MAKE US GLAD

The Joy of His Birth:

Makes Us Glad

By Dr. Ted Baehr, Founder and CEO

The Collect, or summary, of the readings for Christmas, tells us that:
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For most people, Christmas makes them glad. In Japan, Christmas is a big deal, even though very few Japanese are Christian. The Who in the GRINCH love Christmas more than any other holiday.
Why does the birth of Jesus Christ fill us with joy? The Bible readings for Christmas tell us “why.”
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7, written 700 years before Jesus Christ, tells us:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and His kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forever more.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
This passage discusses people who walk in darkness. I get up four or five times a night, and believe it or not, it’s hard to find the light switches, so I always bump into things. In fact, after my eye operation, I broke my toe in the dark.
This is all to say that I understand the physical challenges of walking in darkness. Even more challenging is spiritual darkness. Once you turn on the Light, Jesus Christ, you can see your way.
More than that, as Isaiah says, Christ delivers us from our burdens. He breaks the yolk on our shoulders, he breaks the shackles, This is exactly what Jesus did. He set us free from slavery to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.
This is the most radical political event in history, because it frees you and me from bondage to the world, the flesh and the Adversary.
This passage says that God will give unto us, unto you and me, a child. There is nothing more precious than a child. The thought that Jesus would come as a child is special.
The names that God gave His Son are nowhere else in the Bible:
The Wonderful Counselor is the king because in the old days the king would sit at the gates of the city and make decisions. The child given to us is called “Wonderful Counselor” because he makes the right decisions. He loves us so much that not only does he make the decision, but he carries out the decisions to make us glad.
It also says he’s going to be a Mighty God, who is warrior against the forces of the Adversary. The Christ child is a Mighty Warrior for us against the forces of the Adversary. Throughout the movie versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, there are statements that you have to take back your homeland. You can’t let the devil have it. We have been asleep, we have let the darkness take over, and we have to wake up and take back the homeland. This is a radical message, but it’s a biblical message. To take it back we need a mighty warrior, Jesus Christ.
Also, He’s an Everlasting Father. He wants to provide for us and protect us, and His provision is something better than we can possibly expect from the world’s provision. As the first chapter of the Gospel of John says in John 1:1 and John 1:10, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and “He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him.”
Jesus wants to provide for us and protect us. His provisions are better than anything we ourselves can possibly expect on our own, because He wants to make us glad.
Finally, He is the Prince of Peace who wants us to have wholeness and well-being now. He wants us, each one of us, to be at peace with God and in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we are glad.
The reading from Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7 for Christmas also shows why Christmas makes us glad:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled; upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is He who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds.
God our Savior showed us how good and kind He is. He saved us because of His mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done. God washed us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gave us new birth and a fresh beginning, God sent Jesus Christ our Savior to give us His Spirit. Jesus treated us much better than we deserve. He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life.
Titus 2 affirms that God saved you, and it is a gift. It’s saying that some have been trying to save themselves, and it just doesn’t work.
I grew up in the entertainment industry. I was born when my father was starring on Broadway and SHOW BOAT. I spent years trying to figure out how to save myself until God saved me radically.
When he does save us, what happens? We get an attitude of gratitude, which is an attitude of love. Grace alone instructs us how to love. It encourages us to love. It teaches us how to love.
“Save” in this passage is an aorist verb. Aorist is a Greek verb tense that we don’t have in English. It’s something that starts at a specific time in the past, continues in the present, and ends in the future.
So, when we talk about salvation, we were saved by Jesus on the Cross and His resurrection, but we’re also talking about how we are BEING saved, and we’re also talking about how we WILL BE ultimately saved at the Last Judgement with all the saints.
Titus 2 is packed with four-fold grace. We have freedom from sin. I know what that is because I grew up in sin. We have been cleansed from sin so we can be like a newborn baby and adopted by God and loved by God. Because God is kind and merciful, as it says in Titus, we want to love God and bless God. We want to be worthy of being his heirs.
The Gospel of Luke 2:1-20 tells the Nativity Story:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and say: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned; glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
There has never been a story of this magnitude of the Nativity Story. The Ancient of Days, the Creator of the universe, the Creator of everything in heaven and earth, came to Earth as a baby. It was an alien invasion, but not as an ugly creature coming down from space or up from the Pacific, but a loving God as a non-threatening baby whom you can cuddle and hug.
Now, let’s put this into context. There was a man at that time, Emperor Augustus, as he called himself. The name Augustus – August – means “exalted.” Augustus exalted himself to be Emperor and transformed the Roman Republic into the most draconian, tyrannical empire of all time.
As he was doing these evil things and destroying entire civilizations, the real emperor of the universe was born. Jesus didn’t exalt himself. He was born as a baby surrounded by smelly animals in a manger.
What is a manger? Mange in French means to eat. This is foreshadowing of The Communion where He would say, “This is my body. This is my blood”. He was born in a manger and then angels appeared to declare his birth.
Mind you, not the wimpy “angels” we see on trees. Real angels are fearsome. Every time angels appear in the Bible, people cower.
Whom did they appear to? They didn’t appear to the rulers, they appeared to shepherds. Shepherds were the lowliest, taking care of sheep that stank. They weren’t the businessmen, the royalty, or the Pharisees, or the Sadducees. They were just shepherds, and they were scared stiff.
The angels said to them, “Fear not. For unto you this day a Savior has been born,” and they knew what that meant. It meant a Savior to save them from Emperor Augustus’ oppression. He would be their Messiah, that means someone who was chosen by God, not by himself like Augustus, not a self-important person. He would be a man who is going to take care of you and will be your father.
So the greatest gift is not to the high and mighty or the exalted, it was to the people. It was to you and me. He gave Himself to you and me to free us from fear. To free us from pain. To free us from all the things we did wrong and all the penalties we have to pay for all the people we hurt. More than a Savior, He is a Redeemer, He is here to care for you, protect you, and guide you. He is here to help you, walk with you, and talk with you. He died for our sins and was resurrected for you and me to set us free, to turn on a light.
All of this is about the greatest gift of all time: because as it said.
And, we can be glad when we participate in his love and his grace by joyfully receiving Him as our Redeemer and personal Savior.
As the old beloved hymn says, “Joy to the World, the LORD is come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and Heaven and Nature sing. Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! No more let sins and sorrows grow. He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love!”
© Baehr, 2018

THE GETAWAY: The Art of Escaping Toxic People

Some know the cautionary tale about the frog and the spider trying to get across a raging river. The frog cannot see in order to find the other side. The spider cannot swim. They form a friendship and decide together they can get across. The spider hops on top of the frogs back and the life saving journey begins. But, just as they are about to reach the other side and be free, the spider stings the frog and they both drown. As they are sinking the frog asks, “WHY? Why did you do that?” The last words of the spider are, “Because it’s my nature”. I’d like to change the story. In my version the frog looks up just as the spider is about to sting him and makes the getaway from him safely reaching the other side.

We all know people like the spider. It is not always easy to see them as they are. They can speak $500 words at a pretty impressive rate. And most good-hearted people believe what people say, because like the frog, we have a hard time believing that they would intentionally lie or hurt us. This is an ugly part of human nature.

As my mentor, Father Ralph Di Orio once told me, “not every knock on the door is a friend”. How can we identify people who are true? First we must observe their actions. Words are cheap, no matter how fancy. At the same time, it is important to listen to people carefully and ask questions. Everything adds up with an honest person. A deceitful person will resent you for the questions. Use the gift of discernment with every person in your life. If something looks like a skunk and smells like a skunk, it’s a skunk no matter how you feel about it. Debra Seaman, a successful business woman and CFO of Seaman Engineering, says, “don’t confuse your mind with your heart”.

Be cautious of people who constantly cry over the same things. Healthy people know that it does no good to keep crying over the same things. We must move on and use our energy to build a life in the present and the future. In order to move on, we must abandon the bad behavior and habits that caused us misery or loss in the first place. This is key. Chances are people who continue to mourn incessantly over their mistakes, do so because they continue to make the same mistakes and use their tears to deceive you in order to make you unable see to their current mistakes.

Most major religions speak of forgiveness and repentance. As a Christian, life is all about grace and growth that leads to salvation AND happiness. When we make mistakes, we tell God (Jesus) we’re sorry. We repent and try make up for our mistakes. Many times we make up for mistakes, with strangers, and not necessarily the people we hurt. Sometimes we cannot make things up to the one we hurt, because it may damage present relationships or it simply isn’t possible. The point is to DO something for someone to show the opposite virtue of the vice that caused you to harm another. Then we accept God’s grace to give us strength to avoid making the same mistakes. The last one is the most important part of healing. We have to change. And that my friends, is where we lose a lot of would be success stories. Some people want to continue with the same behavior, habits and patterns and somehow arrive at a different outcome. Not only is this the very definition of insanity, it is selfish. Bad behavior will never lead to the fruits of the life given to us by the Spirit- joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Tragically, bad behavior leads to sickness, sadness, pain and death.

Pay attention to the reasons why somebody likes you or loves you. Is it for you, or is it because of the way you make them feel when you’re around them. If somebody loves the way they feel around you, and not you, they are selfish. They only love themselves. Anthony DeMello, author of THE WAY OF LOVE, explains it like loving a sunset. We love sunsets because of their beautiful qualities, not because we want to, or even try to possess them. Ask someone why they love you. If they begin with “Because you make me feel…”, RUN! They will do anything to feel good and will not care about hurting you. When someone loves you, they will never want to hurt you, and will do everything in their power to make sure that they don’t.

A loving kind person will make you feel secure, peaceful and valued. If you cannot find a person like that, be that kind of person. Everything around us blooms when we truly love others for their own good and not our own. Loving ourselves enough to make selfish people stay away from us, is like pulling weeds out of the garden. It allows everything else to get the sunshine and nutrients to grow. Besides, we don’t always want to spend our time and energy recovering from someone else’s mess that they are having a good time making. When we constantly allow people to hurt us, it turns us inward on ourselves trying to recover and heal. There is a whole world out there that needs healing and our attention. There is a happy life waiting for each one of us-if we’re willing to do the work and make the getaway.

PEACE!

Christmastime can be summed up in one word, peace (Luke 2). The multitude of Heavenly Angels announced the birth of Jesus, proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” The word peace is found about 429 times in the Old and New Testaments combined. There are quite a few variations of the word peace in the dictionary. There is the peace that is the absence of war or other hostilities. My personal favorite definition, which is the pinnacle that leads to all forms of peace is: freedom from anxiety, annoyance, or other mental disturbance. So why is it that Christmastime can also be the most stressful, least peaceful time of year? Work and family obligations, parties, financial strain and lack of sleep can make life pretty miserable. Throw in stressful family situations that some people have to deal with during the holidays and many just want to bury themselves under their blankets until it’s over.

It’s a paradox that the very time of year that brings peace, can bring anxiety for many people. There is a certain closeness this time of year to the Divinity who came to save us from anything harmful. This kind of closeness leads us to an awareness of a personal love and care. It can also be a giant spotlight for every imperfection or sin that we have ever committed. Some hide themselves in legalism, thinking that if they dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’, they will become worthy of the love and peace that is offered. Or perhaps some think they are doing everything mostly perfect. Others think that they do not deserve peace because of the harm they have caused others. In all of these cases, they miss the message of Christmas, not to mention commit the sin of pride which is arguably worse than any other sin, and the one sin that doomed us all (Adam and Eve). Pride causes us to look down and only see ourselves. Our God asks us to look up and see the star of hope.

Jesus came for sinners (Mark 2:17). This means that the worst sinner who is sorry, is worthy of the most mercy or love from God. We see this time and time again in the Gospel story, yet many of us get it wrong by pushing perfection. Should we be sorry for not being perfect? That is one option. It is more realistic though, to just realize that no one is perfect and get on with it. Dwelling on past mistakes is a waste of time and robs of any good that we can still do. It also steals any happiness the future may hold.

There was once a man, an atheist, who unintentionally ended up working on a slave ship. Given the choice between being beaten and abused or beating and abusing the slaves, he chose the later. After a short time, he was guilty of beating, raping and killing slaves. He even fed an injured slave to sharks. One day, when his own life was threatened, he cried out to God with all his might, “God if you’re real, save me!” Against all odds, the man was saved. As soon as he could, he confessed his sins and began to follow The Lord. He didn’t change over night. In fact, it took some years for him to turn his life around. Once his life was free from corruption and serious sins against others, the man was still haunted by dreams and images of what he did in his past. Driven to make the best of the remaining time he was given, he wrote down his honest and self-incriminating account of his life as a slave trader. This document was exactly what the British parliament needed to vote to end the slave trade in Britain, a victory that was witnessed by the former slave trader just before he died. This man’s name was John Newton, the author of the song, AMAZING GRACE. Newton was able to climb out of the evil pit of his life and do something “amazing” because he understood that “grace will lead us home.”

The keys to open us up to the ingredients needed for peace are love and acceptance of who we are and who God is. Once we reject self-pity or loathing for wrongs we have done, legalism to try to make up for the wrongs we’ve done, or thinking we haven’t done any wrong at all, we open ourselves up to the love that can transform us into a life of peace. God frees us from our past. What better way to open us up to this love than a little baby in a manger at Christmastime? The baby who is heralded by Heavenly Angels proclaiming peace.

HIJACKED HUMANITY!

There are over 795 million hungry people in the world, according to The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. To put this into perspective, that is almost a hundred times the population of New York City. Obviously this is only one of the major problems in the world. I choose to focus on this one because, there are (usually) no debates about it. Eating is a basic need that all of humanity shares, therefore it is tough for anyone to put a divisive, political spin on it. It is also something every person I know can do something about. And yet, if you turn on any news station, you will not hear about it.

The media bombard us with anything that causes fear. The entertainment industry bombards us with anything that causes titillation, distraction and dissipation. So the messages are: be afraid it’s a terrible world-and by the way, get as much pleasure as you can for yourself. The worst part of all of this is that according to Movieguide, the more intelligent a person is, the more they are affected by media. The current situation is a perfect formula for stagnation at best, and at worst, destruction.

My work allows me to speak to young people often. It is a perk because young people are normally filled with fire and excitement. Or at least I thought. These days I am seeing a lot of flat tires, already tired of life at 20. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people speak of immoral behavior and try convince me, and themselves, it is not harmful because they are not “hurting anyone”. (Of course, that is only if no one finds out.) I also wonder if people consider the sin of omission. Yes, I said sin. No I am not getting religious (as if somehow that would discredit what I’m saying?) The word sin is in the dictionary as “something regarded as being shameful, deplorable or utterly wrong.” The sin of omission points to any good we could have done for others, and we didn’t. At very least, I would ask anyone with the obsession of pleasure seeking, whether or not it is sin to ignore the needs, even the most basic needs, of others around us.

In a polite society like ours, we hear a lot of nice words. When the rubber hits the road, how many people actually take the time to show care and/or concern? One reason I love the movie DUNKIRK is because it raises the question that many of us ask ourselves in a defeated sort of way, “what can one person do?” As we found in the case of DUNKIRK, one person, multiplied by thousands, can do a lot.

Another good example of what one person can do is Mother Teresa. She was one person, one very small person may I add, who faced the 795 million hungry person epidemic. By her life’s work, she influenced over 5,000 people to date, to live the way she did. Mother Teresa, is responsible for the basic care of millions being met because she refused to believe anyone who said she could not make a difference. She often said, “You do not have to do great things. You can do small things wth great love.”

Obviously most of us will never be a Mother Teresa, but we can all do a little more. Media have hijacked our humanity. Maybe it starts with turning off the TV or media devices, as they are only out for ratings. Or perhaps, we can watch less. And if we are to continue pumping out garbage from Hollywood, to our own country and to the rest of the world, the very least we can do is call it garbage and not a life to aspire to. If we as a society can accomplish only this, we have a good chance at seeing the reality; we have serious problems in the world and each one of us can do something about it.

Happy Trails! 5 Things Happy People Know

Turn on the TV at any given time and you will find a talk show or news segment giving advice on finding some type of happiness. Book stores are full of rows and rows of self-help books on how to find fulfillment and happiness. Social Media does the same with nice “happy” visuals or short clips to go along with it. I know all this because I read, watch, study and think of what happiness means. I’ve learned a lot more from happy people than any books or visuals could teach. Read on for the 5 things that happy people know.

1. They know what they have. Happy people are not constantly “looking at someone else’s plate” wondering if they have something better. They take inventory of all of the blessings that they have. They are also protective of what they have. This is very important because many marriages and relationships break up because a “passerby” in life from the outside is carelessly let in to do some damage. Happy people know what they know and do not give consideration to strangers or outsiders opinions or judgments about their lives. Happy people know what or who makes them happy and are protective of it.

