Sunday, 22 April 2018

Broken Phones and Unknown Futures

A couple of days ago I broke my phone. Again. It just slipped out of my hand… Okay, let’s be honest, I was juggling too many things, didn’t want to bother putting them down, and trying to open a door that was stuck, so of course I dropped it. I’ve dropped it several times over the past two years that I’ve owned it, but the case always seemed to protect it. Not this time. This time the screen turned to white. The phrase that flashed across my mind was one I had seen the last time I googled broken iPhones. It’s an ominous phrase….

The White Screen of Death. (shudder)

I was on my way to my prayer time on the back porch looking over the gorgeous woods in one corner of South Louisiana. I have recently been using an app called Pray As You Go to help focus my scattered brain during my prayer time. But now of course my phone was dead.

The last time this happened I freaked out. My phone is like my portable office. It has my means of communication with the world, my email, my contacts, my photos and videos. I’m in a foreign country, my phone (plus wifi) is my lifeline. Whatsapp! Everything happens on Whatsapp! That day I was planning to use the phone to record interviews for a project I’m working on. And now, it was all dead. So the last time (a few days earlier), I spent the morning googling how to fix it, trying to figure out how much it would cost to repair (too much), emailing everyone to say I was off Whatsapp, posting on facebook and asking for prayers. And worrying, worrying, thinking of what I should do, how I would manage without it.

Yes, I know I may be too attached to my phone, but it was a real problem! I didn’t have a back up phone. I only have an iPhone because it’s third-hand and a friend gave it to me.

The last time it broke, it had weird white lines across the screen, and when I switched it off and tried to turn it back on, nothing happened. I did it again and again, nothing. Google had nothing helpful for me. And then a few hours later, I tried one more time, and it came on… with a white film over the screen, that gradually faded. True miracle story.

Anyway this time it was just the White Screen of Death, and nothing else. But something miraculous happened. I did not freak out. I didn’t rush to tell anyone, or google it. I continued with my plan of having my prayer time, even without an audio bible reading and reflection (What?? People can pray without any tools??) I walked around the beautiful green yard with the crisp cool air and the welcome warmth of the sunshine on my face. I picked a flower. And I felt a deep sense of peace.

I didn’t know what I should do. I had no guarantee it would ever turn on again, let alone in time for my interview in an hour. There had to be a solution, but I didn’t know what it was yet. And yet I was at peace.

And then it hit me – THIS is what it means to trust in God’s promises, and to be a woman of faith. I’ve often struggled with that. I both loved and hated this verse: ‘Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was promised to her by the Lord.’ Luke 1:45

“I’d love to believe Your promises, God… but what are they exactly? You never guaranteed that we would get everything we wanted, that life would go exactly the way we wanted. People have trusted you and still been martyred, people have trusted you and still suffered the loss of loved ones, people have trusted you and still remained childless or spouseless. So what exactly am I trusting? Or hoping for? Or believing?”

Too many people act as if getting what they want is the prize for trusting God.

But today I realized… trusting God meant trusting Him to provide an unknown good outcome. It doesn’t mean the elimination of hardships and trials (like the MASSIVE TRIAL OF LIVING WITHOUT A PHONE <--sarcasm), it doesn’t mean the complexities of the human condition and situations just disappear. I hate it when people just over-simplify everything and close their eyes to real complicated situations.

BUT. God’s promise is that He WILL work it out. That everything is going to be okay. That we WILL ultimately be happy. That He will never abandon us. That our lives are full of hope even when we don’t get exactly what we want. That He will provide answers, even if they’re not the ones we expected.

But here’s the bigger one. He promised that HE HIMSELF will be our prize, that He will satisfy our desires with HIMSELF. If we think any human gift is more attractive than Heaven is, it is because we still have not glimpsed or tasted the love of Christ, or we have forgotten.

I don’t know what my future holds. It has been frustrating sometimes to not know. I am unmarried, so I don’t have the stability or permanence of family life (though families tell me their lives have as many questions). I am an itinerant full-time volunteer, moving to different homes and cities, travelling more than I’d prefer. I’ve worked with so many different people and projects and kids in so many different ways. Where will I be ten years from now? What will I be doing? I have no idea. There are so many factors out of my control. But I can trust that it will be an unknown GOOD future. It will have joys, it will have struggles. But I know Who will still be at my side, and I know life with Him is more than enough.

After I finished praying that day, I went in to do the interview. I decided to plug my phone into my laptop, just to see. And yes, it just turned on. I’m glad I didn’t waste the previous hour worrying. And I refuse to spend my current life worrying about everything. God’s going to work it all out beautifully, as He does for anyone who seeks Him, walks with Him and trusts Him.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Why are we an Easter People?

I just realized I wrote a Maundy Thursday post and a Good Friday post, (actually two!) but not an Easter post! What is with that? What is the cross without the resurrection? Foolishness! Why would anyone sign up for just the Cross? The truth is that the Cross wasn't the end. We know that. Easter = new life/baby chicks hatching from chocolate Easter eggs/pictures of spring (which is not a thing in India)/ Easter messages on Whatsapp and Facebook. Easter sometimes feels so familiar, that it loses its freshness, and therefore its power in our lives. So what is Easter really about?

Some years ago I was serving as a volunteer in a small Catholic high school in the Philippines. Most of the kids struggled with the common sins of sexual promiscuity, pornography, impure relationships, and many of them were the victims of abuse and abandonment.

We were teaching religion in all the eight classes with kids aged 13-16. One day we started preparing them all for Confession. To our surprise, most of them hadn’t been for Confession since their first Confessions as little eight year olds. So we had the awesome task of telling them what it was about, why it mattered, and why it was worth it. They were beautifully open. We talked about different sins, and how they made us feel.

“How many of you want to be innocent again? Washed clean, brand new?”

They looked at me with open longing in their eyes. Who doesn’t want that chance? To go back to the innocence of childhood, free from the ugly stain of too many compromises with truth, goodness and beauty? To be free from the weariness and the cynicism of corrupted hearts and minds?

This is what Easter is about. This is what the Resurrection is about. It’s not just about sacrifice or suffering for the sake of suffering. It is the fruits or the effects of that sacrifice. If we will die with Christ, then we will also live with Christ! In a very real way, we are given a second chance. We can be new. We can become the men and women God has called us to be. It is not too late! There is HOPE.

“We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song!” said St. John Paul II Living the Paschal mystery means letting Jesus in, allowing him to prune and sanctify and scrape away the ugliness within. But we do it because we KNOW there is something good on the other side. We see glimpses of it now, flashes of glory and life and unadulterated joy. Little by little we see what He is making of us. It can be slow, but it is sure! We can be new! I have met so many people changed by this truth - that they are loved and they are salvageable. I am one of those people. People who know me best will agree. I am different! I am new! I am forever changed!

Our students in the Philippines all went for Confession that week. They came out of Confession with their faces lit up, pumping their fists, and crying for joy. We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song! The world is not dark and hopeless and destined for hell because Jesus through His death and resurrection has offered us all a second chance! At its core, this is what Christianity is about. We have a God of redemption and second chances.

The crucial point though is whether we choose to accept that chance every day or go back to our world-weary, cynical, hopeless existence. Easter season is a time of grace. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Competition – Good, Bad or Ugly?

I come from a very competitive family. I don’t need to convince you of this, just join us for a game night. But when we were kids, it was not ‘a little friendly competition’ as they say. It was fight-to-the-death, painful, bitter, teary competition, which might be why we stopped playing games altogether. As a result, my mum and many others are very skeptical about the need or usefulness or healthiness of competition.

When we were in school, there was always a first, second and third place in each class, kids who got the highest overall scores. This was the thing though- they were always the same kids. Well, maybe it slightly changed, but it was the same 10% of the class who battled it out. The rest of us just accepted that we were mediocre or even ‘poor in studies’. So what difference did it make to laud those three who bagged the three highest ranks?

In school it seemed as if all competition was set up just to make the majority of us feel bad. It was the same at birthday parties. There were the three lucky winners at every game, and everyone else was just a loser. And I was always a loser. Somehow or the other I ALWAYS lost at Housie aka Tambola aka Bingo.

So I have genuine sympathy for the ‘We can all be winners!’ line of thought. Why not set things up for kids to succeed? Give them a taste of success so they don’t feel like they’re always failing?

But the danger of that philosophy is that we may be undervaluing perseverance, hard work, ambition and resourcefulness. Why would anyone try to be better if they are rewarded for not trying at all? How do we get kids (or people) excited about a task if there is no reward at the end?

Then again, even when competition does motivate people to work harder, it usually also makes people think that someone has to lose in order for them to win. It encourages selfishness, and pushing others down to get ahead. And even when someone does their very, very, best, they can still think of themselves as losers, just because someone got an extra point.

This is a balance I think that works-

For little kids at birthday parties or parties in general, the aim is to have fun. So forget about ‘preparing them for the real world’, and find a way for everyone to want to participate and HAVE FUN. That means everyone gets to be a winner, just for participating, and that’s okay! Lots of prizes! Treasure hunts with treasures for everyone! No humiliating forfeits! Whose idea of fun is that anyway?

Encourage self-competition. Get kids to try to do better than they did before, to better their own scores, instead of someone else’s. I did that one year when I was teaching a third standard class in a village school. I had just 13 students, but as usual there were two kids always at the top of the class, and two kids always at the bottom. So towards the end of the year, after some exams, instead of writing the first three ranks on the blackboard as all the other teachers did, I sat down with each student (and their parents for those who showed up), showed them their report cards, and compared their scores in that exam with their scores in the first half of the year. Even the little girl who was at the bottom of the class had improved tremendously, so she got as much congratulations as the kids who got the highest scores because he had basically breezed through without much effort.

Give people achievable goals and celebrate them when they do achieve them. Don’t give prizes just for participation unless participation itself is the challenge. Everyone can’t win the race, but everyone can finish it, and we should cheer them on when they do! if someone regularly loses at all academic competitions, find them something they can excel at. Everyone needs to be good at something, and see hard work pay off in some area of their life. But that may mean that their parents or teachers or even friends need to help them find that thing.

In classrooms, use team competition instead of individual competition. Competition does motivate people, so just make sure you use it in the right way. Even then, make it possible for both teams to win, so they are not trying to beat each other, but to reach a goal in a certain amount of time. “You get five points for discipline, five points for participation, five points for everyone on the team completing assignments, and five points for correct answers. The first team to reach 50 points gets an extra half an hour on the playground or in the library.” That way they help each other, keep each other accountable, and give them a reason to try.

Build an environment where collaboration is encouraged. We keep saying that they need to be competitive to survive in the real world. But have we thought about the fact that these are the kids who can build a new world? A world where we CAN all win, there IS enough for everybody if we help each other, and there ARE creative solutions that don’t involve pushing others down? But the building blocks of that new world are people willing to try something new.

Give people challenging and fun projects to work on together. The task or the game itself is enough reason to work hard and put in an effort. Whether or not they win, they enjoyed the game, or created something new, and that high of that achievement will give them the motivation to push themselves or try something new. Unlike games which depend solely on the pleasure of winning, which leave most people with a lack of interest in even trying again.

Teach people to be good winners and good losers. Teach them to be fair, that winning really isn’t everything, that it is not honourable or funny to hiss, “Cheater!” when they are losing, to shake the hand of the opposing team after the game, and to be willing to acknowledge and even applaud others’ success. Teach them that it is better to lose honestly than win dishonestly. Teach winners to be gracious, to find an encouraging word to say to their depressed antagonists, and not to crow over them. These are life-skills worth having!

