Take Five for Faith Podcast No. 6 — Personal Struggle and Grace
Take a Break for Faith Podcast Transcript
Take Five for Faith monthly meditation podcast–Personal Struggle and Grace.
Welcome to your Take Five Monthly Meditation. This month our theme is “Personal Struggle and Grace.” We’ll start with a story to help us settle in. It comes from a fifth grade teacher:
“I once taught a student with a pretty rough background story. Her mother and father had abandoned her, leaving the girl and her sister to be raised by their grandmother. I communicated with this caretaker and felt assured that my student was in a loving home. “The girl was terribly unhappy nonetheless, entering my room daily with a scowl. Finally I ended this cycle of frowning. Gently blocking her entrance to my classroom one morning, I told her that she ‘couldn’t bring that frown inside.’ She was surprised and angered that I should bar her entry. Eventually she complied moodily. “While the first day of our ‘smile policy’ was a bit awkward, it soon became a cherished game. She would try to enter when I was occupied with someone, going under my arm to gain access on her terms. I always got a beautiful smile by the end. “On the day of her fifth-grade graduation, she stood up with the other students, each stating something that they appreciated about their school. ‘I appreciate my teacher,’ she grinned proudly. ‘She always made me smile.’ A humble game—which required teacher and student to turn the tables on their usual roles—became a moment of grace and transformation.”
Let’s move more deeply into our theme with a reflection about navigating the sometimes narrow and perilous highway of life. Our thoughts come from a Catholic priest, who writes:
“This week I almost fell into the clutches of the devil, and let me tell you, it was scary. I was driving down a freeway where they’re doing road construction, and they had this long, open trench dug by the side of the roadway with about 15 workers standing around, leaning on their shovels, looking into it.
“The only place they gave you for your car was this skinny little strip of bumpy pavement with nothing between you and that ditch but a line of flimsy orange plastic cones.
“So, as the lane funneled down to where the ditch was, I began to get that dreadful feeling you get when you’re in a tall building and you stand too close to a window. The ditch became this magnetic monster sucking my car into its gaping maw like a giant vacuum cleaner. It was going to grab my poor vehicle, chew it up, and spit out the wheels.
“The horrifying thing was that, as the ditch continued to rivet my attention, the car really did start edging towards the opening, and before I could wrest it back, it actually knocked over one of the plastic cones! It was like I was being pulled into hell by the hands of the devil! " ‘Turn away from sin and believe the Good News!’ Jesus cries out in the Gospel of Mark. Well, he’s got me there, because I tend to turn toward all that is dark and sinful. For some reason—maybe it’s because I’m mortal—I am attracted to the things of the world that speak of my mortality. I think we all are. “For instance, newspapers feature the bad news on the front page because that’s what attracts people to buy the product. You never read about all the airplanes that make perfectly smooth landings. Just like I never notice my stomach until I get hungry. More people pay to see violent movies than gentle movies. The only baby attracting attention in church is the one that’s crying.
“While driving this week, I was not attracted to the safe pavement, only the menacing ditch. And to make matters worse, as I found out, we tend to move toward whatever we focus our attention on. That makes for perilous driving and stressful living unless we can get that focus under control. “So beginning today, I’m going to strive to turn away from obsessing over passing things of the world that attract my attention—food, money, and especially that supposed self-sufficiency that hardens my heart to the reality of God within me.
“During Lent, we fast, we pray, we donate our time, talent, or treasure. More important, we turn away from the bad news of our sins—all the things that threaten the well-being of body and soul—and we believe instead in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“We do not deny our sinfulness; our Lord Jesus came to call sinners, and that’s us. Rather, we focus our attention on the good news that, thanks to God’s grace, our sins are forgiven, because that’s the direction in which we want to move. “As a sign of our reform and God’s grace, we receive a mark on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. It’s like the mark Cain received from God. Cain, you remember, got so angry at his brother Abel that he killed him. Consequently, he was banished from the land to become a restless nomad, exposed to the dangers of life on the run. “But out of love for Cain, God placed a mark on his head as a sign to everyone to do him no harm, because he was under God’s graceful protection. Even after all he had done, he was redeemed—not because he ‘deserved’ it but because of God’s forgiving grace. “The mark we receive on Ash Wednesday is a sign to all that yes, we are sinners like Cain, but also that we are in God’s graceful care. In Jesus Christ, God has pledged eternal life and the forgiveness of our sins. Freed from fear, our hearts are open to God’s unconditional offering of love, which works the miracle of rebirth within us. We are made entirely new creatures. The ditch of sin no longer has power to lure us in. We are free to travel lightly on the road that leads to life.
Let’s continue with a reflection that moves us forward.
How do you use what you have been given, your talents and gifts? We may consider such assets not as gifts from God but the results of our own sweat and cleverness, our hard work. However, Saint Francis of Assisi called our industrious activity, “the grace of working.” If it is a grace, then even the ability to work is not earned, but given by God. Look today at your talents—material and spiritual. Whatever they are, how will you use them? As the poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
We’ll close this month’s exploration of personal struggle and grace with a scripture reflection. It comes from the 12th verse of Second Corinthians, where Saint Paul writes: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
This concludes our Take Five Monthly Meditation on Personal Struggle and Grace. We hope you have found it of benefit and we welcome your comments and feedback. You can find us at TakeFiveforFaith.com or on Facebook. The music for this month’s podcast is by Lee Rosevere. Credit photo: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. The Take Five Monthly Meditation is produced by TrueQuest Communications. Thank you for joining us this month and have a blessed day.