Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Enjoy Your Life: A lesson in gratitude

I had some time before officiating a wedding one evening and stopped to get something to eat at a McDonald's.  This was something I hadn’t done in a long time and I considered it a treat.  When I went to the fountain to fill my drink, there was a very well dressed, older man there in the corner who started a conversation I will never forget.  


Our chat started predictably.  He asked how I was and I smiled with a, “Great, how about you?” He replied, “I am blessed and so are you!”  This opening comment typically tells me everything I need to know about how this kind of small talk will go. I was wrong.  He looked down at my ring and asked about my husband, which lead to some generalities and chuckles about marriage.  Then a smile of gratitude and tears came to his face as he explained that his wife had made her transition not even a year ago and his daughter and grandchildren do not live in town. In just a moment, I felt like I knew them all.  His love for his family had such form and substance, that they could have been sitting there at the table with him, old friends I had just run into.  


The conversation was only a couple of minutes long and as I started towards a seat, something in my head was still trying to tell me I knew what this was all about.  I told him to have a good evening and turned to go when he said, “Thank you... Enjoy your life.”


I felt really connected and happy that I didn’t just shuffle by like I sometimes do, but took time to meet this man.  Then it hit me, what he said, “...Enjoy your life.”  It almost didn’t register.  I was expecting a, “Have a blessed day,” and there was part of me that still believed that’s what he said.  “Enjoy,” the word didn’t make sense to me. To do life “in joy,” to infuse life with joy.  I was coming to these ideas with new eyes, as if I’d never heard the word before.  I certainly could use more joy in my life.  I was working so much and was so tired, I couldn’t bring to mind even one thing I would do just for enjoyment, but sleep!  Somehow this was supposed to mean more.   


What does it mean to truly enjoy life?


In the upcoming weeks I thought more about what I enjoy about life.  I realized the connection I was missing was about gratitude.  I often found things in the day to be grateful for, but true joy, love, and appreciation with no prompting, pure enjoyment, is something I was not experiencing. There is a connection between gratitude and enjoyment that goes beyond counting blessings at the end of the day.  It’s unlocking the power of gratitude by sharing it with someone else.  


In that short conversation, the man at McDonalds shared his gratitude for his wife and family with me in a way that was formative.  He gave me the gift of his experience as he allowed himself to be vulnerable and express it openly.  The gift he received in sharing glowed in his face and his entire energy.  He was light, happy, and uplifted.  I could tell he shared my feeling that his family was with us in that moment and he was so joyous to be with them. 

Authentic joy can not be contained. It’s expansive. The kind of joy generated from a gratitude practice must be expressed and shared or its effects will begin to wear off.  When gratitude is shared, it grows. It has a ripple effect and like radiating light it is a continual process.  I had been doing gratitude like it was something to check off the list:  Gratitude journal, done. To see the opportunity to enjoy, I had to stop long enough to experience gratitude in the moment and be vulnerable enough to let it show to the people around me.  


It’s scary to be vulnerable.  This practice isn’t just about a polite thank you.  It’s sharing part of who I am.  When I show authentic gratitude, the joy that comes with it doesn’t come from me.  It is greater than me and I don’t do it, it does me.  It is a choice.  I can choose the fear that keeps me from enjoying life or choose the love that allows me to live a life in gratitude and joy.  


Stopping to be grateful during the day brings the opportunity to see where I can enjoy life.  If I cultivate that gratitude in me I feel happy, but after awhile it is a bit like hoarding.  I start using gratitude to make happiness and security and, like hoarding money or things, I start becoming numb to it.  When I outwardly show my gratitude, I release it as a flow of energy.   What I’ve noticed is it returns to me as joy--A joy that is not prompted by anything, but a pure love of life itself.  


A life in gratitude is as much about sharing my gratitude for those who hold a door for me or serve me in a restaurant or checkout line, as it is about telling the loved ones in my life why I am grateful for them.  It is telling others about how someone in line at Starbucks paid for my coffee or how I was able to stop and watch the sunrise this morning.  Sharing gratitude is contagious. Have you noticed?  Sharing gratitude prompts those around me to join in the energy and tell about similar blessings in their own lives.  There are certain people I talk to in my day that generally connect by complaining. Offering something I’m grateful for can change the entire experience from heavy to lighthearted and I go from trying to avoid them to enjoying to be with them.


The biggest thing I’ve learned about the connection between gratitude and enjoying my life is that it is always changing.  It’s not something I can check off on my to-do list and it’s not something for me to figure out.  Instead, it is something that will continue to enrich my life as I stay curious to how it shows up and the next lesson it has to show me.  

This Thanksgiving I hope you share your gratitude with someone and think about the connection between gratitude and enjoyment in your life.  I’m open to learning more. Comment and share your own ideas.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ministers to Each Other


One of the lead chaplains at my spiritual center has a mission to convince the world that we all minister to each other. We all serve in someway.

