Pie for Breakfast (And a Few Other Ways to Enjoy the Holidays)

During the Thanksgiving holiday before I left Washington, D.C. for good, I relished my time with family and friends. I honored my contemplative spirit which needed a respite from the fast-paced, high-powered lifestyle of “have-to’s, ” “musts” and “shoulds.” Especially, I enjoyed the Friday morning following Thanksgiving when Dad and I ate our traditional post-holiday breakfast of leftover pie and ice cream.

As I savored a combination of apple-cranberry and cherry garnished with coffee ice cream, I recounted a few disappointments, including our lack of a storybook holiday.  Dad, who’d worked in advertising, listened, then said: “Those only happen in movies and commercials.”

Alas, I knew he was correct.  And, as a pastor, I’ve witnessed how many people feel sadness and grief in believing that everyone else has a “Hallmark-Card-I’ll Be Home for the Holidays” experience.

The truth is: Few holidays are ideal.  And when we pressure ourselves to create such a fantasy, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and distress.  Furthermore, the pressure to meet others’ expectations or outshine our neighbors has us saying, doing and buying things which prohibit our contentment and stress our bodies, minds, spirits and bank accounts.

So, no matter whether we’re Type A’s, travelers, homebodies, partiers, contemplatives, or a bit of each, here are some ways to stress less and rejoice more:

  • Begin with the end in mind. During our prayer and meditation time, we can consider our schedules and what will most renew our spirits.  This includes determining who’s most important to us.  A beloved aged relative who affirms our purpose or an ill BFF who needs a boost gets priority over another cocktail party of vacuous conversation.
  • When gathered with a mixed group of varying beliefs and opinions, we can strive to listen more and persuade less. Remember: A person convinced against his/her will is of the same opinion still.  So, we can choose to gently disengage.  When someone, especially a loved one, wants to debate, we can say something such as: “I love you.  Let’s agree to disagree on this one.”  Then we can change the topic to something neutral, such as shared love of a sports team or our fondness for sweet potatoes.
  • If, for whatever reason, we can’t be physically present with loved ones, we can still call or video conference. Schedule a specific time of 20 minutes or more to connect and share.
  • Limit the highlight reels on social media so we enjoy ourselves without comparing our holiday to someone else’s.
  • Remember: Happiness occurs on a scale. This includes feeling calm, content, peaceful, relaxed and/or rested.
  • Remember also: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are days on a calendar. Their true purpose isn’t for overdoing, overeating or overspending, but for celebrating rich harvests, welcoming new life, and setting intentions for greater possibilities.  When we maintain this perspective, we often feel more grateful for what we have.
  • And, of course, consider eating pie for breakfast.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Handle Gently

Sometimes, current events reveal deep fears and hidden anxieties about the status quo and the state of things to come: Brexit, the Dakota pipeline protests, the U.S. elections, escalating hate crimes.  If we read between the lines, we usually discover that false peace has been shattered.

Sometimes, we declare: “Enough is enough.”  We draw the line in the sand, stand in our power and say, “No.”  This position usually requires trusting in an outcome we may not yet see, as we determine how much gentleness, compassion and wisdom is needed to bring reconciliation and true peace.

I think of Thomas Paine’s ardent declaration: “These are the times which try men’s souls.”  Though many times can try our souls.  The “trying times” are those which invite us to deepen our faith, to work our spiritual muscles at the core, as we decide what we truly believe and how we want to behave.

As I contemplate recent events, I also process information from a University of Florida conference keynote on meaning-making and purpose.  The speaker noted that Gen Z (1995-2010) is the most anxious of all generations, often drowning in feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm.

Everywhere, pain is palpable.  This past week, I heard the mournful cry of a wheelchair-bound veteran who believed his service was for naught.  I saw the glazed faces of mourners at a memorial service, for a man who died too young.  I felt the sorrow, the aching in my own community, at our annual Remembrance Sunday service.  I watched people weep, many openly.

Right now, the world feels heavy, with the weight of people who are angry, disheartened, disgusted and afraid.  As in the first stages of grief, day-to-day living can feel like moving through life in slow motion, as if trying to wade through a pool of molasses in body armor.

In the days, weeks and months to come, some of us may reflect on what Jesus, Gandhi, MLK, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, or the Dalai Lama might do.  Though for now, I contemplate the words of Jesus’s brother, James (3:13-17), from his brief letter which many Bible scholars believe was written for churches attempting to overcome their own trying times.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom . . .  the wisdom from above [which] is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of compassion and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. For a harvest of virtue is sown in peace by those who make peace.

This time, as we sow, let us be wise and tread gently.  Let us be willing to pause and listen to the outcries.  Let us be willing not only to feel the pain, but to grieve and move through it.  Let us encourage deep reflection and support true healing, instead of settling, yet again, for empty promises, lofty platitudes, quick fixes, and band-aid solutions.  This time, finally, let us harvest the fruits of true and lasting peace.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

What Next?

When I worked in Washington, D.C., I learned a lot about cycles and systems — how some things, such as freedom and integrity, are permanent, while others, such as administrations and occupations, are fleeting.  Some of my greatest learning came at the end of an election cycle.   People and positions shifted at record speed.  The department in which I thought I’d work for years disappeared overnight.  My boss told me that my marketing colleague and I were “redundant” and that our “skills” were no longer needed.  The whole process was quick, cold and demoralizing.

When I saw my colleague in the hallway, we embraced for a moment, neither of us willing to shatter the brave façade we’d held in public.  As we prepared to walk out the door into the rest of our lives, she gulped back tears and asked, “So, what next?”  I shrugged.  I had no answer.

The days and weeks which followed felt like a slow death.  Then, I realized I was experiencing stages of grief, starting with numbness, then fear, anger and bargaining.  One night I even dreamt that my boss called and said they made a mistake and wanted me back.

As I allowed myself to experience the grief, I cried a river of tears, wrote and rewrote my resume, networked all over town, and told my story to friends and mentors.  Then, I had a tremendous Ah-Ha which moved me toward acceptance: I could be and do anything I wanted.

That Ah-Ha is the place which Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla, former directors of Silent Unity and authors of The Quest: A Journey of Spiritual Rediscovery and Adventures on the Quest (© 1993), call “Possibility Junction.”  This is the place on our life journeys where the past is behind us, hundreds of pathways beckon, and life can begin anew.

Now, with another election cycle complete, and with holidays rapidly approaching, we can consider taking some quiet moments to grieve whatever losses we’re experiencing, know the past for what it was, and stay faithful and strong as we discern our own “what next.”

While we pause, we can do some practical things:

  1. List all our fears. When we’re willing to look at them, they lose their power.  And, if we’re willing to sit with them long enough, they’ll reveal what we truly value.
  2. List all our values: the tangibles, such as a comfy bed, family dinners and grandma’s heirlooms, and the intangibles such as beauty, compassion and peace of mind. We can prayerfully consider which truly call to us and bring us joy.  Then we can discern exactly which paths to take and which to avoid.
  3. Meditate, allowing ourselves to imagine, contemplate and write down the possibilities which await.
  4. Rest at our junction as long as we need, so we move on our time, not someone else’s.
  5. Remain non-attached and, as much as possible, suspend judgment about the people, places and things involved so the activity of God, Holy Spirit, can do its divine work.
  6. Above all, trust the wisdom within to reveal itself and to guide us on our way.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.