“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness

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Part 1

 

Are you having trouble forgiving someone? Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore this challenge and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.

                                                            What is Forgiveness?           

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards the person(s) who offended us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and ponder on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems, but we can still let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love [charity], not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” — Christians recite these words every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging. Why is it so important to forgive others?

  1. It blesses the person who offended us.
  2. We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example
  3. Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

                                                                    Preparation

  • Pray for the gift of being able to forgive: Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in his/her heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

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  • Seek inspiration: Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared [Psalm 130:3-4].

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more [Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean [Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins [Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good. [Romans 12:19-21]. 

  • Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process. Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part II, we’ll examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

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Pentecost Sunday

 

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The Holy Spirit has His own personality. He therefore moves in at will when we least expect it, and sometimes when we are least deserving of it. ~ R.T. Kendall

As you spend time in God’s Word and understand his love, the Holy Spirit will create new desires within you to love and serve others like never before.   ~ Chip Ingram

Let this Pentecost Sunday be the day that you let the Holy Spirit unleash His great power in your life. Invite Him to reveal His great love and caring, wisdom and guidance. He is the best Friend you will ever have!

In my last post of a few days ago, I described how my life was changed when I let the Holy Spirit into it. Right now I am going through a period of anxiety and discouragement.  I find that I cannot bring myself to continue to pray about all the problems facing me and my family right now; it feels empty and pointless. So I am leaning on the promise of St. Paul in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Groan for me, Holy Spirit, as I cannot do it alone!

Related Posts:  The Smiling Man: With Love & Praise to the Holy Spirit

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The Smiling Man

With love and praise to the Holy Spirit

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The 1990’s were for me a time of spiritual searching. I had always believed in God and had always been able to speak to Him as a Friend and Father. However, at this time I had many unresolved questions about destiny, my purpose, life in general. I was at the time of life that many of us eventually encounter, when we search for deeper meaning and purpose in our existence.

In church one day, during this period of questioning and searching, I found a prayer to the Holy Spirit written by Cardinal Mercier, a Belgian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, who lived from 1851 to 1926. The prayer was short and simple and promised to be a life-changer if said faithfully every day. The prayer card quoted Cardinal Mercier as follows:

“I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:

‘O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me know only Your Will.’”

Cardinal Mercier went on to say that if you said the prayer daily, you would receive the serenity, consolation, grace and strength of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of trials.

I didn’t know much at that time about the Holy Spirit, except for what most Christians know: He is the Third Person of the Trinity, He came to the Apostles at Pentecost, and at Confirmation He infuses us with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (awe). But all of these were only facts I had learned in Catechism class, not truths that I felt or understood on a deep, personal level. However, I decided to say the prayer every day and see what happened.

What gradually did occur when I put my trust in the Holy Spirit transformed my life and my relationship with God in ways I never imagined. I didn’t get all the answers to every question I had, but insights started to emerge – not the faltering human attempts at reason that the conscious mind produces, but serene, gracious, perfectly wise and loving answers that I knew were coming from a Source far greater than anything in my own power. I knew with deepest certainty that they were the true answers, because they reflected only the highest values and motives that I knew to be Truth, even at times when my human, conscious mind had been thinking just the opposite or had no answers at all.

Other changes began occurring. Because of the loving wisdom I was now perceiving in my life, God’s love became truly personal to me, a tangible thing, not merely the abstract concept I had grasped only partially before, which had consisted of thoughts like, “Yeah, I know God loves me. He has to love me, since God is Love and He created me.” Now God’s love and guidance became a real, vibrant force, not an idea or theory. Now when I heard Scripture being read or a sermon being given, I was grasping them with an understanding that really related them to my own life. I became aware that I was surrounded by love, protection and guidance from unseen sources that were as real as anything that existed in the material world – actually, more real! The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit took on meaning as powerful graces that were alive and working in my life and were mine for the asking, not just words to be memorized. I entrusted my life and my future to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and asked Him to bless me with the gifts necessary to do whatever work God had planned for me.

