Grateful All Ways

Thanksgiving is here again, and all around us are reminders to give thanks.  However we celebrate the holiday, many of us can easily list the “good” things for which we’re grateful: comfortable dwellings; a well-stocked pantry; loving friends and family; fulfilling work; time to play and rest; and money in the bank, among others.

The greater challenge, though, especially as we continue to grow in spiritual maturity, is to be grateful for everything in our lives.  Everything.  Including the stuff we don’t like.  For as the Disciple Paul teaches: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

As we continue our faithful journeys, one of our greatest discoveries is that liking and thanksgiving are not synonymous.  And when we’re willing to give thanks for things we don’t like, enjoy, appreciate, understand, or know, we gain greater clarity about our goals, our purpose, and especially, our paths.

This thanksgiving process can be a tremendous spiritual turnaround for us, no matter where we are on life’s journey.  Because without assessing what doesn’t work or fulfill us in life, we keep spiritually bypassing the very things which invite us to go deeper and to check in with ourselves about what we truly love and value most.

Consider this list:

  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Physical ailments
  • Financial hardships
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Excessive activity, anger, and/or clutter
  • Inertia
  • Overwhelm
  • Exhaustion
  • Unresolved grief
  • Misdirected compassion
  • Fear

Whether we can check one item on the list or several, each is a blessed invitation to turn within, to contemplate what’s before us in all aspects of our lives: emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.  Individually, any of these circumstances can sink us into despair and desolation.  Or they can be welcome messengers.  Then we can be grateful to see things for what they are: Divine opportunities to transform ourselves, whoever we are, and our situations, whatever they may be.

As we review the list and devote ourselves to prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection, we begin to find the gifts, then the gratitude, in even the “bad.”  We choose to turn around and see the view from another perspective.  We may say aloud, “Thank You” for: bedrest; medicine; help and support; time to be alone, clean, cry, heal, or release burdens; as well as to meet new people and explore new places.

Along the way, we feel grateful for enhanced self-awareness, keener intuition, and richer experiences because we know our own hearts.  We love who we are, grateful for where we are, now.  Especially, we rejoice in who we’re becoming, the greatest expression of God we’re here to be, and we celebrate all the wonder-filled paths yet to come.

Thank you for traveling the path with me, Blessed Readers.  Happy Thanksgiving, and Namaste!

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

It Could Happen to You

That kind of thing can’t happen here.

But it could happen to you.

It could happen to you . . .

. . . buying groceries at Kroger.

. . . gathering the prayer circle at church.

. . . comparing notes in 4th period English.

. . . reading Torah on Saturday morning.

. . . driving to visit the relatives.

. . . entering the boss’s office.

. . . fleeing violence at home.

. . . arriving at the cocktail party.

. . . moving to the country in search of peace.

. . . seeking the facts (just the facts) for the next deadline.

. . . rocking at the concert.

. . . cheering at the game.

. . . marching in the streets.

. . . running another marathon.

. . . exiting the factory.

. . . kneeling in worship.

. . . opening the mail.

. . . attending the rally.

. . . casting the ballot.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen here.

But sometime, some place, somewhere,

It could happen to you.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Trust the Steps

Our egos are making headlines again as people try to comprehend the chaos and conflicts we’re experiencing in the world and determine how to stop them.  Ego, as defined by psychoanalysis, helps us determine our sense of personal identity and self-worth.   Derived from the Latin root meaning “I,” it’s the part of us which distinguishes between conscious and unconscious awareness.

Sometimes, we attempt to overcome our egos, falsely believing that this will heal the world, and make us happier and holier.  As a minister, I see how this practice often hinders, rather than supports, us in living fully and faithfully.  When we attempt to skip steps in our divine growth process, we can bypass feelings of anger, grief, pain and sadness.  We also negate our personal talents, gifts, and authenticity so we can find a place to fit in.

