One day, I sat with my computer and began to write what I thought would be a reflection for this blog. My heart and mind, acting as one, poured words into my hands and onto the page, and, for a little while, words flowed effortlessly. But then, just as swiftly as they had begun, they stopped. Something in my heart told me… it was done.
I looked at what I had written; something was different. Rather than an essay, which is the form I usually use to express my thoughts, this looked like a poem. There were stanzas, and there was rhyme. When I read it, I really liked it. It was a prayer from deep inside. A song for my beloved, a piece of my heart.
But then came the question I always have to ask myself, should I share this with everyone? I knew deep down that this was not meant to be just for me, but doubts came over me. How could this be? I am not a poet. I do not even know if there are rules that should be followed. What if it is all wrong?
A year and a half went by.
One day, looking for something to write about, I came upon the saved file. I read it again, and I still liked it. It was still true; it was still fresh. Then came the question again… I wanted to share this, but the thought of putting this “out there” made me very uncomfortable. So I took that to prayer.
I realized that I was feeling vulnerable. This time I was not sharing a story, even a deeply personal one; I was not sharing my thoughts. This time, in sharing a poem, I would be sharing my heart. And that scared me. What if it was mocked, spat upon, rejected?
So, what did God do with me when I brought these questions to Him in prayer? He increased my desire to share it. It was as if He was saying, “Sing to me, my beloved. I want to hear your song.”
I would not be sharing my heart with the world. I would be letting them witness my love for God. Why? Because He asked me to… so that others may see the glory of God.
A few weeks ago, He gave me enough courage to share it, and I posted it on my social media accounts. For those of you who may not have seen it yet, I share with you my poem; I share with you my song.
We are about to embark together on another Lenten journey. It is almost time to hop on board.
As I approach the shore, I see the boat is ready. Looking beyond, I see the open water and what looks like dark clouds in the distance. The clouds are still far, though, and the anticipation of what is to come fills me with excitement and maybe a little fear. Thinking I might have forgotten something, I go over the things I’ve packed for the journey: sacrifices to offer during Lent (fasting), new or renewed devotionals (prayer), commitments to serve my brothers and sisters (almsgiving). Check, check and check. I look around and see my fellow travelers busily looking through their luggage and checking their schedules for all the wonderful opportunities available to grow during this journey. Everyone seems too busy to notice the dark clouds ahead, and I wonder if we are truly ready for what lies ahead.
I think it is human nature to forget the “bad stuff” and focus on the good. When my son was born, the pain and difficulties during the pregnancy and labor melted away as I saw this miracle in my arms. But now that he is a teenager, I remind him now and then of all the sacrifices we made so that he could be born. I do not do this to make him feel bad. On the contrary, I do it to make him feel loved. When I shared with him how my life was at risk during the pregnancy and how we rearranged our whole lives so he could have a chance to live, he looked at me and said, “I was loved before I was born.” And I told him, “Yes, you were, my love.”
Each year, when we celebrate Easter, the difficulties of the last 40 days melt away. Lent reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made so that we may be born. Lent helps us remember how much God loves us.
As I look at the dark clouds ahead, I realize I am not ready, and that is ok, because this is precisely the point of Lent. Our Church invites us to embark on a journey of growth and preparation, a journey of transformation. Perhaps in our desire to “do Lent well,” we have overpacked. Perhaps God is asking us to only bring the one thing necessary… the desire to grow in the love of God and love of neighbor.
The path through Calvary is narrow, and to make it through, we will need to let go of some of the things we might be holding on to. Are we holding on to resentment, anger, or unforgiveness? Are we holding on to fear? Are we holding on to self-reliance? We need to pause and notice what is weighing on our hearts, for His burden is light
As we prepare for Lent, let us ask God to show us what extra baggage He wants us to get rid of, to show us what is keeping us from running to His love. And then, once He shows us, we must ask for the grace to let it go. We do not need to prepare for every contingency… look in the boat. Jesus is already there sleeping… let us hop on board.
Lent begins in a month… I've already seen several advertisements for programs, book clubs, virtual retreats, etc. They all seem to say it's not too early to start planning how to spend your time this Lent. But… is it? Are we really supposed to spend these precious days of Ordinary Time focusing on the season ahead? Or is this just a spillover malady from the marketing cycle, where everything has to be sold one quarter earlier? Is all this strategizing robbing us of today?
