Come, Follow Me…

Recently in a religious education class, we were discussing the call of the first disciples from the Gospel according to Mark. As part of the lesson, we did an activity with the children using a net – “fishing.” The net had just landed on one of the boys so it was his turn to say why he wanted to follow Jesus.

After a brief pause, Jack took the net into his hands and responded, “To be accepted and to be loved.” He smiled and then said, “I want to be a follower of Jesus because I want to be accepted and loved, and I want to be a better person.” The expression on his face and the tone of his voice as he said these words was so moving.

Although days have passed since leading this religious education activity, I find myself coming back to Jack’s words. “I want to be a follower of Jesus because I want to be accepted and to be loved and to be a better person.” I still find the purity in his response so striking…so precious.

However, I am mindful that as time goes on and Jack advances in age, it is likely that he will experience rejection, and possibly hatred, and there will probably be days when he is not the best person he can be. I can’t help but wonder, will he remember Jesus in these moments? I pray and hope that he will.

As I sit with this, I think about what a noble pursuit it is to be (or to try to be) a follower of Jesus, especially in the times we live in, and with all that is happening in the world. A pursuit that has, for sure, become increasingly challenging since I was a child. It’s like swimming against the tide, day after day. The distractions are many and, on my own, it’s entirely impossible.

But then I think, “It’s a good thing I am not on my own.” That’s the best part of being a follower of Jesus. With Jesus, I am never on my own. And, as Jack so aptly put it, I am accepted and loved, and a better person for it.

When Jesus said, “Come…,” to the disciples, they did exactly that. They took a leap of faith and ventured into a new way of being. This isn’t to say that they didn’t make mistakes along the way or possibly have misgivings at times. I imagine that they did, and even more so, than is probably spoken of in the Bible. However, they saw Jesus as being sent by God and they were able to trust Jesus enough to step away from the familiar and walk, by faith, into the unknown.

Jesus called the disciples as they were. They were on two different boats, Simon and Andrew casting their nets, and James and John mending their nets. He didn’t say, “Go, clean up, and then come follow me.” He loved and accepted them as they were and was calling them to enter into His fold as they were.

Now, undoubtedly their lives were changed by following Jesus, they themselves were changed, and in the process they each became a better person. I believe that it was Jesus love and acceptance of the disciples, and countless others, without reservation, that enabled them to open their hearts to Him. And, with time, to learn, and to embrace, His ways.

How different the world might be if we were able to extend the same hospitality of love, acceptance, and patience to each person and situation we encounter along the way. A difficult task at best, given the human condition, but not impossible…”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The Call of the First Disciples.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.

Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.

He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets.

Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Honesty…

As I read the words “Blessed are you O Lord, teach me Your statutes,” the tune of Psalm 25, in Byzantine chant, enters my mind. Growing up in the Melkite church, I often heard and sang this prayer during liturgical services throughout the year. Although it has always been one of my favorites, it has only really been in the past 10 years or so that I have truly come to understand what these words mean to me, and for me, as I live my life.

When looking through the lens of relationship, I am able to see that in asking God to teach me God’s statutes (or ways), I need to open myself up to letting God teach me. That is, I need to cooperate with the process. Another way of looking at it is that I am asking God to help me to learn God’s ways.

Now, how can I learn anything without some sort of action or response on my part? I cannot. I can’t just be passive, expecting to learn and blaming God or others when I don’t learn. Along the way, God has helped me to see that if I want to learn God’s ways, there are things that I need to do on a regular basis. I need to spend time with God and with God’s Word…I need to pray and to listen…I need to ask questions and allow time for a response…sometimes I need to ask the question again, or in a different way.

Most importantly, in order to learn, I need to be honest. I need to be honest about my desire, my strengths and where my weak spots, or areas of where I need to grow, are. If I want to learn God’s ways and to embody and live those ways, I need to be honest with God and with others. And, in order to do that, I need to be honest with myself. Sometimes that can difficult or even painful.

Recently, while speaking with a friend, I expressed some frustration over a situation. As we spoke my friend suggested that perhaps I was being impatient. I responded, “I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t see it that way…” and we continued our conversation. Afterward, I found myself thinking, “Impatient??? I’m not being impatient.” This thought kept entering my mind as I continued along and I felt like I couldn’t just dismiss what my friend had suggested without taking some time to give it a good, honest look.

Initially, I thought about lots of situations where I was very patient and even comments from others to support this. However, it occurred to me that just because I was patient in those situations, it didn’t mean that I was being patient in this situation. I had to stick with the current situation and at least consider the possibility that I was being impatient.

Shortly after that, I thought, “Alright! I don’t see it. How is it that I’m being impatient? Help me to see it the way You do, Lord.” Well, as I sat there, there were a number of things that started to come to mind that had not come to mind earlier. Upon further reflection, I realized that I was, in fact, being impatient, and that it not only caused me to lose sight, but also led to my frustration.

As I sit with this now, again I feel grateful to God for putting this friend into my life, for helping my friend to be honest with me, and for helping me to be honest with myself and to see the truth.

“Blessed are You O Lord, teach me Your statutes” – Without honesty I cannot see the truth.

For those who might be interested, you can hear “Blessed are You O Lord” in Byzantine chant at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SNIuHcg_zA. While this link is for the chant as sung at a memorial service, this hymn is also part of other liturgical services such as Compline and daily Orthros.

Everything will be okay…

What is it that ignites your soul and sets your heart on fire? Chances are that the answer to this question has something to do with the plans God has in mind for you. Oftentimes when we are feeling bogged down or unfulfilled, it can be because our plans and desires are not aligned with the desires and plans that God has in mind for us.

I remember, a number of years ago, repeatedly thinking and feeling as if there had to be more to life than the daily routine that filled each passing day. I had a good job and wonderful family and friends, but something was missing. This persistent thought, the feelings that went with it and the growing desire to seek what was missing has led me down an unexpected path and brought me into a relationship with God that I never even knew was possible. I have fallen in love with God and it really has made all the difference in the world. Through prayer, contemplation, and the grace of God, I now have an excitement and enthusiasm, and feel more alive and full of life than I could have ever imagined.

This most amazing relationship has helped me to recognize and appreciate more fully all the blessings in my life through both good times and difficult times. It has also led me to recognize and embrace a call to ministry, inspiring me to help and to encourage others to deepen and grow in their relationship with God.

When I reflect on how this journey began, it all started when I began to contemplate how my father, who had passed away a few years earlier and who was the rock in my life, was able to tell me during times of struggle that everything would be okay. Somehow, even though he couldn’t tell me how it would be okay, he had such a confidence when he spoke those words that I could believe and trust that it would be okay.

How did he know? Every so often I would spend time with this question. Scratching my head and wondering how he knew that? How could he say those words so confidently without knowing the answer or the solution to the situation? Who told him that? Then, one day the answer to this question became clear as I remembered something that had happened toward the end of my father’s life.

I went to walk into my father’s room where he was resting, worn down from radiation and chemotherapy. As I walked in, I stopped in my tracks because I realized that he was praying. I didn’t want to interrupt so I turned around and walked out, returning later for a visit.

As I recalled this instance, I suddenly knew the answer to how he knew everything would be okay. It was his faith! His faith that told him it would be okay. I immediately thought, “I want that too!” And that’s it. That was the moment that I began a journey. A spiritual journey that has taken time and effort and that has had ups and downs, but that has been worth every minute as it has led me closer to God and helped me to see and to experience that with God at the center of my life, I too can say and know for myself, with full confidence, that everything will be okay no matter what happens.

So, how does one keep God at the center of one’s life? How does one grow in faith? It’s all about relationship. If we look at our earthly relationships we can see that the key to the most meaningful ones is open and honest communication, both in listening and speaking. We can also see that these relationships are ones in which we regularly spend time with the other person.

We can have the same type of intimate, personal relationship with God. Through spending time with God, through praying on a regular basis, we develop and deepen our relationship with God, thus growing in faith. Anytime you communicate with God, expressing your thoughts and feelings to God and making space and time to listen to and notice God, whether it is through formal prayers, contemplative prayer, imaginative prayer, prayer expressed through art or music, taking in nature (God’s creation), or through any of the various ways in which people feel a connection with God, as long as your heart and mind is open to God, you are praying. And the more you pray, the more your faith increases and the more you can say with full confidence, and believe, “Everything will be okay.”

So, it is with this faith, that I am starting the “Hope That Floats” blog as I continue to pursue what has ignited my soul, and set my heart on fire—the passion, the call, to companion others on their journey to deepen and grow in their relationship with God.

Fall in Love – Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907–1991)

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.