I came across an article from a book. When is enough enough? In our life of busyness, we deeply want to be busy or at least have others think that we are busy. Somehow, it adds value to ourselves and the work we do–or at least we perceive that it does. The writer, David Zahl, writes:
What about you? Maybe the reason you can’t stop scrolling through your social media feed is because it confirms how right(eous) your opinions are about others or yourself. Or maybe, on some level that you can barely admit to yourself, you believe that if your latest post on Facebook gets enough likes, you will finally like yourself.
While enoughness may not be a direct synonym for righteousness, it’s not far off. After all, enough only makes sense if there’s some kind of line demarcating it from not enough. It implies a standard of some kind. Yet we avoid the word righteousness because it sounds too religious, too old-fashioned, too judgmental, too close to self-righteous—and we know we don’t like that. Righteous sounds ominously absolute and therefore authoritarian, as though it could impinge on the lives of those around us. Enough, on the other hand, has a more subjective and therefore less threatening connotation.
In practice, there’s very little difference. Those dogged by a sense of not-enoughness know all too well that “I’ll know enough when I see/feel it” isn’t any lighter a burden than “reach [X, Y or Z] objective standard.” Both are classic spiritual treadmills, and the former may even be more taxing due to its slipperiness. Whatever the case, the problem of self-justification is not a linguistic one.
A major problem for those of us with “righteous minds” comes when our conception of righteousness differs from that of our neighbors, or when we feel they are standing in the way of our attainment of it. Innocuous-seeming differences in perspective balloon overnight into showdowns over good versus evil. And nothing allows us to more easily excuse ruthlessness than when we’ve painted our neighbor as an adversary to all that is true and holy.
There’s a deep irony at work here: enoughness is a universal human longing. The yearning for it binds us together across party, country, gender, race, and age. It provides the glue that holds our most altruistic movements together. Yet, the specific expression of this obsession in each person’s life is often what alienates us from others. The tighter the in-group, the larger the out-group will be. Depending on the content of the righteousness in question, this drive can spark our most dehumanizing judgments of other people and inspire us, sometimes unconsciously, to conceive of the world in terms of us versus them.
Busyness is seen as a good thing–rest, not so much. Some people forfeit their vacation-time for work. Fast-paced societies see it as a sign of working hard, productivity and diligence.
We keep ourselves busy with work, business, work in the community. Keeping up with sports, music and other recreational activities. It can leave one feeling drained when it goes on and on without time to rest.
Expectations mount. There’s pressure to be a good spouse, a good son or daughter, a good father or mother, a good friend and community leader. A good everything. Been there before?
It wears down the soul–not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. Afterward, it leaves one’s soul feeling lifeless with nothing to give. You might come to a point where you feel like calling it quits.
When is it okay for one to admit that you need rest. Rest for the soul is like a deer that craves for water by streams of water.
Rest. No more errands to attend to. No more trips to the grocery store to pick-up for the week or day. No more driving to and from places. No more work around the house. The list of things-to-do at the house, family, church, can be long. You long for this to come to an end.
When does one realize that it’s okay to rest? Rest is a spiritual time to rejuvenate one’s life. That’s why rest can also be called “re-creation”, but instead, we add recreation to our busyness. At rest, one can finally be relieved from busyness and be allowed to sigh, to breathe, and to shed tears from tiredness. Finally, gaining energy, once again, to give.
If you remember back in grade school standing in line waiting to be chosen by the assigned team captains for a team in sports. Almost every time, I would be picked last for a team. Because I was the skinniest and one of the shortest boys, I was almost always the last one chosen. I was nicknamed Conan (from movie Conan the Barbarian, the god with a great muscular physique). I hated that I was skinny and short. I hated all the slight comments I heard spoken about me from other kids, intentional or not. Gym class was never fun for me. Being singled-out last place can affect how a person views oneself. I developed a less-than-ideal view of myself. I endured this all throughout my elementary and even into my high school years. I didn’t enjoy grade school. I did develop some empathy for other kids with lower views of themselves or who were picked on.
I know others have suffered much more than I have but I want to relate this to what I’m about to share here. There are Christians (and other religious minorities) who suffer due to their faith within anti-Christian societies. People languish in prisons, sometimes unjustly, like political and religious prisoners. Women have been abused, raped and used in sex trafficking People, including children are inflicted as innocent victims of wars, bombings, and ethnic-cleansing, and boys are forced into becoming soldiers. People suffer in silence with bouts of depression, mental illness, and thoughts of suicide. There is serious suffering happening in the world today much more severe than tauntings in school yards, but nevertheless, words can intensely hurt too and adolescent teens know this.
I have learned throughout the latter years of my life that suffering shapes a person. It can shape us in a bad way; and it can also shape us in a good way. Either way, the shaping of a person can always result in something good. There is always something we can be grateful for.
As we experience healing from our life’s hurts, and allow God to use us, the suffering we have experienced can become a blessing to others. Little do others know that the person who has suffered can become a giver of empathy and understanding to another who is experiencing suffering in one’s life.
As a stone has been shaped by water and heat and pressure, one’s own suffering through the pressures of this life can shape us to increase our capacity to have more empathy for others. In order for God to use a person, we must allow God to heal us and rebuild us from the inside so that over time, we can develop an inner resilience. As we mature and find healing and strength, God will shape us into vessels that God may find useful. This will then enable us to journey with them and enter into their loneliness and desolation. To do this, requires healing from one’s own past hurts. This is inner spiritual resilience.
People who have not gone through the pressure of being shaped by suffering, and experience healing will find it difficult to empathize and understand the pain and hurts of others. Lashing back at others and those who hurt us will still be a natural reaction from our past hurts. But if you have suffered, you can consider it a part of the joy you receive when you can offer of yourself empathy and understanding to the person who is suffering.
In looking back, I realize today that God used my suffering and increased my capacity to empathize with people’s pain. Bringing a small measure of empathy and understanding into people’s lives is what gives me some consolation. Pressure and heat shapes a stone. So pressure and suffering shapes a person’s capacity to bring empathy into other people’s lives.
It was a dark and rainy Friday evening in downtown Victoria. I felt like having a burger after watching a series of short IMAX films. I drove to a fast food burger joint close by, ordered a couple burgers, and sat down. After a few bites into my burger, I couldn’t help but notice this lady who came in. She looked decrepit and hungry. She was either homeless or was living in less-desirable conditions. Her facial expression looked desperate. She looked as if she had been aged prematurely either by drugs or alcohol. I saw her rummage through the trash in the restaurant; and as I watched, my heart sank. She was desperate and hungry.
Usually, I ignore transient people on the streets; but tonight, sitting right in front of me was a person opening the trash to look for scraps of food. Though I wanted to ignore her I could not. It was extremely challenging to enjoy eating my Whopper while watching her dig through the trash bin. It was getting quite uncomfortable. My heart was sinking. I also couldn’t ignore what I was feeling. Sadness and sympathy. I hadn’t felt this way in a while. Normally, I would assume store policy would prohibit people from coming in to search the trash bins. Store was likely under-staffed.
I was also feeling a heavy sense of guilt weighing down on my heart. Part of this guilt was due to some of my dark and uncompassionate thoughts. “Why did I have come into this burger joint tonight? Why couldn’t it have been on another night? Why did I have to sit myself down here in this spot.” I had chosen this spot because I wanted some privacy.
I had ordered two burgers. One was in my hand; and the other was still in the bag—still unwrapped and untouched. I thought for a moment, “I should give her one of mine. I really should. I had two anyway.”
My other thought was, “I’m still hungry myself too. I could just gulp it down quickly and walk out of here fast. My mind and heart were battling between these two alternate thoughts. Something within me refused to follow through with this latter thought—on this evening anyway.