One of childhood's greatest gifts is the freedom from having to worry about the future. When children are properly cared for, they know their needs will be met. Adulthood brings responsibilities that require us to spend some time looking ahead. But with that comes the temptation to over-plan, to try to control every detail, to be constantly looking ahead. We end up spending so much time thinking (and worrying) about tomorrow that we miss living today. But this is utter foolishness. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. What if today ends up being our last day?
How are we called to live this ordinary day? The call is the same one it will be during Lent. We are to live this day in prayer. And by prayer, I mean in relationship with the one true living God. This is a place of abiding, of resting, of being loved. It is the place from where all our activity should flow… even our planning for the future. When our plans are guided by the gentle voice of God, we are living with Him in the present moment. We are looking at Him, trusting that He already knows what is ahead. We return to that blessed state of childhood, where we are cared for, where we know our needs will be met.
Our task then is to do everything in our power to enter into His Presence and there strive to remain. This will look different for each one of us. Our state in life, our season in life, our unique character traits, all of these will affect what our prayer life looks like, but there is one thing they will all require, and that is silence. Exterior silence is beneficial, but it is merely a means to the true silence within. Once we learn to still our hearts, we can abide in holy silence even amid the noise and the chatter. It is in that silence where we can listen… where we can begin to pray.
Perhaps God is calling you to sign up for a Lenten program… or to buy a new book… or prepare ahead. But maybe He is not calling you to do any of that. Perhaps He is inviting you to rest and gather your strength instead. The only way you will know is to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, to attune your heart to the silent sound of God's Word.
I will never forget the day we both lost our jobs. My husband and I were working at the same place…our first job straight out of college. The hours were flexible, and our boss was great. We were both learning new things and were very well paid for our work. We even liked our co-workers and played ping-pong in the breakroom when we needed a break. It was truly a dream job.
I still remember the day when our boss stopped by my office and said to stop whatever I was working on immediately and go to the conference room. “The company has decided to close this office,” we were told. My husband and I looked at each other first and then looked around the room. Our hearts searched to identify the fellow passengers of this proverbial boat we were now all in. Each searching, bewildered, in shock… trying to make sense of what we had just been told. Yet also experiencing a strange comfort in knowing we were not the only ones going through this, in knowing we were not alone.
The following two weeks were bizarre as we continued to show up at the office, but there was no work to be done. We were all working on our own resumes, on finding our next job. I remember walking into my manager’s office and breaking down crying as I began to talk. He passed me a box of tissues. “Here, this is what these are for.” I never thought I would be getting pointers from my managers on fixing my resume. Most people have to hide that from their current employer, but we were all in the same boat. It didn’t matter that our particular circumstances were different; he was also looking for a job.
This is the memory that sticks; that feeling of companionship, that experience of grieving as a group, that look we gave each other as we walked by in the hallway…the look that said, “I know… I understand what you are going through; I am here with you. You are not alone.”
I sometimes wonder how different that experience would have been if we had closed in on ourselves. What if my husband and I had battened down the hatches and pretended no one else mattered? What if we had thought that taking care of our family meant ignoring the suffering of those around us? I believe we would have survived, but I am convinced we would have been worse off. We find solace and hope in our shared humanity, in accompanying one another, in the strange comfort of knowing we are not alone.
Earlier today, a friend asked if anyone else was having difficulty concentrating lately, and I immediately related. I told her I think we are all experiencing grief. A global grief for what was, for all the lives lost, for many big and little losses. I told her that I was going to try to name it, accept it, and give myself permission to grieve. And to my surprise, the simple action of acknowledging our shared grief somehow lifted the weight a little, made it easier to breathe.
When you feel lonely, look up… look around… behold… Jesus is waiting in the eyes of our brothers and sisters.
Advent… a time to prepare, a time to expect. Being the mother of three sons, I find it natural to experience Advent thinking of the expectation of Mary. I can relate to being pregnant, to the wait and the hope of seeing the face of the life growing inside. I remember preparing the crib, buying the clothes, and sitting in the nursery waiting, filled with wonder and hope. This year though, I feel a different kind of wonder. This year I find myself wondering… What if?
What if this Advent, letting go of expectations, we become the expectation? What if instead of preparing to receive, we prepare to be received?
My father used to always say, “Christmas is for the children.” He wouldn’t allow my mom to gift us socks or clothes; Christmas was the time to get toys. Growing up before the internet was a thing, before Black Friday sales dictated what the “must-have” items for the season were, preparing for Christmas meant sitting down with the big fat Sears Christmas Wish Book and seeing which toys were available that year. We would help our parents untangle the strings of Christmas lights, help decorate the house, and work on our list for Santa. That was it. We would then wait for Christmas morning, knowing it would be great. I knew what I wanted and who I needed to ask for it, and I trusted he would come through for me… Santa never disappointed me.
As I reflect on these memories, I wonder… when did it become so hard to make a wish list? And I don’t mean one of material things, but my soul’s wish list.
Knowing what you need and what you want is at the core of being childlike. As soon as a child begins to speak, the parent starts asking… What do you need? Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you in pain? If those needs are expressed and then met, the child learns to trust, both the caregiver and himself. The child realizes his needs are valid and, exploring his desires, comes to a greater knowledge of himself. What is your favorite color? What is your favorite food? What do you like to do?
Then life happens… sin enters in. Broken, limited human love disappoints us, and we project that unto God. We spend years creating and nurturing a false self, one who is self-reliant, “adult-like,” less likely to get hurt. Desires that are too lofty and might not be met are numbed down, traded for ones deemed acceptable, tangible, easy to achieve by oneself.
While our faculties are busy taking care of our families, performing our duties, preparing for Christmas, let us allow our souls to rest with Jesus in the womb of Mary, being fed and nurtured, allowing our lungs to expand and develop. Perhaps this Advent we can take some time in prayer to let God affirm us in our identity, to just be and let the truth of who we are sink in. What if we sit in prayer and ask Our Father, What child is this?
It is here where the Spirit will come to our aid and ask for what we truly need.
That is it. We can then wait for Christmas morning, knowing it will be great. Our soul knows what we want and Who we need to ask for it… we just need to remember and trust that, just as He always has, He will come through for us… God will never disappoint.
My husband used to travel regularly for work. He always carries around a big smile and a funny story to share, so after a few weeks of returning to the same hotel, the staff would come to know him and appreciate him. They would give him extra cookies, a ticket to a show, or some other perk.
One week, as he approached the counter to check in, the staff member had a big surprise for him. The presidential suite was available, and they could upgrade his stay for one night. He happily accepted and took the elevator key, as the floor was only accessible to those with VIP access.
The following day, before going to work, he stopped to return the key, and the staff member excitedly asked him, “So, what did you think?” To which my husband replied, “It was ok.”
Seeing the confounded look upon the other guy’s face, he added, “Don’t get me wrong…it was really nice. But I just don’t get what the big deal is about.” The guy jumped out from behind the counter… “You must have stayed in the wrong room. Come, show me where you stayed.”
They both went on the elevator and walked to the door of the presidential suite. “This is it,” my husband said, and he opened the door. They walked into a beautiful suite with a large bathroom, a plush bed, a kitchenette, and a small den. The employee looked at him and said, “Is this where you slept? This is just the butler’s room!”
He proceeded to open another door that led to a large dining room with seating for twelve. A hallway then led to an oversized living room with an incredible view. A set of double doors opened to the opulent master bedroom and bathroom, with a two-person jetted jacuzzi and a separate shower. There was still more, but you get the idea… this was the actual presidential suite.
My husband laughed and said, “Oh…now I get what the big deal is… I didn’t know what I had missed.”
This story came to mind as I was praying this morning and felt God calling me to a deep place of communion in my heart. After a few days of feeling scattered and battered, I felt a deep sense of peace within me. And in my mind’s eye, I saw my inner room, a place God had prepared from the moment He created me. He has been there, with me, ever since. I understood that evil had no access to this place, that nothing could come in and separate me from Him.
But I also realized that I spent too much of my time in the outer areas of my heart, in the parts of myself that still need to be reconciled to Christ. Those areas that are hurt and broken, where sin still dwells within.
When I am in these rooms, I might be fooled into thinking they are nice… good enough. Like my husband in the butler’s room, I learn to live with the din of the world and do not realize there is a better way to live. But God is always calling, inviting me to renounce sin and go within.
Why does He want me to renounce sin? Because He made me for Himself.
Every area of my life where I am attached to sin is an area where I am not free.
He wants me to be healed, free… free to receive His love so that I can then reflect His love onto others. From this place of deep communion with Him, I can then share with my brothers and sisters what He has done for me.
Like the staff member who showed my husband the way to the actual presidential suite, I can then help the ones who are lonely and seeking by saying, “This is the way… you already have the key.”
All they have to do is answer the One calling them within.
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We are Ivonne J. Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
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