Our Cup…Always Filled by a Generous God

pitcher-5By Daphne Reiley

Generous God . . . These words truly put into perspective our place in the relationship we have with God, through Christ.

Generous God . . .  Always reaching for us, aware of us and our needs.

Generous God . . . Pouring out grace upon grace into our lives.

How are we to respond to the generosity of God?

Do we look at our lives and see it?generosity arrowDo we look at the world around us and see it?

What is our responsibility in the face of that?

When Christ came into the world, through the abundant generosity of God, he embodied the Love of God.  The Love of God was and is the message.  The Love of God is the responsibility.  How do we carry that message, that responsibility into the world?

Our reactions to the events in our lives and in the world are largely determined by our acceptance of the generosity of God, of the Embodied Love of God, and all that we know of how Christ reacted to the events in his life on earth.

If we take a moment to think about the images we all carry of Christ, most of us would probably include his being faithful, loving, patient, kind, comforting, reconciling, inclusive, welcoming, non-judgmental.  So, when we lovingly listen to a neighbor in distress, give a smile to the harried attendant, remember to say thanks to the many people who assist us throughout the day, we are providing to others the Sustenance of God which we have received in our Cup.

When we react with compassion to the devastations of earthquakes and storms and respond with aid — whether with our time, talents, or money — we are responding with the Love of God.

In God’s generous and loving embrace of us through Jesus Christ is a profound forgiveness.  Forgiveness of our doubts, our ways of separating ourselves from Godand others.  We use the negatives in our lives to separate ourselves . . . From God, from our families, from our neighbors, from our fellow human beings in the world.  When we reach past those things which separate us from each other and God and seek to do God’s will in the World, we give from our Cup.  We begin to see each other as beloved of God and equal in God’s eyes.  We can look beyond our own troubles and see the pain and suffering in the World.

How can we infuse God’s generosity into our lives, and through our lives, into the World?

We must first listen.  Having faith in God’s enduring love and generosity, in Christ’s redemption of us, if we will but still ourselves and listen, we can hear what God is leading us to do.  We can then live our lives out of the Wisdom with which our Cup has been filled.

When we steadfastly seek God’s leading, when we listen, we hear God’s voice.  Henri Nouwen says, Many voices ask for our attention. . . . But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, “You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you.” That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen.  That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us “my Beloved.”

prThrough our prayers, we lift our Cup of Life to God, the Giver of Life Everlasting, to be filled or emptied as needed.

Through our prayers, we speak to God, who calls us Beloved.

Through our prayers, we listen to God, who delights in us and rejoices over us.

Through our prayers, we can become the answers and reflect the fullness of God’s love and generosity into the World!

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5 Ways to encourage kids to Journal

Writing - Girl in CarThere is no doubt that keeping a journal has long been considered a spiritual and personal discipline.  Even the Bible have hints of the journal genre–from parts of Jeremiah and Nehemiah and the psalms to first-person accounts in the book of Acts.

Christian history is also fraught with examples in which the act of journaling has connected the people of God to the movement of the Spirit.  St. Augustine, Julian of Norwich, and Thomas Merton immediately come to mind.

If journaling is such an effective way to grow spiritually, therefore, why not teach our young people to do it as well?

In fact, if a young person is called to be a disciple of Christ and can write or draw, there is no reason for that person to not journal.  Sometimes, they–like us–simply don’t know where to begin.

Here are five ways to encourage children to journal:

1.  Provide writing prompts.  Too often, we hear children say that they don’t know what to write about.  If we want to encourage them to experience God, however, it would be wise to give writing prompts.

Some prompts may include having children write about what they learned in Sunday School or church.  Others may be more general, like having a child write about how nature or a church season (like Advent) can help us see God’s amazing creativity.

2.  Show children how to write their prayers.  This is helpful in two ways: First, writing prayers help a child communicate with God in concrete ways that are familiar and fun.  Second, writing prayers will widen a child’s perception of what prayer is all about.

Prayers are more than mere words we say at the dinner table or in church; they are conversations with God in which we can be honest and open with all of the feelings, experiences, and circumstances that we face.  Writing prayers down help us memorialize those conversations.

