For this month's Discussion Guide in an easy print format,
For this month's Reflection in an easy print format,
Start the Meeting with Prayer
Someone read: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
As Peter reached the house, Cornelius went out to meet him, fell at his feet and did him reverence. But Peter helped him up. 'Stand up,' he said, ' after all, I am only a man! Then Peter addressed them, 'I now really understand', he said, 'that God has no favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on gentiles too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, 'Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?' He then gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Reflection: Loving People Just The Way They Are
By Bev McDonald
I recently read an article about loving people just the way they are. It 'hit the spot' as they say, and I reflected on how easy it is to love with strings attached, to either intentionally or unintentionally try to get something in return. I suspect we all grow up with a degree of this; as babies cry and smile they discover they impact the way people treat them. I suspect our first notions of love are all tangled up with our own needs and expectations. As an adult I have been blessed with the time and grace to reflect and see how unfair it is to condition my love on whether the other person performs to suit me. It is deceptively easy to use love to manipulate another person in some way even with the best of intentions, but that is never real love.
The other trap which is easy to fall into is trying to earn or buy the love of others. Our world puts such a high emphasis on achievement and success. We must work hard to earn our daily bread but also sadly we can feel we have to work hard to make ourselves worthy of being loved. Somehow, we become convinced that we are not good enough, that we must do things to merit being loved and accepted and can find ourselves pretending to be someone we're not. Perhaps we try constantly to put on a show, perform, try to be good enough or to hide behind a mask of who we think the other person wants us to be. At times I have related to God that way and it was incredibly painful to have to try to be good enough for God. It is recipe for constant failure and can eventually lead to giving up on God and faith all together. I discovered only slowly that living like that with God and others destroys all capacity for real relationship and left me feeling more and more false and unworthy.
We can only hide our true self at considerable cost to our growth, freedom and authenticity. Somehow, we feel deep down, that if others discover who we really are, they will reject us, we won't belong or be accepted, and we may be cast out and feel the full weight of our own failure and unworthiness. We will work very hard to avoid facing that truth. Addictions and suicide which are prevalent tragedies in our society often have their roots deep in these kind of feelings of being unworthy and lacking value as a person.
Many of you know we are raising our grandson who has special needs. Our daughter also lives at home and has challenges. As I am sure you can attest from your own experiences, complex family situations often bring great joy but they also have potential to bring an ongoing need to let go of expectations and constantly challenge us to change and grow. It is no mistake that God places us in families. God even chose a complex family situation with many struggles for His son Jesus. He fully understands families.
I find I need to repeatedly relearn how to love and accept each member of my family in their uniqueness including what I experience as the impact on me of their challenges and limitations. The hidden grief of letting go of normal parental expectations has taken me time to recognize and work through only slowly. In the process I have discovered it is never my love that gets disappointed, confused, angry or frustrated, it's those expectations. The gap between my expectations and my daily reality is what has devastating power to stir up negative feelings and reactions and oh how intense those expectations can be. Also - how well I hide them, even from myself, behind well-intentioned motives and shiny veneers of my genuine desire for the best for each of them.
We don't ask an apple tree to give us oranges. Each one of us are the result of our history and make-up and we will each only give what we can give. That applies to you and me also. We cannot give what we do not have. It's incredibly important to be gentle, compassionate and kind with your own story, history and capacity to love whatever it is right now. Never beat yourself up for noticing something needs healing. We don't beat ourselves up for catching a disease and needing a Doctor but find it harder to maintain a healthy approach to our spiritual life. God wants to heal our wounds and make us whole, but it is a lifelong journey and He waits patiently for us to ask for help.
God doesn't wait till we are all scrubbed up and perfect before we can become disciples. Throughout the Scriptures we see God choosing to work through weak and wounded characters. The Holy Spirit ministers to others through broken vessels. We see the early church struggling to love and accept Gentiles just as they were. Their expectation was that everyone would become a Jew and men be circumcised before they could be accepted as Christ's disciples. God had a far wider vision but it took time for the disciples to stretch into understanding that and letting their expectations go. Isn't that our own story in our families and communities over and over again and God is still patient with us and draws us gently with leading strings of love into His wider vision for our lives.
Instead of pretending or 'performing' to be good enough for God, I try to remember to ask God to help me right in the middle of my messy emotions, mixed motivations, hidden expectations and struggles. I know I never need to earn Gods love. When a child is feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable and acting out, it is oddly easier for a good parent to see the deep need and give the child more attention and support during that tough time. We can never outdo God in love, so if that is how a good parent can be with an overwhelmed child, how much more will God be like that for each of us.
The good news is knowing that you are loved, deeply knowing that you are loved. You are loved by God with no strings, even when you fail completely, perhaps especially when we fail completely -we are loved. You are loved. I am loved. It's a good exercise to Say that out loud to yourself many times a day, "I am loved". Turn and say it with me now to the person sitting next to you, "I am Loved" Make it a repetitive prayer that echoes through your day, "I am loved, I am loved, and nothing can ever separate me from Gods love in Jesus Christ."
Happy loving everyone and may we all become more and more open to the power of the Holy Spirit filling us with love and then freely sharing that love through and in our weakness for the glory of God. Then the seemingly unlovable can discover they too are valued, loved and accepted just as they are. Love and acceptance like that can predispose people to be ready to open up to Gods love and the wonder of God's grace can be set free amongst us in new ways. That's my Pentecost prayer for us all.
Simply use these questions as a starter to guide your sharing
Share what stands out for you from this Scripture and reflection?
How have unfulfilled expectations impacted your emotions and/or relationships?
What helps you love others just as they are, especially when it's difficult?
How hard is it for you to accept God's unconditional love? What might help you receive His love in a deeper way?
"Love and acceptance ...can predispose people to...God's love." From your experience, how do acts of ordinary kindness help draw someone to God?
Concluding Prayer Time: for your own intentions and other needs.
"O God, loving can be hard.
Fill me with your Holy Spirit and
Help me remember I am loved.
Help me say 'yes' to your complete love as Mary did.
I often feel small, weak, afraid, overwhelmed, wounded, full of needs and mixed motives.
My expectations are confused and frustrated.
I need you Lord, but I don't want to pretend,
especially with you.
Please take me just as I am
and love me gently into the wholeness
you have planned for me.
Help me know your love
and set me free to share
your love and acceptance with others
just the way they are."