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At this time, I was also doing a lot of dream work, studying about dreams and keeping a dream journal. Many times, I would pray and meditate upon a question at bedtime and see what insights I might receive in my dreams. I was a vivid dreamer, and would often have detailed dreams full of personal symbolism and meaning, which I faithfully recorded and worked on interpreting (more about dreams in a future blog article)!

In March of 1995, I began praying to the Holy Spirit at bedtime, asking Him: “Please help my unbelief, and show me what serving You will mean to me.” I also requested that the Holy Spirit would show me a way to visualize Him that would be more personal than the customary depiction of Him as a dove, tongues of fire, or wind, which were hard for me to relate to. I asked Him to send me a “Divine dream.”

On the night of March 25, 1995, I received an answer in the form of the following dream, which I call “The Smiling Man:”

In the dream, I am in a building that resembled an office building. I don’t know where or why I am there. As I walk through this building, I pass a man who is looking at me with a big, friendly smile. I don’t recognize him as anyone I know. I am wondering who he is. He certainly seems to know me, since he is smiling at me in such a familiar way. So I ask a woman nearby who that man is. She replies, “Oh, that’s the Holy Spirit!” I am thrilled and awed to be seeing Him, yet I’m surprised that he looks like a mortal, human man.

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I don’t recall now exactly what He looked like, but the thing that stands out in my memory was that radiant smile He was directing at me. He looked like an ordinary person – no fanfare, no great rays of light beaming from Him, no resplendent garments, nothing “biblical” in the least – just an ordinary man with a beautiful smile.

In the next scene of the dream, I am starting a new job in that same office building, and I am introduced to the group of men for whom I will be working. They all look like the man who had been identified to me as the Holy Spirit! I remark to someone standing nearby, “Well, since they all resemble the Holy Spirit, at least I’ll get a chance to see what it’s like to work for Him! I’ll see what kind of a boss He is!” There the dream ended.

Upon awakening from this dream (it was the middle of the night), I immediately closed my eyes again to see if I could get back into the dream or see some imagery to expand upon the dream. After a few seconds of lying there with my eyes closed, I suddenly saw an image of a page with writing on it that looked like a piece of verse. I barely had time to read it before it faded and I woke up completely. I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the words of the verse:

“Every time you hear selfless human words,

Feel loving emotions,

Or help another soul,

I am there.

My Truth is in everything you do with high motives.

Live your life with spiritual Light –

You will know Me.”

These beautiful words made clear to me the meaning of the dream: The Holy Spirit had looked like an “ordinary person” because He wants me to know that God is within every person we meet. We don’t always recognize Him  — as I didn’t recognize the man in my dream as being the Holy Spirit — but He knows us intimately and loves us with an unsurpassed love, symbolized by the man’s bright, beautiful, loving smile.

In the dream I was working for men who also “resembled the Holy Spirit” and I was curious to see what working for Him would be like, what kind of “boss” He would be. To me this part of the dream symbolizes that when we serve our fellow humans, we are serving God as well.  The opportunities to serve God are often disguised as ordinary tasks of daily life.  This answered my bedtime prayer of asking the Holy Spirit to “show me what serving You would mean to me.” (Thank You, Holy Spirit!)

As Pentecost Sunday approaches, I share this dream as an encouragement to anyone who has not yet discovered what a wonderful Friend (and “Boss”) the Holy Spirit can be.  I urge you to seek Him out, ask Him to manifest in your life and draw you closer to Him. He will enlighten and guide You and share His marvelous gifts with you, if you will only open up and let His light in. As the dream symbolized, by serving our fellow humans and living in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will find true happiness and peace, and we will know God.

Happy Pentecost!

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What’s Your Motivation?

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Give with open hands and open heart

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In his book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks tells the story of a well-meaning, charitable woman who desperately wanted to help humankind. Although she was not famous like Mother Teresa, she spent much of her life working with the homeless and destitute. But as time went on, she became more and more fixated on the outcome of what she was doing. When she couldn’t permanently change the conditions that were causing such misery, she became increasingly angry and frustrated. Without realizing it, she had become focused on personal power. This attitude eventually destroyed both her physical and emotional health.