Can you see how being aware of this could serve you? We can never really be out of relationship with the world around us. Can you see how noticing all of the ways you are a blessing to others could increase your gratitude? Could it lead you to give of yourself more often? For me, the answer is yes. But what does it really mean to be a minister?  

The act of ministry has nothing to do with religion, dogma, or theology.  It has everything to do with faith.  Not the blind faith of any denomination or thought system, but faith in a Presence and purpose greater than self, greater than belief; a faith in the goodness and hope inherent in humankind, inherent in Beingness itself.  Ministry is a practice of this faith in relationship to all of life.  In the purest sense, ministry is making welcome all life has to offer. It is staying in Presence with those we meet and serve. In its broadest sense, ministry is the attitude and perception we offer to the people and circumstances that show up in our lives.

Professional ministers have always been an active part of any community’s well-being.  In times before established mental health care practices, ministers provided the only kind of counseling most people could access.  They have been a comforting presence in both major celebrations and major tragedies in the lives of many and they have been called upon as teachers, healers, and leaders.  We may think of great ministers as women and men of God.  What we know and remember about them is not their theology, but the love, acceptance, and support they have offered.

When more and more people are leaving churches in search of their own sense of purpose and spirituality, it seems like an especially good time to think about what ministry really means.  To NOT go to a church does NOT mean to NOT have ministers. It does make it important to acknowledge that we are all ministers to one another.  The energy we show up with in all of our relationships is how we minister.  Our faith and our awareness of Presence is more than a self-improvement project we work on by reading books or watching Oprah’s Soul Sunday.  It’s the gift we offer to ourselves and everyone we encounter everyday.  It is the opportunity to be an active part of something greater than ourselves, to become more aware of Truth and our understanding of it, and to hold a space of unlimited possibility.

How do you minister?
Who would you be moving through each day knowing you are a minister?

The day I asked myself this question is the day I knew I wanted to become a professional minister.  I wanted to go intentionally into my day holding a space of infinite possibility, rather than expectations, for the people in my life.  I saw a ministry without walls, where I assist others in finding their own Truth. I hold a space of Presence for them when they could not know it for themselves and help them in creating personal, meaningful ritual in their lives.  Today I teach, coach, counsel, chaplain, and officiate in this vision: A ministry without religion, without walls, without limits.  My mission is to fill a traditional role as minister in an alternative and untraditional way.  Instead of providing answers, I help people find their own.  Instead of teaching what the Divine says, I help people hear it for themselves. Rather than providing a set of symbols in a ceremony, I help others find what is meaningful to them.


I take on this the role as more than a vocation, but as an attitude I step into in every situation.  As a minister, my work is to be present with the person at the checkout, bank teller window, in front of me in line at the grocery, or next to me on the road, as much as it is the person sitting across from me in a chair in my office.  My work is to be present to whatever is in front of me, including me.  When I'm present to my own feelings I can respond instead of react.  I'm a better listener and I show up with lighter, more positive energy. This kind of presence acknowledges the people around me and allows me to show more appreciation and gratitude. It's a service. Showing up this way with friends and family allows them freedom to be themselves. I can be a supportive ear, show compassion, and draw healthy boundaries more easily in difficult situations. It also makes me more energized and generally happier. Don't you enjoy being around positive, happy people? Doesn't it make you feel better? It's a ministry.

We all minister to each other.  
What is your ministry? How will you minister to others today?

EVERY MAN A MINISTER
By James Dillet Freeman

What does it mean to be a minister?

It means to make yourself small so that others may feel large.
It means to make yourself a servant so that others may feel their mastery.
It means to give so that those who lack may receive.
It means to love so that those who feel unloved may have someone who never rejects them, someone with whom they can always identify themselves.
It means to hold out your help to those who ask and deserve help and also to those who do not ask or deserve it.
It means always to be there when you are needed, yet never to press yourself on another when you are not wanted.
It means to stay at peace so that those who are contentious will have someone to whom they can turn to stabilize themselves.
It means to keep a cheerful outlook so that those who are easily cast down may have someone to lift them up.
It means to keep faith, and to keep on keeping faith even when you, yourself, find little reason for believing so that those who have no faith can find the courage to live.
It means, not merely to live a life of prayer, but to turn your prayers into life – more life for you, more life for those to whom you minister.
It means to be God-centered and human hearted, to involve yourself in man’s humanity and to keep your vision on man’s divinity – and so draw forth in all around you the human form divine.
It means to share in the great moments of men’s lives – in birth and sickness and marriage and death – and at all these times, whether of crisis or of celebration, to bring comfort and a blessing and above all, a sense of a Presence that sometimes we cannot see and of a meaning that often we overlook.

This is what it means to be a minister of God and a minister of man.


I love Freeman's vision of ministry.
What is your ministry? 
I'd love to read your comments about how you see yourself as a minister to others.