It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us. Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode. The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before. I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.
One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world. The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them. Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways. In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults. They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.
As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters. Situations aren’t simple. The correct move or response isn’t always obvious. Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present. Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.
Or perhaps that is what I read into it. Either way, it seems relevant in my life. Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times. Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.
The past is a powerful force. Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life. Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them. It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”
If you think I am a perfect person, this must be the first blog post you have ever read. That concept, that idea of perfection will be quickly shattered. And it should be, because it isn’t true.
Not long ago, I found myself in a situation where I would need to work at something with someone I didn’t know well. A few minutes into the encounter, prideful me thought, “I think this person can really learn a lot from me.” God is probably amused and a bit horrified by my internal dialogue. I didn’t mean it in a bad way and I didn’t think I was their savior by any means. In the moment, I simply thought this person could learn something from me.
However, an hour or so later, I came to the realization that actually that person might have a lot to teach me. In light of that awakening, I found my initial perception incredibly smug and prideful. It was a lesson in humility, one where I was able to see some of my flaws and shortcomings without there being a great embarrassing display.
The Lord is generous to me. He is quite generous in showing me the areas of my life that aren’t what they should be. He is also gracious, because He often makes these revelations in small, simple ways. A few words, a brief encounter, or a fleeting thought garners deeper insight upon later reflection.
He crushes me slowly, in a beautiful way. Continue reading “A Transforming Perspective”
When Jesus appeared to His Apostles after the Resurrection, His hands, feet, and side still bore the marks of the crucifixion. His glorious, death-conquering body held the holes that won salvation. To be certain, His body was different than it was before. He was strangely appearing and disappearing, passing into locked rooms, and yet still able to eat and be touched. Dying and rising had changed His body. Gone was the appearance scarred beyond human recognition. However, His body still showed where nails and a spear had pierced Him through. Why was that?
There are several theological reasons, but I would like to focus on one minor, personal reason. I would argue that Christ kept His wounds to destroy our image of perfection. Here is the conquering King, the One who has fought death and won and yet–He still shows signs of this arduous battle. As the commander of this battalion, as the King who leads His people into battle, Christ is not unaware of the price of this fight. Our whole lives seem to be a battle towards Heaven. Christ doesn’t need perfect looking soldiers; He simply needs faithful ones.
The burden of perfection is one we place upon ourselves. We want lives that are neat and tidy, yet none of us have it. Sometimes we brand others as perfect, but that is only because we see portions of their lives and not the whole of it. And when we expect this perfection from them, we encourage them to fake it instead of living authentically.
Often, when I tell people that my two older sisters are religious sisters, I can see them mentally placing my family in a certain type of box. Years ago, I gave my witness in preparation for a summer of catechizing youth, and one of the critiques I received was that teens probably couldn’t relate to my story. While I understood what they meant, I couldn’t help but take it a bit personally. My story of an aching heart being separated from my sisters was not something they deemed relatable. Since then, I have discovered that it is something to which others can relate. Perhaps they don’t have siblings in religious life, but many have experienced anger and frustration with God and a plan you never wanted for your life. Continue reading “The Burden of Perfection”
This blog is entitled “Seeking After His Heart.” Ideally, I like to think of my life as a pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Yet sometimes I overlook the fact that it is really about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful pursing me.
God initiates all of our encounters with Him. If He did not reveal Himself, we would not know Him. If He did not allow us to perceive Him, then we would be completely unaware of His presence. Even prayer, which can sometimes be viewed as something we do for God, is actually something He does for us.
In conversation with my spiritual director, he told me to not overlook begging Jesus for the grace to go to Him in prayer. And sitting in the adoration chapel the other evening, I reminded myself that I was there simply because I responded to God’s grace. I mean, it kind of felt like it was purely my choice, but I knew that it was God offering His grace and me, finally, responding to it.
This initiation on God’s part is timeless. All of the Old Testament covenants are made because God interacts with a human person and desires to be in relationship with them. They don’t start the process. “Hey, God! I’d like to be a part of Your family!” God reaches down to us and adopts us as His own. Even greater still, He enters into the human family so as to bridge all gaps between us. There is nothing left for us to do but to respond.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman with simple words, “Give me a drink.” He seeks her out, He encounters her, and He asks her to enter into relationship with Him. Yet I love the way that the Lord does this. He reaches out to her and expresses His thirst for her. Continue reading “My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart”
“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry…”
Generally, when I begin to pray the Act of Contrition in Confession, I close my eyes. I prefer to go behind the screen and I like to close my eyes so I can focus on the words. As I started the prayer, I realized that the confessional I was using had a crucifix hanging on the screen at about eye level.
“for having offended Thee…”
My eyes shifted and fastened on Jesus. There He was, arms outstretched and pierced by nails. His total gift stood in stark contradiction to my selfishness and inability to sacrifice. Yet as I spoke the words directly to Him, I was struck by the rightness of it all.