Why are some people able to accomplish so much good and elevate their souls to great heights, while others become bitter and disillusioned? The difference is in their motivation. To God, only the heart’s true intention is important. Heroic deeds, showy displays of pious devotion, and eloquent words, do not mean as much to God as one small gesture made out of genuine love.

Personal gratification is its own reward, and sometimes God allows it in order to encourage us. It’s natural to be happy when we receive gratitude for our service to others; it is human nature to want love and approval from other people. It’s also true that the very act of helping others brings with it a feeling of deep satisfaction and often lifts our own mood when we are feeling depressed or troubled. To enjoy these positive feelings does not mean that we are selfishly motivated.

But this alone is not the criteria by which we should judge which deeds are of the most value. We might envision ourselves accomplishing wonderful things that show us in the best possible light, but our most worthwhile achievements will not always be the ones that satisfy our ego or have an immediately apparent outcome. Rather, they might consist of things we consider insignificant.

When an actor is working on a scene, the director or drama coach will challenge the actor by asking, “What’s your motivation?” By analyzing what drives the character, the actor will understand the character’s motives and be able to portray him more believably. It might benefit us to take a cue from the actor and ask ourselves, “What’s my motivation?” before we embark on any undertaking. For me as a Christian, I must ask myself not only “What would Jesus do?” but “Why would Jesus do it?”

Here’s a checklist for determining your motivation (you have to be totally honest for it to work!):

  • Am I doing good works or helping someone so I can feel important and/or show everyone how virtuous I am? For some of us, this is often the true, secret motivation lurking behind the outward altruism. When our efforts become unrewarding and tedious, when it feels like work, when the gratitude and accolades stop coming (or never come at all), will we then simply move on to something more personally gratifying? If so, our only motivation was to please ourselves, not help others or honor God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. They are never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. Even if we do a small thing for somebody, God, being almighty, sees everything as great. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.”

  • Am I trying to force someone to be more like me? I heard Joel Osteen confess in one of his inspiring talks that he used to criticize his wife’s habits, until one day he realized he was trying to make her over to be more like himself, even though they had distinctly different ways of doing things. This got me to thinking that all of us probably are guilty of this at one time or another. We think that just because someone doesn’t do something “our way,” he/she must be defective and needs to be made over into a “mini-me.” God has purposely created people with different personalities and ways of doing things, for a good reason! If everyone were the same, the world would be totally unbalanced. And I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest about it, the thought of everyone being like me is more than a little scary!
  • Am I making someone dependent on me? A common source of confusion is the concept of helping people versus taking over their responsibility, making them rely too much on us, or enabling them to continue on a destructive course. Many people subconsciously derive satisfaction from controlling others and making them feel indebted or dependent in an unhealthy way. Parents often do this with their children, but this co-dependent situation can exist in any relationship. Our role is not to make people dependent on us, but to help them achieve the self-respect and personal growth that come only out of effort and hardship. We also need to remember that God might have a different path in mind for this person than what we think is the “right way.” Charity

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  • Do I want to “save” someone? It’s important to realize that of our own power we cannot truly save anyone. Only God has the power to save a person, and although He might sometimes use us as instruments to accomplish this, God will not force Himself or His will on anyone. A person must want to be saved, must decide they sincerely want to overcome whatever is holding them back from spiritual development or a better, more productive life. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” [Rev. 3:20]. God will not break down a locked door, and only the person needing help can turn that key, not us! We cannot take away anyone’s suffering or figure out the reasons for it. We cannot “save” anyone. We can only offer ourselves as channels of God’s healing and love, realizing that the person we are trying to help must do their own part to open to it. 
  • Do I fulfill my religious obligations only when I’m in the mood or only because I fear God’s punishment? True, it might be better to do it for those reasons than not at all, and we all have times when we’re less than enthusiastic about our prayer time or attending religious services as we know we should. However, it would benefit us spiritually much more if we recognized these things as opportunities to show love and gratitude to God and enrich our souls. Fulfilling our spiritual obligations when we’re not in the mood is probably even more pleasing to God, because it shows Him that we are putting Him before our own feelings.