At a deeper level, our desire to skip the steps and eliminate our egos becomes a battle of wills: ours against God’s.  So it’s important to distinguish between the healthy aspects of ego and the unhealthy ones.  When our ego is unhealthy, we:

  • Rely only on ourselves, believing that we can spiritualize away sorrow and upset.
  • Have few, if any, rules, boundaries, or accountabilities in our personal lives, homes, or businesses.
  • Loathe our sacred human failings, limitations, and mistakes.
  • Need continual adoration and praise to feel worthy and deserving.
  • Share excessive “selfies” and other “look-at-me” social media posts.
  • Bully, force, and/or push our ways and beliefs onto those we believe block our path.
  • Run from guru to guru seeking eternal enlightenment, especially when one guru becomes a disappointment.
  • Fail to find the gentle good humor and laughter in life’s imperfections.
  • Work “for God,” rather than “with God.”

In comparison, when our ego is healthy, we:

  • Stay accountable and responsible for our behaviour, choices, and decisions.
  • Know and accept our personal strengths and limitations, as well as those of others.
  • Feel confident and assured in our purpose and how we can share our particular strengths and skills in our communities.
  • Ground ourselves in our spiritual practice.
  • Connect with teachers, mentors, coaches, and colleagues who support our continued learning and growth.
  • Enjoy others’ praise and recognition without requiring it as the only benchmark of success.
  • Accept that many things in our world don’t occur our way or on our schedule.
  • Strive to love others unconditionally and compassionately, even when we don’t agree with or like them.

Overall, as we live from a healthy ego, we trust our place in the universe.  We trust in God as the Divine Source and Sustenance of all.  We accept that chaos and disorder are aligning in ways we can’t yet see.  Especially, we embrace the wonder and mystery of life, we love ourselves as we are, and we enjoy our journeys, each new step along the way.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

A Higher Standard

Several years ago, when I finally settled on my own spiritual path, a mentor reminded me: “Life will still have challenges.  And, no matter what happens, no matter what anyone says, believes, or does, you decide how you want to be.”  Her wisdom sounds simple enough, though in the face of turmoil, loss, conflict, and chaos, it isn’t always easy.

Yet, no matter where we are on our spiritual journeys, we can decide how we’ll show up in life.  No matter what others think, say, or do, we get to define who we are.  Especially, we determine how we’ll behave and what our standards are: whether we’ll follow in the ways of God or whether we’ll get into the mud, proverbial or otherwise.

All of us have this ability because we have a divine honing device, sometimes called a moral compass, which is actually our God Compass.  It’s our awareness of the divinity within us and within others also.  It’s the understanding that we, and all others, are beloved creations of God, the beloved creator of all things.

Spiritual masters are guided by their God Compass, no matter what happens to them or in their world.   And, as we grow in spiritual maturity, we also can hold ourselves to higher standards than we did before by expanding our thinking, adapting our behavior, and opening our hearts to new ways of being, believing, and behaving.  The key is to be willing.

So, if we want to raise our standards, we can:

  • Deepen our prayer and meditation practice, taking time to reflect on which habits serve us and which hinder us.
  • Honor our body, which has its own inner barometer, so we can heal physical ailments such as cramps; headaches; muscle soreness, stiffness, or tightness; shallow breathing; rapid heartbeat; nausea; or anxiety.
  • Notice feelings of anger, frustration, grief, jealousy, or upset as divine messengers inviting us to heal our pain and live in healthier, happier ways for us.
  • Speak using “I” statements, owning our feelings and needs, as we accept that others, including our loved ones, may not hold similar values.
  • Claim responsibility for our decisions, choices, and behavior without blaming, shaming, or condemning people or circumstances so we focus on what we want to achieve rather than on what we don’t.
  • Refrain from wasting our valuable energy by constantly scrolling through social media; worrying about things we can’t control; creating dramas rather than solutions; and spinning gossip rather than caring for ourselves.
  • Empathize with another’s experience, even if we don’t understand it.
  • Respect and honor religious or spiritual practices which are different from our own.
  • Surround ourselves with people who honor our journey and encourage our continued learning and growth.
  • Trust our own still, small voice and intuition rather than the crowd mentality.
  • Celebrate our successes, no matter how small they seem.

And, as we continue on our path, we often discover that by raising our standards, we inspire others to raise theirs, too.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Relieved to Let Go

As we travel our own faithful journeys, many of us notice that some things and people don’t change, no matter how much we wish they would.  And many of us have fought, labored, and struggled to change or fix something or someone unready for change.

It’s like trying to kill a mosquito — pick your figurative one — with a machete.  In the process, we usually succeed at loping off a proverbial finger, hand, or arm.  And as we sit in the emergency room of life, awaiting treatment, we’re scratching the mosquito bite we got anyway.

