Welcome. As we begin, I need to admit a few assumptions I am making about you. I’m assuming you are in this session today because you are busy women, with challenging careers and/or much loved families. It probably seems as if your time is not your own, that you are owned and are identified by the deadlines and demands of these rigorous and yet chosen roles of yours.
Your schedule and the requirements of these assignments may have caused you to lose the time you once devoted to self-care, especially the time you once spent with God. Remember, back in the day, before the kids, before the career, maybe when you were in college, when you would spend a few minutes each morning with your Bible and prayer journal? I’m assuming that for most of you those days are a sweet and yearned for memory. Impossible to recapture now. Or else you wouldn’t be here today.
Well, have I got good news for you. Believe it or not, this is a good thing! You are not the woman you were then. The time you invested in being quiet with God then has prepared you for the good life you’ve been given now. Your life looks different today, so your experience with God needs to look different as well. You now need to find new and energizing ways to connect with God. I believe that is why you are here. You want such means of grace.
I know you are busy wives, mothers and professionals, but more importantly, let me remind you of the fundamental truth of who you are…you are women who seek to live in God’s kingdom, you desire to be transformed into the image of Christ and to be united with God in love. That’s who you are.
Does this seem a difficult task? A thing you want, but have trouble finding the time to pursue? That is because you have a wrong idea about how to accomplish it. It is really very simple.
All that is required of you is to accept God’s love coming toward you in the present moment, and to respond to this love in obedience.
I said it was simple, but it is not necessarily easy.
It is not easy because it requires a belief (trust) that God’s love is always directed toward you; that there is absolutely no interruption of his attention and care for you. In every circumstance and situation, seemingly good or seemingly bad, God’s love is the source or the filter through which all things enter your life.
This is hard to believe when life seems to have dealt a difficult hand, when evil seems to win or injustice seems to prevail. I’m sure you have asked the question yourself, “Why God? If you are all loving and all powerful, why didn’t you stop this difficult thing from happening?”
Yet, even in the face of trouble, our hearts hope in the good and mighty and loving God the scriptures reveal. On these truths our faith rests. Our experience is incomplete and changeable, it cannot be the judge that evaluates the state of our life. Our ultimate authority, the solid, unshakeable ground on which we stand is the complete and absolute love of God for us. It is constant, unchanging, without end. This is our most foundational belief.
And such a belief invites two responses.
There is an active response, which is to do what love would require of you, satisfying the duties and roles of your current life; and a passive response, to lovingly accept all that God sends you at each moment of the day, trusting God’s ability to use the contents of this very moment to shape you into holiness.
Two responses, any one can do this.
In 2001 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Obviously, very frightening news. As it happened, I was scheduled to leave for a personal prayer retreat several days after I received the diagnosis. I trusted that God knew the timing of the diagnosis and the retreat, so I went ahead with my plans. During the first day of my time away the Lord gave me a wonderful prayer experience. Often, I will use my imagination when I pray, putting myself in scene I’m reading, letting myself become one of the people with whom Jesus interacts. This is a very powerful and evocative means of praying. On this day I was praying with the events of the last supper from Mark 14.
When the disciples and I got to the upper room, Jesus was there waiting for us. He opened the door to us and invited me alone to join him, leaving the other disciples outside the door. He and I were having a wonderful, intimate meal together, really enjoying each other’s company. I’m sure you know the feeling, the pleasure you have when you’re sharing a dinner with someone you really care about, the atmosphere of closeness and fun, the warmth of the conversation. This was what I was feeling as Jesus and I sat across the table from one another.
In the midst of our meal, Jesus said to me,
“Debby, there is a betrayer in our midst.”
“Yes, Lord, I know. It is this cancer that is growing in me.”
“This betrayer is the opposite of me,” Jesus said.
“I know, Lord.”
“This betrayer breeds death.”
During this dialogue the presence of the betrayer began to become substantive, real, taking a form. I felt the pressure of it’s nearness. Jesus invited me to turn around, look at it and tell him what I saw. I resisted, and Jesus patiently encouraged me to do so. It took a long time, but finally, I obeyed. I turned and behind me was a large red mass, surprisingly, not an ugly thing. Jesus told me I needed to sit with this betrayer for a time. I began to cry. Jesus asked,
“What have you to say to this betrayer?”
The words that came out of my mouth surprised me,
I was shocked by this response.
“Why do you see this betrayer of your life as a friend?” he asked.
“Because it will serve me by bringing me closer to you. Anything that moves me closer to you I have to call my friend.”
Jesus smiled and looked deep in my eyes. He gave me a piece of bread dipped in wine and said,
“This bread and wine is my body and blood, broken and spilt for you. My body will carry yours. Every time you eat bread (any bread) and drink wine (any wine) remember I died for you and to carry this betrayer away.”
At the end of this prayer time, I knew a complete peace. I knew the worse that cancer could do to me was kill me and then I’d be in the unmitigated presence of Jesus, so cancer and death held no fear for me. I could rest in the peace that passes all understanding.
God wants to use everything that enters our life, even cancer, as a means of giving us himself. All things can be instruments in his hand to increase our capacity to hold his love and to recreate us into the women he intended us to be.
In each and every moment God is offering us his very presence. NOW is the moment in which he acts. We only have NOW; no tomorrow, no yesterday. Only NOW.
God’s activity is ever present, his love is always coming toward us, but it takes the eyes of faith to receive him in the many and varied activities and circumstances of our lives. Practiced faith allows us to find him hidden in each and every minute of our lives.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade in his book Abandonment to Divine Providence, says becoming holy (his word – we might use the phrase to live fully in the Kingdom of God) is to “make a sacrament of the present moment.”
A sacrament is nothing but a common thing made holy by inviting God to be present in it. Common bread and wine are made a sacrament when we use them as reminders of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Water becomes a sacrament when it is used as the means of marking us in baptism. Bread, wine, water, in themselves are not holy. Consecrating them, asking God to use them or to meet us in the use of them is what makes them holy.
Your life may not seem holy, but every moment of your life can become a sacrament when you invite God to be present in it. Such awareness and activity will constantly connect you with the God of your life. Your goal, right? You want and need to live connected with the God who loves you.
Recognize that in each and every moment of your life God is giving you himself. Take this NOW and receive God’s love.
Your common, everyday life, – work deadlines, feeding your family, conversations with friends, keeping your house, these are the NOWs in which God wants to meet you. He hides himself in these.
“The reason I speak to them in parables (hides himself in the commonalities of life) is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” Matthew 13:13,16
You are blessed because you seek God by faith, not by sight.
The blessing of finding God hidden in every moment of your life requires practice.
In Daniel 1 we find the following occurances:
|God’s activity||What God permitted||Outcome of God’s permission|
|The Lord let (vs. 1-2)||besieged
|God allowed (vs. 9-16)||favor
|God gave (vs. 17)||knowledge
Let, allowed and gave are all the same Hebrew word – permitted.
Seemingly bad, good or neutral, the life you’ve been given to live, with it’s trials, it’s joys and it’s banality is the very life God has permitted you and it is in this life where you will find him. Not in some idyllic super spiritual environment, without interruption or time constraints…that’s the life of a monk, not your life!
As we mentioned earlier, it is easy to find God when good things enter our life. God shouts at us from the coo of a baby, from the well-done of a job promotion, from the companionship of friends. But when the circumstances of our life are discomforting or painful God seems absent, not near at all. Maybe we fear we’ve been abandoned. But consider with me, the following quote from the book, The Unselfishness of God, by Hannah Whitall Smith. It has become one of my favorites.
“It is no matter who starts our trial, whether man, or devil or even our own foolish selves, if God permits it to reach us, He has by this permission made the trial His own, and will turn it for us into a chariot of love which will carry our souls to a place of blessing that we could not have reached in any other way.”
When God permits any trial to enter your life, whatever its source…whether it comes from outside yourself, such as wrong done to you by another person, employer, government; or if it enters your life as a result of the enemy of God attacking you through things like disease or unexplainable obstacles; or if you are suffering because of your own bad choices or poor personal decisions; whatever the source of your trial, if God permits it, God commits to making it his own and will turn it into the means by which you can be carried to the very heart of God.
God is always present and active in your life, in every situation, every relationship, every mundane duty done – even if your senses, intellect, feelings tell you otherwise. He is hidden in your every moment; and when you use the eyes of faith this moment, this NOW can be the very place where you and God meet.
This is the passive response of accepting God’s love I mentioned earlier: “To lovingly accept all that God sends you at each moment of the day; trusting God’s ability to use the contents of this very moment to shape you into holiness.” As I said, simple, but not easy.
It is the eyes of faith that find Jesus hidden in the eternal now. How do we gain eyes of faith?
1. Believe. God is eager to love you and meet you in this present moment, this present situation. This knowledge may begin in your head, not your heart. That’s a good start. Find small ways to remind yourself of this truth. Let it be the screensaver on your computer or leave a post-it note on your bathroom mirror. Use your child’s questions as a reminder to ask God, “Where are you hiding now? Show me yourself.”
2. Ask. The eyes of faith cannot be earned, they are the gift of God through the Holy Spirit. Ask God to show you himself in the common events of your life, he is eager to answer this prayer.
3. Practice. Gratefulness opens the eyes of faith. Begin by thanking God for the ways it is obvious his love is reaching you. Make it your habit to thank God for all the pleasures of life, large and small. Gratitude begets gratitude. Your appreciation of God’s goodness toward you will connect you to him in a profound way. Through this connection you will know him better and it will increase your ability to see him in every aspect of your life, even in the difficulties that come your way. Run an experiment of thanking God for the little irritations that cross your path. This habit can ready you for finding God in the big challenges that life that will inevitably come your way.
In the silence:
Talk with God about how you can make a “sacrament of the present moment.”
Let’s turn our attention now to the second type of response that is required of us to live every moment of our lives in the kingdom of God, and in obedience to his good will. I call it the active response which is to do what love would require of you, satisfying the duties and roles of your current life.
I’d like to introduce you to a young woman who can teach us a lot about this type of love response.
St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as God’s little flower was born in 1873. This nun’s autobiographical journal called, The Story of a Soul was written because the mother superior of her convent directed her to do so. It was published one year after her death at age 24 in 1897, became immediately popular and today still sells in the millions.
In 1928 when Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu became a nun, she took as her patron saint and her religious name Theresa, not after St. Teresa of Avila, the great mystic and doctor of the church, but St. Therese of Lisieux, God’s little flower. This same Agnes faithfully followed St. Therese’s model and call and became our Mother Theresa.
Why was her book so popular? Why did it have and why does it continue to have such an influence on its readers? Because it is childlike and pure, simple and innocent, yet with great depth and challenge.
From her earliest memories Therese desired to be the spouse of Christ, to be a nun so she could pray without ceasing. She was the youngest of 9 children. Her four older sisters all became nuns.
She wanted to enter the convent at age 9, but of course was not permitted to do so by the religious authorities, she was too young. She didn’t think so, she knew her heart’s desire. So she took her request all the way up to the pope, who saw in her a true calling and relented; finally granting her permission to enter a Carmelite convent at age 15. This was years younger than was normally allowed.
This type of convent was a cloistered one, where upon entrance the nun gave up contact with the outside world, in order to focus constantly on loving and adoring Christ. Therese saw her calling as to be married to Christ for the sake of the world.
She died when she was 24.
She lived as a cloistered nun for less than 10 years,
She never went on a mission
She never founded a ministry
She never performed great works or miracles
Yet she is the patron saint of missions in the catholic church, and the story of her soul, has reached millions with the love of Jesus.
Why has she had such an impact?
There are two virtues which especially characterize Therese
2) her consuming desire to be holy and to please God.
We’re going to look at one way she practiced her desire to be holy and to please God.
Therese was sickly from an early age. She knew she’d never have health and energy to do great deeds and works of service for the Lord she loved. She wondered how she could show him how much she loved him. God gave her a way. It was in keeping with her humble spirit and within her capacity to accomplish.
“Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance, every word, and the doing of the least action for the sake of love.”
