Your Life is God’s Gift to You – What are You Doing With it?

“Your life is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift to God.”

I remember reading this little snippet years ago while on retreat. I remember thinking, if this is true, then what am I doing with the gift God has given me? What do I have to give back to the Him? The theme of this saying resonated with me then, and continues to impact me even today. I do believe my life, and all it contains, is God’s greatest gift to me. I also believe that in the end I will be called to give an accounting for this beautiful gift. So, what am I doing with it?

As we make the transition from a season of being thankful for our gifts and blessings, to reflecting on the coming of Christ, our minds seem to naturally gravitate toward counting our blessings. But thinking about what kind of steward we have been with those blessings doesn’t seem to come as naturally.

At the beginning of November I invited you to become more aware of the gifts in your life. It was an invitation to take time for counting how you have been blessed. This Sunday, heading into Advent, we move into the time when we can examine how we have been a blessing for others.  We have four weeks to review our lives, identify how we have “been a blessing”, and what we have to give back to God, as a result. How have we used the gift of our life?  What have we done to multiply this gift?

If you haven’t yet reflected on the gift of your life this November, you still have time! This is the perfect season to ponder the gifts and blessings contained in the life God has given you. It doesn’t have to be this long elaborate exercise, simply take a few minutes to reflect on the past year and make a list. Putting pen to paper, list all the people, events, circumstances, material blessings, etc., in your life.  Include all the aspects of your life; faith, health, relationships, intellect, and finances. This exercise is super valuable for all of us as it encourages us to focus on the good and positive in our lives instead of our struggles. It also helps us to prepare our hearts for the work of Advent.

So now, we enter into Advent, that time of the liturgical year where we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. Not only can we ponder Christ’s coming as an infant, but also, His coming at the end of time, and His coming into our lives every day.

We have the opportunity to reflect on the Word becoming flesh, Christ’s coming as an infant. His birth, the first and most valuable gift, was also the birth of our Christian faith. What can we do to show our deep appreciation for the birth of our Lord?  How can we share this gift with others?

Also, we have the opportunity to project forward to Christ’s coming at the end of time. We can examine our lives in light of the gifts and talents we have been given. Then, we can account for how we have shared them. What have we done with those gifts?  Who have we blessed?  If we were to stand before Christ tomorrow, what would He say?

Finally, but not least, Advent provides a fantastic opportunity to become more aware of Christ’s coming into our lives each and every day.  What am I doing to open myself to God’s grace in my life on a daily basis?  Do I recognize Him working in my life?  If not, what is preventing me from fully experiencing Him?  How can I become more aware of the grace of God in my life?  What changes do I need to make?

My life, and all it contains, is God’s gift to me. What I do with it is my gift back to God. Advent is an excellent time to reflect on what we’ve done with the gifts Our Lord has given us and how we are using those gifts. In as much as we have blessed others, in as much as we have multiplied the gift of our life, is as much as we have to give back to Him, our creator; the one who gave us the gifts in the first place.

 

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Opportunity in Disguise

Ok, so I had today’s post all ready to go, I was going to write something about the coming of Advent. That is, until I heard about a movie coming out this week. Maybe you have already heard about it? It is a movie that, if you are Catholic, may bring up some bad memories.

The name of the movie is “Spotlight”.  It is based on The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in 2002, and the stories, and the reporters behind the investigation.  I don’t know anything more about the content of the movie, other than what I gleaned from watching the trailer.

I must say, it was uncomfortable for me to watch. You see, I love my Catholic faith and this movie depicts a very ugly time in its history.  As I pondered my own reaction to this movie, it occurred to me that there will most likely be a wide variety of reactions.  Although it might be uncomfortable to watch the movie, I think it is a great opportunity for us, as Catholics, to re-examine those events, decide how we feel, and how we will respond.

I feel the Globe’s Spotlight investigative group did us all a great service, as they uncovered not just one terrible crime, but two. They uncovered and exposed the actual abuse, as well as the cover up committed by Church officials, and others. I am grateful that their investigation prompted authorities to root this evil out of our Church.  There is  something that is bothering me though, they talk about the perpetrators of this heinous crime as if they were the Church herself.  Now remember I have only seen the trailer so far, so I don’t know if that is cleared up during the movie, but I’m willing to bet that it’s not.  Not because they are out to get the Catholic Church, but because they don’t understand the Catholic Church.

If the trailer is an authentic indication of the movie, they will present the idea that the Church is her leaders and the behavior of those leaders is the behavior of the Church. Thankfully, the Catholic Church is not our officials. Just as with anything there are good leaders and there are bad leaders. A great parallel is the governing system in our country. We have great leaders and we definitely have horrible ones. But in either case the leaders do not define America.

As Catholics we have an opportunity. The opportunity to acknowledge and accept that what happened was deplorable. We can acknowledge that evil exists, sometimes even in our own church. We can be thankful that the evil was uncovered and rooted out. We can understand that the priests who committed the crimes, and the officials who covered for them are not “the Church”.

Our opportunity is also in the response we choose. We might be tempted to respond in one of two unproductive ways, become defensive or avoid it altogether. There is another way, a better way. We can choose to be honest with ourselves and with those who might challenge us. We can admit it was wrong, horribly wrong, without blaming the Church, herself. We can celebrate the fact that the evil has been exposed.

As for me, I too am outraged. I too am sickened at the thought of such abuse. I too want justice. My heart is incredibly heavy with sorrow, for the pain these men caused for so many people.  Even though I acknowledge that these church leaders were blatantly using their position to perpetrate this evil, it is the men that failed us, not the Catholic Faith.

I love my Catholic faith. So, for me, it is important that I lean into the challenge of separating those evil men from what I love.

The Menace that Lurks Along the Path of Life

What are you afraid of? Have you ever stopped to think about that question?

I recently came across a composition on fear and it struck a nerve in me. Despite the ominous tone I couldn’t help but relate to its message. It caused me to pause and ask myself, “What are you afraid of?”

So many times we find ourselves living our lives less than we’d like. We wonder why we can’t make a decision or get that project done. We look back, and wonder why we didn’t seize that darn opportunity at work, or have that important conversation with a loved one. If we take the time to find the origin of that indecision or that stalled project, we might be surprised to find that fear is the culprit.

“I am fear. I am the menace that lurks in the paths of life, never visible to the eye but sharply felt in the heart. I am the father of despair, the brother of procrastination, the enemy of progress, the tool of tyranny, born of ignorance and nursed on misguided thought, I have darkened more hopes, stifled more ambitions, shattered more ideals, and prevented more accomplishments, than history could record.

Like the changing chameleon, I assume man disguises. I masquerade as caution. I am sometimes known as doubt or worry. But whatever I am called, I am still fear, the obstacle of achievement.

I know no master but one; its name is Understanding. I have no power but what the human mind gives me, and I vanish completely when the light of Understanding reveals the facts as they really are, for I am really nothing.

You see, if you have the courage to acknowledge your fears, you will be taking the first step toward controlling them instead of them controlling you. And, if you take the next step toward understanding, you will be able to move past them to empathy, perhaps even to love.” ~ Anonymous

This discourse makes me squirm, because it causes me to evaluate where in my life fear has prevented me from being all that I am capable of being. It portrays fear as the evil perpetrator lurking in the shadows of my life waiting to seize my subconscious and hold me hostage. Using our deepest personal perceptions against us, fear binds us and keeps us from realizing our true potential.

I don’t want to admit that I may be fearful. However, I have to!  I have to admit that I battle fear in my life.  Fear of failure, fear of messing up my kids, fear of letting someone down, fear of missing opportunities at work, and the list goes on.  I have to admit the fear in order to conquer it.

The first step to mastering fear is to acknowledge it. The next step is to understand. You see, Understanding is the name of the hero in this story. To understand means that we look for and consider all the information surrounding relationships, circumstances and events. Our hero investigates the facts and details in order to shed light and bring clarity.

Fear thrives on confusion and can only exist in the darkness created by misinformation or a lack of facts.

Yes, Understanding illuminates the darkness by using the facts to bring truth to a situation or circumstance. But, it is up to us to invite Understanding into our lives. It’s a choice to look for facts, and information, and to consider the circumstances surrounding events. It’s up to us to entertain understanding, and kick fear to the curb. People and circumstances are not always the way they seem. It’s not always the way fear would have us believe it is.

The next time you find yourself bogged down at work, at home or in your relationships, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?”  Then, name the fear and invite understanding into your life by gathering the facts.  Understanding helps us control our fear rather than allowing our fear to control us.

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7 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

7 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude is to the health and happiness of our heart, like a protective ground cover is to the health and happiness of a beautiful garden.

Sometimes, the wellbeing of the garden is threatened by enemies, such as weeds, weather, and debris. Just like a garden, gratitude also has enemies. Destructive habits. These habits, like the weeds and rubble in a garden, need to be rooted out, dug up, and thrown away in order for a spirit of thankfulness to flourish in the garden of our lives.

The first step to cultivating the ground cover of gratitude in our lives and opening our heart to happiness is to dig up all the weeds! We need to thoroughly examine our life, and look for any sign of those habits that block our ability to see the beautiful gifts and blessings we have.

The second step toward happiness is to plant and nurture the “ground cover” of gratitude in our lives. Similar to the amenities we use to provide the optimal growing environment for our gardens, there are certain “amenities” we can add to the garden of our lives to encourage the growth of gratitude.

Prayer, journaling, visual reminders, accountability, hanging out with grateful people, re-evaluating our self-talk, and making sleep a priority are only a few examples of how we can feed the soil of our lives, making it a wonderfully fertile place to grow gratitude!

Prayer

Out of all the amenities we should use in the garden of our life, prayer is by far the most important. The further away from God we get, the darker and heavier our life seems to be. If we find ourselves, complaining, feeling sorry for ourselves or falling into any of the other 7 habits that block gratitude, the first thing we can do is re-evaluate our prayer life.

