Posts Tagged With: christian life

Planting Seeds

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s spring (not that we really had much of a winter by Canadian standards). Everything is turning green, blooming, and generally looking beautiful.The spring bulbs are starting to blossom. But in order for those bulbs to bloom now, they had to be planted last fall.

This is not the first time I’ve used images of plants and seeds to describe the spiritual life, and I’m certainly not the only one in history to do so (For instance, St. Teresa of Avila talked about watering a garden). In the past few years, I’ve often been the growing and tending stage. The seeds of discerning ministry, school, and making friends, had been planted – partly out of necessity and partly by choice. Now, those seeds have bloomed. One year ago, I successfully defended my thesis and finished school. This capped off three years of new friends, new joys and challenges, and discerning where God was asking me to go next.

For a while I simply enjoyed the blooms in my spiritual garden – the joy and relief that came from finishing school, the bliss of being able to relax with friends, and the excitement and healthy dose of nerves about moving to work in ministry. But now, those blooms are fading, their memories recorded in journals and with pictures. It’s time to plant new seeds.

I don’t know exactly what seeds I’m planting; there isn’t a sign or label anywhere saying what these seeds are supposed to grow into. I think I’m planting some friendship seeds, and of course some faith and ongoing discernment seeds. But there are also some new ones, writing being the most prominent. I have no idea what exactly is going to come from any of these seeds. This is equally exciting and nerve-wracking. What if none of them grow?! the nagging voice at the back of my head asks, better to not plant them at all.

But when this voice gets too loud, I return to the mustard seed: the tiniest of the seeds grows into the largest of shrubs and provides a home to birds (Matthew 13:31-32), and having faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to tell a mountain to move (Matthew 17:20). So, ignoring the nagging little voice, I plant and care for all of the seeds, and have faith that the proper ones will grow, because “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-4), and really isn’t that what gardening is as well?

Preparing the soil,

Lauren

PS: Readers, have you either seen the fruit of prayer in your life, or are you planting some new seeds. Share below, and I’ll be sure to pray for your seeds too!

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Discernment is not the New Pixie Dust

Dear Pope Francis,

Discernment has been a recurring topic in many of my letters over the last year (like here, here and here), and for good reason, it’s an ongoing part of my spiritual journey. The fact that it’s a common component doesn’t necessarily mean that it gets easier over time.

Lately, the challenge has been making a decision and sticking to it. It’s not so much that I’m making a decision and then completely reversing the decision, rather I doubt the decision I’ve arrived at through the discernment process. I expect that when I make the ‘right’ decision everything will fall into place effortlessly, with minimal work on my part. If the last few years have been any indication, I know this is crazy talk.

I’m reminded of a scene in one of my favourite TV shows: Once Upon a Time. In “Quite a Common Fairy” the third episode of the third season, Regina, the Evil Queen, is presented with the opportunity to meet her true love and find what has been missing in her life. The catch is that Regina needs to walk into the tavern and introduce herself to the man that Tinker Bell’s pixie dust has identified, a man with Faith Trust & Pixir Dusta lion tattoo. Tinker Bell leaves Regina outside the tavern to follow her heart to true love, but Regina chickens out, and runs away. Despite the use of magic, Regina would still need to do some work in order to win her true love.

In this scene, I am Regina. Not that discernment is magical, but it has helped to illuminate important information for me, the way the magic of the pixie dust led Regina right to her true love. But also like Regina, that doesn’t mean the work is over. Discernment points the way, but I have to walk it, taking whatever the path may bring, be it fun, adventure, or struggle. Like Regina, I feel intimidated by what the discernment has shown me. God, you can’t seriously be asking me to do that? Are you sure you want me? Wouldn’t someone else do a better job?

On the days that I come dangerously close to running away, when things get hard and I’m questioning my discernment, I remember a passage from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will show you the path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Sometimes it takes a lot of coaxing to stay on the path, but so far, so good.