Competition can be good, if used wisely and prudently, and in the right context. If not, it can be pretty bad and things can get quite ugly. Also remember that different methods work for different people. You just need to judge whether it is healthy or unhealthy competition, and if it's working as it is meant to, and you can usually sense that by the fruit- bitterness, resentment and passivity, or motivation, excitement and determination.

Friday, 9 March 2018

I’m a Catholic Feminist – What Does That Even Mean?

I used to be one of those kids who was very gleeful about entering the battle of the sexes. I once wrote on our neighbourhood blackboard this gem: “Girls have many faults, boys have only two: everything they say and everything they do.” I remember carrying a stack of chairs somewhere when I was a 16 year old in the church youth group, and practically yelling at a guy who tried to take them from me. “You think I can’t do this? Obviously I can!” I loved quotes like “Women need men like fish need bicycles.”

It seemed obvious that feminism was the Right Choice. It suited my activist personality. But as I grew older, I found that the online Catholic world wasn’t too fond of the word ‘feminist’. It seemed to evoke a vision of angry man-hating topless profanity-spewing women who hated all religion and viewed the Church in particular as a backward patriarchal woman-hating institution.

Today I still identify as a Catholic feminist, but I no longer assume that anyone understand what that means, or that other feminists would agree with me on every issue, or that there is only one accepted definition of feminism.

This is what Catholic feminism looks like:

Catholics believe that men and women are created equal - equal in value and dignity and worth. There are many inherent differences that do not diminish our worth in any way. Many men (not all) are physically bigger and stronger than many women. Many women (not all) have a knack for tenderness and nurturing that many men (not all) lack. I do not believe that being equal means being exactly the same, or needing to do exactly the same things. I don't, for example, feel discriminated against because I can't be a priest. I hope men feel the same way about being able to bear a child in their body.

Catholic feminism says that it is not just okay, but GOOD for men and women to use their innate gifts to serve each other. I may not need A man, but women need men AND men need women. Feminism does not mean the world would be a better place without men. I gradually learned to accept graciously the help that men offered especially when it involved physical strength and carrying heavy bags. I am capable of carrying my own bags most of the time, it is just a lot harder. I am very grateful for the men in my life (I remember that especially when I am alone dragging heavy bags up flights of stairs), and my feminism does not negate that. I have also learned to offer help in areas where men often struggle, instead of mocking them for their inadequacy.

But as a feminist, even though I agree that men and women are different in some ways, I think that many of the differences are not God-given, but social constructs, traditions of generations that may need to change. Why don’t we teach both men and women to cook, fix things, buy vegetables, clean, look after kids and be empathetic? Different people prefer different things, but they should all have a basic grounding in all life skills. By creating opportunities for boys and girls to learn different things, they may find their calling in a non-traditional field for their sex, but a field that exactly fits their strengths and interests. Maybe they will not feel like they are ‘tomboys’ or ‘effeminate’ just because they happen to be more active, logical, artistic, empathetic or gentle than most members of their sex. By teaching empathy and confidence to both, maybe we will also have fathers who are able to express affection and mothers who are able to not be afraid of the world outside the home. Win-win!

Being a Catholic feminist means getting rid of double standards. Why is it okay for guys to have sexual experience and girls not to? Boys will be boys? Psssht. But instead of lowering everyone’s standards so that we now ALL have permission to be sexually permissive and drunken revellers, how about we raise the standards, so that both men and women are encouraged to save sex for faithful committed relationships (aka marriage), and to be prudent and wise in their partying habits?

Being a Catholic feminist means acknowledging that although men and women HAVE been created equal, they have historically not been treated so. Even today in many parts of the world and society, women are not allowed a say in their own lives, in their families or their children. I was once teaching children from the slum something about economics and household finances. The textbook said something about the parents making decisions together, so I asked the children if that happened. It was clear that that was not how their family worked. In the village school I once taught, girls were usually taken out from school by the time they were in high school because their parents had decided that their only life option was to marry young and stay home looking after their families for the rest of their lives. If you follow Humans of Bombay, you can see just how often these young uneducated women in arranged marriages are taken advantage of by alcoholic, abusive husbands who abandoned them and their children.

