God’s Prayer

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

A string of troubling news from family and friends prompted me outdoors. Though to those around me this appeared to be an effort to get some much-needed exercise, it was actually my effort to get God’s full attention. I had a laundry list of requests to make on behalf of those in need and this walk would provide the time necessary to dictate this list to my ever-patient God.

Yes, this reflection is being written by the very same person who has repeatedly assured you that God knows our troubles better than we do. The good news is that, as soon as I made it to the end of my block, an insistent breeze nudged me. It pushed me along just enough to remind me of this truth. With that, I uttered a single sentence to the Lord God and then continued my walk in silence. “You know what’s wrong, Dear God, and I know you’ll be with us as we deal with it.”

In spite of all of the scripture passages available, when Jesus taught us to pray, he chose the few, simple and powerful words which have become the Lord’s Prayer: Daddy, you are the best parent we will ever have, you resides in heaven and are deserving of our praise. We ask that your will be done because your plans will take us to far better places than our own plans ever will. We ask for our daily bread, to be forgiven and to be kept from temptation because you will respond to all of our needs. We take your care to heart, and we forgive one another and care for one another as you do. So be it!

Loving God, Jesus said it best. Teach me to pray selflessly and with absolute faith in your love for me and for all of your children.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Be Lovingly Persistent

“The works that God gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

John 5:36

Sometimes, I’m impatient with our humanity. I become frustrated with others, especially at church, when they forget that we’re actually God’s family. I become frustrated with myself when I allow their antics to distract me from the work at hand. So it is that I must return to my childhood musing regarding the behaviors of Jesus’ contemporaries. If it was obvious to me at age eleven that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God, I wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept this. They knew that Israel awaited the Messiah. Foreign astrologers had recognized the sign in the night and traveled a long distance to find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. It seemed to me that the Pharisees and many others should have known better than to reject Jesus.

As I consider my current frustration, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. We see all that Jesus accomplished from his humble state. We see that Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve us. We see that Jesus sought the company of outcasts and that he set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed. Still, we do as I have done and become angry when others who don’t conform to our hopes and desires.

Jesus persisted in spite of and because of the humanity of those he’d come to this earth to love. Times haven’t changed much and it’s up to me to persist as Jesus did with patient love.

Good and Patient God, help me to do just that!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Remember

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

This morning, my thoughts turn to our service men and women near and far, present and past. Each of these brave souls accepted an obligation which had or has the potential to take them to the point of death. Though some battled doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, each one responded to duty’s call. Today, while tens of thousands of flags decorate our lost service-persons’ graves, their present-day comrades carry on for us and for people of good will throughout this world. Today, I honor each one with my gratitude and with my prayers on their behalf.

My Memorial Day remembrances include all loved ones who’ve passed from this life to the next. Though some never wore a military uniform, they embraced roles which proved to be life-giving to the rest of us. Whether our parent, our spouse, our child, or family member or friend, those whom we mourn accepted their obligations as well. At times, they succeeded and their impacts upon our lives were sources of joy. At times, they failed miserably and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Perhaps they walked away from us when we needed them most. Sometimes, we civilians can be tempted to be AWOL from a commitment that seems to require too much. Still, we mourn our lost loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is good news in all of this. Often, after we bid them our final farewells, our memories focus less upon our loved ones’ failures. When we reminisce, we recall the happy times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. We’d dubbed a second father-turned-saint.

This Memorial Day, we celebrate life after this life in the names of those who know it firsthand. We also celebrate the selective memory which prompted our beloved Creator to embrace them in spite of their frailties and perhaps because of them. This Memorial Day, we celebrate knowing that, when our time comes, God will offer the same welcome to you and me.

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Days

I’ve always preferred handwritten letters to email. Still, I communicate via email every day. I thought I’d adapted to this expedited mode of communication until this morning. After rereading the Mother’s Day cards I received from my family, I stowed them in my memento drawer. It’s always a mistake to open this drawer because I can’t walk away without revisiting the correspondence there. This time, a letter from our son Mike caught my eye.

