I’m making peace with how I got here.
I’m getting closer to telling Grandmom, “No. I don’t have any regrets.” And I hear her saying, “That’s good, kid. That’s great!” (Though, the imaginary vice grip hurts a lot less than the real one.)
A Caveat – on Divine Providence and Evil
As I note that I wouldn’t trade any of the goodness in my life, even to remove my deepest remorse, I feel the need to address one of my personal pet peeves. The expression “Everything happens for a reason.” I hate it.
Imagine a rape survivor hearing that. Or a Holocaust survivor.
I want to think that the sentiment people are trying to express is one of hope… but something gets lost in the translation.
Allow me to get all Catholic on you and pull out my Catechism. In the section on Divine Providence and the Scandal of Evil (See CCC, 309-314), the Catechism lays it out:
God is all good
God does not causeevil to happen
Then, paragraph CCC, 311 quotes St. Augustine:
For almighty God…because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.
So God didn’t cause the bad things to happen to you or me or anyone else. Everything happens for a reason? NO!
It’s more like: When life gives you lemons, God–as only God can do–makes the best divine lemonade you could possibly imagine.
God–and only God–can transform evil into something good. I mean look what he did with the Crucifixion. That’s some pretty good Divine Lemonade right there.
And I hope you don’t have any regrets either. Let’s all make Grandmom proud.