You Can Count On God!

Though there is nothing typical about my life these days, I have held on to my morning routine. After whispering a prayer of thanks for the new day, I count. Because my lower back is full of arthritis, I complete four exercises before I get out of bed. I count forty reps for each one. When I get up, I lie on the floor to complete four additional exercises which require a firm surface. Once again, I count forty reps for each one. Years ago, my physical therapist assured me that the results would be worth the effort. She was absolutely correct because my back rarely bothers me. Finally, I stand for one shoulder exercise which keeps that temperamental joint moving appropriately since surgery some years ago. And, yes, I count to forty for that as well.

In spite of the benefits of these exercises, I grow weary of the counting. I tried singing my way through each movement. Unfortunately, this left me with no idea of the number of reps I’d actually completed. I tried timing my efforts only to discover that I do them at a different pace each time. I even tried praying my way through them only to find that I couldn’t give appropriate attention to either activity. As I write, I imagine that the serious workout buffs and trainers among you will respond to all of this with, “Mary, just count and be done with it!” I smile as I admit that you’re right. Still, I find a morsel of vindication in Peter’s frustration with counting and in God’s lack of interest in the same…

In last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asked Jesus if it was enough to forgive his brother seven times. Poor Peter certainly didn’t expect Jesus to respond that he must forgive his brother not only seven times, but seventy-seven times. Jesus’ point was that the number of times we must forgive one another’s transgressions cannot be counted. We must forgive whenever it’s necessary. As I reconsider my morning exercises, I admit to being grateful that my forty reps of each one are enough. Poor Peter wasn’t as fortunate!

In today’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16), Matthew tells us that Jesus presented another counting scenario in a parable. On this occasion, Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven operates like the vineyard of a certain landowner. That landowner went out early one morning to seek laborers. When he found a group who agreed to the standard daily wage, he sent them off to work. An hour later, he hired more workers to whom he promised a fair wage. The man hired additional workers at noon, at three o’clock and then at five o’clock. When the workday ended at six o’clock, the landowner told his foreman to pay all of the laborers beginning with those hired last. The foreman paid each man the standard day’s wage. When they realized what was happening, the laborers at the end of the line who were hired first began to count up their profits. If those who worked only one hour were given a full day’s wage, they could only imagine what they’d receive for the ten hours they’d worked. Ten times the daily wage was quite a sum! Much to their dismay, the foreman ignored their calculations and paid these laborers the standard day’s wage as well. When the men grumbled, the landowner reminded them that they’d been given exactly what they’d agreed to. The landowner then scolded them for resenting his generosity toward the other men. Those who worked only six or three or one hour had families to feed and debts to pay as well. The landowner had simply given them all what they needed to survive.

I’m truly relieved by that landowner’s choice to ignore the numbers when it came to providing for his workers. I’m even more relieved by Jesus’ insistence that this is precisely the way God operates when it comes to you and me. Though I’m compelled by my potentially aching body to count those reps when I exercise each morning, God isn’t compelled to count a thing. As sorely miserable as our efforts may be, God doesn’t keep score regarding them. God’s main interest is the moment at hand and our use of that precious gift. Every time we do the right thing, we accomplish good. In the process, we improve God’s vineyard as we and those around us blossom in unexpectedly beautiful ways.

Today, God continues to be the landowner who seeks laborers to tend to the fields of this life. God is pleased with those of us who begin our labor at daybreak and give our all for the duration. At the same time, God continues the search for more laborers. Every time another accepts God’s invitation to do the best he or she can, God is pleased. God’s entire vineyard benefits from these seemingly delayed efforts. The lesson here is that God isn’t counting the hours we work. Rather, God celebrates the quality of our labor whenever it is the best we have to offer at the time. Now that’s something we can all count on!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Blessed Labor Day!

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy
because on it God rested from the work God had done….

From Genesis 2:3

I’ve always enjoyed Labor Day. When I was a child, we observed this holiday with a picnic which included our extended family. Back then, the new school year opened the following day. This last day of freedom gave us kids good reason to celebrate. Later, when I discovered the meaning of labor for myself at my first job, leisure time became a precious commodity.

It was no accident that the author of Genesis allowed God a day of rest after six days of labor creating this world of ours. When Jesus came to remind us of God’s presence in a tangible way, he spent the greatest portion of his life working and resting just as we do. Only after living thirty years as a typical citizen of his day did Jesus set out to preach and teach. Even then, Jesus often stole away to rest in God’s company.

Labor Day 2020 is certainly different from those of the past. This year, we’re being quite creative in our socially distanced revelry in order to keep one another safe. We’re also celebrating essential workers who’ve risked so much for us in a very special way. In spite of the holiday, many of them are reporting to work as usual today. Let’s seize the opportunity to rest and to celebrate these workers and the special work to which you and I have been called. It seems to me that all of our best work is simply being there for one another. In the end, all of our work is precious in God’s eyes and today’s rest is well deserved!

Faithful God, thank you for the opportunity to labor and to rest in your loving care.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest and Rejoice

Sing joyfully to the Lord;
break into song and sing praise.

