Day #31: Seeing the Good

Better a meal of greens with love
than a plump calf with hate.
Proverbs 15:17

In my previous job, when I worked with teenagers, people would sometimes look at me with sympathy and say, “That must be so hard.” But the teenagers I worked with were constantly astounding me. One summer, I took them to a sweltering, weed-infested community garden on the West Side of Chicago where they were supposed to do yard work… but no one had brought shovels. When I told the kids to wait until the shovels arrived, they instead began removing the thistles by placing their sneakers on either side of the plant and jumping up, hard. They made a game of it. They found a way to see the best in a field of thistles with no gloves or shovels.

Even though I’m vegetarian, I love this sentiment from Proverbs (and am lukewarm on salads, in general). It’s not about what you’re having for lunch, it’s about scanning the table until you see something beautiful. Resilient people have a knack for being in highly stressful situations and pointing out the one joyful thing in that place. Resilient people choose to see the good, not because they are blind optimists, but because the good is what will give them energy to get to the next day.

Takeaway: See the good. When you catch yourself complaining, turn your attention to whatever small good thing is nearby: a plant growing under fluorescent light; the giggling infant at the DMV; the first daffodil of the spring while you’re sitting in traffic. Practice reframing the day, not out of naïve optimism, but because anger is exhausting. You only have a finite amount of energy; why waste it on all the things that make you unhappy?

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #30: Forgiveness

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Luke 7:48

 Whew. Lent is three-quarters of the way over and, piece by piece, a vision of resilience is emerging. Awe, generosity, curiosity, presence, love…. the words weave into a pattern, creating a way forward. Except for that one thing. Resilience isn’t linear—we often think we’ve grown past something, only to find we’re still holding it and need to let it go one more time. Maybe it’s something you did; maybe it’s something that was done to you. There’s that one thing.

The woman Jesus forgives in the verse above is still holding that one thing. She washes Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair, weeping inconsolably. And this is during a dinner! The woman is so consumed with the thing she is holding, and trying to release, and uncertain she can release, that she does not even speak to Jesus. But Jesus speaks to Simon, nearby, and asks him, Suppose one man was in debt 500 denarii, and one man was in debt 50 denarii. If their debts were canceled, which one would feel more strongly? “I suppose the one… with greater debt.” Simon answers. The greater debt, 500 denarii, is a year and a half of wages, if you were lucky enough to get work every day. It is insurmountable debt for a hand-to-mouth peasant. Even insurmountable debt can be forgiven, Jesus says. Even insurmountable pain can be forgiven. Even that one thing. “Forgiveness,” writes poet Buddy Wakefield, “is the release of all hope for a better past.” Resilience is about taking the time to forgive again and again, day after day, releasing all hope for a better past. 

Takeaway: Find a definition of forgiveness that fits today. Choose one of the ones below or write your own. Repeat it to yourself throughout the day. Let it guide you toward resilience.

“Forgiveness is for anybody who needs safe passage through my mind.” Buddy Wakefield

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Louis B. Smedes

“Forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.” Cherie Carter-Scott

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than God.” ― C.S. Lewis

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” ― Indira Gandhi

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #29: Honesty

She said to them,
“Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.”
-Ruth 1:20

 When someone asks “How are you?” it’s easiest to say, “I’m fine.” There are so many reasons to settle for the easy answer: we don’t want to worry anyone, or waste someone’s time with our personal woes, or, worse, have our grief mocked.  But denying the deeper feelings is a coping strategy that only works the first time. (As one friend says, “All coping strategies become coping strategies because they work the first time. The problem is, they don’t always work the fourth or fifth time.”) Ignoring your feelings is a coping strategy that leaves you more and more isolated, because no one else is allowed in the grief. You can spend a lot of energy defending your right to keep kindness out.

