Tag Archives: Spirituality

By Waiting and By Calm

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I generally like to think that I’m a patient person. Lately, however, all of this waiting is really trying my patience!  Throughout this period of transition, there has always been something to keep me busy – writing assignments, part-time work, Spanish classes, job searches, preparing reflections for my prayer group, networking dates, trying new recipes, hanging out with friends. One of the keys to staying hopeful is simply having something to look forward to each day!

Last week, for the first time in almost 10 months, I finally hit that moment where I just wanted to bang my head against the wall and shake my fist in exasperation.  I am so done with the waiting game!

The most recent round of waiting has gone something like this:

I found this amazing job posting!  I spent the weekend polishing my cover letter … I applied for the job … I had two really great phone conversations … Wait … First interview … Wait … Wait … Second interview! … Wait … We’d like to check your references!! … Wait … Waiting some more … Still waiting … (ugh).

I’ve been assured that this is normal, and coming from the business world, I really appreciate their thoroughness!  The time line has also been interrupted by Holy Week schedules and Spring Break holidays.  (I appreciate that, too.)  Luckily, each step along the way has been met with positive feedback and hopeful signs.  But by now, I feel like a five year old waiting for Christmas, especially since I can see the presents sitting right there under the tree in front of me!

I have to admit though, this most recent round of waiting feels different than the waiting I was doing … say, six months ago.  Perhaps I’m more prone to growing impatient now, because there is a very clear end in sight.

It is much more difficult to wait for something ambiguous and unknown.  Spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, reminds us that waiting is an active, not passive, activity.  Part of the spiritual discipline is to remember that something is happening in the stillness.  Nouwen writes:

People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important.  We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun in us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.

From time to time, I pull out my bucket list.  I’ve also gone back to that wishful thinking exercise that I used with our students, “If you could take a semester off, how would you spend your time?” This weekend, I think I’ll embark on my list of Cheap Things To Do In Chicago.  I keep telling myself that there is still time – to spend a day at the museum, to dive into a home improvement project, to go for a long walk along the lake.  Time is a gift, so how can I use it well?

Assuming this job offer comes through, my life is about to get extremely busy!  I keep reminding myself that a year from now, I’m going to wish that I had a little more down time, a little more flexibility, a few more lackadaisical spring days with nothing pressing on my calendar.

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During Lent and Easter, I’ve been reading Tim Muldoon’s book “The Ignatian Workout for Lent” which offers 40 short spiritual reflections based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  On the Monday after Easter (when this misery of waiting brought me to a halt), I read this reflection based on the post-resurrection narrative of Jesus and Peter at the seashore.

The disciples knew Jesus had risen, but they had no idea what this meant!  They had gone back to Galilee and returned to what they knew – fishing.  In hindsight, we see these Easter days as a time of great celebration.  But the disciples were still confused and waiting for Jesus to offer some kind of guidance.  This particular reflection could not have come at a better time for me.  Muldoon writes,

“There will be time for the work of the kingdom; for now, it is enough simply to break bread with Jesus and eat fish with him.  Life after Resurrection is not a relentless cycle of actions to change the world; it involves patient waiting for the Lord.  Most important is not endless activity but willingness to wait for the Lord and simply be with him.  We may be active, but our action will not bear fruit unless the Lord directs it.  Wait for him.” (Muldoon, 152)

As I was putting together these thoughts this morning, I did a quick search of my own writing files.  I found a note, scribbled in the sidebar of a talk I gave nearly ten years ago, when I was making the shift from the corporate world into graduate school.  Given the timing of client visits and other transitions, I had given my notice in April, while I wasn’t starting graduate school until August.  That was a lot of time!

I wrote:  “This period of waiting meant I had time to make peace with my new reality.  It gave me time to make amends with difficult people and situations; time to grieve all that could have been and projects that would be left incomplete; time to create closure on that chapter in my life and truly begin to discern my next career move.”

It’s funny how similar and appropriate those remarks are to my current transition.  These 10-months in between full-time jobs has given me the time and space to grieve and to say farewell to people who were important to me.  It’s also given me a tremendous amount of space to creatively imagine what the future holds and to discern God’s will in the midst of it all.

Again, Henri Nouwen speaks of the creativity of waiting:

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

I’ve been given every assurance that good news is coming soon.

Thanks for waiting with me.

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Chocolate Chip Spirituality

DSC00924It is a good thing that I did not give up cookies for Lent!

Last week was Reading Week at Northwestern University, and the Student Advisory Board at the Sheil Catholic Center enthusiastically hosts “study days”, where we dole out an extra dose of Sheil hospitality.  Our volunteers conjure up inordinate amounts of snack food while the staff pours out endless amounts of encouragement onto hard studying students.

As a special treat, I decided to mix up a batch of the perfect chocolate cookies! Not long after setting out this tray of sweet treats, I ran into Kelsey – who quickly snagged a cookie and later asked if I had a secret recipe! 

There is no secret, just a couple of tricks that I learned in the kitchen.  Kelsey and I swapped our favorite baking techniques, including this one straight from the cookie recipe, which requires that you remove the cookies from the oven while they’re still a bit under-done and let them sit on the hot cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.  The secret to soft chewy cookies is to not over bake them!  Remember, cookies continue to bake, even after removing them from the oven. 

