inexpressible joy

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“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” 1 Peter 1:8

Earlier this week I had two conversations that struck me. The first was with a woman who shared that her deepest encounter with Christ was in the grief of her and her husband’s miscarriage. The second was with a man who wept at the thought of his aging parents passing from this world into eternity.

I saw the pain and suffering in each of their eyes as one remembered the past and the other anticipated what’s to come. Although the depth of their suffering couldn’t be measured, it swept over me like a strong wind. I watched as their faces clenched tightly struggling to withhold their sobbing. The capacity of their hearts moved me.

The human soul in all of its beauty, clinging to hope and trusting in love.

I didn’t say anything. 

I chose to let them breathe and weep and feel the peace of the Holy Spirit wash over their tears. Each of them, in their own way, embodied the fragility of life, the promise of heaven, and the inexpressible joy of loving Christ.

How do we make sense of what surpasses our understanding?

It’s an act of faith and a movement of love. We choose to believe in what we cannot see because Love himself has come to sweep us off of our feet. Through the highs and the lows, we let him love us, deeply. We open ourselves to Jesus, and he searches for the hidden crevices of our soul to redeem every hindered part of us.

What happened next struck me the most. I saw the strength of their faith overcome the threats of the enemy. Loneliness, despair, fear, and anxiety bow in the presence of our all powerful God who has come to turn our mourning into dancing.

And we worship him.

We worship him by receiving him. In receiving him, we rejoice in the remedy of his touch. We are encountered by the living God.

The man and woman, each in their own way, encountered Christ. They had received his promise of peace which overcomes anxiety and silences fear. In the middle of their struggle to comprehend loss and mortality, they found the only answer that makes sense: Jesus.

They allowed themselves to be consumed by his all-powerful love. A small foretaste of heaven. It’s the simple truth that the very thought of meeting Jesus face-to-face lifts us up, out of the grave, and into the canopy of his everlasting peace. And this is what I saw in the man and woman who let their hearts be received.

The promise of heaven stirs the heart to rejoice in faith.

“Jesus is a name of peace which calms all storms. A name of light which illuminates the nights of the spirit. A name which embraces and consoles…A name which penetrates even to the inner recesses of hearts and purifies them. A name of glory and splendor. A name that tastes of heaven.” – Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida

ask for it

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Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, fear of the Lord.

My eyes ran down the list of spiritual gifts eagerly scanning for a word to hone in on. There were brief descriptions of each.

“You have not because you ask not!” (James 4:2) was shouting at me from the top of the paper.

“Lord, what do I ask for?” I silently prayed. I had no idea. I needed Jesus to tell me what it is that I needed. So I silently asked, “Jesus, what do you want to give me?”

The two words that latched onto my heart were singlehearted and undivided, the definition of the spiritual gift of piety. I was perplexed at first, wondering what this meant. I felt my heart sink as my mind drifted to a weighty question.

How is my heart divided?

What happened next was beautiful. The Holy Spirit corrected my focus ever so gently. It was as if the Holy Spirit adjusted my chin to look in a different direction, communicating to me that now was not the time to focus on the places in my heart that are divided. Now is the time to receive the gift.

To set the scene, I was surrounded by co-workers, and we were leaning into this time of prayer together. I did not want to ask. My heart started pounding, and as the opportunity arose to ask the group to pray for me, I wanted to ignore the ever deepening thump of my heart telling me to speak up.

Staring at the floor to avoid eye contact, I mustered up the courage to ask for prayer for the gift of piety: to be undivided and singlehearted. They laid hands on me, and I listened to their prayers. Jesus spoke to me about this gift, and it became clear why the Holy Spirit wanted to give it to me.

The undivided heart swims through an ocean of love, breathing in the presence of Christ. Without fear, the undivided heart surrenders in joyful ease as it trusts completely in the faithfulness of God. Clinging to hope, the undivided heart invokes courage to cast its net another time into the deep.

In actuality, I want nothing more than to be released from hesitation, fickleness, or weariness that comes from trying to cast my sails in too many directions. Jesus wants to be my anchor. He wants to be your anchor.

He wants you to feel the security of trusting in his perfect will. Jesus desires for you to be grounded in his covenant of protection, generosity, unconditional love, loyalty, mercy, and eternity. He wants to answer your request to be filled with the gifts of the Spirit!

Here’s a word I want to share with you, before we get to the asking… The Lord spoke to the prophet Ezekiel about restoring Israel, and today, he whispers this promise of renewal to you:

“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! … I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:4-6

The Holy Spirit longs to breathe his gifts into your dry bones. He desires an abundance for you, not a scarcity. He wants to awaken your soul and bring it to life. The Lord longs for greater union with you, and the spiritual gifts will draw you closer to his heart. Plus, he is a gift-giver!!