“I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell…”
My sin crucified Him. And though there was nothing new that I was learning, I was seeing in a deeper way what my sin brought about. Here I was, staring at the very reality that made the words I was saying efficacious. Without His death, my words were a vain pleading for reconciliation without paying the debt. Continue reading “The Price of Forgiveness”
The Litany of Humility is one of those prayers that I hate. And love. And wish I loved more, but am a bit scared by. If ever there was a prayer that could level a solid crushing blow to the ego, I believe the Litany of Humility is a top contender.
“That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”
There are several parts during this prayer that cause me to cringe, and this line is one of them. This cringing comes from the fact that I do not actually desire this to be true. It seems like it would be too difficult if this went from prayer to actuality.
Simply put: I want to be chosen.
Doesn’t everyone want to be chosen? I want to be the chosen confidant. I want to be the dearly loved and chosen friend. I want to be the favorite teacher. I want to be the one people choose to ask questions because they think I will know the answer. I want people to choose to read what I write. For so many things, I want people to choose me. Continue reading “That Others May Be Chosen”
“I will not let Satan use my heart against me.”
Arguably, the topic I write about most is the human heart. This is probably because I am always struggling to come to terms with having one. The Lord redeemed the human heart when He became incarnate. I am certain it provided difficulties for Him, also, but He handled all of those temptations and challenges to prove that, with His grace, it can be done.
Scripture speaks often of the heart.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt. 6:21)
“My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.” (Ps. 45:1)
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, said, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” Beauty is a powerful force and both God and Satan use it for their own purposes. It moves our hearts, sometimes against our wishes or in spite of our intentions.
Our hearts are being fought over and so I guess it makes sense that mine so often feels like a war zone. Too often, however, the main focus can be me and not about how the Lord could be using feelings, situations, and circumstances to draw me closer to Himself. And when the focus rests on me, it becomes a pretty dismal outlook. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis recognizes this tendency in a letter to Wormwood, a young demon-in-training. “The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the actions of their own wills.” Continue reading “Getting to the Heart of the Matter”
“There is nothing restful about Advent yearning.”
(Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting, Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.)
I find myself waiting for a lot of things. Waiting for packages to arrive in the mail, waiting for conversations to occur, waiting for the end of the semester, or just waiting for something new to happen. Advent is filled to the brim with waiting.
We can often paint Advent as this oh-so-pleasant and peaceful time of waiting for Christmas. And, in a way, it is. It should be a time of peace and eager preparations. However, ask any pregnant woman, engaged couple, or person awaiting medical tests and they will tell you that waiting can be a time of difficult longing. There is a tension found in the waiting and, while not necessarily a bad thing, it isn’t always pleasant. Continue reading “Waiting: For Christmas and the End”
I’ve always longed for greatness. Not in the sense that everyone knows me or that I’m famous. Rather, I have always desired a great mission or task in life. I want to contribute something to the world and I want it to impact people. This weekend I watched The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler and I was re-filled with the desire to pursue greatness.
Irena Sendler was a young Polish woman who lived during the time of World War II. She was a social worker, but her work went far beyond her simple job title. During the time that the Jewish people were being relocated to the ghettos and then to “work camps,” Irena worked tirelessly to smuggle children to safety. Risking her life, she worked with a courageous group to secretly save children by tucking them into tool boxes, packing them into boxes, or hiding them in vehicles. Later caught, she endured torture and was nearly killed, all the while never giving up any secrets.
In total, it is said that Irena Sendler and companions helped to save 2,500 Jewish children in Poland. The children were placed with convents or families throughout Poland. She kept meticulous records of who their parents were and where they were placed in the hopes that families would be reunited after the war. This young woman quietly changed the world and, initially, received little recognition for it. She was awarded Righteous Among the Nations in 1965 and later named an honorary citizen of Israel in 1991. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, for most of her life she lived with little acclaim or notoriety for her heroic actions and sacrifices.
While I do not hope for concentration camps or totalitarian regimes, this is the greatness for which I long. I look at her life and I see a greatness that goes beyond one person. Yet the greatness that I see and anyone can see who looks at her life was not recognized by Irena herself. She did not see herself as a hero or seem pleased with her accomplishments. Instead, she said that she could have done more to save more children. Continue reading “Longing for Greatness”
“Alright, Lord, how do You want me to pray for this?”
Finally, finally, something was making its way through my dense head. I had tried my own methods when I felt like the Lord was taking too long. Yet each time I found that my ways didn’t work.
So You have a different plan, Lord? Would you like to let me in on it?
Apparently, He does not. In the midst of waiting, though, I would like to be praying for something. I want to plead with the Lord to work in some way. However, I do not know what He wants or how I should pray for it.
I simply know what I cannot pray for. Many times I’ve prayed for the Lord to cut something out of my heart: a person, a habit, a feeling, an emotion, a thought, etc. I want Him to take a Divine Scalpel and cut out the portion that doesn’t fit or that I don’t want. Continue reading “I Know What Not To Pray For”