She took every chance given her to sacrifice, no matter how small it seemed. Especially if it could be done without anyone’s awareness, little deeds done in secret, known only to God.
She smiled at sisters she didn’t like, she ate everything without complaining, she kept quiet when her extroverted temperament urged her to speak up. Each of these self denials she offered to Jesus as proof of her love. In the language of her time, she called these actions mortifications. She couldn’t do great deeds, but dying to her own inclinations was a deed she could do for love.
These sacrifices were the flowers she offered Jesus.
When reflecting on her initial denial for admission to the convent she wrote,
“I came to realize that this respite was a precious opportunity and decided to give myself up, more than ever, to a recollected and mortified way of life. When I say ‘mortified,’ I don’t mean to suggest that I went in for penitential practices of any kind. That’s a thing I’m afraid I’ve never done; I’ve heard so much about saintly people who took on the most rigorous mortifications from their childhood upwards, but I’d never tried to imitate them – the idea never had any attraction for me…What I did try to do by way of mortification was to thwart my self-will, which always seems determined to get its own way – to repress the rejoinder which sometimes came to my lips; to do little acts of kindness without attaching any importance to them; to sit upright instead of leaning back in my chair. That wasn’t much, was it? But I did make myself less unworthy of a heavenly bridegroom; and this period of apprenticeship has left tender memories behind it and helped me to grow in abandonment, humility and in other virtues.”
What can we learn from her example?
Generally, you and I live simple lives, hidden from the spotlight. Few of us will have the opportunity to make great sacrifices and do great deeds for the kingdom to prove our love for God. But because of our love, like Therese, we can scatter the flowers of little deeds, done often in secret for the delight and service of Jesus.
Put money in an another’s expired parking meter
pick up a piece of trash on the sidewalk
refrain from the habit of having the last word
pick up our husband’s dirty socks
leave the bigger piece of pie for your roommate
change your baby’s diapers for Jesus’ sake
perform with diligence the boring administrative details of our job
bring a coffee to our assistant
listen (again) to our coworkers complaints
We can do little, secret acts to prove our love for Jesus. And we can do our everyday duties, not just because they have to be done, but do them for the sake of Jesus, as an offering to him.
“Lord Jesus, I’m making this bed for you.”
“Jesus, out of love for you, I’ll change the toner in the copy machine.”
“Jesus, as I give this presentation today, may I see your face in the faces of my coworkers.”
“I’ll make the fresh pot of coffee for your enjoyment, Jesus.”
You get the idea.
“The principle of sacrifice is that for love’s sake we choose to do or to suffer what apart from our love we should not choose to do or to suffer. It need not be painful. Indeed when the sacrifice is accepted with gratitude and the love which prompts it is returned, it is the most delightful thing in life.” William Temple
We may think, “big deal,” what difference will these little sacrifices, these little flowers we offer to the Lord make?
Therese wondered that as well….
“But of what avail to thee, my Jesus, are my flowers and my songs? I know it well: this fragrant shower, these delicate petals of little price, these songs of love from a poor little heart like mine, will nevertheless be pleasing unto Thee. Trifles they are, but Thou wilt smile on them.”
Our loving God looks at our heart and knows the spirit with which we operate. When we live our lives as an offering to him we will bring him delight and joy, plus we will grow in obedience and freedom.
In closing, I’d like to read to you from The Mentored Life – a guide for living and loving like Jesus.
“You have joined the greatest cause, advancing the rule and reign of God in lives and in the earth. God asks you to live your everyday life, with your everyday requirements and rhythms, in the knowledge and realization that you are actually a citizen of heaven and a co-heir with Jesus. This kingdom perspective will transform your world. There are no longer any ordinary tasks, conversations or encounters. Every moment is an opportunity to live in the reality and the authority of God-with-you. As you walk through your day, you will bring the presence of God to everything you do and everyone you meet. Additionally, God will be present to you, hidden in every exchange. This is your eternal destiny. It begins now.”
Loving God, we are your women. You know our hearts. You know how much we love you and how busy we are. Holy Spirit, remind us that you have given us this life we live. It is your gift to us, and help us give it back to you in all the little ways we can. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.