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.

Pick Up Your Mat

Having faith in God — and in ourselves — can be a continual challenge.  Travelling faithfully requires that we flow with life, guided by our inner vision even as we heed activity in the outer world.

No matter what may occur in our lives, faith in God and God’s power and presence within us always leads the way.  Though sometimes, we get it backwards.  As in the story of the man Jesus meets at the pool of Bethesda {See John 5:1-9}.

At the pool, many ill people — blind, crippled, paralyzed — wait for an Angel of the Lord to stir the water at certain seasons.  Those who step into the water are healed.  One man, an invalid, has waited by the pool for 38 years (mystically, 38 can represent spiritual discernment).

When Jesus sees the man waiting, he asks: “Do you want to get well?”

At this point, the man doesn’t know who Jesus is.  He replies: “Sir, I have no one to help me into pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get in, someone else goes ahead of me.”

Then Jesus says to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once, the man is cured; he picks up his mat and walks.  Because he hears Jesus tell him that he can!

Sometimes we need to wait for assistance.  And sometimes we need to lift ourselves up and move, of our own accord.  Even when we’ve been previously blinded by anger, crippled by shame or paralyzed by fear.

Sometimes we wait for someone else to “heal” us, never realizing all the while, that we have the power within us to heal whatever needs healing.  For days, weeks, months, even years, some of us have held false beliefs — in our hearts — that we are somehow broken or unworthy.  We’ve erroneously believed that a power outside of us would one day come along and change our circumstances, instead of understanding that we have all the inner power we need to rise and walk.

When we choose to pick up ourselves and our “mats,” whatever they may be, we align ourselves with God and allow an Angel of the Lord, sometimes called Holy Spirit, room to move.  Without Holy Spirit, we labor, struggle and limit ourselves and others — even though the power and presence of God with us and within us is limitless.  Yet, with Holy Spirit — the thing which stirs the water, our inner well of faith — we’re healed in whatever way we need healing most.

The Truth is: We always have the power to discern whether we want to wait by the pool, attempt to get in the water, or pick ourselves up and move in another direction.  We always have more strategies than we first imagine.  At any moment, we can pick up our mats and walk — as soon as we’re ready to believe that we can.

© 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.

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 1

As we faithfully travel our life’s journey, we often reach a point when our previous ways of being, thinking, believing and/or doing no longer work.  While this realization may be scary, it’s also liberating because it frees us to discern how we truly wish to live.  It invites us to discover what serves our lives the most.  It encourages us to live the truly balanced life we seek.  Ultimately, it draws us out of the shallows of Tip-of-the-Iceberg/Second-Hand Living.

Perhaps, Blessed Reader, you recognize those shallows: Where we forever seek, though rarely find.  Dabble a bit here and there.  Live vicariously through social media, movies or television.  Indulge in substances or behaviors which rarely nourish or satisfy.  Where we stay stuck because we think we’re safe.  Or because we falsely believe that if we wish hard enough for something to happen that the God of attraction and magical thinking will do things our way, wave a wand, and change our lives for us.

When we remain in the shallows, rather than venturing into the depths, we usually miss the beautiful, sacred, still small voice — or loud, clanging gong — which always seeks our attention.  This voice is the wisdom and intuition within us, urging us to go beyond the shallows, so we can live our true life purpose.

When we ignore our still, small voice, we stifle the awesome, creative, divine presence of God within us.  We neglect our own self-care by refusing to put on our own oxygen masks first.  We limit our personal potential by denying our authenticity.  In the process, we may feel physically depleted, especially because we lose our connection to God and we forget to trust our own hearts.  Our hearts, which continually call us to leave the shallows and explore new depths.

To truly discern our life purpose – our highest calling – we need to dive deep, into ourselves, and into silence and stillness, so we can connect with God.  In the depths, we discern and know intuitively, through spiritual understanding, wisdom and faith, the truth of ourselves and our lives – the stuff we like and the stuff we don’t.  This process of discernment helps us see beyond outer appearances to infinite possibilities, so we can live as we truly desire.

The only way to discern our true hearts’ desires is to give up Tip-of-the-Iceberg/Second-Hand Living and move into the depths, an often untested or uncharted territory.  In the depths, we understand – perhaps for the first time – that anything less than living our personal truth and making our dreams come true will not work.

In Part 2, a story about finding treasures in the deep and some practical ways to navigate the depths.

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

Balance and Flow – Part 1

Ask most people, and they’ll agree: Enjoying everything in moderation and maintaining balance are fine ideals, though fairly challenging as a daily practice.  As with so much else in life, finding our ideal balance requires both patience and persistence.  It also empowers us to stop struggling with an Either/Or existence and embrace a Both/And perspective.  Most significantly, it brings us to a greater realization of God as an infinitely compassionate, unconditionally loving presence in our lives.

The key to finding and maintaining our balance is keeping our hearts (our spiritual and feeling natures) and our minds (our intellectual and thinking natures) aligned.  As spiritual beings living a human, earthly existence, we find life most fulfilling when our hearts and minds are balanced and in sync with one another.

Our hearts, the center of love and compassion, hold our sense of discernment, while our minds, the center of our intellect, help us explore, discover, learn and think.  If we’re too heart-centered, we can become overly sentimental about a long-gone past, hopelessly romantic about someone who doesn’t return our affections, or foolishly compassionate, doing for others what they need to do for themselves.  If we’re too mind-centered, we can become unnecessarily critical or analytical, as well as overwhelmed or fearful, worrying about situations and people we can’t control.

When we’re balanced in heart and mind, we live more fully in the flow of life, floating on our raft, gently down the stream, rather than trying to force the current to move the way we want.  This allows our spiritual nature and our intellectual nature to work in harmony and guide us on our journeys.

Please be aware, however: This is not in any way a passive activity.  In fact, at times it may require tremendous inner strength and spiritual understanding, especially when we face situations we don’t like and circumstances we can’t control.

Yet, as we strive for balance in the most emotionally healthy and spiritually mature ways, we can travel our journeys more comfortably and avoid leaning too much to one side or another.  As we continue our daily practice of aligning ourselves with God first, we find the currents easier to navigate, no matter where we are on our journey.

Our times of silence, prayer and meditation also allow us to reflect on which situations and circumstances we can change, which we cannot, and what course corrections might be necessary along the way.  And be assured, no matter where we are in our lives, we can find our ideal balance and continue forward in trust.

In Part 2, a story about a balanced heart and mind, and practical steps to discern our own divine balance.

 

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

Be Your Own Guru – Part 1

As I prepared to enter the sanctuary one Sunday morning, a visitor I’ll call ZZ approached me and eagerly shared excitement about being there. ZZ heard about the church and about me from a church-member friend. I felt flattered, and also curious, wondering what ZZ might be seeking.

Later, in the receiving line, ZZ pumped my hand before entering the fellowship area. Several minutes later, ZZ returned, bubbling with enthusiasm, carrying a piece of paper and a pen. As I turned to him, he thrust the paper and pen at me and said, “I want you to write something down.” Before I could discern what he needed, he rapidly and repeatedly told me about a local guru he wanted me to meet. He repeated how much Local Guru could help me and about what Local Guru did.

As he continued his stream of consciousness, my belly constricted. At first, I felt confused and annoyed, wondering why he thought I needed the advice. Then, I remembered my “compassion ears,” the part of my pastoral radar system which listens beyond what is explicitly said.

When ZZ finally took a breath, I said I knew about Local Guru’s work. Then I said, “I imagine Local Guru has helped you tremendously on your spiritual journey.”

“Oh, yes,” said ZZ, again pushing the paper at me and repeating how much it would help me, too.

Still ignoring the paper I said, “Thank you for sharing your story with me. How fulfilling to find a teacher you can learn from. Perhaps there’s something you’d like to learn here too?” I asked.

ZZ shrugged and said he didn’t know. Then he thanked me and we parted amicably.

Later, I reflected on the conversation. I remembered times in my past, as I discovered my own spiritual path, when I gushed unsolicited advice about a favorite guru I thought someone else needed to follow. During that time of ardent seeking, when I thought all the answers I sought existed in books and gurus, I learned a sacred truth from a blessed counselor who said: “Jenn, maybe you could put all the books in a box for a while and stop looking for your guru. Listen to yourself. Then, you can be your own guru.”

Be my own guru? Her words stunned me. Then they sank in, and they remain with me still, years later, as I’ve journeyed through two different careers and into ministry.

I regret that I didn’t share my former counselors’ wisdom with ZZ, though I’m honored to share it with you, Blessed Reader.

Many of us seek answers to sometimes unanswerable questions, as we sort through all the facts, figures, opinions, and other assorted information which bombard us daily. Yet, with faith and trust, we can continually tap into our own inner wells of wisdom, knowing we receive the true guidance we need as we discern what’s best for us and our lives.

In Part 2: Some practical ways to begin nurturing the inner guru.

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