I stood up, walked up to her and said: “Ma’am, have my other burger in this bag.” I handed her the bag, then returned to my seat, and finished my burger. This discomforting feeling didn’t go away.
She continued to rummage through the other trash bins in the restaurant. A minute later, she returned and told me: “Thank you.” I nodded back in acknowledgement.
After I did this, it felt a little better—but not much better. I asked myself afterward, “Did I truly do this for her, or was it for myself?” Maybe a bit of both. What do I mean by, “for myself”? I discomfortable seeing her dig through the trash to look for scraps was unbearable. I could get rid myself of this discomfort by simply giving her my burger. Instantly, my guilt would be gone. But that would be for my own sake. What about her? She still had a hungry tummy to fill or she’d be going to bed without dinner.
This lady was desperate–desperate enough to dig through the trash in the restaurant with the eyes of customers looking at her. She obviously had nothing to lose by doing this. She could care less if others saw her digging through the litter. The person who was most self-conscious was probably myself—not her. I’m the one with the problem. The moral and ethical issue was duelling within me.
After I finished my burger, I was still hungry. I decided to walk up to the front to order a second one. I still had a sense of guilt mixed with a sense of satisfaction of having done something good. But was it really “good” or was it something any decent human being would have done? I have a job that pays a reasonable salary. Can’t complain. She couldn’t afford a simple burger.
After I placed my order for a second burger, this same lady came up to me and thanked me again a second time. I asked her if she would like another burger. She didn’t tell me either yes or no. I would have given her another one if she said “Yes.” I probably should have given her a second burger anyway—even without an affirmative “Yes.”
She began sharing with me that she was living in a hostel close by on $10 per night. Then she pulled out some change and placed it on a counter-ledge next to me. It couldn’t have been more than a dollar. Not sure why she did that. Was she trying to pay me back a little something? I certainly didn’t expect anything. She then put her change back in her pocket and walked away.
I admit it. It was an uncomfortable situation for me. I wasn’t sure what to make of this brief interaction. Not sure why she share this bit of herself with me. Was she wanting to share with me more of her life story? Or was she probing if I would be willing to give her some money? I didn’t know. I just had all kinds of questions but was afraid to ask further.
I was feeling a little too uncomfortable to know what to ask or do. My heart was preoccupied with this moral and ethical duel within myself. I feared more for myself than for her. I feared that I didn’t have enough compassion to bear the load required to love another human being.
Anyway, after picking up my second order, I decided to take it to-go in a bag. I wanted to eat in my car. I was parked on the 4th floor of the Johnson Street parking garage. Weird thing to be eating a meal in a such sterile environment—facing the grey concrete walls of a parking garage. As I was chomping down on my burgers, I was running through some thoughts in my mind.
“What was her past life like? Was she always like this or did she once have a better life? Perhaps, she could be a divorced mother with kids who were sent to foster homes? How did she end up in such impoverished conditions ravaged with substance abuse? What if she had lost a good job, had fallen on hard times, and had somehow gotten trapped in depression and mental illness? Might she have been taken advantage of by crooked men who forced her into a state of dependency? All these “What ifs” were running through my head. And what if I were in her position or circumstance? How would I feel? And what would I to do?”
I also realized something else. People who regularly donate their pocket change to others on the streets see them as brothers and sisters in need. They are actually far more compassionate than me. They are far more willing to lend a helping hand. By their standards, I would consider myself a heartless and uncompassionate person. Such a weird thing to think about myself in this way.
This evening revealed something of myself. I don’t feel enough compassionate for the poor and hungry. Others with more compassion are more willing to give. Why so? They might be people who knows what it feels like to have fallen into hard times. At one point in their lives, they might have been in dire straits themselves and have received grace. This is why they know how to say, “Thank you and God bless.”
I don’t feel enough compassionate for the poor and hungry.
I’ve been a poor student in my young bachelor days. My life nowadays is too comfortable. Today, I don’t feel the compassion I used to feel. Considering that I’m a Christian, isn’t a Christian supposed to be as compassionate as Jesus? Yes, but…
I hadn’t felt this uncomfortable in a long time; but this wasn’t the first time I had seen people digging through the trash looking for scraps of food. I had seen this almost every time I walk through downtown, but why today?
Days before this incident, I had been thinking to myself, that perhaps I should be giving more of my time and of myself to serve the poor in downtown. Not sure why I’ve been having these thoughts. Was God speaking to me through this event? Was God showing me that I ought to do something more for others? Helping others in abject poverty has been a neglected part of my life for many years. Was this just coincidence, or was God trying to tell to me something?
One of the things I am most grateful for in my work and ministry is being able to walk with people in their struggles in life. It might be marital problems, health problems in their own lives or in one of their family members. It might be a work-related issue. Issues can vary far and wide. I am also grateful when I can be a vehicle who enables consolation in their hearts. When they show appreciation, I am grateful. One of the things that I’m least grateful for is not being appreciated and verbally devalued (can be either by colleagues or bosses). For me, this places me in a desolate place.
Think about shoes–yes, ordinary dirty pairs of shoes–and to ponder on where each person’s shoes might have taken them. We don’t know where a person might have walked. They might have walked in places thousands of miles away and we would have no idea of what their experiences were like. The person is potentially a storehouse of valuable insights but we fail to ask them to share with us from their experiences of what they have learned. We don’t take the time, and we don’t care to.
This is also an area where I have failed, as well. I have failed to ask more about the experiences of my friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues. I have failed to take the time to ask and sit down and listen. I am needing to learn and to become a vessel to which they can pour into. For these things I confess. In Prayers of Boundless Compassion (p.12), Rupp writes as a prayer with which I pray along:
“Holy One of the Burning Bush, like Moses we take off our shoes. We are in awe of your presence, not in a fiery bush but in the heart of each human being. Deepen our respect for one another’s history of experience, the unique personality and diverse giftedness. Heal us of quick judgments that are often untrue. In our relationship with all people may we approach them with respect and a sincere desire to hallow their sacred journey. Together we stand before you, Holy One aflame in our hearts. May we walk in peace with each person who comes our way.”
Do people view Christians as imperfect people? Yes, we Christians are imperfect; and we don’t need to hide this fact. And I’m one of these imperfect ones. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am imperfect. I have known some who put on a facade–like a make-over to look like that “perfect and righteous Christian.” Nothing can be more phoney. Pastors, elders, deacons can be pressured to put on a facade because of fear of not looking like that good example. This can be true of any church.
Our younger generation are totally not into this “old school” hypocrisy of “fake it till you make it.” They want people to be real, genuine and true to themselves. They want this of themselves. I don’t mean that we show off our sin like a peacock. By this I really mean that we ought to trust in God’s forgiveness with boldness and courage. Without a true understanding and experience of God’s grace, the freedom to do this is impossible.
This generation has been raised in a non-religious society but it realizes its need for God and spirituality. I see the rise of two cultures clashing. One culture realizes the imperfections we all have and rebel against the injustices of our society’s leaders, including our political, business and religious leaders. It wants to fix this broken culture.
The other culture realizes our own need for a savior because we have seen our hopelessness of trying to fix ourselves and our society. This savior has been revealed to us, and He is the one who saves us from having to rebel and fight (not that we don’t strive to improve society). This second culture is the Christian or Jesus culture.
I have been a broken person and see my own imperfections more than anyone else. I just try not to show it or make it too obvious. If this is how you feel too, then you’ll understand it is why we need a God who loves us despite our imperfections. We don’t need a god to make us feel better about ourselves. We need a savior who loves us despite our brokenness. This is what grace is. This is the most liberating way to live.
This understanding of righteousness and setting God’s righteousness above our own human righteous is how Christ built the Church from nothing. A personal spiritual revelation of God’s grace is the only thing that can revive the Church today. I see a new generation of Christians rising up today that is full of faith and a new found sense of spirituality. This gives me new hope in the Church.
Everything about me has been and is going back to God’s grace. It’s amazing. Yes, it’s God’s grace that’s amazing. It truly is. When I listen to the song: Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace) by Hillsong, I’m amazed by the words of the lyrics. It goes like:
All these pieces Broken and shattered In mercy gathered Mended and whole Empty handed But not forsaken I've been set free I've been set free ….
You take our failure You take our weakness You set Your treasure In jars of clay So take this heart Lord I'll be your vessel The world to see Your life in me….
Then the amazing part goes like this:
Oh I can see You now Oh I can see the love in Your eyes Laying Yourself down Raising up the broken to life
After I realize God’s love despite my broken and shattered life, Despite my need to be mended and be made whole, Despite my failures, weaknesses, God still wants to make me into a vessel of his to be used by him.
This is why I can see God more clearly today. I have looked into God’s loving eyes who gave himself up for my broken life. Now I’m set free. Set free from having to hide my imperfections. Set free from human performance. This is true freedom.
I’ve recently learned about two very useful questions to ask of myself.
1/ For what moment today am I most grateful? 2/ For what moment today am I least grateful?
These two questions of St Ignatius’ examen is a practical tool for daily inner reflection. I’m going to answer these two here today and share my answer with you.
1/ On my spiritual retreat last week, I took some time to examine and reflect on my own life. It was a time of spiritual rejuvenation.
I was most grateful this week for the opportunity to return to listening to praise and worship music. I hadn’t taken the time to sit down and listen to the new music from recent artists and groups like Hillsong. I didn’t know the new stuff that was being played in our contemporary evangelical churches. Anyone else out there been through periods of not having listened to new worship songs but do appreciate the music? It’s been a dry period for me in the past. But now I’ve been refreshed through new music. I took the opportunity to reflect on the words of numerous worship songs and was really blessed and nourished by them. For this precious time, I was most grateful.
2/ For what I was least grateful that day was having my wife go through surgery. She had go fly to Taiwan in order to get surgery that otherwise, would’ve taken a very long time to receive here in Canada. She already had to wait for many months. We have a broken health care system and my fear is that it will get worse in the future as the population ages. Anyway, through my self-reflection and self-examination, I realized I still had much to be thankful for. Her mother, and her sister in Taiwan took some time off work to care for her during and after surgery. This is very big help. I’m thankful for this. So in what I had thought I was least grateful, I realized that I still had things for which to be grateful.
Reflecting on these two questions helped me realize that I had more to be thankful for than I had thought. Thank you God for your grace, mercy, and blessings. ___________________________
Recently at my spiritual retreat I came across another book entitled, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn (Paulist Press, 1995). A good brief book that explained to me how and why the Examen helps. I add this below as added reference.
Our society is full of competition. Competition and comparison causes people stress and is one of the causes of depression. Out of competition and comparison come spite between colleagues in work places. We look at pop culture and see how we don’t measure up to their good looks, fine voices, and persona. We compare ourselves to them. No wonder why people feel down on themselves.
People spite their co-workers with harsh criticism; slander them with false accusations. Low self-esteem stem from some of these things. A source of this can be the deception for one’s need to compete and compare ourselves to others. We want to be more significant and feel important about ourselves. It is one of the reasons why people who fall victim to this, or get tired of this endless wheel of competition end up quitting their jobs and severing their relationships and/or even marriages.
During my recent stay at a spiritual retreat centre, I came across a book by an author of whom I did not know or read from before. My host recommended to visit the library and locate the devotional writings of Joyce Rupp.
“Compassionate One, when I think poorly of myself because I do not match cultural norms of how to speak, think, look, or act, lead me to acknowledge and appreciate the gifts I have been given. Draw me inward to my core goodness. I will sink into that cradle of kindness and gain strength from what has lasting value. Disengage my strong connection to the “rush, push, and shove” approach to daily life. Release in me whatever craves to be the best, to rise to the top, to show off who I am and what I can do. Hush the strong voice of insecurity that steals energy from my spirit. Calm the anxiety that aches to have the spiritual life of another. Lift the darkness from my inner eye so that I see wth gratitude how enriched I am in my relationship with you….”
This is from Prayers of Boundless Compassion, 2018 (p. 6). Rupp is a Servant of Mary, a Catholic spiritual guide, and retreat leader. I very much like her style of writing. This has imagery and is visual and it draws and directs the reader into a spiritual direction. It speaks to me and is well written and draws from her experience. I shared this excerpt as my personal prayer today. I pray to the Lord: Help me seek and trust in your goodness and the fruits of your Holy Spirit. Fill me with more of your compassionate presence, with who you are, and make me more like you, O God.
Today, I finally found some time to rest. I let out some tears and a moment to cry. Nothing bad happening. No evil. No chaos. None. Reason for my cry was that I finally found some time to rest. Weeks and months and a year went by. Work and life was busy. Non-stop without time to rest.
As a servant, the work of helping and walking with others through their struggles and chaos, and administration, and even sermon prep in chaplaincy does not equate to rest. Ministry is still work. Yes, it’s still work, though it’s a part of God’s calling.
During this moment during my spiritual retreat on a small island, I was reading Psalm 37 while listening to the song Still. That’s when the tears started rolling. I realized my need for a time to rest. Rest from serving, from helping others, and just “find rest my soul…in quietness and trust,” as the song writer said in Still.
Hide me now Under Your wings Cover me Within Your mighty hand When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with you above the storm Father, You are King over the flood I will be still and know You are God
Find rest my soul In Christ alone Know His power In quietness and trust When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with you above the storm Father, You are King over the flood I will be still and know You are God (song: Still, Hillsong)
(posted while on my retreat at Rivendell on Bowen Island BC)
Ever been tempted to cheat on an exam? Ever thought about taking a shortcut to achieve a means in order to make a gain? If you have, that’s normal. We’ve all come across one or two temptations to cheat within our lifetimes. It can happen in a person’s career, business, and in relationships.
At times, the temptation can be unbearable and eat away at you on the inside. It can be so irksome that you wish you didn’t have to deal with the temptation. What makes it worse is that you think you can actually get away with it without getting caught. Insane…right!
Do people ever get away with cheating? What makes us wonder about the possibility of getting caught is when we witness other people get away with it.
In the bible, a story about Jacob the cheater seemingly has no repercussions from cheating his older brother Esau out of his birthright, and later, also his blessing. As the story goes, Jacob had to run away because his older brother was very angry with him.
If the story were to end right here, it would seem to imply that Jacob got away without getting caught. We know he was caught and escaped death by running for his life.
Later, he would have to pay a price. He runs to his uncle Laban’s house. Meets his two daughters Leah and Rachel. He ends up having to work seven years to have Leah as his wife, then another seven years to have Rachel. He felt cheated out of seven years and then another seven years because Laban had the intention of cheating Jacob out of his labor.
Later, schemes of cheating one another would continue when Jacob tries to exact revenge on uncle Laban by cheating him out of large herds of goats, lambs, and sheep. He had to run away again.
This whole story of dishonesty, conniving and exacting revenge on one another takes place between chapters 25-33 in the book of Genesis. It seemed like an endless cycle.
In reading this entire story as a whole, we can see that cheating does not pay. An endless cycle of dishonesty, cheating and revenge will take place.
So if you ever had thoughts of cheating on exams, on your spouse, on your co-workers, better think twice. Cheating does not pay. You will get caught…eventually. Justice will be repaid.