Our God is a God of second chances. And because He is, so too must we be if we are to reflect his love. My husband and I are being put to the test on this, as my son is moving back home with us today. We had asked him to leave when he couldn’t follow our rules. We’re not sure if things – if he – has changed. I think he’s grown up a little perhaps but I know in my wise old age that growing up is a lifelong process and he’s only been gone for a few years. We’ve been told the move is only temporary, but still it’s hard. Just like it was hard when my step-daughter moved out for similar reasons and then moved back home after a year away. But our relationship grew as a result and I can only hope for the same this time too. Jesus told us this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine. If not, then cut it down.’” In the story we see God gives us a chance to change. Of course if we don’t change we are eventually “cut down.” If you’re faced, like I am, with the challenge of giving someone another chance, I pray that by giving it, we do God’s will by helping that person change and grow.
I’ve been finding myself saying things are getting “scary and exciting” a lot lately…my book coming out, going to the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville this week to “pitch” my book into a movie and make good connections, moving toward getting my novels on the New York Times Bestseller List, etc. etc. I also found myself saying, the more you know and do, the more you have to know and do. In other words, the more work, the more work. Which is also scary and exciting! I guess the bottom line is the closer we feel we get to realizing our dreams and fulfilling our potential (and living God’s Will) the further we see we have to go. But when my heart starts beating fast and my schedule begins overloading and I get that feeling of being overwhelmed, I remind myself I need to consider the alternative…not moving closer means staying stuck and “faith without works is dead.” And I also realize I need to remember “with God all things are possible,” and to take things “one day at a time.” All of these quotes are paraphrases for wise words in the Bible given to us by God. And that’s the real bottom line for me when things get scary and exciting; I need to make more time for God and for reading His Word, not less, because I will need His help, His providence, His favor if I am to keep meeting life’s challenges and putting one foot in front of the other. Take a deep breath with me…breathe in faith and breathe out fear. Again. That’s it. Now I need to go schedule a time-out with God. I’m sure it will pay off!
I’ll never forget the words of a priest on a women’s retreat I attended years ago in Malvern, PA: “Spending more than 30 seconds of guilt is a waste of time.” We as Catholics, Christians, people with morals, moms, dads, kids…all struggle with feelings of guilt from time to time. Just recently I was allowing myself to wallow a lot longer than 30 seconds in feeling guilty over disappointing someone because I made an innocent mistake and plans changed. I had no ill intentions…and the other person, while disappointed, wasn’t angry and probably let it go long before I did. What did my guilt accomplish? It robbed me of precious minutes (which can turn into hours and sometimes days) that could better be spent focusing on helping others, doing God’s Will, being joyful. Fortunately I remembered the priest’s words (after a good friend of mine reminded me that guilt is a waste of time) and I moved on to being useful again. Guilt is often self-centered and a form of fear, just like its evil step-sisters–self-pity, stress and worry. And we know fear is the opposite of love. The theme of the retreat, by the way, was finding your “pearl of great price,” which Jesus likens to the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew. Have you found your pearl? And if so, are you letting guilt or one of it’s counterparts block you from acquiring it? We are all human, all sinful and we all make mistakes and step on others’ toes. So how to avoid wasting time on guilt? The Bible tells us to take action. “Guilt (sin, iniquity) is banished through love and truth; evil is avoided by reverence for God.” (Prov. 16:6) The 12-Step program gives us Step 10: “continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it.” The Steps and the Church give us the gift of confession as well. If you feel guilty about anything today or this week, I encourage you only allow yourself to feel guilty for 30 seconds only and then to promptly take action (if you can) or at least decide to take action in the future, talk to someone, talk to God and then let it go. Life is too short and your time and energy to important to the world out there which so badly needs it.
Everyone is told “no, you can’t” during the course of their lives, from the age of two when your parents try to keep you from danger or discipline you, through adulthood when perhaps you’ve been rejected…by a lover or spouse, employer or even a friend or family member. It can hurt…real bad. But I believe it’s how we deal with the rejection that counts. Maybe we can learn something or grow from the experience…whether it’s that we need to change, or that we need to be more careful, or sometimes, that we need to shake it off and move on. It can especially be hurtful if you’re pursuing a dream that you believe in with your whole heart and soul and someone, maybe even a close friend or family member, tells you “no, you can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t” for whatever reason (“you’re not good enough/rich enough/who do you think you are?”) Jesus, his disciples and many prophets throughout the ages, faced this same rejection. “’Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked. Jesus said to them… ‘Truly I tell you…no prophet is accepted in his hometown.’ They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:14-30). He also told his disciples, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet’.” (Matt 10:14) Even if you are the only person who believes in yourself and your dream, as long as you believe it is God’s Will, don’t listen to the naysayers…because you’re not alone with God on your side.
As America enters, in Iowa today, the first of many opportunities our nation will face to elect our next US President, I simply wanted to stop for a minute – and ask you to do the same – to pray that God guides our hearts as we elect a leader who will do His Will…a President who is pro-life, pro-religious freedom and who cares about the welfare and future of all Americans and not just about himself or herself. There are several references and stories about “politics” in the Bible. In Samuel I (on which my book The Peace Maker is based) the people of Israel beg Samuel to ask God to give them a King like the other countries. (prior to that they’ve just had priests, prophets and judges). Samuel warns them that they don’t need a king, that God is their King, but they don’t give up so God gives them a king…in Saul, who ends up making poor choices and being a bad leader. Fortunately, he paves the way for King David and then King Solomon – better than Saul but also with their own faults. And then, of course, Jesus is eventually “sent” as the one true King. Still, to keep order we continue to elect leaders. Jesus reminds us in the Gospels to give to God what is God’s and give to “Caesar” (the government) what is Caesar’s. And St. Paul tells us we need to be mindful of authority. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Rom 13:1-7) So I believe we shouldn’t simply ignore all of the politics…that we have a choice, a vote, and every vote counts…and we need to keep informed and keep praying about it. St. Paul tells us so: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (Tim 2:1-2) So let’s all pray for Iowans today to follow not only their hearts but God’s Will as they begin the process.