When the women of Bethlehem ask Naomi how she is doing after a decade and three family deaths away, she answers honestly: “Call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly (marar) with me.” She doesn’t insist that everything is looking up or that her grieving has past or that she’s happy to be home. She tells the women exactly how she feels. This honesty sets the groundwork for her relationship to the women: the ones who can’t handle her bitterness have permission to move on, and the ones who are ready to accompany her pain know exactly what they’re accompanying. Interestingly, no one ever calls her Mara—the only time Mara appears in the Bible is when Naomi says it. But saying it is an important starting point for Naomi. She can tell her community, “Everything is not okay, I’m carrying a lot of pain right now.” 

Takeaway: In order to heal, we must be honest with ourselves about the magnitude of the wound. A band-aid won’t work on a broken arm; a cast won’t work on a sliced finger. If we insist, “it’s no big deal,” when the pain is breaking our hearts, the lie denies us the possibility of ever transforming the pain. The broken arm goes on aching even with a band-aid. Practice honest feeling today. When someone asks, “How are you?” give an honest answer. And when you ask someone else the same question, ask for an honest answer. I work in a building where people answer honestly, “How are you?” It means the beginning of the day is often slow and it takes a while to get settled (especially on Mondays), but by the time we begin working, we know all the emotions sharing the office. We know who needs extra tenderness; who has extra energy to give; who needs space. The honesty at the beginning of the day means there will be extra kindness during the day.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #28: Love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18

Of course it was only a matter of time until Love showed up in #40DaysofResilience. Like 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love is patient; love is kind.” Love contains the qualities of resilience, and love makes us resilient. When you respond to trauma, disaster, setbacks by finding something to love, you are being resilient. Love is that great good engine of resilience. You are finding goodness in spite of pain. For recovering perfections (raise your hand), it can be a intimidating to think that love is perfect. But what the verse above says is that we are made perfect by love. If you have love in your life, you’ve already reached perfection. You don’t need to be perfect anymore. The word in Greek also often implies completeness; so it’s not so much that love has anything to do with being perfect, but that love is so complete that perfectionism is a false aspiration. Your ability to perfect or please is completely unrelated to your capacity for love, because you are already loved and there is no need to earn it.

Takeaway: Love boldly. Love widely. Move through the world assuming that love is looking for you, that love is on its way to meet you. Tell someone you love them; do something loving; do something you love; assume the best; assume those around you are trying to love as best they know today. What more is there to say about love? Everything. But you already know it. Your lungs were made to love.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #27: Releasing

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.
Matthew 10:14

You are a gift. Your presence, your skills, your ideas are a gift. But when you give, you can’t control how a gift is received: it can be treasured or tossed, used or abused by the recipient. Jesus explains to his travel companions that when someone rejects your gift, you don’t have to sit there giving them more gifts and watching the other person throw them away. It’s not our job to force people to receive us! Jesus says to his disciples, don’t exhaust yourself persuading people who are comfortable rejecting you. You can shake the dust and move on. You can fail and move on. The Christian call is not one of arm-twisting everyone into a vision of order. The Christian call is to invite everyone to the party and see who shows up. Jesus tells us to celebrate the party that happens—not the party that you wish would have happened. Sometimes, we get so attached to the idea of Christian service that we believe we’re doing God a favor by staying in a place where we’re diminished, teased, and dismissed. God is not impressed by pain tolerance. Just before this, Jesus says, “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” If a house is not worthy of your presence, you are not obligated to stay there forever on the chance that it will become worthy. Many hard things are worthwhile. But some hard things are worth releasing. Sometimes, what we’re called to do is shake the dust and move on. Move with generosity, hospitality, and kindness. But move on.

 Takeaway: Shake some of the dust you’ve accumulated, from a village you’re walking out of today or a village you left years ago. Dust from yesterday’s frustration or dust from a childhood experience. The what-could-have-beens. The places that broke you when you loved them. Shake off the past that you’ve let cling to and limit your future. As Jesus tells his disciples, there is a world full of villages to visit. It’s okay to release one of those villages from needing you, and to release yourself from needing to control every village you enter.

Still not sure what it looks like to shake the dust? Take a listen to Anis Mojgani’s poem “Shake the Dust” and imagine living in a life where you “do not settle for letting these waves settle and for the dust to collect in your veins.”

