“The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own. It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your father, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery…Understand, then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful covenant to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments.”
(Deuteronomy 7:6, 8-9)
The Old Testament is replete with passages that remind the people of Israel that they are God’s chosen people. Yet, just as often, it is quick to remind them, lest they get too prideful, that this is because of the Lord’s goodness, not because of anything remarkable they have done.
“Therefore if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.” (Exodus 19: 5)
We are His people and the flock He shepherds. He has a deep love for us. He thirsts for us. However, this is not because of anything we have done. The Lord doesn’t love us or choose us because we are the most faithful. Or because we are the most successful. Rather, He continues to love us because He is love and He is good. Continue reading “Chosen Because He is Good”
Small talk isn’t really my thing.
In fact, I have respect for people who have the gift of being able to chat about different things casually. Some of the students I know better are easier to talk to, but I have to force myself to generate conversation with others.
The other day, I asked a student how his snow day was the previous day. His lack of response prompted me to say semi-teasingly, “Come on!” To which he responded with an annoyed, “No.”
Suddenly, frustration and anger filled me. Here I was, making an effort and he couldn’t even give the common courtesy of responding to a non-invasive question. I wasn’t asking him to share the depths of his soul, just to have him share about something from the previous day.
While small talk doesn’t come easily, quick retorts generally do. So I struggled to keep back all of the sharp responses I wanted to give and I forced myself to continue to acknowledge him during the rest of class, even though I childishly wanted to ignore him. I had the desire to demonstrate to him just how rude he was being…by being equally rude myself. You have a question? Too bad, I don’t want to answer you, just like you didn’t want to answer me.
I didn’t do those things, yet I am continually surprised how deeply small-heartedness is ingrained in me. God is justice and mercy, but I naturally favor justice. Old Testament eye-for-an-eye justice. It isn’t what I want to receive, but it is definitely what I want to mete out. Continue reading “When Small-Hearted Meets Magnanimous”
Only once have I really punched someone in anger.
It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event. In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.
Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong. I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating. Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery. The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas. In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible. Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor. When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.
As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches. Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds. However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away. Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.
This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older. Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge. But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier. I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way. It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him. And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.
At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues. The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself. Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website. I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life. I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something. Continue reading “There is a Strength in Faithfulness”
The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality. Yet they managed to completely derail that plan. When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned. Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.
Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me. I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way. Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.
“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things? Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic. If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life? Like why did God make us? What is our purpose?”
Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me. When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.
This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing. The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live. So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight. The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.
To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning. The Trinity. I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit. Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking. God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love. Therefore, we are not needed. God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”
Something I gave up for Lent this year is online shopping. Yet I’ve come to realize in the past week that buying too much stuff isn’t the most prevalent problem. Yes, I could probably fill a six-foot bookshelf with the stacks of books piled around my room. The thing that is harder than not buying things is not even looking for them.
My younger sister jokes that for fairly large purchases (like a food processor or an iPhone) I start talking about them six months before I get around to buying them. I’ve never been much of an impulse buyer. But this Lent I’m giving up browsing, shopping, and slowly placing items in random online shopping carts. I have had to catch myself at least two or three times already from following links to Amazon or sites with random household products.
Why am I doing this? There are two primary reasons: I spend unnecessary time scrolling through websites and I don’t like what looking at so many material things does to my heart.
The first is the lesser of the two. It is important, though. Time is a treasure for which it is difficult to account. The minutes can slip away quickly as I look at what other books will fit nicely into my library. Or as I scout out birthday presents for family members in advance. If I am continually feeling like I don’t have enough time, then perhaps I need to evaluate how I invest my time.
But that second reason, that is probably what caused me to stop with the shopping and browsing. We live in a very materialistic world, but I’ve always felt fairly simple. That simplicity, though, seems to be more an idea than a practice. And I don’t like that it seems to be a quality I think I have but actually do not. Gazing at all of the things I don’t have yet might like to, makes me feel unsatisfied with what I currently have. Continue reading “Lent: When You’re Little Enough that No Virtual Window Shopping is a Sacrifice”
My bedroom is in a similar state as my soul. Messy, cluttered, and kind of driving me insane. The thing is both situations are entirely my fault.
Instead of hanging up my clothes, they have become a mountain covering my ottoman. Generally, I forget I even have an ottoman and I’ve become increasingly convinced that most of the things in there mustn’t be very important if I never need to access them. Stacks of unopened letters and papers I should file away add a bit of an overwhelming sense to a place I often use for refuge. Boxes that need to be broken down for recycling, laundry that ought to be done, and stacks upon stacks of books make my bedroom chaotic.
My soul? Pretty much the same situation.
There is a great deal of clearing out that needs to happen. Scripture says to make a highway for Our Lord. But first, I think I need a plow to come through. So it is with a heart that loves simplicity yet finds itself attached to abundance that I eagerly head into Lent.