What gifts of the Holy Spirit will you ask for?

Wisdom: Insight into the purpose and plan of God
Understanding: A disposition to the Word of God; regarding the economy of salvation
Knowledge: As God sees it, of truth, of reality, of God himself, of sin
Counsel: Desiring new law perfection toward perfect charity (poverty, chastity, obedience)
Piety: Devotion to God; singlehearted, undivided, desire for him
Fortitude: Moral firmness in difficulty and constancy in pursuit of the good
Fear of the Lord: Awe and reverence before God

“Ask and it will be given to you…” Matthew 7:7

self-gift

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“To God who reveals himself one must give the obedience of faith by which man freely commits himself as a whole to God.” (Dei Verbum, 5)

As one of the prominent documents of the Second Vatican Council, this quote from Dei Verbum encapsulates a critical moment of a Christian’s life. The moment in which one freely commits him/herself as a whole to God through faith.

Karol Wojtyla, now known as St. Pope John Paul II, reflects on this quote from Dei Verbum in his book, “Sources of Renewal: The Implementation of the Second Vatican Council,” saying:

“Essential to faith is an attitude of self-commitment to God…the attitude of self-gift is the most vital and vivifying point relating to the whole process of the enrichment of faith. By giving himself as a whole to the self-revealing God in the obedience of faith, the believer grasps his own identity as a person who has come to share in the Person of the Son in relation to the Father by the gift of the Spirit.” (206)

The most vital and vivifying point of the enrichment of our faith is our self-gift to God. That’s pretty important. And it’s not just the highlight reel of our faith life, it’s a daily gift of self to God that enriches our faith.

As a ministry consultant traveling to visit parishes across the country, I have the privilege of meeting, speaking, and praying with a multitude of lay faithful. It’s the greatest part of my job!

In talking with men and women about their faith, I find that this concept of self-gift is either troubling or foreign. We spend much of our time trying to grasp God’s love and receive it fully in our lives through the sacraments, prayer, Scripture, and community. We are comfortable acknowledging the bounty of blessings he bestows on us honoring the beauty, glory, and unconditional love of God.

However, if we are to be in relationship with him, we must, as St. John Paul II writes, cultivate an attitude of self-gift to God. We must offer the entirety of ourselves to God as a gift, which presupposes that we believe who we are in our entirety is a gift.

Do you believe your past, present, and future, body, mind, and soul, are a gift to God?

Furthermore, your self-gift is the deepest expression of love to God you can offer.

You are a gift to God. Your identity, rooted in Christ himself, formed with intention and crafted with precision. It’s pretty language, and for many of us, we have heard it a number of times. So go ahead and roll your eyes and utter the words “I know, I know.” Now it’s time to wake up to the reality of this truth today. It may be different today than it was yesterday for you, because every day is new and our enemy is always looking for an edge.

I’ve heard it thousands of times, and I’ve probably said it twice as many times. But today, I feel like about 85% of me could be a gift to God. The other 15% percent feels like a burden. The part of me that feels frustrated with his timing, lacks trust, and is hurling sarcastic digs at him doesn’t feel like a gift. I’m perpetually exhausted doing what I love, but feeling a lack of self-care, and trying to figure out how to survive a dark and stormy winter.

Yet, as I write these words, my heart trembles by the relentless heart of Christ who says, “Yes, I want that too. The 85% is great, but the 15% is the gift I’ve been waiting for, asking for… Will you please give it to me?”

When we give him the 15% (insert your number here), we are saying,

“I love you, too.”

And it’s only then that my identity in Christ is strengthened as I grasp the fuller meaning of relationship with Jesus. There’s no holding back. The Holy Trinity only exists in complete submission to the other persons – fully, fruitfully, and faithfully.

The part that gets me every time is that when I unload my 15%, I end up falling deeper and deeper in love with God. I hear his voice with greater clarity in my prayer, and while the things of this world that fill up my 15% don’t change, my attitude and perspective do. As I grow in relationship with the Trinity, through an act of faith in my self-gift, I learn how to love with less fear and greater abandon.

When was the last time you completely submitted yourself to God?

Ideally, it would be daily. But the beautiful thing is, God isn’t in the game of shaming. He simply wants you, the whole package, today and every day.

And for now, he will take whatever your gift is. It could be joy, confusion, praise, questions, anger, sadness, love, repentance, time, grief, anticipation, or some concoction of all of the above.

Who you are is a gift. It’s your expression of love to your perfect lover.

What is your self-gift to God today?

 

Photo by Kelly Olson – dillonandkelly.com | Instagram: @dillonandkelly @kellyolson_