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day # 26: Accountability

For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.
Esther 6:4

“Our deepest fear,” wrote Marianne Williamson, “is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” It’s often true that we do not fear failure; failure only confirms our belief that we are worthless. Often, our deepest fear is success. If you step into your power, you will have to release the easy excuses that you are too young, too old, too unqualified to change the world. Resilience requires us to be honest about when we have the power to change lives for the better. In the above verse, spoken by Mordecai to his niece Esther (who happens to be married to the leader of a political superpower), Mordecai challenges Esther to claim her power. The Jews are about to be massacred, and it is within Esther’s power to stop it—or at least, within her power to ask the king to stop these events. Esther generates all kinds of reasons she is powerless and the plan will end in disaster. And it’s true, the king does not have to listen to her. She could fail. But Mordecai responds with this: you are accountable for helping others. He insists on her power, when she fails to see it in herself. Sometimes it takes a mentor, a teacher, in this case an uncle, to remind us that it is okay to claim power. It is more than okay; when it is in your power to improve the lives of others, you are accountable to do so.

Takeaway: Who, recently, has asked you to step into a role beyond your comfort zone? Is it someone you trust, or have been mentored by? Is it possible they’ve identified gifts you’re afraid to embrace? It’s not worth nothing when people who know and love you identify your power and ability to help others. Listen for that stretching, scary invitation. Be open to the possibility that you are more powerful than you realize. Perhaps your power is needed at such a time as this.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #25: Being with God

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Mark 1:35

 

If being alone cultivates resilience, it’s also a sign of resilience to know when to cut off the meandering, insecure trails of your mind and go and be with God. It is a skill to be alone. And it is a skill to bring yourself into the presence of Divine Love and let yourself be Loved. Invite yourself to Holiness and fill up with the sacred. Let yourself give up solving all the problems of your daily anxieties. Call out to God intentionally when your mind is too unsettled or too overwhelmed to calm itself.

God is Love, the Bible says, over and over. Calling out to God is calling out to Love. In the Bible, Jesus usually takes some time to be alone—followed by a time of being with God. In Mark 1, Jesus wakes up early to place himself before Divine Love, to rest and be present in all that is greater than him in the universe. In between two big days of healing and preaching, Jesus centers on the fact that he is loved beyond human dimensions. When the sun comes up and his friend finds him, Jesus has a calmness and a sense of purpose, and tells Simon, “let’s head in the other direction.” Jesus returns to prayer, to presence with God, again and again so that everything he does is grounded in love and purpose.

 Takeaway: Mary Oliver writes,

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed.

Find a moment to be idle and blessed today. When you have a quiet moment, settle yourself; take a few deep breaths. Invite yourself to Holiness. Feel the Holy all through your body, around and in you. Breathe in love. Breathe out love. Be near to the love that is the source of the universe. Be loved.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #24: Being Alone

Right then, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake, toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying good-bye to them, Jesus went up onto a mountain to pray.
-Mark 6:45-46

This is not a reflection against extroverts. “Being alone” doesn’t mean “to avoid recharging through relationships.” Extroverts recharge their emotional batteries by being with others, and introverts recharge their emotional batteries by stepping away from others, but we all learn something by being alone. By “being alone,” I mean learning to sit with what is going on in your body and your emotional landscape. Letting emotions soak in instead of skimming the first emotion off the top and responding only to it. Notice what’s under that emotion, what’s under your sense of anger or fear or pleasure: this first emotion may not actually be rooted in your anger at your parents, but your worry that you will become like your parents in the worst ways. Resilience requires you to be alone with your baggage—your uncomfortable, awkward baggage. To take the time to practice emotional honesty, to sit with emotions that scare you without numbing or cutting them off. Numbing is just a way to ensure you’re never uncomfortable. But discomfort is not always bad. We have to be willing to do our emotional homework without requiring someone else to make our homework into their homework. I know. It hurts.