This is an exercise in futility, an ineffectual and unfulfilling attempt to find comfort, peace, and especially, relief.  When we get caught in cycles of futility, we falsely believe that if we try it one more time, it — whatever “it” is — will change.  We may justify our actions by asserting these anthems of futility: “But . . . we’ve always done it this way” or “But . . . I always go this way” or “But . . . this is the only way that will work” or “But . . . they won’t like it.”

In the process, we keep ourselves stuck by what we believe and what we say, so we never experience the relief we truly desire, like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, forever trying to push a boulder up a mountain.

If we’re ready to find the relief and peace of mind we seek, let us consider whether we’re also ready to let these go:

  • Acquiring more and more possessions, always expecting the next thing to make us happy.
  • Needing everything to be perfect.
  • Needing everyone to like us and/or agree with us.
  • Needing to be “right.”
  • Arguing with someone who doesn’t value respect and mutuality, and doesn’t want to listen.
  • Lashing out to diminish others so we feel better about ourselves.
  • Rehashing the past, either blaming ourselves or others for outcomes which didn’t work.
  • Worrying about the future and trying to prepare for every imaginable outcome.
  • Gunny-sacking and holding onto to old upsets and grievances.
  • Thinking that loving and liking are synonymous.
  • Believing that we can mature spiritually when we’re emotionally unhealthy.
  • Demanding certainty in a world which can be uncertain.
  • Trying to steer the Universe while we tell God how it’s “supposed” to be.

Each of these blocks our spiritual growth and hinders the ease, comfort, love, peace, and ultimate relief so many of us seek.

Yet, at any moment, no matter where we are on our journey, we can change our minds, alter our beliefs, and act differently.  No matter what has been true for us before, we can choose to let go and let God.  And with trust and faith, we’re relieved to discover how many new paths await us on our way.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Didn’t Know That

In 5th grade, my honors English class had an assignment to teach something.  At that time, I was creating a hooked rug.  The process, as I learned from the yarn store lady, required particular steps and specific methods.

During my presentation, I felt confident because I explained everything exactly as I was taught, until another student asked about a different method.  I was tongue-tied; the yarn store lady didn’t teach me that.  So, I thought the answer was “No.”  Surely, I reasoned, if I could do it, she would have told me.

I must have mumbled because Mr. West, our teacher, thanked me, then called on the next student.  Later, when he gave me feedback, he taught me something many people still are learning: “It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know.’”

On our life journeys, we sometimes imagine that we’re weak or incompetent if we don’t have answers.  Yet, not having an answer is powerful.  If we recognize that we don’t know yet, we’re open to new ideas, possibilities, beliefs, or practices.  We realize that we can do something differently or learn something new, take other steps forward, or find open windows where once we only saw closed doors.

Within each of us are divine spiritual powers of awareness and understanding.  They remind us, often as our still, small voice, that we already know some answers.  Here are some ideas for discovering them:

  • Continue the spiritual practice of prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection. Even when nothing seems to unfold then, we often discover answers later, in a conversation with a colleague, on a billboard, in a song lyric, etc.
  • Commit to learning something new about your areas of interest.
  • Steer clear of “know-it-alls” who declare that their way is the only way. Avoid those who require money upfront to provide solutions or offer a quick-fix to an ongoing problem.  Here, the old adage still applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Check credentials, certifications, and education. Just because someone declares themselves an expert doesn’t mean that their advice is sound or reliable.
  • Consider the facts and sources, and watch for false news. Take time to do your own research and verify information.
  • When you’re considering answers, check in with your body. Do you feel relaxed?  Peaceful?  Calm?  Relieved? Or is your belly tight or in knots?  Does your head or neck hurt?  Do you suddenly feel insecure or unsafe, or want to run in another direction?
  • Follow only those people who continue their own learning and growth, and who also encourage yours, even if it isn’t their path.
  • Remember: Many strategies can accomplish the same goal and infinite paths can lead to enlightenment.

Overall, trust your inner wisdom.  No matter where you are on your life’s journey, you’ve learned many things.  Let those experiences be the guide to your best pathways and all you need to know.

