Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Three Ways to Cope When Someone Dies

With over 216,000 deaths in the United States alone over the past eight months, there are few of us who haven’t experienced the loss of someone we care about. That loss is exacerbated by the covonavirus itself, which has meant that memorial services have become virtual Zoom events and family cannot gather to mourn the way we’re used to.

So how do you cope when someone you love dies?

  • Take care of yourself. This can be a dangerous time for you; many people experience a temporary “cognitive slippage” and none of us pays enough attention to eating, sleeping, driving, crossing streets.
  • Keep God with you. Keeping rosary beads in your pocket can be helpful. That immediate, physical touchstone recalls your mind and heart to God even when your feelings of grief and loss are overwhelming.
  • Celebrate life. Plant a flower, adopt a pet, volunteer some time, make a donation. In other words, do something positive. Death feels negative; it’s up to us to turn it around. 

We may have faith that those who have passed have been welcomed into the Kingdom of God, but that doesn’t take away the pain of losing them. What they would want is for their friends and relatives to remain healthy. So this is one thing you can still do for them.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Make a Difference in Difficult Times

We’re all in bad-news overload these days, it seems. Natural disasters, political frays, grief and sadness… it’s a constant assault on our minds and hearts, and with so much bad news coming at us, it’s easy to feel small, insignificant, and ineffectual.

But we’re assured that God loves us, that he has carved us into the palm of his hand. We are important in God’s eyes, and knowing that can empower us to take action:

  • Pray about it. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. God has arranged his world so we can make choices, and we can often discern his will when we open ourselves to it. Remember the words of Padre Pio: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry changes nothing. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
  • Do something locally. The world is a vast place, and changing it is a tall order. But you can make a difference locally. Support a local political candidate of your choice. Volunteer at a local shelter. Encourage your community to reuse and recycle. Support your local parish. This is the level at which you can effectuate change.
  • Educate yourself. If you accept everything you hear, then there’s reason to be discouraged. But choose something that bothers you, or excites you, and learn all about it. Explore it from different viewpoints. Expand your horizons. The world still might not make sense, but you’ll have gotten a little control over at least your understanding of it.

We live in difficult and confusing times. So did Christ; so did many of the saints of the Church. For some reason, God has called you to live in these times. Meet that challenge thoughtfully and prayerfully, and you can make a difference.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Reduce Stress

As the fall begins and the uncertainty of the next few months continues to affect us, it’s important to manage our stress. Here are three things you can do right now to lower your anxiety and promote health—physical, emotional, and spiritual:

  • Practice staying in the moment. Stress involves thinking about the past or the future, so it’s important to think about the present. Here’s the exercise: Take a few moments to stop and breathe deeply, and then notice your environment: What do you hear? What can you see? What do you smell? What can you touch? These simple steps can help keep us grounded.
  • Find (or create) a sacred space. A corner in your home, a nearby church, or simply a chair on your back porch can all become a quiet spot that calms you and puts you in God’s presence. Commit to spending at least 10 minutes a day in that space.
  • Simplify your life. Go through your material possessions and decide which things are necessary and which things are cluttering your life, causing needless additional stress.Jesus had little and still lived peacefully and joyfully in God. We can do the same.

Many of the factors that cause stress are outside of our control; but if we work to make the changes we are able to make, we’ll all feel lighter, more responsive, and a great deal less stressed.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Enjoy Fall

In the northern hemisphere, the weather is turning crisper, the days shorter. Fall officially arrives tomorrow, and for many of us, the spring and summer were so different this year that it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about yet another season of uncertainty. Here are three things you can do to not just survive this autumn, but also thrive:

  • Set aside time for reflection. “In autumn’s vibrant colors there are reminders of summer’s fullness of life, of winter’s impending bleakness, and of the prospect of spring not far beyond. Autumn compels us to think about life’s transience and continuity all in one.” (Allen M. Young)
  • Limit your busyness. Fall seems to be a time of accelerating activities after the lull of summer, and you can lose your whole season that way. Choose one special fall recipe, and make it. Choose one craft project, and do it. The extra time you’ll find? Perhaps an hour of Eucharistic adoration once a week?
  • Celebrate the calendar. Fall is filled with beautiful celebrations! Check out this saint of the day calendar and mark these moments: St. John Henry Newman;  Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael; and coming up in October is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Guardian Angels, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. John Paul II… the calendar is chock-a-block with celebrations! Why not mark them at home and do something special?

Fall doesn’t need to be dismal: its vibrant colors, crisper air, and bright blue skies can help us find new ways of living in God’s presence. Why not try one today?

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How to be Presence to Others

Why do we suffer? It’s a complaint humanity has lodged with God through the long centuries of our relationship, and it’s as unanswerable today as it was to the early Israelites. God never promises that we’ll not suffer; what he does promise is that we won’t be along. And just as we know Jesus us beside us in our pain, we too can be with others when they are hurting. We can be presence to them. But… how?

  • Remember God is there. God doesn’t rush in to fix things or to sugarcoat anything; God is there for us for the long haul, though everything. If we remember that, it helps us to just be with someone else who is suffering.
  • Validate the other person’s pain. The worst thing you can do is say “Cheer up, it’s not really that bad.” Even if it doesn’t feel “that bad” to you, it feels that way to them. Respect that and don’t minimize others’ feelings.
  • Be Christ to the person in pain. Don’t try to come up with answers; just offer Christ’s presence. The most difficult thing is to do nothing and just be; but you’re not doing it by yourself.

No one understands why we suffer, and there are no “right” prefabricated answers to pain. All that there is, is presence. You can be that presence; you can make sure that the person in pain is not alone. The ability to freely enter into the suffering of another is a reflection of God’s love, and it’s what we’re all called to do. 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Enhance Your Life

So many times we think about improving our lives by getting rid of bad habits, or finding another way of looking at the world. But there are small, incremental things that can have a tremendous effect on our quality of life. What are some of them?

  • Spend an extra five minutes with God. Five minutes isn’t much. It’s feasible for just about everybody. No matter what else you do, an extra five minutes can make much more of a difference than you might think. Five minutes paying. Five minutes reading Scripture. Five minutes sitting in front of an icon. Five minutes singing. This small amount of time, over time, will improve your life exponentially.
  • Read a new translation. The approved Catholic translation of the Bible is the New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), and it is where we turn for our daily and liturgical readings. But often we can find inspiration and elucidation by reading another version in addition to the NRSVCE. One interesting translation is The Message, which is not a study Bible, but rather a “reading Bible.” The verse numbers have been left out of the print version to facilitate easy and enjoyable reading. 
  • Do one “good deed” a day. We are at our most fully human when we are reaching out to others. This can be a small thing—a kind word at the checkout, paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line, offering to help someone carry their groceries—but it extends God’s love through you to others.

We all want to make big, dramatic changes in our lives, but the truth is that it’s the small things that over time can make the biggest difference. Try these for a few weeks and see what happens!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Participating in God’s Creativity

Imagine trying to apply Jesus’ Golden Rule without creativity! He said, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). So… how do you figure out what that is? By using your imagination! By putting yourself in that other person’s space. By participating in God’s creative work. We are made in God’s image, and therefore we participate in his creativity. But some days it’s not easy to feel creative. How can you manifest it today?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask yourself, “What if?” Every time we worry or feel discouraged, there’s always a counter-suggestion our creative minds can make. What if there could be a better food pantry in your community? What if that tired wall in your bedroom could be freshened up with an image or reminder of God’s beautiful creation? “What if” is the first step toward making change—toward creating!
  2. See what’s out there. Yes, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the grass is green. But how extraordinary, when you think of it, that it should be green! What a creative, beautiful color! Look at the world afresh and it will inspire you.
  3. Know you’re already doing it. You imagine every time you make a plan, whether it’s what to cook for dinner or how to educate your grandchildren. As long as you’re engaging with your mind and visualizing outcomes, you’re being creative.

God is a creator, and we as children of God have a creative side. We have a desire to make something new and beautiful. God’s world rings with wonders and we all have a part to play in the overall symphony.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Persevere

Endure and persevere. If we asked our ancestors the way through a crisis, chances are good their advice would include those words. A person who has perseverance endures, no matter what the trials or how much suffering or grief they have to go through. It’s from the root word meaning “to remain under.” It means a person would be willing to remain under trials, if necessary, and to follow God’s way. But how do we find that depth and breadth of perseverance?

  1. Read Scripture. We all look for how-to manuals; and we have one in the Bible. You’ll find if you read the Bible regularly, you’ll be less likely to get upset. (The opposite is also true: if you’re not reading the Bible regularly you’re more likely to become stressed and overreact to little things.)
  2. Keep moving. Perseverance isn’t about standing still, it’s about moving: St. Paul likens life to a race, and his images are appropriate. The world is powerful and trying to pull us down with lies, but we can discipline ourselves, and we can run. We don’t merely brace ourselves for the things life throws at us. We run through them, and we’re not running alone.
  3. Get outside yourself. We’re not only meant to persevere through our own problems: St. Paul tells us we “bear one another’s burdens,” too. Connection to both God and others will give us the strength to keep moving through whatever is before us, and in helping others persevere, we learn to persevere as well.

We can learn from St. Paul. God helped him persevere through horrific experiences—being shipwrecked, beaten, hunted, mocked, and thrown in jail. And even with all of this God gave St. Paul a “thorn” to remind him even more how much he needed God. St. Paul understood that God’s grace is sufficient for anything he might have to persevere through. God doesn’t always save us from hard times, but he will always be with us through hard times.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Three Ways to Find Courage

“The true pilgrim who has found the way says in his thankful heart, ‘I will run when I can, when I cannot run I will go, and when I cannot go I will creep’ (Fr. William Congreve, SSJE).” Sometimes we forget that the greatest courage can be the quietest, and that creeping along can be blest by God.

  • Sometimes, courage is loud and obvious, as when David fought Goliath. Everyone saw how he defeated the giant. But courage isn’t always showy. Sometimes it’s quiet. You might see it but not be able to identify it at the time. Be aware of looking for examples of quiet courage in those around you; it can inspire your own.
  • Courage is persevering when we don’t like our circumstances. It’s looking at the hard day ahead and putting one foot in front of the other to keep moving forward. It’s saying, I don’t want to do this, but I have to, and I know I’m not alone—God is walking with me.
  • We can rest knowing we don’t have to depend on our own strength; God will give us what we need, when we need it. We have a Heavenly Father who is for us greatly encourages us in facing our fears.

However it is that you are facing the challenges of these days, even if you are creeping through them one step, one moment at a time, remember that as you creep, you are not alone. The One who promised to be with us, even to the end of the age, is with us still, whether we are running, or going, or creeping. 
 
This week, as you creep along, look back with amazement at what you have managed, and look forward with courage, knowing that Jesus is with you, even in your creeping.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Develop Patience

Patience! Who among us hasn’t wished for more of it? As one humorous prayer would have it, “God grant me patience, and I want it right now!” So much of our lives would be easier and more fruitful if we could just slow down and take life in God’s time, not our own. But how do you develop patience?

  • The spiritual practice of fasting is one way many of the saints—and less-saintly people—have been able to develop patience. Fasting can help you be more calm and patient, even in frustrating situations: because it doesn’t offer immediate gratification, it can help you develop an appreciation of waiting.
  • Since we often lose patience with other people, cutting them a little slack can start with inserting the word “yet” into our vocabularies. “Mary didn’t remember to call me yet” is a world away from “Mary didn’t remember to call me.”
  • It’s good to learn to observe when our lack of patience comes from a sense of entitlement. Problems aren’t all about us! If you’re sitting in bad traffic because of an accident on the road ahead, praying for those involved in the accident takes the focus off you and your impatience to get where you’re going on time.

“Love is patient,” says St. Paul, and if we are a people of love, as we are called to be, then we need to be a people of patience. Try just one of the suggestions here every day and see if it doesn’t get a little easier—and remember that if it doesn’t, prayer will always help!