I need Lent. Continue reading “I Need You, Lent”
“If I could do the last thirty years over again, I would do it differently. I would try to make people fall in love with Jesus.”
A story was being told about a conversation with an elderly priest nearing death, but it pierced my heart and filled me with a great desire to do the same thing. In teaching Theology, I feel these seemingly conflicting pulls on my heart. I desire to teach them concrete information yet I want to show them how to fall in love with the Lord. These two desires aren’t mutually exclusive, but the balance is a difficult thing to ascertain.
While I wish we could have daily conversations about the matters closest to their hearts or the questions they really want answered, I also have a curriculum to follow. We need to take quizzes and tests. I am required to give them assignments and to grade their work. Yet, somehow, in the midst of the formal education, I am also supposed to provide an education of the heart.
How? I’m uncertain. I know it sometimes happens when their sincere questions spring from the topics at hand. Or during unplanned times of heart sharing and depth. The Holy Spirit will surprisingly show up and elevate my lesson to something far beyond what I could do on my own.
I want to answer all of their questions about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ. Sometimes they don’t know how to phrase the questions or are uninterested in engaging in a conversation that may challenge their status quo. Despite my desires to help them encounter the Lord, I cannot manufacture an encounter in a 50-minute class period. I attempt to provide opportunities and share experiences I have had, yet with 25-30 students in a class, I am unable to personally reach each person as they need to be reached. Continue reading “To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus”
It is human nature to have favorites. As a teacher, the same holds true. I often tell my students I’m not supposed to have favorite classes or students. Several classes will guess that they are my favorite, but I can never tell them if they are correct or not. Usually, there are multiple things I appreciate about each class as well as aspects I wish they would change. Yet, as a human, I look forward to some classes more than others. Gone are my first year teacher days of feeling ill at the thought of a particular class. For a variety of reasons, some classes make me a little less excited to teach them.
A couple of weeks ago, I was facing this feeling of not looking forward to a particular class. It wasn’t dread, but I was definitely not excited for them to fill my classroom with their boisterous selves. On Tuesdays, I have “contemplative time” with my classes, ten minutes of silent prayer with a reflection or Scripture passage given as the means to enter into prayer. I’m a little dense, so it took a while, but after a few classes, I recognized that this meditation was speaking to me about that less-than-ideal class.
My dear friend, I am overjoyed to see you. I am with you speaking to you and listening to you. Realize that I am truly present. I am within your soul. Close your ears and eyes to all distractions. Retire within yourself, think my thoughts, and be with me alone.
My Other Self: Conversations with Christ on Living Your Faith*, Clarence Enzler
The word overjoyed stood out to me after several readings. Clarence Enzler wrote this book as though it is Jesus speaking directly to us, that we are Christ’s other self. After considering the beauty of Jesus being overjoyed to see me, I began to desire that this was my response for that particular class. When I come to the Lord with all my worries and failings, He is always pleased that I have entered into His presence. I want this to be my attitude toward this class. Each day, I want to be overjoyed that these particular students are coming into my classroom and sitting in my presence. Recognizing Christ dwelling within them, I want to respond to them as Christ responds to me, even with my less-than-ideal heart. Continue reading “Overjoyed”
The other night, I gathered with a group of people to enter into praise and worship. As we praised, I was forced to acknowledge that I so often forget to praise God in my daily life. I am thankful for many things, but too infrequently do I stop and simply praise God for who He is, independent of anything He has done for me.
As I sang, I couldn’t help but consider how it pleased God to hear hymns rising amidst the violence that surrounds our world. To the unbeliever, the songs of praise would seem ridiculous. How could we praise a being we claim is all-powerful while conflict seems to send ripples of tension across the surface of the earth? Even as I praised God, I could imagine a person gesturing to point after point of contention. How is God good here? How is God loving here?
I don’t always know the solution or have the knack of finding God perfectly in all things. Yet I know that in a world of aching longing, He is found in the small and large moments. In those moments I spent in the church with others, praising God, I felt His presence, but primarily I felt a desire to respond to God as we ought. Too often caught up in asking for things or pouring out my feelings, I wanted time to just adore the God who Is. Continue reading “Praising at the Potter’s Hands”
I spent thirteen hours in an airport a little over one week ago on an unfulfilled quest to conquer “Winter Storm Grayson” for the sake of a friend. During my hours of meandering around the airport and having my flights rescheduled time after time, I saw one person who seemed to be on a different schedule from the rest of the masses. Although I only saw him for a minute, I couldn’t help but notice he was passing his time in a slower, more intentional way than others.
Generally, I’m not that person who is clandestinely taking pictures of other people. But something about him captured my attention very quickly. He slowly walked the long corridor and stopped briefly in front of each picture, taking it in and considering it. I understand the rush between flights and short layovers that prevent others from taking in their surroundings. Yet it wasn’t as though it took him twenty minutes to look at the pictures. He was in my line of sight for only a couple of minutes. Continue reading “Airport Intentionality”