2. They choose to be happy. Happy people have strong minds made up to be happy. They are accepting of changes, taking everything in stride. Part of choosing to be happy is always keeping in mind “Plan B”. As life goes on, we realize that most of the time no matter what happens, life goes on. The power is in choosing what to do with life’s circumstances. The questions every day for a person who chooses to be happy is, “how can I grow from this experience?” or “what good can come from this?”

3. They accept other people. No one lives in a vacuum. Though happiness does not depend on anyone else but you, people around us have an influence. The greatest mistake I have found in people who are not happy is that they try to control other people and other people’s feelings about them. Happy people are more accepting. They understand that their control lies in how they respond to others feelings or actions. Anthony De Mello, in THE WAY TO LOVE, says it best as he writes about other people’s choices, “I leave you free to be yourself, to think your thoughts, to indulge your taste, follow your inclinations, behave in any way you decide is to your liking.”

4. They understand happiness is not a feeling and plan accordingly. People often confuse happiness with momentary pleasure or a temporary ego boost. Happy people work consistently toward goals. They have a vision of the life they hope for. They know what they are doing before they do it. It is not fleeting decisions made up moment to moment. For example, when I moved into my home 7 years ago, it was like most new homes, empty. I stayed in my empty home for a few weeks. I put a great deal of thought into what type of home I wanted to make it. How would I fill it? The answer, with love. I created a plan in hopes to make my home the kind of home that people didn’t want to leave when they visited. After all, those types of homes have always been my favorite. People who choose to be happy, plan. They know what they want and work on it step by step. Happiness is a by-product. It is a result of a good plan, hard work and loyalty.

5. They do not spend a lot of time on the past troubles or mistakes. Happy people look forward while living in the present. Our past is gone no matter what happened or what we think of it. Happy people humbly accept that they made mistakes and move on. The only control we have to make any changes is right here in the present. Kathleen Driscoll once said, “If we are depressed, we are living in the past. If we are anxious, we are living in the future. The only way to be happy is to live right now.”

As long as we are alive we have a chance at happiness. The search goes on. Most of us will keep reading books, watching “experts” and sharing “the way to happiness” posts on social media. The search is part of the joy. Making the decision that you want to be happy is the most important step. Happy trails!

The Search For Love In Pain And Loss

Dissipation has become a common way to cope with anything that may ail us. We have become very good at keeping ourselves distracted from difficult memories, situations or challenging relationships. Many of us sink ourselves into our duties at home, our work or activism. I’m not even entirely sure it is a bad idea. Some situations really are too painful to face sometimes. I’m as guilty as anyone else. It took me nine years to visit the grave of my unborn child. It amazes me how much we can stuff and file into the back of our minds, while managing to live what seems to be a normal life. Sure, we can go on. The question is, how much do we lose when we close ourselves off and only try to survive and get by, instead of embracing the very love that is able to help us heal?

A dear friend reached out to a few close friends to pray for the love of his life, his wife, who has been battling cancer for decades. My first reaction was to be angry at the injustice of cancer. I think it is safe to say that most of us have been affected in some way by the hideous nature of cancer. I completely hit a wall. When I’m boxed in, I try to take inventory. I ask myself what is good about the present situation and what has been gained by the struggles faced. When I look at things this way, I begin to feel freedom instead of the imprisonment of a box.

Witnessing the love, courage, grace, dignity and strength of the individual suffering, I am in awe. Combine that with the way a dear one’s presence has, and continues to touch so many lives, my eyes are opened to the powerful and victorious nature of real love. Love is stronger than any other force. Real love is the appreciation of a person for who they are. Of course we need people. We desire to connect on a deep level with others. However, the greatest love is a detached gratitude for what a person holds inside of them. Like a flower with a fragrance, their beauty has nothing to do with us.

This month it has been 21 years this since my brother, Tommy, passed away. There are not enough Fourth of July Fireworks or parties to make me forget. Unfortunately it is not possible to remember the person and forget the pain of their loss. It takes courage to hold on to what was special and beautiful about those we have lost along the way. If we cannot find this courage, what is the point of life? The only thing we can take with us to the next life is how we love. Isn’t it logical then that we should love as much and as often as we are given the privilege to? It is up to those of us left behind to remember and honor that love. In order to do that, we must continue to love on their behalf, and for our own fulfillment, even if it is with an aching heart.

When it comes to loving anyone, the true magic happens when we love them for their own good, not ours. There is joy, even in sorrow, when we focus on the greatness of the ones we love, or have loved, and not on the cost of loving them. Anthony De Mello sums it up in his book, THE WAY TO LOVE, “When you are in love you find yourself looking at everyone with new eyes; you become generous, forgiving, kindhearted, where before you might have been hard and mean.” The ability to keep an open heart in spite of tragedy and pain is the greatest challenge of life, but I cannot imagine a better way to live.

Broken Fences: Freedom in Forgiveness

The other day I was having a usual deep philosophical discussion with my daughter, Maddie. I talked to her about how a person can make up for past mistakes. The analogy I gave was one I heard awhile ago. If you walk past a fence and knock it down, you have to go back and repair or replace the fence. We discussed intent. That’s an important question. There is more culpability if you knock the fence down on purpose. However, imagine that you walked by with a stick and didn’t know you were knocking down the fence. It was an accident. I explained that the fence is still broken because of your action so you have to go back and fix it. She said something incredibly insightful. Maddie said, “It depends what the fence owner thinks. Maybe he would understand it was just a mistake and it’s okay. You don’t have to go back and fix it. He’d take care of it.” She makes a great point. God is a fence owner who understands and He keeps fixing our mistakes if we ask Him to.

Most people agree that holding on to our past mistakes or grudges against others who have hurt us, will leave us standing in the same spot or going backwards. So why is it so hard for us to make the choice to move on? Many times it is the simple fact that we are unwilling to forgive ourselves and/or others. I’ve heard people say that forgiving others is important because it benefits the forgivers by offering a release, making them feel better. This is favorable for their own health and other personal relationships. I believe this to be true, however it lacks motivation. If we were to act on what makes us feel better, than we would probably be more likely to hold on to that anger. Anger feels good because it feels like justice. Several years back I had dinner with the Dean of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Gladys Sweeney. In her scholarly fashion she stated, “Mercy is the ultimate form of justice, but if we do not know love, we cannot know this.” If God forgives us and loves us, then are we not called to forgive and love others in just the same manner?

Making amends for the harm we have caused others is another step in finding freedom from the bondage of the past. If it is possible to make it up to the person you have harmed, try to do that. There is no way to go back and change the past, but we have right now and hopefully time in the future to make up for our transgressions. Over time, people do heal by our love and affirmative actions. If it is not possible to do good for someone you have wronged, then do good for others. If you stole or cheated someone, give back what you have taken. If you are unable to give restitution directly to that person, make a donation to a charity. There are many places who will gladly accept donations. For example, there are many organizations who help more than 11 million Syrian refugees, many of them children. Organizations like Catholic Relief Services have helped over 1.25 million war affected Syrians by providing food, basic supplies, shelter and clear information about legal options for seeking asylum and international protection. You may also find a local organization to donate, such as Give To Others. The point is to be proactive to build up and restore others to make up for causing damage or being destructive, whether it was accidental or deliberate. Making the world a better place in some way can help us make peace with ourselves by knowing we contributed to others growth and well being.

Everyone makes mistakes. Our imperfections make us human. Forgiving ourselves makes us kinder toward others. If we make the decision to forgive, we begin to heal. We will also see ourselves with more clarity. If we examine why we committed our offenses, most of the time we will see that we acted out of some type of need. The greatest human need is to be loved. Many mistakes are made because we need love and do not know how to get it. Knowing our needs helps us to avoid future mistakes and find healthier ways of meeting our needs. Whatever haunts you, face it, do your best to make amends. Then bury it. For good.

‘IF’: Possibly the Biggest Small Word There is!

The thing that scares most people, is one of my favorite things about life. We do not know what’s around the next corner. Our entire lives can change in an instant, whether it be a visiting a new place, making a decision, new career or project, or a new person coming into our lives. Sure, tragedy and loss are also possible. Most of us are not strangers to some type of loss. Hopefully, we have gained more than we have lost. Even if we have lost more than we have gained, if we are still alive then we have a chance and the hope to gain. That brings me to the word ‘IF’. The word ‘if’ signals the change if you will allow it. ‘If’ is only found in silence.

I had the amazing privilege and honor to visit a dear friend at a cloistered Trappist monastery, St. Joseph’s Abbey, this past weekend. Amidst the noise and busy-ness of life I have more than once imagined a life of complete silence-for a minute or so, of course! 🙂 After all, I enjoy people and conversation. As I walked the halls of the Abbey, I noticed a sound that was distinct and vaguely familiar, but I could not place it. After standing in the library surrounded by the knowledge of books on endless bookshelves softly lit by the gentle rays of sunlight that peacefully fell through the large wooden windows, I identified the sound. It was silence. The deep, unhindered, powerful sound of silence. It was beautiful. We live in world that runs from silence. Even if we do manage to get some silence, the noise in our head keeps us from really understanding its significance. I stood there in the quiet for a few moments and my new favorite word ‘IF’ came to me.

Silence is full of possibilities if we are open to it. Silence asks two questions: Who do you listen to? What do you really want? The first question reminds me of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”. Imagine for a second you could believe there is a very personal God out there who loves you and wants to tell you something. Wouldn’t anyone want to listen? The next question addresses the noise in our lives. Our culture constantly tells us to get ahead, acquire more, gain more power, more money, more pleasure and entertainment. If we could break free from those ideals for a moment and ask ourselves what we really want, deep down I think most of us would want more love, happiness and peace. Possessing money and power will not attain these objectives. Pleasure can be a cheap counterfeit for what we sincerely seek. The world has confused sex and pleasure with love. At times love contains sex, but sex never contains love. We as a culture stay on the hamster wheel with distractions and noise, so we do not have see the emptiness of our vain pursuits. What if we could see silence as the place for wonderful possibilities, instead of the void where we see our disappointments? This is the secret that monks have discovered. Silence is the place where we can recharge, prioritize, and see possibilities beyond our greatest dreams if we are open to it.

‘IF’: Possibly the Biggest Small Word There is!

The thing that scares most people, is one of my favorite things about life. We do not know what’s around the next corner. Our entire lives can change in an instant, whether it be a visiting a new place, making a decision, new career or project, or a new person coming into our lives. Sure, tragedy and loss are also possible. Most of us are not strangers to some type of loss. Hopefully, we have gained more than we have lost. Even if we have lost more than we have gained, if we are still alive then we have a chance and the hope to gain. That brings me to the word ‘IF’. The word ‘if’ signals the change if you will allow it. ‘If’ is only found in silence.

I had the amazing privilege and honor to visit a dear friend at a cloistered Trappist monastery, St Joseph’s Abbey, this past weekend. Amidst the noise and busy-ness of life I have more than once imagined a life of complete silence-for a minute or so, of course! 🙂 After all I enjoy people and conversation. As I walked the halls of the Abbey, I noticed a sound that was distinct and vaguely familiar, but I could not place it. After standing in the library surrounded by the knowledge of books on endless bookshelves softly lit by the gentle rays of sunlight that peacefully fell through the large wooden windows, I identified the sound. It was silence. The deep, unhindered, powerful sound of silence. It was beautiful. We live in world that runs from silence. Even if we do manage to get some silence, the noise in our head keeps us from really understanding its significance. I stood there in the quiet for a few moments and my new favorite word ‘IF’ came to me.

Silence is full of possibilities if we are open to it. Silence asks two questions: Who do you listen to? What do you really want? The first question reminds me of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”. Imagine for a second you could believe there is a very personal God out there who loves you and wants to tell you something. Wouldn’t anyone want to listen? The next question addresses the noise in our lives. Our culture constantly tells us to get ahead, acquire more, gain more power, more money, more pleasure and entertainment. If we could break free from those ideals for a moment and ask ourselves what we really want, deep down I think most of us would want more love, happiness and peace. Possessing money and power will not attain these objectives. Pleasure can be a cheap counterfeit for what we sincerely seek. The world has confused sex and pleasure with love. At times love contains sex, but sex never contains love. We as a culture stay on the hamster wheel with distractions and noise, so we do not have see the emptiness of our vain pursuits. What if we could see silence as the place for wonderful possibilities, instead of the void where we see our disappointments? This is the secret that monks have discovered. Silence is the place where we can recharge, prioritize, and see possibilities beyond our greatest dreams if we are open to it.