A rich prayer life nurtures gratitude because it softens us and inclines our heart toward God making us aware of the gifts we have.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Next to a vibrant consistent prayer life, keeping a journal is the best way to nurture the habit of gratitude. We need to set aside a convenient time each day to write down what we are thankful for. It doesn’t have to be a long elegant essay, just some brief notes from the heart. Maybe adding pictures, articles, quotes and scripture as we keep an accounting or our gifts and blessings. The simpler, the better though. I don’t know about you, but if it’s complicated I won’t follow through, and being consistent is another important component of the gratitude journal. It helps if I have a specific time and place to sit, collect my thoughts, pray and write.

Keeping a gratitude journal helps nurture a spirit of thankfulness because, through it, we develop the habit of looking for those people, places, things, and circumstances that we are grateful for.

Use Visual Reminders

Doctor Robert Emmons suggests that forgetfulness and lack of awareness can be obstacles to being grateful. If we aren’t intentional about pursuing gratitude, it is easy to forget or to be unaware of the blessings in our lives.

I love to use visual reminders. They are helpful ways for me to keep my goals in front of me and ever present on my mind. Pictures, quotes, scripture, prayers and specific people, things or circumstances, are all items that we could use as visual reminders. We could display these things in our car, around the house, at the office, or anywhere we spend our time.

Another idea is to use our smart phones to display an image, or schedule a reminder for us to look for gifts and blessings. We could even use music, by downloading a certain song, to might remind us of our blessings.

Visual reminders help us cultivate gratitude in our lives because we are visually reminded, throughout the day, of our gifts and blessings,

Accountability Partner

We have accountability partners in many areas of our lives, work, prayer, dieting, and exercise, just to name a few. The effectiveness of a trusted friend, coach or family member, acting as an accountability partner, cannot be understated.

Whenever we are trying to develop a new healthy habit and we need support, it’s a good idea to ask someone we trust to come along side us for encouragement, accountability and just to keep things real! Nurturing the habit of gratitude in our lives is no different.

Find someone you trust, someone who already lives with an attitude of gratitude or is looking to grow the virtue in themselves, and meet for coffee or over the phone on a regular basis so that you can share your progress.

Having an accountability partner helps grow the virtue of gratitude in our lives because someone else is walking the road with us, encouraging and challenging along the way.

Surround Yourself with Grateful People

Grateful people seem to know how to find the best in any situation. They are those “silver lining” individuals who bring light to the darkness and lighten our loads. It’s important to have these people in our lives. Not only to be in their company, but to learn from. If it’s true, and I think it is, that we take on the characteristics of those people we spend time with, then we definitely need to spend as much time as we can with people who live thankful lives.

Surrounding ourselves with grateful people will help us nurture thankfulness in our lives because we take on the qualities of those we spend the most time with.

Re-vamp Your Self-talk

Research shows that the “inner conversation” that we all carry on inside our heads is responsible for our moods, which quickly become our attitudes. If our inner conversation, or “self – talk”, is negative, our mood will be negative and dark. We see everything as half empty, and find it difficult to realize our blessings. If we are harsh, condemning, or impatient with ourselves, we will have a hard time finding the positives in our lives. If we change those negative thoughts to positive ones our mood follows! We need to erase the old, negative conversations that we replay over and over in our minds, and replace them with conversations that are respectful, optimistic and appreciative.

Revamping our self-talk helps create an attitude of gratitude because, it keeps us focused on the positive, allowing us to realize all the gifts and blessings in our life.

Make Sleep a Priority

It may seem silly to include sleep as a legitimate means to nurture gratitude, but as I mentioned in my previous post, “7 Enemies of Gratitude”, a lack of sleep leads to sleep deprivation which causes us to see our lives through a distorted lens.

More and more studies are proving the detrimental effects the lack of sleep can have on our lives. Don’t take my word for it, take a few minutes and google “effects of too little sleep”. You’ll see within a few minutes how important sleep is to both your physical and mental health.

Adequate sleep can nurture a spirit of thankfulness because being rested produces a sense of wellbeing, not to mention, good mental and physical health. Both of which open our heart to the good and beautiful things in our life.

I think most of us know that gratitude is the key to a happy healthy life and we earnestly try to maintain an attitude of thankfulness. Sometimes though, life takes over and we may find that we have lost our ability to cultivate that virtue. Certain habits, like weeds in a garden, can creep in, take root, and hinder our efforts. For instance, self-pity, complaining, comparing and lack of sleep, are a just a few of the “weeds” that can creep into the garden of our lives and strangle gratitude.

To nurture this beautiful virtue we need to get rid of the weeds!

Once the weeds are rooted out, we need to be intentional about feeding the soil of our lives, with the right amenities, in order to cultivate the beautiful ground cover of gratitude. Amenities such as, Prayer, journaling, visual reminders, accountability, hanging out with grateful people, re-evaluating our self-talk, and making sleep a priority. Cultivating the virtue of gratitude in our lives opens our hearts and makes us aware of how blessed we are. Gratitude truly is the key to happiness.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, and confusion into clarity. It turns problems into opportunities, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~Melody Beattie

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