Inching forward,

Lauren

pixie dust trail

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Making New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Pope Francis,

Happy New Year! There have been lots of reflection about 2014, and wishes for 2015. One big part of New Year’s rituals that receives a lot of attention is the New Year’s Resolutions. There are memes and articles offering advice about the resolutions to make (or not), humour and practical tips about how to make Resolutions stick. Despite reading many different articles in my time, I (like many people) have yet to actually follow through on a New Year’s Resolution.Brace Yourselves

In many ways, I have become disenchanted by the whole idea of New Year’s Resolutions. It puts a lot of pressure on a single time of year and a particular set of goals. Explain ResolutionsInstead I have lots of smaller times throughout the year when I focus on different goals because they make sense at that point in time. For instance, this semester in school is going to be crazy, so I want to focus on being proactive, and setting (and keeping) boundaries for the time I spend doing different things. While these are both good things, they won’t be necessary in the same way when I finish my school work. Come the spring, when I’m (hopefully) finished of my degree, I’ll take some time and re-evaluate goals then.

All of that being said, New Year’s is always a time to reflect on what has happened in the last twelve months, and there is a sense of optimism that comes from the fresh start. What I have been reflecting on this year is the fifteen spiritual maladies you presented to the Curia in your Christmas Address. It seems so appropriate to talk about the challenges to living a life of faith as illnesses, when you described the Church as a field hospital (“Big Heart Open to God”, interview with Anthony SpaOne Does Not Simplydaro).

I can think of times when I have fallen with each of the maladies you mention. What gives me hope is that you opened the list by mentioning the normalcy of catching these ailments – we all fall victim to them. You don’t leave us there, you remind us that we are always called to “grow in communion, sanctity and wisdom”. This isn’t just a reminder for when the year changes, it is a continual call every day to resist these illness and actively take care of our spiritual lives so that we can grow.

So, while I’m spending the next few months being proactive and keeping tabs on boundaries, I am also going to work to keep myself spiritually healthy. This isn’t necessarily a New Year’s Resolution, because it’s something that I should be doing regardless, and the very faith I profess continually calls me deeper, with the changing liturgical season, with receiving the Sacraments and daily prayer.

Wishing you health, joy and peace in the New Year,

Lauren

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Using my Imagination

Dear Pope Francis,

I was recently cleaning out some of the files on my computer, and I stumbled across some documents that I had written before beginning my M.Div. With school starting today, it seemed like an appropriate time to read through them.

What I found was something that I had forgotten all about. It was a ‘day in my life’, written before I had even moved to Toronto. I had used my vivid imagination to ‘watch’ a day in my life as an M.Div. student. The day I described was towards that end of my third year, I was living with two roommates, whom I got along with. I was busy with school and extracurricular activities. Most of it was described in great detail, but definitely imaginative as time has shown that some of the details are inaccurate (such as I have one roommate, not two).

I used this ‘day in my life’ trick before, notably before beginning every year of my undergrad. It helps me to create a concrete image of what I want for my life at the end of a particular time period or endeavour. Even when the details don’t match up exactly, I still find the whole process helpful, because it usually gives me some ideals to shoot for. In this case, it was that I would be involved, as I have always been, but that I would be striking a healthy balance, which I struggle with. I would feel settled where I was, but, after having a (mostly) good time doing my M.Div., I would be ready to look ahead to the next adventure.

I’ve seen this kind of imaginative technique used in other situations, like self-help books, weight loss programs and people expounding the power of positive thinking. Even Ignatian spirituality encourages the use of imagination to place yourself into a Gospel passage, allowing the text to speak to you based on how you insert yourself into the scene.

In some ways, this is another way that we can allow ourselves to become like little children again, which Jesus suggests is important in the life of disciples. Imagination is so often written off as something childish, something which everyone eventually grows out of. Yes, I have grown out of having imaginary friends, but imagination continues to help me connect with where I want to go by creating that reality as vividly as I can before it begins.

Certainly, there are limits to this method; we can’t simply imagine world peace into existence. Maybe it can help us to see new ways we can help bring it about in our own lives by imagining what living peacefully concretely looks like in our own corner of the world. Maybe it helps someone get through a hard time, or empathize by walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Or maybe it allows us to sink in and really connect with a Gospel story that we’ve hear many times before so that it challenges us in a new way.

Another limit, especially when using imagination as I used it before starting my M. Div., is how to know if what we imagine the future to look like is even remotely what God’s plan is. Again, it comes back to those big ideas in the image, rather than the minute details. As I discern, part of the answer often comes as these imaginings, so I have a sense that I will be busy, but what exactly keeps me busy, I don’t know. As I find consolation in the day-to-day discernment, those big concept ideas begin to take shape, even if the concrete image I had isn’t exactly the same as the reality.

