It’s a trap!

December 2nd Sunday Readings.

When I was a youth minister, I once got a speeding ticket with an 8 foot tall, 200 lbs cross in the bed of my truck. I was leaving a retreat house and didn’t notice when the speed dropped 15 mph without any discernible reason. It was no coincidence that an officer of the law was ready and waiting for me to pass at an advanced speed. After politely itsatrapreceiving my ticket and getting back on the road, I did my best Admiral Ackbar impression and exclaimed, “IT’S A TRAP!”

Getting caught in a speed trap has an element of surprise and unreadiness. Traps don’t happen on accident. To set a trap for someone else is a purposeful decision. 

In the gospel Jesus warns us to beware, to prepare because Jesus’ second coming will be a surprise to all. Why do we have to choose to be prepared? Jesus explains that everyday life can be a trap. We can be lulled into the belief that everything will continue as it always has and that our comfortable, if slightly boring, waking and working and sleeping will continue perpetually. 

In the list of 3 things that can distract us from being prepared, Jesus first names carousing and drunkenness, which make sense. Then Jesus names, “the anxieties of daily life” as a thing that can keep us from being ready. Getting bogged down in the drudgery of life as it always is can keep us from being ready for the Lord. 

So how do we avoid this trap? I think the answer is to be outward focused. When we are only focused inward, on our own needs and wants, we grow in anxiety about our own hungers and thirsts. But when we focus on others, I’ve found, we lose ourselves in serving and anxieties of our daily life seem so much less important. 

Beware! Prepare! (by looking to serve selflessly the people you encounter every day.)

LIVE IT: For the first week of Advent, try approaching every person you encounter by thinking, “How can I serve this person right now? How can our encounter leave them feeling happy, holy, or healthy?”

Anxiety Kills Joy.

May 6th Sunday Readings.

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? When this Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.17.00 PMhappens to me, it is because I am anxious. Sometimes I am anxious about some mistake, misstep, or sin I can’t do anything about but haven’t really forgiven myself for. I think back to the moment of my miscue and shutter with disappointment.

More often my anxiety is about something that is coming up. It’s as if I know I should be doing something about the upcoming event or tough decision or difficult conversation, but instead of doing something constructive, I worry. 

I know that neither of these are logical or healthy, but sometimes it feels like I can’t help it. When I’m anxious, I don’t make good decisions. When I am anxious, I don’t eat well or take care of myself. When I am anxious, prayer seems nearly impossible. 

I think that anxiety is the enemy of joy. Some may say that sadness is the opposite of joy, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve been joyful and grateful and weeping for sadness all that the same time. No, it is anxiety that steals my joy. 

In the gospel, Jesus invites us not just to be joyful, but to have joy that is complete! What an amazing promise that if we remain in God’s love, we will have complete joy. If anxiety is keeping us from having complete joy, we need an antidote for anxiety. 

In the gospel, we are given the antidote to anxiety – Jesus himself. Okay, I know, that seems pretty obvious, but Jesus outlines three specific ways to have complete joy.

  1. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” First, Jesus says if we keep his commandments, then we remain in his love. How do we avoid anxiety? Remain in Jesus’ love. How do we remain in his love? Keep his commandments. St. Paul says the wages of sin is death. Anxiety is death to joy. How do you give life to joy? Keep his commandments. Do what Jesus says and we will find joy. 
  2. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” We remain in Jesus love when we love others the way that Jesus loves us – by laying down our lives for others. Joy is given birth through selfless love. When we pour ourselves out for others, then we will find joy. Selfishness will lead to anxiety and death. However if we love someone by sacrificing for them, we will find authentic joy.
  3. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” Remember God has chosen us. We can be confident that God has called us to love self sacrificially and that we are called to cultivate that love until it bears fruit. Authentic discernment is a good thing, but often we get caught in a cycle of uncertainty and self doubt robbing us of our calling and leading us to anxiety. When we don’t act with the confidence of someone chosen by God (which we have been), we can’t be joyful. We can be humble and confident, because we have been chosen by God. 

Don’t let anxiety steal your joy! Remain in God’s love by keeping the commandments. Love others self sacrificially to love like Jesus. Remember that God has chosen you to bear fruit in the world. Be joyful!

Live It:
Smile. Chosen a day in the next week to smile at people without cause. See what happens. Thank God for joy!

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PS – One last thing here. The kind of anxiety that I am writing about is regular run of the mill worries and everyday frets. If someone is struggling with more significant anxiety and maybe even feeling anxious to the point of changes in eating or sleeping, loosing interest in work or hobbies, or major shifts in relationships, then a conversation with a professional may be something worth looking into. 

Worried.

The Good Word for Sunday Nov. 29th ~ for the complete readings click here.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope this week is bountiful and a beautiful, peaceful time for you to count blessings with friends or family. Frankly, I am looking forward to a couple days of cooking, eating, napping, and sharing stories with good people.

One line from the gospel got my attention this week. No it wasn’t “People will die of fright,” although that’s a good one too.

No the line that caught my attention was, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life…” Basically, Jesus is warning us that if our hearts become drowsy the second coming may catch us off guard, which, I gather from context, is bad. If we aren’t actively preparing for Jesus to enter into our lives, then we may be surprised, and not in a good way, when Jesus comes to us.

I totally get how the first two actions cause us to have drowsy hearts. Drunkenness and carousing (which I found out through a little research was basically just loud, musical drunkenness) makes sense as things that lull our hearts to sleep. If we spend our time excessively drinking and goofing off, we dull our own attentiveness to Jesus. Got it.

The third item is what surprised me. Jesus warns that we can get a drowsy heart from worrying about daily anxieties. On a list of the three things that can distract us from looking for God, Jesus lists:

  • Partying
  • Drunkenness
  • Worrying

It kind of seems like one of these things doesn’t belong. Don’t we worry in order to stay on top of things? If I’m not worried about getting some place on time, will I get there? Aren’t we supposed to worry to be a competent adult?

I think “the anxieties of daily life” are on the list for two potential reasons. First, holding onto serious anxiety about daily life is a distraction. Worrying about daily life is focusing on less important stuff. Spending energy on things that don’t matter in the long run will leave us ill prepared to receive Jesus.

Secondly, worrying isn’t actually doing anything to move towards the goal of looking expectantly for Christ. I heard about a study that suggested people worry because it actually makes us feel better because it is better than doing nothing. How silly is that? Worrying makes us feel better, but it doesn’t actually make anything better. Instead of worrying, do something!

This Advent is an opportunity to expectantly await Jesus Christ with a ready and eager heart. If we can avoid carousing and the anxieties of daily life and we can keep our eyes, and our hearts, focused on our coming King.

Live It:
When you catch yourself worrying about something this week, say this quick prayer: I trust in you, Jesus.