Our son’s letter opened with “Mom + Dad” and closed with that all-important “Love, Mike.” It was quite impressive that Mike had written at all as it was the end of the last semester of college and he was in the midst of finals. Nonetheless, he took the time to warn us about an unexpected charge on his credit card. He needed clothing for a job interview and he determined that this was one of those “emergencies” for which we’d provided that card. After apologizing for the expenditure, he added that his grades would soothe any discomfort we were feeling as he expected them to be very good. I suppose he added that “Love, Mike” for good measure. I laughed as I read from the yellowed notebook paper in my hand. I wondered what Mike would have written if he’d been able to text that day. Would he have included the reassurance regarding his grades? Would he have added, “Love, Mike”? My musing brought to mind my own experiences with texting and email.

My extensive use of written language requires me to rely on automatic spell-check and my own proofreading to ensure that my messages say what I intend. Because I think far more quickly than I type, my typos are numerous. Oddly, my most frequent error occurs when I close my emails with “Have a good day!” While proofreading, I invariably find that I’ve actually typed, “Have a god day!” This compels me to wonder if I should use the email and texting shortcuts or imojis which save everyone else so much time and space. Or, should I end my emails without that final call to a “good” day? As I ponder further, it occurs to me that “g-o-d” is far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s actually the most important word that I know. Finally, I consider the possibility that my frequent error may be an inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day. Perhaps this error isn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing “Have a God day!” all along. I share all of this because “God days” seem to be at the core of last Jesus’ message to his disciples before ascending to heaven. Just as my son made his point by closing his letter with “Love, Mike”, Jesus closed his time with his disciples with specific language regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them.

When Jesus bade them farewell, he reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) shares that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. Perhaps John felt that Jesus had said all that needed to be said long before he ascended. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Apparently, “God days” are intended for us all.

On this Ascension Day, as I consider Jesus’ last conversations with this friends, I can’t help thinking of my son’s letter. Though he shared a bit of bad news regarding that credit card bill, he surrounded it with the good news regarding his grades and job interview. More importantly, he ended with a reminder that his mom and dad are loved. Jesus ended every interaction with the assurance that those around him were loved. When Jesus left his disciples that day, he prayed that they and all of us would do the same. In light of God’s great love for us and our invitation to share that love, I can’t help using my new email closing: “Have a God day!”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rescued!

For God will rescue you from the snare of the fowler,
from the destroying pestilence.

Psalm 91:3

The other day, I ran into a former colleague. Years ago, I’d trained her and several other teachers to implement a reading program for first graders. Our students were those who weren’t progressing in reading. The intent was to give them the tools they needed to become competent readers. This teacher and her wonderful classmates certainly made me look good! They applied all we’d learned together and helped numerous children who might otherwise have found themselves in first grade for another year.

I bristled for a few moments as we recalled the outcome of our efforts. After two wonderfully successful years, the “powers that be” determined that we wouldn’t be allowed that critical third year to prove the staff’s and program’s worth in spite of the fact that the children’s classroom performances and test scores reflected extremely positive outcomes. To say the least, this news devastated me. I told my former colleague that I’d never before felt this helpless in my workplace. When I left my office for air that day, I didn’t notice a soul. I literally ran away from this terrible setback by hurrying down the corridor. Later, a fellow teacher asked why I ignored her greeting when I’d walked past her earlier. I had no idea she’d spoken to me. At that moment, tears threatened until a small voice intervened. My friend laughed as I relayed what the little boy before me asked that day. “Hi, Mrs. Spinach. I’m coming to your class today, right?” I quickly responded, “Of course you are!”

You know, neither this teacher nor our colleagues nor I could change this unfortunate decision. Nonetheless, we could arm our current students with the skills they needed to read, and this is exactly what we did for as long as we could. Now, whenever I feel that there is nothing I can do to improve things, I simply listen for a small voice to show me the way.

Loving God, you rescue me again and again with a small voice which points me in the right direction.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Knows…

God looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld the earth,to hear…

From Psalm 102:20-21

From the time I was very young, people asked me to pray for things. With youthful zeal, I obliged as best I could. Every night, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed, she always asked, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I’d told my mom that I already said my prayers, she asked me to add an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had something difficult to deal with. Again, I happily obliged. I was pleased that someone thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, difficulties which seemed not to be eased by my prayers gave me reason to question this effort. I found myself wondering often if my prayers did any good at all. Fortunately, I eventually realized that presenting a laundry list of requests to God wasn’t the best use of our time together. I learned to sit quietly for a bit. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and for those I carried for others. Though I wasn’t always certain of what my prayer accomplished, just acknowledging that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew that something would be done in God’s good time.

Dear God, I will try never to doubt your concern for us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved