Lent image–Proverbs 17:22

Blessed 4th day of Lent!

04 Lent--Ash Wed week--Cheerful heart medicine--Proverbs 17 (click on image to enlarge)

After what I wrote yesterday, you might think:  but how can I be cheerful when I am feeling so sad or upset? Didn’t you just say that Jesus had feelings of agony, distress, anger, grief, etc.?

My guess is that the person writing this proverb knew full well that a range of emotions is completely normal. After all, the Scripture is filled with emotion, and much of it poured out to God in prayer (take look at the book of Psalms!). I am a firm believer that we have a right to be honest about our feelings.

However, when we bring an overall attitude of cheerfulness to others, it spreads like a positive kind of energy flow. Some of the studies I’ve read say even using your “smiling muscles” on your face brings a change in the way your brain and body are experiencing the moment. Certainly when we smile at another person, it often brings a smile to their face and a pleasant feeling going forward into their day. We have the ability to spread joy–or at least comfort in the midst of sorrow.

The “bones” in the bible often refer to the deepest essence of a person…as in “I feel it deep down in my bones” or “deep in the marrow of my bones”… So I think the writer Proverbs 17:22 is reminding us that if we feed our spirits constantly with “downers” (for example, feeding ourselves on the media so much that we are constantly afraid or anxious–and spreading that fear to others), then we risk harming ourselves at the deeper level of who we are at core.

What do you think?  I welcome your comments below.

What kind of crosses are you carrying?

Today’s reflection in Liturgical Press’ Give Us This Day explores the kinds of crosses we carry–some of which are really not the cross God wills for us to have to endure. Benedictine sister Macrina Wiederkehr writes:

Many of the crosses we choose to carry are not redeeming. To name just a few: living with resentment, withholding forgiveness, needing to be in control, being unwilling to learn from others, selfishly demanding my own way, remaining imprisoned in addictive ways of living.*

Many times we don’t even realize we are carrying these types of crosses. When it comes to light that “we are carrying a cross of our creation–carved out of our own foolishness,”*  we can see it as a sign of spiritual growth. Some of the suffering in our life is not sent by God, but rather a result of our own attitudes or a natural result of our sinful choices.

On the other hand, the author also observes that some crosses we carry may have spiritual value. These crosses mysteriously participate in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. What made Christ’s suffering redemptive was not the pain or agony, but that he bore the suffering out of his great love for us.

Cruicifix--photo by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA. All rights reservedLent is the perfect time to ponder this question: What kind of crosses am I carrying? If you are like me, some of your personal suffering is really a result of choices you’ve made, or perhaps the attitudes you have. If I enter into a situation like a lion about to pounce, then it is likely I’m going to bring about more suffering on myself (and others!). On the other hand, if I enter a complex situation with the mind and heart of Christ, I may still suffer for speaking the truth, but what I say will be spoken with love, for the ultimate good of others.

Love sometimes involves being willing to suffer for another person’s sake, and that is the kind of suffering that mysteriously participates in the work of Christ on earth today. We may give up something we want to provide for our children. Perhaps we sacrifice a relaxing evening at home in order to pack food boxes for the hungry. We may take an unpopular stand on the job because of our commitment to Christ’s ethics of love and suffer as a result. When I think of these examples, crosses born out of love for another, I think of the words of Jesus:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matt. 16:24)

I like to paraphrase it this way:

Jesus says to us today:

If you want to be my disciple, to call yourself a Christian (“Christ-follower”), then you must be willing to set aside your self-centered self, take up your own cross, and come, follow me.

The next time you are talking a walk, journaling, praying at church, or just driving alone in your car, think about this:  What crosses are you carrying? Which ones are endured because of love and which are really due to your own self-centered choices? Would you like to lay some of them down at the foot of the Cross of Christ? Tell God in your own words whatever you think about the crosses in your life–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t be afraid to be honest with God no matter what. As they say, “God’s a big man–he can take it!” 

Until next time, Amen!

* From page 153 of Feb. 2013 issue of Give Us This Day (Liturgical Press), quoted from Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr’s book Abide.