Psalm 98:4

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove up north to our favorite getaway, a little log cabin in the woods. In spite of the fact that we would stay-in-place just as we have here at home, we gave in to this much-needed opportunity to enjoy a change of scenery. Mike doesn’t enjoy driving. However, he is always thrilled to be at the wheel when we’re headed north. Though I always volunteer to share the driving, he rarely takes me up on my offer. This time around, I was grateful. I happily lay back and enjoyed the view beyond the car windows. Nature didn’t disappoint as summer’s splendor generously revealed itself. As much as I love walking outdoors at home, I love the ever-changing view as we drove along even more. As it happened, we made excellent time and were surprisingly refreshed when we arrived.

Though we intended to relax, as soon as we settled in, we found small projects to tend to. The first was Mike’s fourth stay-in-place haircut. Though I haven’t cut anyone’s hair since our sons were babies, Mike observed that I’ve done a respectable job for him so far! Afterward, we replaced bulbs in our outdoor lights and wiped down the screened porch. Before we knew it, it was dinner time. Fortunately, we had food as we’d brought along enough for our stay.

When Mike and I finally sat at the table, we laughed at how little we had relaxed that day. Still, we felt much better than we had when we decided we needed this get-away. Mike wisely observed, “Maybe we don’t mind working at the cabin because we don’t have to do it. We do it because we want to.” How right he was…

Gracious God, thank you for this opportunity to revive our spirits. Now we’re ready to get back to the work at hand in full earnest.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest and Be Grateful

Since on the seventh day God had finished
with the work he had been doing, God rested.

Genesis 2:2

I cringed as I considered all that I had to do. Mike and I had taken off for a few days of much-needed rest up north. We’d returned with a bag of dirty laundry to an inbox full of email and the full calendar we’d left behind. The relaxation we’d felt just hours earlier vanished with the blink of an eye. After filling the washing machine, I decided to see how our outdoor plants had fared while we were away.

As I rounded the corner of our porch, a slight flutter caught my eye. I stopped in my tracks to avoid disturbing a beautiful dove who rested on the edge of our birdbath. Though it was far too cold for her to be here, she rested peacefully. Such visitors usually fly off when I come near. Still, she remained content to stare in my direction. A ray of sunshine caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what she was up to, it occurred to me that she might wonder the same about me. When our gazes met, I realized that I hadn’t prayed much that day. The traffic and drizzle during the drive home had distracted me from my usual sense of gratitude. Did this lovely dove intend to remind me to slow down and to express that gratitude? Before she could reply, I resolved to recapture the restful peace which our treks to Wisconsin always bring. Then, I turned my eyes upward and whispered, “Thank you!”

Dear God, be with me as I make a habit of setting aside my to-do list as needed and of thanking you often.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relax With God

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:41-42

It’s taken me a lifetime to appreciate our need to slow down and to relax a bit. I truly enjoy the natural beauty around me. Still, I sometimes use more energy listing the reasons that I cannot head outdoors than I would’ve spent by actually walking. In the end, I accomplish far less than I might have if I’d been energized by a trek outdoors.

As I contemplate autumn’s arrival, I realize that outdoor opportunities will soon be limited by increasingly cold temperatures. Though I truly enjoy winter’s beauty, I’ll enjoy it firsthand for only a few minutes at a time. I looked away from my keyboard for a moment to respond to the tree outside of my window. It seemed to be waving to me. As I watched, it occurred to me that I must listen to Jesus who told Martha that she worried too much. I must also imitate Mary who sat peacefully at Jesus’ feet. She drew in his every word and all of the affection that came with them.

Today, I’ll ask Mary to move over a bit so I can take my place at Jesus’s feet as well. It’s there that I’ll learn to stop worrying about the cold which may or may not come and I’ll enjoy the warmth of the moment at hand. I’m going to sign off now to go for a walk. I want to wave to that tree outside my window in person.

Generous God, as I set aside my worries, help me to assist others in doing the same. Open our hearts to your infinite love and peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Labor Day and Everyday Blessings

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.

Luke 4:16

Throughout his life among us, Jesus did many things “according to his custom.” He must have worshiped regularly at the temple because he was well-versed in the scriptures and the goings on within his faith community. His parents must have taught him to pray often because the scriptures offer numerous accounts of Jesus’ efforts to spend quiet moments in prayer. Jesus consistently exhibited good manners because he never left anyone out of his conversations. Jesus also invited shunned outcasts to share a meal with him. His contemporaries referred to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son.” He must have earned this designation by working hard at Joseph’s side to learn his trade well.

You know, Jesus spent the greatest portion of his life doing the ordinary things which make up most of our lives. It seems to me that Jesus would not have spent 30 of his 33 years among us engaged in these ordinary things of there wasn’t something extraordinary about them after all. When Jesus embraced his human existence, he embraced our human existence as well. When Jesus made a holy life of those 30 years as a son, a carpenter and neighbor, he offered us the opportunity to do the same. Though most of us won’t die as Jesus did, we all have the opportunity to live as Jesus lived.

This is Labor Day, the perfect day to celebrate the potential for holiness of our labor and our leisure. How? Do as Jesus did. Do it all with love.

Loving God, thank you for revealing your goodness through the life of Jesus. Help us to transform the ordinary moments of our lives into the extraordinary, just as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved