Not Mine, But Thine

As 2017 unfolds, some of us are noticing that what we wholeheartedly resolved on January 1st is already a challenge to manage.   Perhaps we’re avoiding, procrastinating or resisting.  Perhaps we’ve asked ourselves: “Do I really want this?” or “Is this truly best for me?”

If we’ve asked either of those questions, or one like them, then we’re ready to take another faithful step forward, to consider putting our personal will in the backseat and allowing God’s will to direct our lives.

While God’s will is rarely easy to understand, it’s always for our best.  As Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla, former directors of Silent Unity, explain:

God’s will is the unrelenting desire in you to express your divine potential.  . . . God’s will is radiant health, abundant prosperity, limitless love, eternal happiness, and the knowledge that you are part of God.  . . . God’s will is God, seeking to express in you and as you.  [Adventures on the Quest,  2001, p. 120]

When we argue for our will, instead of trusting God’s, we imprison ourselves in destructive behaviors and self-defeating attitudes.  We wander endlessly, needlessly, dazed and confused, like Alice in the rabbit hole, because we refuse to open our eyes, ears, minds, hearts, and especially ourselves, to behold what’s before us — in new, transformative ways.

Ultimately, to know God’s will, we must surrender preconceived notions — including other’s opinions and the way it’s always been done — to something greater.  Discerning God’s will, rather than our own, requires faith, patience and trust so we know exactly which steps to take and when.

Here, then, are some practical ways to discern God’s will:

  • Schedule daily time for contemplation, meditation and prayer in a sacred way and comfortable place. This includes sitting on our meditation cushion, as well as hiking in the forest, fishing on the lake, or strolling through the park.
  • Breathe deeply, gently, and speak the words: “Not my way, God, but Your way. Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
  • Acknowledge and mourn whichever desires, dreams and/or goals are dead and which won’t occur as we once hoped.
  • Concede our ideas about how something “should” unfold and allow time and space for Holy Spirit to do Its work.
  • Consider which roads are blocked, whether detours can be cleared and what other avenues may lead to something better than we imagined.
  • Stop checking the rear-view mirror and release the past to the past.
  • Focus on the road before us, eyes on the horizon, while still noticing what’s immediately ahead.
  • Remember: God is eternally grace-giving, infinitely compassionate and unconditionally loving. Refuse to believe fatalistic notions portraying God as a capricious presence which wills evil, pain and suffering on Its creations, or picks and chooses who wins and who loses in some great cosmic lottery.
  • Trust that every ending brings another beginning, and know that as we release our way, God’s way meets us exactly where we are.

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

From the Inside Out

Autumn has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere.  A welcome change for some; for others, not so much.  A seasonal change, even when welcome, is still change.

Few of us enjoy change.  Yet, as we mature spiritually (no matter what our calendar age), we realize that change is easier when it occurs from the inside out, as we choose to change ourselves first.

I believe we reach this conclusion after we’ve tried all the other changes, sometimes called “cures.”  You know them if you’ve tried them, Blessed Reader: the Geographic Cure of moving to another city because we’ll have more fun there.  The Re-Decorating Cure when we spend a fortune on new furniture and artwork.  The Diet Cure which requires that we eat pounds and pounds of kale and forsake ice cream forever.  The Divorce Cure because the other person wasn’t “it.”  The New Job Cure because our boss was a jerk and our co-workers were lazy.  The New Car Cure because everyone else has one. The New Friend Cure because none of our old friends really understand or appreciate us.

The Common Denominator is always the same: We are.  And if we don’t change, from the inside out first, none of the “cures” matter.   So, if we truly want to transform our lives, we need to do our own inner work so our outer experiences also reflect those changes.  It’s a simple process, though not always easy.  Because the truth is: We can’t change the past, particular situations, or other people.  Though we can choose to change ourselves, our beliefs and our behavior.

Transforming from the inside out requires that we be willing to:

  • Remove our hands from the Universal Steering Wheel, take our seat, fasten our seat belt and the leave the “driving” to God;
  • Put on our own oxygen mask first, which includes our daily time for prayer, meditation and self-care;
  • Withstand stillness, silence and “delays”;
  • Reconsider our opinions, as well as our limitations, and continually surrender them, especially if they once worked, but no longer do;
  • Open our minds, hearts, ears and eyes so we know which messages are ours and which are someone else’s;
  • Release unhealthy behaviors, habits and relationships;
  • Recognize that we may never know all the sides of a story;
  • Acknowledge that sometimes our perspective is limited;
  • Accept – even if we don’t like it – that some people won’t understand our transformation and will belittle us, condemn us, or leave us.
  • Leave something for tomorrow, so we can sleep peacefully tonight;
  • Take time to relax and enjoy laughter, hugs, raindrops, snowflakes, moon glow, sunshine, love and delicacies which come in abundant ways.
  • Remember that time on this earthly plane is limited — and we get to choose how we want to live it.

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

Surrender — And Succeed

Sometimes, on our journeys of faith, we reach a juncture with jagged cliffs or steep drops.  If our goal is to reach the other side, whichever side that is, we need to dive or leap.  Either way, we need to let go and fully surrender ourselves and all which was, as we trust in God.

This kind of spiritual, transformational surrender is one of life’s greatest challenges.  When we reach whatever our precipice is, it’s usually because something in life isn’t cooperating with us, and all our personal efforts have failed to create fulfilling change.

As we scan the horizon, we can remember: We have all the inner resources we need to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.  These include our powers of intuition and discernment which help us determine how we want to live.  They also allow us to surrender ourselves and our limited vision to God Vision, something more awesome than what we already see.

While surrender often is considered an admission of defeat, it can be a powerful, positive, life-affirming act.  As Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla, former directors of Silent Unity suggest: When we surrender (also called letting go and letting God), we release our doubts and fears about outcome.  We shift from stagnating in a problem and make way for growth and transformation to occur.

When we surrender, we remember: We can change ourselves and our beliefs.  We also remember: We can’t change other people.  And, especially, we can’t change God.  Which means that no amount of bargaining, begging, crying, pleading or yelling will work.  Neither will shopping lists of everything we want and everything we don’t.

No matter what our situation, we can remember: God is Unconditional Love, Ever-Abiding Grace and Infinite Compassion.  God is not a short-order cook.  Which means, sometimes, things happen in divine ways, not our ways.  It also means that sometimes we believe we want our eggs sunny-side up, but they come scrambled.

That’s when we can choose whether we’ll fight for our way — or whether we’ll surrender to God’s.  Because divine outcome occurs either way.  And when we choose to surrender, life becomes much easier.

Furthermore, in surrender, we realize: Surrender isn’t quitting or sacrificing.  And letting go doesn’t mean giving up.  It means we cooperate with life — from a spiritual perspective.  Rather than staying stuck, we trust in divine outcome, even if we don’t know what that is.  We release our anxiety about results and stop forcing our will on things. We choose to shift our perspective and give the situation to God, remembering that God can only do for us what we allow God to do through us.  Then, we discover the best answers, ideas, solutions, places and companions we need for our ultimate well-being.

Remember Blessed Reader: The choice is always ours.  We can do it our way and stay stuck.  Or we can surrender to God’s Way — and succeed.

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

No More Same Old, Same Old

Years ago I worked with a Negative Nell who continually whined and complained.  Often, my co-workers and I heard her mutter, “SSDD [Same Sh**, Different Day].”  We rarely escaped a meeting without her bemoaning her lot in life and her railing against God for all the misfortunes she faced.  No matter what any of us said or did to encourage or support her, we heard the same thing: “Why bother?  It’s always the same old, same old.”

Perhaps, Blessed Reader, you know the type: Someone who not only can’t see the glass half full, but can’t even see the glass.  Who believes that God is some kind of wicked tyrant or capricious ruler, condemning them to a life of woe and suffering.  Who wants everyone and everything else to change, but who doesn’t know how and/or isn’t willing to think or behave differently.

As a pastor, I realize: Some people haven’t yet heard the message that on this spiritual journey we call our lives, we have numerous, divine opportunities for transformation.  These people don’t yet know that God isn’t a master puppeteer in the sky pulling our strings, giving us more than we can handle or doling out gifts to a favored few.

I want them to know this instead: God is Divine Creator of all things, including us.  God is Ever-Abiding Grace, Infinite Compassion and Unconditional Love, everywhere, all the time.  Therefore, we are divine creations, born with all the faith, strength and wisdom we’ll ever need within us to live glorious lives.

Furthermore, as divine creations, we’re also free agents, which means we have free will to align ourselves with God, to choose who we’ll be, what we want, where we’re going and what we’ll do.  So, no matter what we may have been, thought, done, or believed before, we have the power to transform our lives.  Especially if any of our self-talk sounds like the same old, same old.

The truth is: We can choose to transform ourselves, because transformation begins with us.  Only when we choose to change ourselves and do “it” differently, whatever the “it” is, do we reach the place where transformation is possible.

Rather than believe that we’re automatons which must react in the same old ways, as if we run on only one internal program, we can delete the self-defeating, life-draining mantras and re-wire our thinking and adjust our behavior.  Inevitably, though sometimes slowly, this allows us to alter our circumstances and enjoy new, more enriching outcomes and experiences.

Ultimately, transformation requires trust; first in God, then in ourselves.  And, as we discern and travel our faithful life journeys, we discover wondrous things are unfolding through us and for us, one sacred step at a time.

 

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

“Not to Worry”

Recently, a well-intentioned person, who I believe meant to be empathetic, said to me, “I’m sure you’re worried about this.”  Alas, the person misunderstood.  I wasn’t worried.  Rather, I felt overwhelmed and tired.  And, I also felt a sense of trust, especially in God and Divine Outcome.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Worry is so self-defeating.  It’s one of the things which can bring our life’s journey to a screeching halt because it discombobulates our vision and imagination — our inner, creative compass.  Worry also zaps our spiritual strength, catching us in vicious cycles of more worry.  It raises our blood pressure, taxes our brains and strains our bodies.  Literally, we can tie ourselves up in knots with worry.  Furthermore, worry limits our ability to discern what’s ours to do and the best ways to do it.

Jesus offered divine life wisdom when he said in the passage sometimes called “Free from Anxiety” or “How Not to Worry” (Luke 12:22-32):

“. . . Do not worry . . . . Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? . . . .  Instead, seek God’s Kingdom . . . and do not fear . . . for God is pleased to give you the Kingdom.”

Because this can be easier said than done, here are some other, practical ways to release worry:

  • Limit your daily intake of news.
  • Discern how you’ll set schedules which work best for you. Once they’re set, stick to them.  These include time to:
    • pay bills, plan budgets and manage finances.
    • eat, exercise, play and rest, including going on vacations and spiritual retreats.
    • check social media, e-mail, texts, and phone messages.
  • Stop these activities an hour before bedtime so you can unwind and relax. Then, don’t resume them until an hour after you awaken.  Either time is fabulous for prayer and meditation.
  • If you still awaken in the middle of the night and can’t return to sleep:
    • Get up and stretch.
    • Contact Silent Unity (1-800-669-7729; silentunity.org) for prayer.
    • Play gentle, meditative music. Breathe deeply.
    • Sip warm milk with honey.
    • Journal, draw, paint or color.
  • Avoid the “worry traps” of comparison tripping and memory loops, as well as the “spiritual indigestion” of over-learning, over-studying, and/or over-following.
  • Call your BFF for a reality check, especially in times of stress or illness.
  • Collect favorite affirmations, blessings, compliments, cards and photos which remind you how much you’re loved, valued and appreciated.
  • Remember two sacred truths:
    • Sometimes, what we see is a highlight reel. Everyone faces loss and difficulties.
    • Part of transformation is moving on from what once fulfilled us, but no longer does.

Above all, trust in God and the wisdom within you.  For as Jesus reminded us: God is our Abundant Source, Eternal Grace, Infinite Compassion, and Unconditional Love, always.

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

Courageous, Strong and Free

This week, if she were still alive, my grandmother would have celebrated her 112th birthday, or her 115th, or possibly her 120th.  The truth is: No one in my family knew Grandma’s exact age.  As she told it, she changed her birth certificate to make herself older so she could emigrate from Eastern Europe to the United States.  She hoped to join other family, already in New York, although she didn’t know exactly how to find them.

When I think about her journey, I’m awed by her faith and spiritual strength, and especially, her trust in God.  What courage it took for a teenage girl, whatever her age, to leave everything she knew behind and sail alone to the promise of a better life.  When she spoke about that journey, she admitted that the obstacles and uncertainty were daunting.

Her journey reminds me of what Jesus tells the disciples (Matthew 17:20-21):

“. . . If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

With faith, nothing is impossible for us.  When we remember that we have an infinite supply of faith within us — we never need pray for more — we can nurture this precious gift and use it to transform ourselves and our experiences.

Just as my grandmother did, we sometimes find ourselves travelling without a clear road map.  Whether literally or figuratively, we may get thrown off course or need to leave a place we once called home.  Yet, as we go forward, one faithful step at a time, we realize: We are free.   Free to choose what is best for us, even when the choices aren’t our favorites.

The truth is: Only when we relinquish our power to choose, do we believe that we’ve lost our faith.  As we travel, we can remember: Events and circumstances have far less power over us when we exercise our freedom to choose who we truly are, what and whom we truly love, how we want to live, and how we want to share ourselves with the world.

I know that was true for my grandmother.  When she arrived, she found her brothers in New York.  She worked as a milliner, making ladies’ hats at a famous department store.  She met my grandfather and had two children, my father and my aunt.   She lived 88 years, give or take some birthdays.  In all the years I knew her, I saw a woman centered in her faith.  Even when she didn’t like what was happening in her world or the world around her, even when she succumbed to the pain of cancer.

Faith the size of a mustard seed.  That’s all it takes to move forward, with strength and courage, trusting that transformation is unfolding before us.

A Blessed Independence Day to All!

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

After Thoughts and Prayers

On Sunday morning, June 12th, I prepared to give a sermon I titled, ironically, “Put Feet on Your Prayers.”  I was nearly out the door when I heard the news that a group of people dancing the night away in Orlando, Florida, practically my backyard, were held hostage and gunned down.

As the congregation sang the opening song and I stepped into the pulpit to speak the opening prayer, I began as always by saying, “Namaste.  The Spirit in me welcomes, honors, embraces and rejoices in the Spirit in you.”  As always, I looked at the congregation, so many beautiful, vibrant faces before me.  Men and women of all shapes, sizes, persuasions, personalities.  Each one a divine child of God.

As news unfolded and we continued to pray for our Orlando brothers and sisters, one congregant asked whether we were going to “do something.”  Another was furious that this had “happened again.”  Later, a friend requested an encouraging word.  Another expressed sadness and wanted comfort.  Still another expressed shock and dismay.  We prayed, but it wasn’t enough.  We wanted to “feel better,” whatever that means.

Still later, I reflected on my sermon: That after we pray, we need to move our feet, get off the couch and go out into the world.  Because it’s true: Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.  After we pray, we also can act, remembering that God is where we are.

After we pray — and as we pray — we remember: Our prayers don’t change God or current events; our prayers change us.  So we can transform ourselves — and our corner of the world.  So we remember the presence of God, both with and within all of us, no matter where we live, how we look, what we believe, or who we love.  Then, with that recognition, we can choose to act courageously, centered in faith and trust, and do what is ours to do.

After we pray for those in Orlando, and remember those in San Bernardino, Calif.; Newtown, Conn.; and Aurora, Colorado, among many other places, we can put feet on our prayers by:

  • Writing and/or calling all our city, state and federal legislators continually to express our outrage, opinions, hopes and beliefs, as well as working to change current legislation.
  • Registering to vote for the candidate of our choice and working to support that candidate. Then helping someone else register and agree to take them to the polls on Election Day.
  • Boycotting businesses and establishments which condemn and refuse to recognize the humanity and divinity in all people, including those who choose to live differently than we do.
  • Supporting, with our money, talents and time, the key local agencies within our cities and towns which advocate for the unheard, clothe the naked, educate the unlearned, feed the hungry, heal the sick, nurture the abused, remember the forgotten, and shelter the homeless.

After thoughts and prayers, we act, transforming ourselves, then transforming our world.

Namaste, Blessed Readers.

On Solid Ground

Leave it to Jesus the carpenter to tell a parable about construction so his followers can better understand life.  Leave it to Jesus the itinerant preacher, who didn’t have to pay a mortgage, buy oil for the synagogue, or manage a church building fund, to explain what supports our homes and houses of worship.  Leave it to Jesus the master teacher to know what type of design, materials and foundation are needed to maintain the finest structures.  Truly, a man who traveled as frequently and widely as Jesus did knew how to make the journey simpler, if not easier.

Which is exactly what Jesus explains – albeit somewhat cryptically – in the parable of “The 2 Foundations” (Luke 6:46-49):

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Jesus asks.  “I’ll show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words and acts on them.  That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like one who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

Leave it to Jesus to tell his followers – and, by extension, the rest of us – what he’s already told us.  Jesus knew: Sometimes, while we’re transforming our lives, we need a refresher course.  So we recognize that the way we’ve been traveling or living isn’t working.  So we understand that everything we’ve done to this point will only get us more of the same if we don’t do something differently.

And our “Ah-Ha Moment” comes when we stop wondering what the parable means and notice what it invites us to hear.  Then our spiritual understanding expands so we can shift our focus from outer confusion and uncertainty and center ourselves more fully in faith and trust.  So we start believing in what endures, rather than in what is fleeting.  So we remember that we can do what Jesus did and choose to put God first, building our lives on that solid ground.

And, as we continue reflecting on the parable, we may notice that Jesus doesn’t mention obtaining love, peace, joy, harmony, health, wealth, happiness or fulfillment – the precious intangibles so many of us desire and hold dear.  Instead, he reminds us what sustains those things: God first, then everything else.  Because no matter how much the waters may rage in the worlds of business, education, finance, insurance, media, medicine, politics, religion or sports, when God is our foundation, we know who we are and whose we are.

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

Developing Spiritual Strength

For several years, including while I attended seminary, I was a gym rat.  At the gym, I put in my ear buds and tuned out the world so I could develop my physical strength.  As I did, I discovered that my spiritual strength increased also.

My time in the gym actually deepened my prayer and meditation practice; I learned to tune into myself, trust my intuition, and listen to my still, small voice.  Even as I moved my body, I learned how much spiritual strength I needed to be still and patient, especially at a time when I was learning new things and living in an unfamiliar area.  Since I had no outer assurance of future employment or any idea where my new vocation would take me, I chose to stay strong in my faith.

Our quality of spiritual strength includes our ability to:

  • create stability on a shaky foundation;
  • be still and patient;
  • remain non-resistant and non-attached, especially in the face of uncertainty;
  • embrace our own humility and limitations;
  • accept what we cannot do or control;
  • change direction or attempt something new;
  • endure challenges and persevere in spite of them;
  • discern when and how to act, rather than react;
  • maintain the balance between our heads and hearts; and
  • trust in divine outcome, even when we don’t yet see it.

With spiritual strength, we become more centered and peaceful, even when every fiber of our being screams: “Do something already!”  Because in truth, spiritual strength often says: “Don’t do something.  Just sit there.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Sometimes we need a lot of strength to go alone to the “mountaintop,” be still and work on ourselves.  Then, we realize we need even more when we leave the mountain and attempt to be present with people who may say and do things we not only don’t like, but possibly deplore.  That’s when our spiritual muscles work the most.

As we develop our spiritual strength, we learn to trust and use our intuition – the “God Guidance” so many of us seek.  We find assurance as we discern how to live, not just when we love everything in our lives, but also — and maybe especially — when we don’t.  We discover, as we continue the journey, that our spirituality isn’t only about our relationship with God.  It’s also about our relationship with others, how we see them and how we treat them.  And, as we remain steadfast, centered in faith and trust, we remember the divinity within ourselves — and we recognize the divinity in all others, too.

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

Into the Depths – Part 2

To live our true purpose and truly enjoy our lives, we must relinquish Tip-of-the-Iceberg/Second-Hand Living and venture into the depths.  This is what Jesus did and what he taught his first disciples.  (See Luke 5:3-11)

. . . Jesus . . . told Simon: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Teacher, we’ve worked all night but haven’t caught anything. Yet, if you say so, we’ll let down the nets.”   When they did, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to help them.  Then, they filled both boats, which began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’s knees, amazed at the amount of fish.  James and John, Simon’s partners, also were amazed.  Then Jesus said: “Do not fear; from now on you will catch people [i.e., serve others].”  When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Truly, Simon Peter, James and John witnessed the power within the depths.  As these former fishermen worked with Jesus, as both students and teachers, they discovered true abundance in their purpose.  Not only did they have literal food to nourish themselves and others, but spiritual food as well.

The same is true for us.  When we tune into God, cast our nets wide in the depths, and listen to our own still, small voice, we’re free to live our purpose.  We discover that this purpose nourishes us – and others also.  Even if we haven’t discovered our exact purpose yet, we can remain faithful.  We can hear our still, small voice, calling us to a new course or greater depths.

These practical steps make navigating the depths easier:

  • Pray and meditate in silence daily.
  • Journal, doodle or sketch your random feelings and thoughts. When you do, ask yourself: “What treasures am I seeking in the depths?” Then be still and listen to what you discover.
  • Connect with one trusted individual, specifically trained to listen to you, so you can hear yourself.
  • Consider which people, living and/or deceased, you most admire. When you consider how they live(d) their life purpose, note how their journey is inspiring yours.
  • Notice the ebb and flow of your energy during the day, noting which things you do that “should” be done, especially if they drain you and keep you in the shallows.
  • Notice when you watch the clock and when you lose all sense of time, having fun, absorbed in joy. When we’re absorbed in joy, we’re either living our purpose or we’re very close to it.
  • Notice what tugs at your heart strings and brings you to tears. That’s your heart opening, so your still, small voice can speak.  Be still and listen.

Remember: All the faith we need to live our purpose and love our lives is already within us.  In the depths, we feel it fully.  Then we know that wherever and however we are, God is.

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