I must admit, the first batch was a bit crispy for my own taste, but no one else seemed to notice.  Three dozen cookies were devoured within a matter of hours!  I decided to make a second batch the next night, and put the “cookies continue to bake” theory to the test. 

With every batch, I winced at taking them out too soon, yet resisted the urge to keep them in the oven for just one more minute.  After precisely 12 minutes, I removed them from the oven while they were puffy, domed, beginning to brown, and still looking slightly under cooked.  Then I diligently set the timer for another 5 minutes, letting the cookies continue to bake outside the oven.  

As I waited for dough to settle, I wondered (metaphorically of course), “How often are we tempted to keep the cookies in the oven just a little bit longer?” 

How often are we so elated after a spiritual experience that we proclaim with excitement, “I wish we could just stay here!”  For some it is an enriching retreat weekend or a much needed vacation.  I hear students say this after a life-changing service immersion trip or an unforgettable study abroad experience.  It might be an encounter with an unbelievably beautiful sunset or the energizing runner’s high at the end of a long run. 

Like Peter, James, and John who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, we long to remain on the mountain top.  We wish for the intensity of the moment to last forever.  Yet despite the joy they bring or the insights we gain, we know that these dramatic experiences cannot be sustained for long.  What appears to the untrained eye to be a bit “not long enough” is in fact the perfect amount of time.  Those moments continue to bake to completion, and we appreciate their rich gooey goodness even more once they’re incorporated into our everyday lives.

Every year I hear this from our students who return from our international service immersion trips.  They spend weeks and months making sense of their time spent with the poor of Nicaragua or Haiti.  It was Kelsey herself who offered this reflection just days after our cookie conversation!  They wonder about the ways their lives have been changed.  They see the impact it has on their world view.  It makes a difference in the ways they see themselves, and their understanding of God.  Their priorities shift, it may impact how they make decisions about life after college, and their lives continue to be transformed.

The same could be said about an intense retreat experience.  I continue to watch the graces unfold and reach back to some of the more profound moments in prayer from some of my more memorable retreats. 

Today, it strikes me that we could also use the cookie analogy with this great season of Lent.  40 days is certainly enough time to break old habits and start new patterns of living.  In other ways, though, there is much that feels “slightly underdone”. 

Perhaps that is something to pay attention to as we enter into Holy Week.  What work has God begun throughout this Lenten season, and what still needs to be brought to completion as we bask in the glow of Easter?

Remember, the cookies will continue to bake even after you take them out of the oven!

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Must Read Articles for Catholic Singles

girl-readingIt’s been a busy couple weeks with a string of speaking events in Chicago and Wisconsin, which concluded this past weekend with a talk at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Parish Leadership Day.

I have grown quite accustomed to talking about the single life with other singles.  Parish Leadership Day gave me a chance to view the single life through the eyes of pastors, parish council leaders, the faith formation committee, and directors of religious education.  We specifically talked about how giving voice to the single life can add value to the vocations of marriage and religious life (more to come on that soon!).

In the meantime, I promised folks that I would share my favorite online articles about the single life, as it is hard to “link” them on a handout.  Here it goes!

  • The Busted Halo article “Celibate at 23” by Jeff Guhin was my first inspiration to start thinking more seriously about what it means to be intentionally single.  I appreciate his realistic look at chastity, his description of healthy intimacy, and his suggestions for entering into authentic relationships with others.  Furthermore, it led me to write my first published piece on the single life, “How I Stopped Dating and Started Living” parts of which are also featured in Party of One.
  • This article from Francine Cardman, “Singleness and Spirituality” turns 30-years-old this year.  But trust me, there is nothing old or outdated about the wisdom it contains.  The statistics may have shifted, but the underlying spiritual questions remain the same.  Cardman addresses the challenges of friendships, work, sexuality, and singles within the church – all of which are as applicable today as they were three decades ago!
  • More recently, Heidi Schlumpf addresses the concerns of single parents in “Stand Alone Mom”.  I’m always clear with audiences that my writing is intended for those who have never-been-married.  This article gives a great summary of how churches are addressing (or in some cases, could do better at addressing) the needs of single parents who are divorced or widowed. 
  • The challenge of living an authentic single life is a question not only faced by Catholics.  In some cases, I find that our Protestant brothers and sisters are better attuned to the needs of singles in their communities.  I was grateful to stumble upon this sermon “Solid_Singles” by Rick McGinniss of North Heartland Community Church in Kansas City.  The sermon itself is dated, but the message is as timely as ever.
  • Likewise, this recent Valentine’s Day blog post “Reclaiming Singleness” by Corey Widmer at East End Fellowship in Richmond, VA has helped me think about how our views of marriage and single life correspond to one another.  He explains how a healthy understanding of marriage contributes to an abundant single life, and how a favorable view of the single life add to the sanctity of marriage.
  • Finally, here are two great articles from Franciscan Media. (Full disclosure, they are the publisher of both of my books, under the label St. Anthony Messenger Press.)  “Single Catholics: Making Them Feel at Home” by Trudelle Thomas is great for anyone in a parish leadership role.  I used a lot of this information for my most recent workshop.  While “Unmarried and Unashamed: Grace and the Single Life” by Christopher Heffron is a must-read for singles of all ages and stages in life.

If there are other articles or blog posts that have inspired your own journey to live a full and abundant single life, feel free to include them in the comments section below.

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