 

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Finding Our Way

Some people say that everyone is our teacher and every experience offers a lesson.  Perhaps, though it isn’t absolute.  No matter the teacher or experience, the wisdom we seek requires an inner journey.

I discovered this truth as a young executive in Washington, D.C. when I worked with Nancy, a company vice president with a Ph.D.  Initially, I thought her eccentric.  While I, and many other women, wore crisp skirt suits and sensible pumps, she wore flowing skirts and ballet flats.  Her desk held a cascade of files, some a foot high.  Her bookshelf overflowed with volumes of scholarship she could grab at a moment’s notice.  She didn’t believe in time management and was the first person I remember discussing how to manage one’s energy.  A sign on her wall read: “A messy office is the sign of a clear mind.”  And what a mind.  When she spoke in meetings, everyone listened, and her clients adored her.

One day, as I entered her office to borrow a file, I mentioned my frustration with another V.P., who always said, “No.  This is the way we do it.”  All of the junior staff knew that it was her way or the highway.  As Nancy handed me a file, I blurted, “I can’t figure out how to do it her way.”

Nancy looked me full in the face and said, “Then do it your way.”

I think my jaw dropped because Nancy pointed to a chair, walked to her door, closed it, and asked me to explain the project.  She never gave me specific advice, though she asked several direct questions which invited me to consider my own inner wisdom.  She encouraged me to honor my still, small voice, in a place where few people discussed discernment and intuition.

Nancy and I stayed friends for the rest of her life.   I learned that she had been a modern dance instructor and painted in her spare time.  She admitted that she had some of her clearest insights while she dabbled with paint.  She encouraged me to keep practicing ballet and to return to writing.  She continually reminded me that I would always know my own way, if I invested the time in listening to myself first.

Recently, I had a spiritual conference with a congregant who lamented not being able to follow someone else’s way.

I looked at a small pile of folders on my desk and thought of Nancy.  “Then what if you did it your way?” I asked.

“Can I?” the congregant wondered.

“Of course,” I encouraged.  “You already know the way.”

And so, Blessed Reader, do you.  No matter how or where you’re traveling now, remember this spiritual truth: The power, presence, wisdom and wonder of God are both with us and within us.  And when we turn within first, we also find our way.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Let it Roll

Sometimes life sends us drifting out to sea.  Like an experience I had one summer at the New Jersey shore.

I was swimming in the ocean with my friends, riding waves.  I lost track of time.  First one wave knocked into me.  Then another.  I noticed dark clouds overhead.  I heard a lifeguard’s whistle, and when I looked for my friends, I couldn’t see them.

Then a larger wave loomed and, too late, I realized I couldn’t jump it.  It hit me full in the face.  When I looked at the shore, I was further adrift than before.  Again, I heard the lifeguard whistle, like a beacon, calling me home, though I didn’t know how to get there.

I felt terrified, especially when a giant wave approached.  Then, instinctively, I sank into it.  As I relaxed, I remembered that the wave was stronger than I was.  So I didn’t fight it.  For at least a minute I tumbled around, and my senses heightened.  I saw green, grey swirls.  I tasted fishy, salty water which warmed my skin.  I heard the surf roaring in my ears.

When I surfaced again, I was nearer to the shoreline than if I’d attempted to swim there myself.  I rode two more waves and walked out of the ocean.

Sometimes our lives get choppy and we find ourselves in dangerous waters.  We try to leap waves of conflicts, emotions, or stresses which appear insurmountable.  We don’t have enough money to pay our bills.  An illness isn’t healing.  We struggle in recovery from an addiction, abuse or trauma.  We’re seeking work, or the work we have to do is uninspiring and unfulfilling.  Our closest relationship may be crumbling or a loved one has died.  When we follow the news or social media, we either want to pull the covers over our heads and stay home forever, or we want to take on the entire world, so we can “right” every “wrong.”

Yet, instead of trying to overcome a giant wave, we can choose to let it roll by:

  • Sitting an extra hour in prayer and meditation, and breathing deeply.
  • Cooking our favorite meal, reading our favorite scripture, chanting our favorite song, and/or watching our favorite comedy.
  • Coloring, drawing or painting.
  • Completing a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Walking at a beach, garden, lakefront or park or doing other exercise.
  • Luxuriating in a warm bubble bath or hot tub.
  • Getting a facial, massage, acupuncture or Reiki.