Jesus spends a lot of time trying to be alone. Arguably, his whole ministry is getting sidetracked on his way to be alone. In the above verse, after Feeding the Five Thousand, Jesus intentionally creates space to be alone. To sit with all the emotions that the day brought up for him, and to release them before going on to the next day’s work. We don’t always get a chance to do this sitting and releasing between days, but it’s an important practice. Being alone in this way gives us space to do our own healing work as we try to extend healing to others.

Takeaway: Would it be awesome if we all spent one hour before bed sitting alone with our thoughts? Awesome, and terrifying. And a logistical mess. If you don’t have the space to sit alone for a long time today, use your transition spaces to be alone. When you’re in the car, turn off the radio. When your hand flicks toward your phone, pull it back. Use the few minutes of waiting or driving or in-between-ness to be alone with yourself, to notice what’s going on inside you.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #23: Kindness

I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
Matthew 25:35-36

Violence doesn’t happen out of nowhere. It has a cause, a root, an origin. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” We wound others out of our own wounds, numb and release the pain that’s been inflicted on us. But healing does not happen out of nowhere, either. Healed people heal people—by their very presence they draw others in, make them feel worthy and good enough. Healed people are just kind, with no other agenda. What Jesus outlines in the above verses are a vision kindness, and Jesus says this by way of explaining God’s priorities for humanity. God prioritizes kindness. Feeding the hungry; satiating the thirsty; welcoming the stranger; clothing the naked; caring for the sick; visiting the prisoner. Resilient people are just kind people. They prioritize acts that enhance the lives of others, for no other reason than it makes the world a better place. They move through the world making it easier for the rest of us to heal.

Takeaway: Kindness is not linear; healing is not linear. The human emotional landscape is circuitous and needs constant re-rooting in kindness and hope. Set an intention for your kindness this week—what is one way to connect more kindness to your daily movements? When I am trying to re-root in kindness, I often return to the Alanis Morissette song, “That I Would be Good.” The prayer-like song is a plea that, whatever else happens, the singer will keep kindness at the center of her life. It’s a gorgeous reminder that the center of  life is not success or invulnerability or wit or the ability to hide my imperfections—it is kindness. Listen to this song (or one of your personal favorites for this theme) and re-root in kindness today.

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #22: Apologizing

When he came to his senses, he said… “I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”
-Luke 15:17-18

A couple days ago, on Day #20, there was a typo. It was more than a typo—from 6am to 3pm, there was a whole sentence fragment floating up in the middle of the reflection that made no sense and disrupted the flow. I’m sorry. I was grumpy and wanted to be done with the day and for a second, I didn’t care so much. I was fulfilling the letter of my Lent discipline but not the spirit. It’s a small thing, but I apologize because I believe in apologizing. I believe in owning imperfection, in acknowledging that your public image will have holes poked in it and the human will show through and that it will not destroy the rest of your life. The Bible doesn’t say much about apologizing or being sorry, not in those words. I suspect that there’s no word for “sorry” in Hebrew or Greek, that the concept of “being sorry” was inseparable from the concept of “missing the mark of who God created you to be” (ie., sin). In the Greek, sin literally means “to miss the mark.” The Prodigal Son, in the verse above, could be called sorry. Or he could be called “missing the mark.” What’s beautiful about the Prodigal Son is the line, “When he came to his senses….” It’s a new realization that apology is an option. From there, it’s simple enough to put the plan into action. It just took time to remember it was possible. We invest so much energy in not admitting when we mess up. Sometimes it takes an epiphany to remember apology is an option. Being clear about your errors create space for rebuilding, restarting, resilience.

Takeaway: adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy, reminds us apology is not failure. She writes, “Everything we attempt, everything we do, is either growing up as its roots go deeper, or it’s decomposing, leaving its lessons in the soil for the next attempt.” Apology is compost. Work on your compost today, let your mistakes settle into the earth and decompose. Let them become lessons, fertile and disintegrating, feeding the seedlings you’ve planted since. Maybe today is a day to practice apologizing. Maybe it’s a day to sit with yourself and look at what seeds are growing from your compost.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).