Heidi Bratton shares a couple of insights in growing closer to the Lord.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another. (John 15:12-17)
Everyday life has a way of isolating us from God. Although I certainly don’t mean to put God on the back burner, I can easily get swept up and away from him because of my general busyness. All manner of activities and objects vie for my affection (and my pocketbook). And, yes, even my love for my family can get in the way of my keeping the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1–3).
Perhaps you have never thought of busyness or of something as honorable as devotion to your family as a false god, but anything that becomes more important to us than our relationship with God becomes a type of idol, or false god, and over time it will rob us of our peace.
So what does keeping the first commandment look like in the life of a modern woman?
Thankfully, it can take on many forms. For some, putting God first has the very traditional look of attending daily Mass. Other women put God first and stay in sync with the Church by rhythmically praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the Angelus at noon, or the Divine Mercy Chaplet at three o’clock in the afternoon. For others, putting God first looks like reading Scripture daily, meeting with a Bible-study group weekly, or assisting at Mass on Sundays. One of my favorite ways of opening my heart to God each morning is to sing seasonally appropriate hymns with the family, either around the breakfast table or in the car on the way to school, and again before going to bed at night.
The common ingredient for all of these is that they are not programs or projects; they are simply ways to keep God in the forefront of our lives. Whether through traditional or newer prayers and devotions, we achieve lasting inner peace by continually putting ourselves in God’s presence and allowing his love to stabilize our souls.
Renowned poet Maya Angelou once wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (“Maya on Oprah,” Vibrant Word (blog), accessed August 10, 2014, http://www.vibrantword.com/maya_angelou.html)”
When I reflect on my life, this statement certainly rings true. To this very day, I can think of people in my life, such as teachers and bosses, who provided me with love and encouragement. Just the memory of their friendships lifts me up, calms me down, refreshes my strength, or restores my peace, depending on what is going on in my life at the time. I feel the same way when I reflect on my friendship with Jesus.
How does reflecting on your journey of faith, your friendship with Jesus, make you feel? I pray that your feelings are those of peace and love and not of anxiety and guilt. But if that’s not the case, then Pope Francis has some hopeful words just for you:
When preaching is faithful to the gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident, and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalog of sins and faults. Before all else, the gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others, and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others…
Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings. (Evnagelii Gaudium,39, 44).
It is God’s intention that you and I feel his love and know his peace, no matter what we may have heard to the contrary. In the end, our Catholic faith does not boil down to diligent rule keeping. Rather, we are called to generously respond to the love of God by loving him back through prayer and by seeking to share his love with others.
In reality, no matter how much we desire peace and want to be peacemakers, hurry, worry, and all sorts of big and little skirmishes get in our way. Peace is not a steady state of being but a dance with time, stress, conflict, money, misunderstanding, sorrow, and even outright evil. The real question is not “Are we at peace?” but “Can holding on tightly to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, keep us steady on our feet, even when forces to the contrary try to send us twirling in unexpected circles?”
The very first piece of good news is “Yes!” For those who embrace the peace of Jesus Christ, remaining steady on the dance floor of life is not only possible but to be expected.
Lord Jesus, you are my peace. Starting today, enkindle or renew my experience of your friendship so that I may experience your saving love and feel your peace.
This is a selection from Finding God’s Peace in Everyday Challenges by Heidi Bratton (The Word Among Us Press, 2015). Available online at wau.org/books