People often say, “I don’t get anything out of going to church/synagogue.” This is true for everyone at one time or another. There are times you might just sit there and not feel attentive or uplifted at all. However, you might also find, as I often have, that once you are in a place of worship, the peace and quiet and sense of God’s presence will soothe you and lift your spirits more than you expected it would. But even if this doesn’t always happen, the point is not for us to get anything out of it but to give something to God. Remember that God is never outdone in generosity – if you give Him this little bit of time out of your busy week, He will repay you in blessings a hundredfold!

  • Do I try to “bargain” with God? Sometimes we might promise God all sorts of things, and make the effort to do good works, in order to barter with God for favors (“I’ll do this for You if You give me what I want”). Then when we conclude that God did not keep “His end of the bargain,” we become bitter and disillusioned. Even if things do work out as we hoped, we often forget to keep our promises to God, or we drop our good works because we have gotten what we wanted. God does not bargain with us. He already knows what we really need (not just what we think we want) and the best possible outcome for any situation, not only for us but for others who might be involved.

God gives us blessings out of His infinite love for us, not because He is swayed by our impressive bargaining power! If God grants you a blessing and you want to do something for Him to show your gratitude, this is wonderful. But don’t dangle a carrot in front of God. He doesn’t need our carrots. Give from your heart; don’t give with strings attached.

  • Am I too focused on the outcome of my efforts? This is a tough one! We all want to know that our efforts meant something, that they had a positive effect. But not seeing results doesn’t mean our efforts were in vain or that God is displeased with our work. It simply means that the time is not yet right, or our efforts were thwarted by another person’s attitude or lack of openness. Sometimes, God has plans for our work or for another soul that do not conform to our own ideas. Having the right motives means that if God wills a different outcome, or if he doesn’t let us see successful results from our efforts, we will trust His better judgment and infinite wisdom. The only thing that matters to God is the effort we made and our intentions when we did it.

Our true worth is not measured by talent, intelligence, or worldly success, but by how much we love and how open we are to others. When we strive to be of service to God or to our fellow humans for God’s sake, rather than our own ulterior motives, our smallest actions take on a Divine magnificence, which shines through our words and actions as an inspiration to others. We all will leave this earth one day, and our deeds might be forgotten. But if our motives were pure, our actions will be glorified in eternity and our souls will be radiant reflections of God’s all-encompassing love. Our reward will far surpass our greatest efforts or any earthly satisfaction. This should be our primary motivation.

 

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The Instrument

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I am but an instrument in the Master’s hands,
but that’s alright with me.
I am seeking praise for the Musician, not the instrument,
as if I were a piano being played on a concert stage by a virtuoso.

At the end of the concert, the applause and good reviews are for the pianist,
although the piano must be finely-tuned,
and the musician must have a good rapport with his instrument,
in order to produce beautiful music.

The instrument is important and serves a purpose in its way —
but without the musician, the instrument is silent — just a hunk of wood.
If the instrument is unsatisfactory, the musician can always get another; 
Pianos are numerous, but great musicians few.

Lord, make me a good instrument
through which You can produce your masterpieces and be praised!

From Setbacks to Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 2

 

RunnerwithtitleThe first post of this two-part series examined how perception and attitude shape our experiences whenever we encounter obstacles to achieving our goals, and how keeping an open mind and asking for Divine guidance can keep us from giving up. Once you have quieted your mind and prayed for guidance, reflecting on the following 10 questions can help you gain a clearer perspective on your situation and turn your setback into success:

  1. Am I on the right path? If a goal is unrealistic, incompatible with your soul’s deeper purpose, your talents and abilities, or potentially harmful to you or others, the obstacles you encounter might be a way of detouring you to another, better goal. Consider constructive criticism and feedback about your goals from people whose judgment you trust. Don’t seek the opinion of people who might be envious and not want to see you succeed, because they will only discourage you, undermine your confidence and give you false advice. Conversely, people too close to you might not want to rain on your parade, or their feelings for you might cloud their own judgment. But an honest and objective third party might see things you’re missing because you’re too emotionally involved.
  1. Am I using the right tactics? Sometimes the goal is appropriate, but the approach is wrong. If you consistently meet with opposition and failure, it could mean a change in strategy is necessary. Brainstorm to see how many new tactics you can come up with, and then begin to implement them one by one until you hit the right formula. Look to the example of others who have accomplished what you want to do and try to emulate their process to the best of your ability.
  1. Is my timing off? The worthiest goals and the cleverest strategy will not succeed if the timing is wrong. Anxious to reach our destination, we sometimes rush ahead without adequate thought or preparation. When plans stagnate, it’s tempting to try to force results before the time is right, often with disastrous consequences. I have committed some of my worst mistakes when I tried to make something happen that wasn’t ready or able to happen. If you’ve given something your best effort but still encounter a setback, if it seems as though everywhere you turn you come up against a brick wall with no discernible way out, a waiting period might be necessary to allow the right people and circumstances into your life to help you achieve your goal when the time is right.
  1. What motivates me? Selfishness, greed, revenge, jealousy, egotism, or a desire for excessive power can spoil even the most worthy goals. Obstacles and setbacks can force us to examine our motives and determine whether they conform to the highest standards. When we have the wrong motives, even if we succeed we may destroy relationships, hurt other people, and even jeopardize our own soul in the process. As a result, although we might achieve our goal, we ultimately will not feel fulfilled.
  1. Do I need more education, expertise, or experience? If you are unable to compete successfully in your field of endeavor, it might mean you need to sharpen your skills, increase your knowledge, or obtain more practical experience before you can attain your goal. Take classes, or find a mentor or role model who is successful in the field you are pursuing to help you. Read books by and about people who have done what you would like to do. Search the internet for articles, webinars, podcasts and videos that will give you more information. It’s amazing how many people will launch themselves toward a goal about which they know nothing and have never bothered to do any research! Adopt as your motto the old saying, “Knowledge is power.”
  1. Is this setback necessary for my personal and spiritual growth? Obstacles, failure, and stagnation are not only inevitable, but essential to the soul’s development. Growth occurs by overcoming obstacles, not by sailing through life without challenges. No creature is capable of constant productivity. God uses our dormant times to nourish us on a deep level, enabling us to draw upon new sources of strength and ability. The Roman poet Horace said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talent, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
  1. Am I encountering resistance because I am undertaking something important? It’s a known fact that often when we are about to embark on an endeavor that will do a lot of good and help a lot of people, we will encounter obstacles and misfortune, at the beginning and also at various points along the way. Whether you believe in evil forces or attribute it to your own subconscious resistance, these setbacks are a supreme test of your faith and determination to carry on with your high ideals and goals despite the opposition you’re encountering.
  1. Does someone need my help? Our plans are sometimes halted simply because our spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends or neighbors need our attention. Christ often interrupted his preaching and teaching in order to serve people’s practical needs of food, healing, and comfort. This doesn’t mean putting our lives on hold indefinitely or using other people’s needs as an excuse to shirk other responsibilities. But we can rest assured that the time we take from our own plans to show love and caring to someone will never be wasted. It may even open doors to helpful contacts and new opportunities.
  1. Do I need more trust, detachment, or acceptance? Having initiative and determination to make our dreams come true is essential, but we also need the detachment and discernment to know when to let go. All situations, whether perceived as good or bad, are temporary. When we trust God, we know that if we don’t get what we want, it’s because God wants to give us something better. God is not the denier of good things, but the source of them. “When you call me, when you pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you… And I will change your lot” (Jeremiah 29, 11-14).
  1. Is the effort more important than the result? There is a saying, “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail.” The growth we achieve through our efforts will benefit us, regardless of the visible outcome.

Whenever you experience failure or frustration, remember that everyone who has ever done anything worthwhile has met with obstacles. “I am not discouraged,” said Thomas Edison, “because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Edison’s teachers thought he was stupid, and he was fired from his first two jobs. It is a well-known fact that Edison conducted hundreds, even thousands, of failed experiments before successfully inventing the light bulb.

