Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

Consider It All Joy-Bird
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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 God 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, which 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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How to Be More Patient

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While Joe was out fishing one day, he spotted an old man observing him from a distance. As the hours went by, the man continued to sit there and watch. As Joe was leaving, he approached the old man and said, “I couldn’t help noticing that you were watching me fish all day.” The man replied, “Well, you see, I used to fish myself years ago, but I gave it up ‘cause I just ain’t got the patience.”

For many of us, patience is one of the hardest virtues to practice. Our prayer might be, “God, please give me patience — right now!” We want to be more patient, but in this age of “instant everything,” waiting for anything seems a waste of time. Being patient is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I usually find it relatively easy to be patient when dealing with clients, working with animals, or when writing, doing artwork or other enjoyable pursuits, even when they sometimes prove difficult. But it is often much harder for me to be patient with other drivers, at home, and with the people closest to me, when the tedium and annoyances of familiarity and the daily routine grate on my nerves and make me irritable and “snappish.” 

Impatience can damage our relationships with other people. It can even affect our relationship with God (whatever “God” means to you), implying a lack of trust that God will do what’s best for us. We want what we want when we want it. But the fact is, our idea of good timing is often not good at all. God knows this and gives us things at just the right time, so that we won’t fall into disastrous situations.

Being impatient is like trying to swim against a riptide. By struggling against it, you eventually become tired, get pulled under, and drown. But if you swim parallel to the shore, you can escape the riptide’s pull and then head back to land. It’s the same with life: if we constantly fight the tide of trouble or stagnation, we get dragged down by defeat and despair. But by steadily going on with our lives, keeping our goals in sight but not struggling against fate to reach them, we eventually succeed.

Floating on your back conserves your energy when you are swimming. In the same way, when we feel overwhelmed by life, we can just float in God’s love for a while and let it carry us through the rough places. At some point we must resume swimming — but this time we will have our strength restored and feel more confident of reaching our destination.

Patience must be nurtured in order to grow healthy and strong. But how can you become more patient? Keep reading!

7 Ways to Become More Patient:

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Finding God’s Peace

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Some years ago, a friend confided that she had a lot of trouble praying and meditating in her house, because her husband had retired and was home much of the time. Their house was small, and he often had the TV or radio on, and so there was always background noise, even if she went into another room. She did not drive, so she couldn’t go to a quieter place except for the times that I took her with me to my parish’s 24-hour chapel, or on Sundays when she and her husband went to Mass. She said she craved quiet time and solitude, because it made her feel peaceful and closer to God.

I told her I understood, because although my husband worked, on the days he was home I had much the same situation. Neither of our husbands was the type to engage in shared prayer sessions, and besides, there are times when one needs to have private time with God.

Shortly after this discussion, during my meditation time I heard the following words in my mind: “Better to get God’s peace in a noisy place than to go without it in silence.” 

I shared this message with my friend, and we had to admit the truth of it. God’s peace and presence must be found in our hearts and souls; it is not dependent on anything external. There are many people who live busy lives and work amid much commotion and noise, and yet they manage to maintain their inner composure and have a wonderful relationship with God and other people. On the other hand, many of us know reclusive people who live alone in what are probably very quiet homes, yet they are bitter, lonely and isolated, empty of any inner serenity or joy.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t seek solitude and silence, ideally on a regular basis. Our minds and souls need this rest, this respite from noise, confusion, interruptions, and the many demands of modern life with its overload of information and dependence on electronic devices. It is essential that we disconnect from our devices for a period of time each day, take a break from work, from TV, video games, social media and other diversions, and spend some quiet time with God in prayer and meditation. But for some people, it can be very difficult to find a few quiet minutes of uninterrupted solitude. Below are some tips to help you.

10 ways to find inner peace despite your situation:

  1. Take advantage of commuting time to pray or listen to inspiring, soothing music or audiobooks that make you feel more peaceful and uplifted. If you’d like to read the Bible or some other inspirational or motivational book, but find it too time-consuming to sit down and read every day, you can find a good audiobook version and listen to it during your commute. If you’re in your car, any of this can be done without jeopardizing your safety — listening to a recording or talking to God is no more distracting than speaking to someone in the passenger seat or on a hands-free cell phone. If you’re on public transit, you can put on your headset, close your eyes, and immediately be transported mentally to another, more peaceful place.
  2. While doing repetitive chores like housework, gardening, bathing or feeding a baby, etc., talk inwardly to God about your feelings, problems, challenges, goals, and your concern for family, friends, and the troubles in the world. Or visualize your goals and aspirations as if they already have happened. Never focus on what’s wrong in your life, unless you want to attract more of the same! Alternatively, you can practice mindfulness, in which you focus on every aspect of the task you are doing, observing it without judgement. One of my favorite teachers for mindfulness practice is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has many books and programs available on the subject.
  3. Before starting your workday, during which you know you will have no time to pray or quiet your mind, silently offer to God as a prayer all the day’s work, the little successes as well as the annoyances and irritations. God will take them all and use them for your greater good. He will guide your efforts and decisions throughout the day, if you ask Him.
  4. You don’t have to be down on your knees or in a church, or even in a quiet room, to talk to God. God has no hearing problem; He can hear you even in the midst of a noisy crowd or while you’re running the vacuum cleaner!
  5. If you are able to drive or are within walking distance of a park, a nature trail, a church or chapel, whatever suits your particular needs, this is a great place to connect with your inner peace. Even taking a stroll through an art museum can be very inspiring, allowing you to appreciate the artists’ God-given talents and be soothed by the beauty of the artwork. Take advantage of this change of scenery to put you back in touch with your inner life. It’s much easier to feel close to God and at peace with yourself when you are out in the beauty of nature, or in the serene hush of a chapel. Even if you just walk or sit without words, God will know what is in your heart.
  6. Spend time with animals. Watching horses graze in a pasture, sitting quietly petting your dog or cat, or watching fish while sitting by a pond, are great ways to learn inner silence and peace. Animals do not talk, yet they still can communicate with one another and with us, and they exude a sense of peace and serenity that is very comforting. Being close to these peaceful creatures makes us feel closer to the One who created them.
  7. Years ago I used to do a lot of embroidery, and I found this a wonderful time to pray silently or listen to inspirational music or motivational recordings. Whenever I was working on an embroidery project that I intended to give someone as a gift, I thought about and prayed for the recipient as I stitched. I always liked to think that I was stitching lots of “good vibes” into it along with the thread, and that these would bless the person who would eventually receive the gift. You might try this if you are a “artsy-craftsy” person who likes to make things for other people.
  8. If you live in a noisy environment and cannot get away, purchase a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. You can listen to non-distracting background music, soothing sound effects (water, birdsong, wind chimes, etc.) or white noise while you meditate or pray, and the noise of your surroundings will be much less intrusive.
  9. Remember to listen as well as talk when you dialogue with God. We need to create a quiet space in our minds for God’s still, small voice to get through. Although it is much easier in a quiet environment, of course, it can be done anywhere. God can speak to us in many ways, and He will use any opportunity. So invite Him to do so, and then be alert for the many ways God will use to answer you!
  10. Not only our waking moments can become a prayer — even our sleeping hours can be a means of attunement to God. Before you go to sleep at night, take a few moments to talk to God and ask for guidance and enlightenment while you sleep. This can come in the form of a helpful dream, or you might wake up with the answer to a difficult decision or situation clear in your mind.

Most of all, if we realize that God’s peace is a matter of openness, an attitude of being willing to unite every moment of our lives with the One who created us, who knows and loves us more intimately than any human ever could, we won’t become frustrated or anxious when our outer world does not align with our idea of a peaceful life. God’s presence, love, comfort and serenity don’t require ideal situations to permeate the mind and soul. Although we should never stop trying to find peaceful moments in our daily routines, just invite God in and He will make Himself at home — even in your noisy house!

Do you have any tips for staying calm and peaceful amid all of life’s noise and confusion? If so, please share in the comment section!

 

7 Steps to Sharing Talents – Pt. 2

Leaping in Air-edited

In my last post, I listed some of the benefits of sharing our talents and gifts. I also outlined the first two steps, which were praying for guidance and staying receptive to whatever answers you receive. You can read Part 1 here. 

Here are the next two steps of our 7-step program:

  1. List all of your talents and abilities. “Then Moses called…every skilled person in whom the Lord had given ability, and who was willing to come and do the work” (Exodus 36:2 NIV). Like a designer of great artistic creations, God gives each of us unique gifts and the power to use them to touch other souls with His light. Open your mind and heart to honestly evaluate your abilities:
  • Do you have a creative gift like music, art, writing or dancing?
  • Are you good with animals? With children?
  • Do you excel in sports?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Can you make people laugh?
  • Are you good at gardening, sewing, cooking, or carpentry?
  • Have a talent for public speaking?
  • Are you a compassionate, nurturing type of person?

Ask people who know you well for their input. This is no time for false modesty! True humility is the ego rising to a higher level by honoring the will of God. It is the attitude that God is the creator of our gifts, and our duty is to use them according to His plan, to honor Him, serve others, and make the world a brighter place.

One way to brainstorm ideas is to use the “mind-mapping” method: Across the top of a large piece of paper or whiteboard, list all your talents, abilities and things you love to do. You will be using this mind-mapping list in our next step, as well.

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  1. Brainstorm ways you can use and share your gifts.

You don’t have to go far to find ways to share your gifts.  Check out volunteer opportunities in your community, school, local non-profit organizations, church or synagogue. Here are some suggestions for some of the talents you may have listed:

  • Teaching: Offer to teach a class at your local high school’s or YMCA’s adult education program.
  • An outgoing type who loves people, good listener or nurturing personality: Offer your help with fundraising or public relations for a local non-profit.  Volunteer at a local hospital, nursing home or hospice. Many churches and synagogues have bereavement committees for which you can volunteer to help the grieving. Or visit a friend who has suffered a loss or is feeling troubled or sad. Don’t worry if you cannot offer help or advice to solve their problem; sometimes all that is needed is someone who is willing to listen and “be there.”
  • Good with children: Offer to teach Sunday school or religious instruction classes at your church or synagogue. Volunteer at a children’s hospital, or join an organization such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters to act as a mentor for a child who needs your love and caring. Help out a new mother in your community who might be feeling overwhelmed.
  • Love animals: Offer your services at a local animal shelter or rescue group. I love horses, but after being injured in a fall off a horse, my riding days unfortunately were over. However, I greatly missed being around horses, so I became a volunteer at a non-profit horse sanctuary. I not only get to be around dozens of horses, but also have made new friends who share my equine passion!
  • Performing Arts: Join your local community theatre, or consider using your talents to brighten the lives of people in hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, etc. If you like public speaking and have a good reading voice, you can become a lector/reader at your church or volunteer to record audiobooks for the blind. Consider giving lectures or workshops about a subject in which you have expertise. If singing or playing an instrument is your talent, join a church choir or community choral group.
  • If getting up in front of people is not your thing, but you are good at carpentry or have artistic talent, your community theater could use your skills as part of their stage crew. If you can sew, the costume department would love to have you!
  • Love books/reading: Volunteer at the local library, or offer your help to a local literacy program that teaches adults to read.
  • Good with computers, web design or graphic arts: Offer your services to a non-profit organization.
  • Gardening: Give your beautiful, home-grown flowers and vegetables to neighbors and friends, especially those who are sick, lonely, or dealing with trouble or grief. Offer to help establish or tend a garden for your church or synagogue. Or start a community garden in your neighborhood. 
  • Cooking/Baking: Share your culinary delights with others. Bring some of your homemade treats to shut-ins, for whom they will bring much-needed cheer and nourishment. Volunteer your skills to charitable organizations that feed the hungry. Bake goodies for fundraising events.
  • Building and carpentry skills: Charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity can always use talented people with these particular skills! If you are good at fixing things, help out a neighbor who doesn’t have the physical or financial resources for needed repairs. Small non-profit organizations usually operate on a shoestring budget and greatly appreciate people who can do remodeling or repairs to their facilities.
  • Writing: Consider authoring an article, book, e-book or blog to share your original stories, poems, or knowledge with others.
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These are just idea starters to get your own brainstorming juices flowing! With a little research and ingenuity, you can come up with many more ideas and find the opportunities that fit in with your particular circumstances and abilities. Take the mind-mapping paper or board that you used to write down your gifts in our last step. Now, using the above list and your own ideas, write as many possible opportunities as you can think of underneath each gift’s heading. Then seek out local organizations that might logically offer opportunities to use some of the skills you listed. An internet search will suggest places in your area that you may not have noticed on your own. Contact them to get more information and see if they can use your help. At least one of them should be just the right fit for you!

Does anyone have additional ideas or information? Please share them in the comment section.