Remember: When we choose to let life roll for a while, we actually return to our true selves and rediscover what we value most.  We also invariably find that life is calmer, not necessarily because the situation has changed, but because we have.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Door to the Soul

Few of us are free of the strictures of time.  We have appointments, deadlines, places to be, people to see, things to do.  Sometimes we believe that our success lies in checking another obligation off our to-do list.  Despite ourselves, especially when we want a desired outcome revealed immediately, we watch clocks, check our phones, peruse our calendars, tap our feet or drum our fingers if we have to wait longer than we like.  Sometimes we experience this angst within our bodies, as headache, stomachache, backache, neck twinge, muscle cramps or shortness of breath.  Other times we push or press for immediate results as our inner spiritual child jumps around asking: “Are we there yet?”

This pushing, prodding, forcing, demanding behavior, which we believe will reveal quicker results, actually blocks our way and slows our life journey.  Instead of continuing to go deep within, through our contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection practice, we keep checking our phones and calendars, looking for the outer results we demand.

Master spiritual teacher Emmet Fox (“The Door That Opens In,” © 1937) explains why our efforts to steer the universe are futile:

The door of the soul opens inward.  That is often the reason we do not make our demonstration.  We assume that it opens outward and we press and push against it as hard as we possibly can, seemingly oblivious of the fact that we are really but closing it all the more firmly against our good.

To work in this way is really to use will power . . . .  It is simply trying to overcome by human effort and leaving God out.

Human nature is very prone to push blindly when frightened or frustrated. . . .  Prayer, however, is essentially the refusal to be rushed by panic or by the existing current of things.  In prayer, you must draw back from the outer picture, cease to press against events, and realize the Presence of God.  The door of the soul opens inward.

Whatever is occurring in your life now, Blessed Reader, step back, release, put down the phone, let go of the struggle.  Choose to open the door of your soul to place your faith and trust in God’s ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.  Choose to turn inward first, before doing anything else, to connect with yourself and God’s presence within you.  Nothing on any calendar, phone or to-do list matters more.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Our Championship Call

In this season of graduations and ordinations, the Women’s College World Series, French Open, Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Playoffs, I remember that once I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer.  I belonged to an aquatic club, and trained with an Olympian.  I swan thousands of miles.  I competed at bunches of swim meets.  Once, I earned a blue ribbon in a state competition.

I continued training and swimming, at great cost.  My shiny brunette waves faded to green frizz.  I battled recurrent sinus infections, ear aches and itchy, dry skin more than opponents in the pool.  No matter how much I trained, I couldn’t keep pace.  I realized that I’d never be as good as the Olympic hopefuls.  And, as I watched a classmate win medal after medal, with tremendous strength and ease, I realized something greater: I wasn’t willing to train harder.  Swimming for Olympic gold was her calling, not mine.

Each of us has a divine call, to be a champion, to do something which truly blesses our world.  This call, whatever it may be, allows us to express the essence of who we are as divine creations of God, source of ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.

And this grace, which some believe we must earn, is always free, always available, as soon as we decide to release the suffering, struggle and strife of trying to be someone we are not.  When we spiritually, if not physically, lay down, as Jesus urged (Matthew 11:28), the burdens we thought we were “supposed” to carry, and align ourselves with God.

Our championship call, no matter who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done or who we love, is to express our divinity, to radiate it far and wide, as Jesus did, so God’s divine works can be declared through us, as us.

Our championship call is to remove the bushel basket hiding our light (Matthew 5:15) and to shake the dust of what no longer serves us off our feet (Matthew 10:14), so we can succeed in far greater ways than we first imagined.  No competitions or contests required.

As we grow in spiritual maturity, we realize: We can’t be it all, do it all or have it all.  We also realize: That isn’t our call.   And as we align with God — and God’s will, which is always for our highest and best — our intuitive sense grows stronger and our still, small voice clearer.  We discern what is ours to do and what is not.  We discover rewards at each destination.  We rejoice in the beauty and wonder of our journey and the blessings of those who travel with us, for however long.  We cheer, with admiration, appreciation and love, for those who finish first, as well as those who finish last, because we behold the presence of God they are, always the mark of a true champion.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.