Being a feminist means caring about social justice which is a very Catholic thing to do. It means fighting for girls to get an education, to have the ability to gain marketable skills, to develop their talents and interests, to have choices and not be dependent on the men in their life to be good and honourable (because men are not always good and honourable). It means helping women to see themselves as capable and strong and valuable.

But being a Catholic feminist also means valuing and supporting women in their calling as wives and mothers (if that is what they are called to). It means not belittling women who are home-makers, not glorifying careers, or expecting women to have to ‘do it all’. It is not mocking women who love cooking for their husbands, or women who long to have children. It means supporting women in their fertility (and not promoting harmful chemical contraceptives or treating their fertility like a disease) and educating them about their bodies and cycles.

Being a Catholic feminist means caring for women at every stage of their lives, right from conception when they are the most vulnerable. Though the right to abortion is seen a key aspect of modern feminism, Catholic feminists do not believe that abortion can ever bring true freedom. Like this New Wave Feminists’ sign: "When our liberation costs innocent lives, it is merely oppression redistributed." Most stories of women seeking abortion contain the words or the impression that women felt like they had NO choice. Being a pro-life feminist means not just opposing abortion, but offering women the support they need to bear a child and rebuild their lives. It means withholding judgment and offering support.

Being a Catholic feminist means allowing oneself to feel and express righteous anger, but not allowing that to make one bitter or resentful. Instead it is allowing pain at injustice to be transformed into a LOVE that changes things, because in the end only love can do that.

Being a Catholic feminist does not mean teaching women to see men as the enemy. They are not. They are also deserving of respect and kindness as are all human being created in the image and likeness of God. Feminism should not be a weapon for a woman to wield that destroys the unity of marriages. Instead true feminism is helping both husbands and wives (and men and women in general) accept each other, respect and listen to each other, work as partners for the good of each other and the family, and gently help each other get over prejudices and blind spots and gender stereotypes. It also means making adjustments for the good of the family, whether it means taking turns to be the stay-at-home parent, or to get the kids ready for school, or to clean the kitchen, or to give up a promotion.

Being a Catholic feminist doesn’t mean that a woman’s needs come ahead of everyone else’s. But it does need that a woman’s needs are important and that she needs to communicate them (something many women don’t do), and learn how to take care of herself, while also balancing the needs of those who are in her care. It also means building a marriage where both partners support each others’ dreams, and discern how God wants them to do that at different points of their marriage. 

You know, almost all of these points apply to men too. We want men to have all these things as well. The reason why we talk more about women than about men is because women have usually been the ones who have NOT received these things. This is not men versus women. This is about all men and women of good will fighting to right an injustice. Let’s do our part. Let’s not be afraid of feminism. But let’s not lose sight of the larger truth that we are known, loved and created uniquely by a God who made us, man and woman, in the beginning, and who has a beautiful plan for us to live and work together in this Garden of earth .

Related Reading: 
Pope John Paul II's Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women
Sex, Style and Substance: Ten Catholic Women Consider The Things That Really Matter
New Wave Feminists

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Save Us from Social Embarrassment

I once heard a priest make an ad-lib prayer at the end of Mass, and I just remember the phrase, “Save your people from social embarrassment”. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?” was my immediate holy thought. (I also frequently have other holy and humble thoughts at Mass like ‘I could give a better homily than that’ and ‘Good grief! This is NOT a musical performance, people!’)

But of course I knew. In India, “What will people say?” seems to be the motivation behind every decision from what career our children should pursue, to how much money we spend on a wedding, to whether we decide to leave an abusive marriage.

“I’m so glad you set an example to us in not caring what people think,” I said to my mother one day. My parents had made many counter-cultural choices with their life from choosing to accept five children, to using the majority of their time, talent and skill in Kingdom-building activities instead of the more traditional type of careers.

But when I said those words to my mother, she gave me a funny look. “What makes you think I don’t care what people think?” And then I realized, none of us are immune from the desire to bask in social approval and acceptance. Maybe the people or society we seek it from varies, but there is usually a certain world from which we crave approval. Maybe it’s our family or our church, maybe our group of vegan environmentalist friends, maybe our agnostic humanist co-workers, maybe our rebellious teenage club-hopping friends. Each group has its own set of values, and things that are okay and not okay to do.

We don’t always realize when we care about people’s approval though. It may suddenly hit us. “Why do I care so much about this thing that someone said? Why am I so upset and stressed by that person’s opinion of me? Why am I still thinking about it days later?”

Or it comes up when we’re planning an event or a life decision. Very few people would consider the possibility of not serving a meal at a wedding for example. They’d rather go into crushing debt than risk people’s criticism. Actually most kind of wedding customs usually bring out our attachment to social approval. There must be a gold chain. There must be alcohol. The wedding dress must not be second-hand. There must be certain gifts given to the other family. Why MUST there be? Because…. what will people say?

As a result of this obsession with social approval, there is an unhealthy fear of social embarrassment. The worst thing that could happen to a family is for it to lose the approval and good opinion of its community. What is the practical result of that? Sexual abuse is covered up. Unhealthy practices are never addressed. Couples struggling in marriage won’t consider therapy. Abortion is chosen over the disgrace of unwed pregnancies. Matches are arranged based on external and often shallow qualifications. Intelligent kids are forced into engineering and medicine regardless of their preferences. Mistakes are covered up instead of faced and corrected.

On a less dramatic level, as long as we are afraid of social embarrassment, we are not free to make decisions for the right reasons. What is the right thing to do in this situation? What is the more financially prudent option? What is the choice that will remove someone from harm’s way? What is the more loving choice? What is God calling us to do in this situation? What is a responsibility and what is an unhealthy expectation from our family members?

Sometimes we do the right thing, but we carry around with us an unhealthy burden of anxiety and stress because of what people said. Everyone has an opinion about our lives. But their opinions don’t have to carry any weight unless we really respect their judgment.

We need to be free to examine and challenge the biases and prejudices and unhealthy customs of our own groups and communities. We need to be free to do what is right in our particular family’s situation. And we need to feel free to do it in peace and without guilt. But we can only do that if we reject the power social embarrassment has in our life.

Instead of praying for protection against social embarrassment, I wish that priest had prayed this: “Lord, give us all the courage to stand up for what is right regardless of what people say or think. Let us not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewal of our minds. Give us the strength to care ONLY for your opinion, and to always remember that we are only what we are in Your eyes. Amen.”

Thursday, 22 February 2018

People Are Disappointing

Have you ever met someone and just from the first moment you think they are SO GREAT? They are exactly your kind of person, they’re funny, and they like to talk about the same things, and they share your opinions about everything from what makes a moment cringe worthy to what makes a great marriage to the best way to spend a vacation. You talk about this person to others, how great they are, how worthy their thoughts, how hilarious their one-liners, until everyone else in your life is rolling their eyes.

And then… the honeymoon ends. You suddenly discover your idol has feet of clay. They speak sharply to you one day. They hold a grudge when you would have thought they would have been magnanimous. They reveal flashes of selfishness or arrogance or vanity. They don’t agree with you on some issue that is hugely important to you, which you were SURE no right-minded person would disagree with. Or they dismiss as unimportant what you consider a core issue.

Now what? The temptation is to withdraw. “You! How could you, of all people, disappoint me in this way? You were supposed to be different, to be perfect, to be admirable in all matters. The betrayal is worse coming from you.” Of course we won’t say that to this person, but our attitude changes. Our trust is withdrawn. We no longer share our thoughts and feelings with as much trust and freedom as before.

Something similar happens when we grow up and discover our parents’ weaknesses, or any childhood role model. Parents are supposed to always have it together! 'If I can’t trust YOU, who can I trust?'

I have lived in a various women’s households over the last seven years, and working closely with different teams of women and men. No matter how great another volunteer is when I first meet him or her, once I start living or working very closely with them, the flaws appear. I'm sure the same thing happens to me in their eyes too. The greater the respect at the beginning, the greater the fall when it comes. “You? How could you be reluctant to help? Aren’t you one of those living saints, font of wisdom and patient love?”

It could be easy to reach a point where the only people left to respect are the ones we DON’T know too well, or have to interact with much. Perhaps a speaker, or a leader, or a writer. Is this our fate? Is no one worthy of respect and trust?

This is the secret I have learned over the years: you CAN respect someone while accepting their flaws. In almost all of my women’s households, we had to learn the same lesson over and over again with each new set of people. This person is so great! But this person is also flawed. I can’t change this person. But I can love them as they are. I HAVE to forgive again and again (as they have to forgive me) for not being the people I often want and expect them to be, and sometimes even need them to be.

The friendships that have lasted beyond the disillusionment phase are some of the strongest and best friendships I have ever had. There is a real trust there, the trust that comes from knowing we are committed even after seeing each others’ worst side, from knowing I am accepted, and not judged harshly.

Married people tell me marriage is exactly the same (hence the term ‘honeymoon phase’). But I think it goes for all human relationships. If we hold people to unrealistically high standards, and then withdraw our love when they disappoint us, we will never be able to have a truly deep, meaningful and satisfying human relationship. Neither will we be able to truly know or accept the love of Christ- because that too is dependent not on worthiness, but on acceptance and unconditional love.

Accepting people’s flaws does not mean ignoring or glossing over hurtful behaviour or refusing to address real problems. It means being willing to let someone know when they have hurt you, but also not withholding your love until they change. “I’ll love you anyway, but it hurts me when you do this.” We have a whole teaching on confronting with love in my organization. We don’t always do it well, but we all know that if we care about the health of a relationship, we must be willing to do it. The best people are the ones who are able to admit their weaknesses and work on them, but usually that only happens in an environment of acceptance and mercy.

How do we deal with people disappointing us?

1. Bring them and the situation to the Lord in prayer.

2. Remind yourself that you too have many flaws and have still been loved unconditionally by others.

3. Remind yourself of all the good you have seen in them. Make a list if you need to.

4. Talk to them if they have hurt or upset you.

5. Give them another chance.

6. Pray for healing of their wounds and insecurities and blind spots.

7. Choose to accept the quirks which are not sins, even if they are not your favourite things.

It's hard to get over being disappointed by someone. But the key may be to realize that your desires for perfection can only be met by a perfect God. He is the only one who will never disappoint you. Once you discover that, you can accept fallible and weak human beings as they are, stop expecting them to be God and form real relationships that are built on more realistic foundations.

Disclaimer: If someone knows how you feel and keeps repeating hurtful or harmful behaviour, you may need to step away from the situation, while continuing to pray for them. Also, if someone has deliberately deceived you, you can choose to forgive them without necessarily choosing to trust them.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Looking for God this Lent? Read a Book

