In college I got very involved in a local Catholic campus ministry program. The priest who oversaw it was Fr. Brendan Walsh. He is from Ireland and has been one of the greatest spiritual influences in my life so far. I even got to go on pilgrimage groups with him to Medjugorje and Ireland.
One time I arrived for a holy hour of Eucharistic Adoration before Mass. I came dragging a bag of books, my Bible, and journal.
He looked at me, saw my stuff and smiled saying, "Patty dear, you talk to much at God. You have to stop talking and shut up. That way you can hear God better."
Yup the priest told me to shut up. Stop flapping my gums in mindless prayer.
Don't just yammer at Jesus. Listen to Jesus...just be with Him.
Over the years, I have still teased him about it. But the older I get and more I grow in my relationship with God, I see how right he was in telling me that.
Last week again a similar type experience happened while I was on silent retreat. But this time, the insight came from one of my best friends (who happens to be a priest) and was my spiritual director.
We were meeting for daily direction. I would receive my Scripture passages to pray and meditate with for the following day.
One day I came in sharing how Jesus was pointing out to me how controlling I can be with Him as well as in my daily prayer life. #humbledmuch ?
I started sharing how uncomfortable that made me feel to acknowledge this. I began to see all the ways I don't let God be God, the ways I try to be God. I had to start to realize when I start to regiment and put God in a box, that never goes well.
While I love Jesus a lot and want to live my life for Him, I also am apparently controlling.
As I shared this with my friend, he started smiling ear to ear.
"Patty are you really surprised?"
"Everything you do is fast and quick and certain. You talk fast, you write fast, you read fast, you walk fast....your power walking leaves people in the dust!"
Geez. What is it with priest's calling my bs?! ;)
One the blessings of taking time to go on retreat is that you get uncomfortably outside your comfort zone and daily routine. And when we do that, when we make the space for God intentionally we put ourselves at a better disposition to hear His voice.
I want to get better at making more space for God in my life. Not the kind where its like checking off a box on a goal-planning sheet. But the kind of space that helps me re-arrange my life, attitude, and perspective.
I want to make more time for silence in prayer.
I want to have more silence in the car, puttering around my apartment, and life in general.
I want to have open hands with Jesus.
I do not want to be God in my life. I want to let God be God.
I want to shut up more in prayer, like Fr. Brendan sweetly challenged me when I was in college.
I am in a season right now where God is reminding me of lessons I need to constantly return back to.
Letting go of control.
I am fairly certain it will not be the last time God has to remind me I am being controlling or a priest telling me I cannot just talk at Jesus.
But deep down I am grateful for these lessons and reminders.
Because I know I really do want to live my life for Jesus...and more and more each day I realize He is the thing that only really matters in the end.
I started here with the idea of visiting all the different Catholic churches in Detroit between then and Lent. But somehow I didn't get much farther than the first few times I visited this particular church.
It is something very, very special. Passionate preaching. An incredible Gospel choir. Lots of cultural diversity. And a sense of welcoming community that often is hard to find in some suburban parishes.
The thing that most struck me that first Sunday I attended was the 5 people who came up and asked me my name. They noticed I was a stranger, that I was sitting by myself in the church.
Bob the older gentleman gave me the biggest hug at the Sign of Peace (which takes 15 minutes here because people walk around and hug each other!). Hermann the adult altar server said, "Hi my name is Hermann! I have never seen you before here. Welcome!" Three sweet older ladies came up, asked my name (without ever telling me their names!), and told me they love when visitors come.
I have fallen in love with this sweet community.
And for me it all started with friendly smiles and the ministry of name asking.
One of my favorite Gospel stories is when Mary Magdalene is at the empty tomb.
She is weeping, and so hysterical she mistakes Jesus for the local gardener. But when Jesus calls her name, "Mary" she realizes whom is actually standing before her. Whenever I read this story, I am always left wondering at the power of names. I think about the beauty when we hear God call us individually by our name.
The ministry of name asking and warm smiles is not one I see done really, really well in suburban churches sometimes. No, I am not saying you need to join an inner city church to find the best spiritual home.
But for me it is found in a small community on the east side of Detroit.
My experience at St. Augustine and St. Monica has reaffirmed to me the power of calling people by their name; whether thanking by the name the guy at Kroger who bags my groceries or the gas station attendant who gives me my change.
Call people by their name.
Do so with a warm, friendly smile.
Yes these are small things. But small acts of love can make a big difference.
Last week I went on a 5 day silent retreat. I was going through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. They are typically done over 5, 8, or 30 days. If you've never done them I would highly, highly recommend it.
I was really excited but nervous and anxious at the same time. For a very type A, loud -mouthed extrovert, 5 days of silence was going to be "interesting".
It was hard at times for sure (like the hissy fit I threw when the priest asked for my phone #yupthathappened).
At the same time, I couldn't imagine a better time to do it than in the middle of Lent.
I've been on retreats before but never the spiritual exercises. And it was both spiritually and mentally exhausting as well as refreshing.
God really convicted my heart of several pet sins I have grown to easily accustomed to. I realized yet again how noisy and loud my life is. I experienced sorrow in my heart during one meditation when I just wept for all the things in my life that hurt my friendship with Jesus. I wept (a lot) over excuses I have made for myself.
And yes God told me I was too controlling in our relationship and my daily prayer life.
One evening meditation I was given to pray with was Psalm 63. The very beginning of the Psalm starts off, "O God, You are my God." That part stopped me dead in my tracks.
I had to really sit with the fact God often is not God in my life, I try to be God.
And throughout the week, this issue of my control issues kept coming up in my reflection and other Scripture passages I prayed with. It came up when I had a full on hissy fit when I gave up my phone. And later in the week when I received really disappointing news of not getting a job I so very much wanted; I realized I tried to control getting what I wanted to happen.
Throughout the week, I kept asking Jesus to show me where I am controlling with Him...what are the ways in life I am controlling? Ask and ye shall freaking receive!
That is the hardest, but most beautiful part of silence. You cannot run away from the truth that wells up inside you. You cannot run away from yourself or what God is whispering in your heart. You have to face your all your stuff head on, there is no way to escape it.
Friday morning I was driving to my last daily spiritual direction appointment. I was feeling really sorry for myself and still hurt and confused why I didn't get this job.
I was driving along and asked Jesus out loud, "What are you trying to teach me with getting this news right now?" I sat in silence most of the ride, and in my heard heard, "You're not in control sweetie."
The image that came to mind as I heard those words deep down was Jesus just gently rubbing my head as He spoke to me.
You're not in control sweetie.
No I am not. I never have been. And maybe for the first time in my life I am realizing that.
And that is has been hard, exhausting, refreshing, and eye-opening all in one.
But that is the thing. God is always a gentleman. He never shames us. If we hear that voice of shame or condemnation creeping in, it is never Jesus but always Satan. #gobacktoHellwhereyoubelong !!!
These 5 days helped me become really honest and vulnerable with myself and more importantly God.
I have a new, more refined perspective on some things in life. I will be on that journey till the day they put me in the ground.
But the beauty of this time away is I cannot un-learn what I have learned about myself or heard God speak to me.
I am learning how to really have open hands with God and not be grabby where I am so attached to what I want for my life.
That can be an awkward place to be. But for me right now, it is the best possible place to be.
Jesus, please help me to live my life with open hands. I want You to be God. I don't want to be God.