One of my favorite people of all time, Walt Disney, was fired in 1919 from a job at a newspaper because the editor said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

If you do research into the lives of famous people from all walks of life, you will discover stories of failure, frustration, and opposition of all kinds. What makes these people extraordinary is their persistence and determination to achieve their goals in the face of all odds. So, if you currently are experiencing obstacles and setbacks, cheer up — you’re in excellent company!

Oh, yeah — you’re probably wondering whatever happened to our writer friends who couldn’t sell their stories: They finally found a small publishing house on the verge of bankruptcy that was willing to take a chance on their book. And Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen became what Time magazine called, “the publishing phenomenon of the decade.” To date they have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, with more than 250 titles in 43 languages – and still going strong!

From Setbacks to Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 1

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Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

In 1990, two men collaborated on a collection of inspirational stories. They were sure they had a winner, but in the first month alone thirty-three New York publishers turned them down. “No one buys short stories,” they were told, “and your title stinks!” Even their agent dropped them; yet they refused to give up. But after 140 rejections, they seemed to be up against a brick wall. No one wanted what they had to offer.

At one time or another, we all face obstacles, setbacks, and failures. Whenever we make changes in our life or embark on a new venture, we meet resistance from outside sources and from within ourselves. Friends and family may question our goals, or maybe we are inwardly fearful of what lies ahead. Random events beyond our control can also disrupt our plans. Confidence fails; doubt and discouragement replace our initial feelings of hope and excitement. But obstacles are a natural part of progress. If we realize this from the beginning, we can gain insight into the possible causes, and learn from our experiences. We can find the courage to press on instead of giving up.

Few people experience as many obstacles as did St. Paul. He was shipwrecked, beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, suffered many sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure. On top of that, he experienced constant anxiety about the early churches who looked to him for leadership. In Damascus, the governor guarded the city so Paul could be arrested. He writes, “…but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped…” Now that’s persistence!

Undaunted by the innumerable obstacles he faced, Paul continued writing and encouraging the early Church even from prison. In his second letter to Timothy he wrote, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Perception

Events in themselves are not necessarily good or bad. It’s our perception of the situation that labels it, our reaction to it that determines the ultimate effect it will have on our life. “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” said Winston Churchill.

When our plans go awry, the human tendency is to react with fear, despair, or anger. We are angry with ourselves for our perceived failure, with other people for getting in our way, or with God for letting us down. But doors are opening even while we think everything is hopeless; changes are occurring during even the darkest times. We cannot see this, because our earthly perspective is limited to our present circumstances. It’s only in hindsight that we understand how each piece in the puzzle of our lives is essential to the entire picture.

Attitude

The late comedian Flip Wilson had a character named Geraldine, who used to flaunt her charms with the announcement, “What you see is what you get!” Similarly, what we see when we envision our future is often what we get. Lacking self-confidence, doubting God’s care, and obsessing about everything that could go wrong, set us up for failure.

Equally impractical is the blind optimism that stubbornly clings to unreasonable goals and pie-in-the-sky dreams. People with a well-balanced attitude set realistic goals and focus on success, while still leaving the door open to God’s surprises. They’re confident that nothing happens that God cannot use for good. They know they are guided, even when they can’t see the road ahead or feel God’s presence

 “Make Room for Abba”

Set goals and make plans, but leave them open-ended. Remember, God might have an even better idea, so stay open to it! Jesus referred to God  as “Abba,” which translates into “Father.” If we think of God as our loving Father, it stands to reason that He would want only the best for us. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Jesus asked the crowd during his Sermon on the Mount, “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” If God is our loving Father, we can trust that He will give us the very best!

“If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride, because it shows you trust in your own power,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness, and your intellectual pride, will inhibit [God’s] coming to live in your heart, because God cannot fill what is already full.”

After Christ ascended to heaven, the apostles didn’t know what their next step should be. During this dormant time, they had to wait for God’s direction. “…They went to the upper room where they were staying…[and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer…” (Acts 2:13-14). For ten days, they waited and listened prayerfully for God’s answer, which manifested at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Brick Wall with slogan

Every one of us has experienced frustrating times when despite all our efforts, nothing moves forward. You leave voicemail messages, send emails, texts, letters, etc., but no one responds. You launch a new venture, but the people you counted on to support it are strangely absent, whether through thoughtlessness, self-absorption, or because they’re dealing with personal problems. Your new business seemed off to a great start, but now the phone is silent and no one seems to know you exist. Just as you seem to be advancing toward a goal, you’re hit with illness, a family crisis, or financial problems, and all progress comes to a screeching halt.