If you’re looking for something different in your prayer life, perhaps try the Ignatian practice of inserting yourself into the scripture. Or if you need a little boost of motivation, try picturing what life could be like after you accomplish the goal you’re working on. It might just be the dose of child-like energy we need.

Going to my imagination place,

Lauren

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Controlling and coping

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s been a busy week. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had a lot of hours at work. Over all, it’s still just part time but the individual shifts are long and leave me pretty wiped out the next day. I’ve had a few interviews for other jobs and volunteer positions, but until I have something solid to report I’m keeping quiet on the details. As always, prayers are great!

I haven’t been writing recently, not because my life has been super busy or because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I’ve been worrying about how pretty much the only things I post on Facebook these days are links to mine and Lauren’s posts on LTP, and a lot of what I’ve been thinking about feels very private.

Facebook-Privacy-GuidePart of it is a result of a conscious decision I made to not post so much of my life on Facebook a couple years ago. Sometimes (like once in a blue moon, and none in recent history) I get messages from creepy people, and generally when it happens I get super paranoid about my privacy for a while. I’ll purge my friends list of everyone who isn’t family, who I don’t know in person, haven’t spoken to in the last six months or who I wouldn’t be genuinely interested to catch up with if we ran into each other on the bus. I untag myself in most photos and go through all the pages I’ve liked and the groups I’ve joined and remove myself from everything. I generally try to avoid posting ubiquitous status updates and am often accused of being the slowest person ever in regards to putting up pictures if I’m the photographer at an event with friends.

Most of the time, I ignore the internal contradiction of being both intensely private about my own life and a reporter.

Yesterday, a reporter friend from school posted on her blog about how private her own journey back to Christ felt. She wrote about being nervous of what her Facebook friends would think if she posted the link to her blog, and about how the long-term consequences of being silent about faith aren’t worth it.

Something I really admire about Tara is how upfront she is about being Christian. She posts about things she’s grateful for, bible study, and the ways her car tests her faith. Her online presence is generally really positive, even when she’s having a hard day and I always get the sense that her relationship with Christ is something which really permeates every area of her life.

I’m not trying to compare myself to her or put myself down for being less active on social media than she is. I’m sharing the link to her blog because I’ve been struggling with a similar question lately. Tara wondered what her Facebook friends would think about her posting about her faith. I wonder what people will think if I share the big life stuff which has challenged and informed and deepened mine.

Something I struggle with in these letters is finding the line between being honest about what I’m struggling with in my spiritual life and my experience of being a young Catholic woman in a largely secular culture; and maintaining my privacy. I don’t want my posts on this blog to be like journal entries. The closer something is to my heart the harder it is for me to put it up here.

But at the same time, a lot of what I have to say about my relationship with Christ and why it runs so deep doesn’t translate well to writing without also writing about the big life stuff that’s happened. Even the broadest strokes – two years of crisis after crisis on all fronts leading to a major depressive episode followed by a nervous breakdown, an identity crisis, and a year of going through the motions outside while paralyzed inside by my own anxieties. It’s not like you can just bust it out and say “and that’s why me and Jesus are tight.”

My 17-year-old sister was really upset with me during the drive back to Ontario because I hadn’t told her much of anything about my life in New Brunswick over the last few years and I wasn’t just spilling everything. What she knew was the stuff I shared with my parents, and she was hurt that I didn’t seem to care enough or trust her enough to tell her anything myself.

If you weren’t in the JDH cafeteria during the winter of 2013 when I ran out of money on my meal card and then cried because Jeremy, the Tim Horton’s guy paid the $1.72 for my medium earl grey tea and I couldn’t comprehend why someone was being nice to me; you probably would have thought I had my shit together based on what I put online. I live-tweeted the students’ union meetings and posted status updates about whatever assignments I was working on and the things I cooked when I was procrastinating on those assignments.

Controlling what I put on social media started as a coping strategy when everything was outside my control before I moved away. Over the years control over my information expanded from the Internet to include more and more of the details of my life until it included everything and nothing.

I know being so intensely private offline is affecting relationships. Something’s gotta give, and I suspect it might have to be some of my privacy.

Trying to open up,

Meredith

Source: xkcd.com

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