Have you ever felt bored with God? Just sort of indifferent, wondering what all the fuss is about? Maybe you once had an experience of God, or even intellectually assented to the Christian faith, but life goes on, and now it’s just a not super-relevant part of your life or thoughts. People keep saying, “Pray! Read the bible!” And you try that too, but it’s all so boring, and you can’t stop your mind from wandering to more attractive avenues.
There may be a lot of reasons why you have reached this place. It could be that you are in a state of sin that has dulled your senses to God, and until you choose to face that sin, you’re stuck in this lifeless zone.
It could be that your life is too full of other stuff, fleeting pleasures, quick fixes, that you don’t know how to receive anything more fulfilling. You’ve been eating so much junk food that your body doesn’t remember how good a real meal can taste. (I was going to say a steak and a salad but not sure how that would be received in India.)
This is my theory: (It’s not exactly original, but anyway.) YOU ARE WHAT YOU CONSUME. Or even, you develop a taste for whatever you consume the most of. If you keep reading nothing but romance novels and Sidney Sheldons, your brain slowly turns to mush and can no longer accept anything more solid. If you spend most of your time watching TV shows, your mind will constantly be engaged by the drama you watch, and not have space for anything else. If your life is football, that is what you talk about, think about, fight about, and picture as you drift off to sleep. If you listen to The Greatest Showman soundtrack multiple times every day, you start picturing yourself as the star of a musical and practise dance steps in your head at every idle moment (this has NOTHING to do with my life). If you spend a lot of time talking to, thinking about and finding out more about a particular person, your relationship will probably go deeper.
Our minds are very connected to our hearts. Greater knowledge often leads to greater love. If you want to fall in love with God, you need to allow Him to capture your imagination again. Like Saint Paul said, be transformed by the renewal of your mind. How does that work? You, friend, are privileged enough to know how to read. The riches of the world are at your disposal! I refer, of course, to books.
Read a book! Read a good book about God! “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot.” I have been reading since I was five. But at the formational years of my life, I read books that captured my imagination, and opened my eyes to how big God is. If all we see of God is the external customs of our family’s religious traditions, no wonder we have grown bored of Him. If we don’t know what treasures are hidden in the Eucharistic God, if we haven’t caught sight of the grandeur and majesty of a Creator God, if we have not yet glimpsed the passionate tenderness of the Lover God, if we have not seen the intricacy and wisdom and faithfulness of the Scriptural God, if we have not seen the transforming power of the Saviour God in broken and wounded human lives, then how can we fall in love with this God?
So, friends, I beg you - read a book this Lent. Read MANY books if you can. Move some stuff out of your life to make room for this book-reading. Make a reading plan, and stick to it. ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything… Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.’ Fr. Pedro Arrupe
Here are some great book suggestions:
Easy Level Reading
1. The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson
2. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom HIGHLY RECOMMEND
3. Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler* HIGHLY RECOMMEND
4. I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter With God by Bilquis Shaikh*
5. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis*
6. Mother Angelica: The remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve and a Network of Miracles by Raymond Arroyo*
7. Death of a Guru by Dave Hunt and Rabindranath Maharaj*
8. Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis*
9. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
10. Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful by Katie Davis Majors
11. The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun
12. Catholicism for Dummies*
Medium Level Reading
1. Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert* HIGHLY RECOMMEND
2. A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn
3. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis HIGHLY RECOMMEND
4. Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots by Scott Hahn*
5. The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn
6. Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn
7. Let Go by Fenelon
8. Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe*
9. In the School of the Holy Spirit by Fr. Jacques Philippe*
10. Who Does He Say That You Are? Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels by Colleen Mitchell
11. The Apostasy That Wasn’t by Rod Bennett
12. You by Fulton Sheen
High Level Reading
1. He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek* HIGHLY RECOMMEND
2. Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux*
3. Sober Intoxication of the Spirit by Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa*
4. Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade*
5. Catechism of the Catholic Church- Section on Prayer*
6. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (full disclosure, haven't finished this)
Books I’ve heard of and am waiting to read:
1. My Sisters, the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell
2. These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson
3. Confessions by St. Augustine
4. Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed
5. One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Personal Passions, Family Chaos, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler
6. Arriving at Amen by Leah Libresco
Of course just reading a book is not enough. Ask God to meet you when you read. Be sensitive to the ways the Spirit is working in you as you read. Dialogue with God as you read. And meet Him in prayer after you read.
Have you read any of these? What are some books that have been transformational in helping you encounter Christ?
*These are books that I own and would be happy to lend you if you live in my city. Most of these books should be available to buy as ebooks. Some are available at local Christian bookshops.