During times of stagnation or frustration, surrender your anxiety to a Power greater than your own. Quiet your thoughts and listen with an open mind to what Divine wisdom might be telling you. Gradually, guidance will emerge out of a seemingly hopeless situation.

In Part 2, we’ll examine 10 steps you can take to help turn your setbacks into success. (You’ll also find out what happened to the two authors who couldn’t sell their book!)

 

 

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World

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You wake up in the morning, feeling hopeful and looking forward to your day. Then you switch on the TV or radio, or check out your favorite online news source, and there it is: another terrorist attack, school shooting, or other heinous, senseless act of violence. Disturbing images of death, horror and destruction instantaneously transform your hopeful, optimistic mood into one of sorrow, disgust and fear. Terrifying questions and scenarios fill your mind: Where will the next attack happen? What if my loved ones or I are the next victims? Will there ever be peace on earth? Is it futile to plan, hope and dream about the future?  Do we even have a future?

During these troubled times, especially following the latest deadly terrorist attack, we are naturally concerned about our own country and the world. We wonder what we possibly can do to help. It’s important to maintain the right perspective so that we don’t become frightened and discouraged, because excessive grief, fear and anxiety about the world’s troubles will keep us from functioning effectively. Each of us is on earth to fulfill a unique purpose, and unless we do, we will never feel peace, regardless of what is happening in the world. We need to stay hopeful, and open to God’s light and love, grounding ourselves in prayer and living our faith as completely as possible.  

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Prayer for Strength in Adversity

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Heavenly Father, I give you this day. Please get me through it, because I am not sure I can handle it on my own.  I don’t feel I have enough strength, enough courage, or enough staying power to do what I have to do today.  Help me to fight my sorrow and grief.  Help me do what I need to do in a better way than I did yesterday.  Help me to achieve my high ideals.  Give me hope, trust, and faith.  Be with me totally as I tend to business, and forgive me if I do not always do right. Give me hope about the future, the right attitude about my past mistakes, and strength to deal with the present.

My life is not going too well right now. It seems as though I have adversity at every turn, and giving You my trust is very difficult. At this time in my life, I don’t think I can drive myself any further, and I require Your help to give me the push I need to keep going. I have fears right now and don’t know how to overcome them. I don’t show enough faith. My soul is in a great struggle to fight its own fear and find true peace. 

I give my life to You for guidance; I give my body into Your Fatherly care; and I give You my soul, that You will provide it with the growth it requires. I give You all my personal relationships with others, asking You to give us enough time together to fulfill what we need in order to enjoy eternity with one another. You have given me great gifts, for which I thank You from the bottom of my heart. I want to honor You, Father. Help me to do this. Amen.

Consider It All Joy: Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

 

Consider It All Joy-Bird

A legend tells how, once upon a time, birds had no wings and couldn’t fly. One day, God handed them each a pair of wings, which He instructed them to carry. It was grueling at first, because the wings were heavy and cumbersome. But the birds obediently carried the wings at their sides and struggled along. Gradually, the wings began to merge into the birds’ bodies. Their resilience in dealing with this adversity that had seemed like a burden, soon freed the birds from their earthbound state and enabled them to experience the miracle of flight.

As the legend illustrates, God’s plan is always far greater in scope and better for us than anything we could imagine with our limited perspective. When we are too complacent, we can get lazy. Instead of seeking new opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, we cling to the job, routine, environment, and people that feel comfortable and safe. We are like children who fear the first day of school because it is a new and unfamiliar experience. But if children are to learn and mature, they need to trust and obey their parents, get an education, and face new challenges. Likewise, if we are to grow spiritually and reach our full potential, God has to “shake us up” a bit. This often involves adversity in the form of unwelcome changes, difficult situations, painful events, or the loss of someone or something we cherish. 

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