3.  Let children copy a few verses from the Bible and have them write about what they think the verses mean.  We are often surprised at how much children listen and learn when we think they are not paying attention; just imagine how much they will learn if they engage the scriptures in a way that is intentional and reflective.

Scripture tells us to “meditate upon God’s Word” daily.  If I remember correctly, there is no age-limit to this challenge–all of us, young and old, need to learn how to meditate on God’s Word.  Writing God’s Word can be just as important as reading or hearing it.

4.  Let children draw as a part of their journaling experience.  When I had my first-born, I was delighted to find that stores sell kid-friendly journals that have a blank spot on the top half of each page.  Children write on the bottom half and then draw a picture to accompany what they wrote.

Sometimes self-expression is best portrayed in picture form than in writing.  Our children should explore every facet of art and journaling in order to experience and learn about God.

5.  Keep project-specific journals.  Children can keep more than one journal in their arsenal of spiritual disciplines.  A child can keep a missions journal, a travel journal, or a prayer journal.  This encourages children to recognize that they can “meet God” in places beyond their church.

It also encourages children to “join God at work” in the world as we adults point out ways we’ve met God along the way.  Taking a vacation, for instance, doesn’t mean we vacation away from God.  We vacation as a way to be on mission for God, and a child can record those points of contact where–guided by intuitive adults–God shows up to be at work in the world.

A christian is never too young to start implementing spiritual practices.  Journaling, as one such practice, is good for the brain, heart, and soul.  And, as St. Augustine once quipped, it encourages all of us, no matter the age, to tell our story “for the love of Your love.”

Caregiving is a learned habit

Welcome_Hands_1Caring for others is a habit to be learned.

One of the hardest classes I took in seminary was not theology or philosophy.  It was not even Hebrew or Greek.  It was pastoral care.

The aim of pastoral care is to teach students how to listen, confront conflict, counsel and give referrals, and have empathy.  In short, the class is a crash-course in cultivating a “pastoral presence.”

You might assume that having a pastoral presence–the ability to reflect compassion and care in every situation–is something that God gives every pastor as a gift.  That assumption is wrong.  It is hard to learn empathy and compassion, and such lessons must be honed over time.

In fact, everyone needs to learn how to care for others.  It is not a trait that we perfect just because we are human.

A recent article in the Washington Post finds that caring for others, being compassionate, and having empathy are critical values and practices that adults must teach children and one another.

Unfortunately, teaching people how to care is not high on the priority list of things to do.  We take it for granted.

The article highlights Harvard psychologist, Richard Weissbourd, whose research shows that nearly 80% of youths said that their parents were more concerned about their achievements than about how they–the youths–cared for others.

“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” Weissbourd said.

Teaching people to care for others must be intentional and strategic.  It must also inspire sensitivity and curiosity about other cultures, faiths, and communities.

And if people have to learn how to care for others, then it stands to reason that churches need to learn the same.

Many years ago, Trinity had a meeting to discuss the direction of the church and its ministries.  In the middle of that meeting, a couple who had attended the church for less than a year spoke up:

“We have been here for some time now, but no one has invited us over for dinner or to an outing.  No one has taken the time to get to know us.”

The whole congregation was flabbergasted and left speechless.   It was embarrassing, but it challenged us to improve our care for each other.

The church made an intentional effort to learn how to welcome guests, build a community of care, and establish ministries that helped people connect with God, with one another, and with the larger community.

It was not easy.  We literally had to tell parishioners how to greet guests and what to say when they saw an unfamiliar face.

We also had to teach churchgoers that the chairs in the sanctuary were not theirs–they may be asked to sit in different places if a new family took up residency in their favorite spots.

Over time, the entire culture of Trinity changed.  I went from asking specific people to greet guests to simply watching people greet guests on their own initiative.

Effective follow-up also improved over time: when guests returned to church, people welcomed them back, not approached them as if it was their first time.

Caring for others had to be taught indeed.

Unfortunately, we live in an age in which the individual and the individual’s needs often trumps the needs of others.  Our policies reflect it, our rhetoric perpetuates it, and our economics thrive on it.

Yet, when we bow before our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose care for others set an example for how we are to live, practice community, and enlarge our compassionate embrace, we find that caring for others takes precedence over our own needs, wishes, and wants.