All Things New: A Reflection

During this season of Easter, the readings in the Divine Office have been taken from the book of Revelation. There is one passage that has particularly grabbed my heart and offered much fruitful meditation and consolation. Revelation 21 speaks powerfully of the “new heaven” and the “new earth,” and how God himself will come to his people to “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Then verse five invites us to take in the re-creation, as the One on the throne says: “Behold, I make all things new.”

Do you feel the invitation to inhale this truth deeply and exhale peacefully when you read those words?

I do. I so often need to remember this truth and allow it to sink into my heart. I have brokenness, and I have loved ones with brokenness. I regularly experience the consequences of brokenness, and I have felt sorrow for all that needs to be made right. We all daily experience the reality that there is much wrong with the world. And how do we respond? We sometimes distract ourselves. We sometimes are paralyzed with grief. We sometimes bravely move forward on our pilgrim journey with great faith, despite the dismal circumstances that result from our fallen humanity. 

Whatever our response has been to the brokenness in our world, we need to inhale deeply of the truth that our Lord is the one on the throne making all things new. This is no greeting card sentiment; this is a promise that will be fulfilled.

Our God sits on the throne and is in the process of making all things new: in my life, in your life, and in all of the world. We do not see clearly how now, but we are assured of what we hope for and given evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). With that in mind, I offer the following reflection exercise that you can take with you into your quiet prayer time with the Lord:

  • Quiet your heart as you enter His presence. He is there already, waiting for you, in the space of your Interior Castle. 
  • Be conscious that you are bringing your heavy burdens with you—every one of them. Perhaps, imagine them strapped to your shoulders like a large hiking pack. 
  • Imagine the glorious light of God’s presence ahead of you. Look forward and see our Lord on the throne, in all His glory and goodness.
  • Take Him in. Take in the glory of His presence and the truth of His sovereignty over all the world. Spend a few moments with this vision and worship Him for who He is. 
  • Then, take off that heavy pack of burdens and set it at your side.
  • Open the top and take out the first broken thing you see. Walk with it toward that glorious throne and leave it at His feet. As you release it, pray over it by name, and ask our Lord to make it new.
  • One by one, take out each broken thing you have carried. Walk each one to the feet of Jesus. Ask Him to make each one new.
  • When you are finished, when you have emptied your pack of all your brokenness and all the brokenness of others you love, take in the sight before you. See all that you have carried at the feet of the King. See these things in their redeemed state; see them in the light of His promise to “make all things new.” And worship Him again for His faithfulness.
  • As you leave this time of prayer and worship, know that His presence stays with you and your burdens of brokenness stay at the foot of the throne. They are being made new. You are being made new. 

Go out in joy and peace, giving thanks to God. Alleluia!

Revelation 21:5

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

The Voice God Uses

As we are within the season of Lent, we are expectantly listening for God to speak to areas of our hearts that need to be redeemed. I doubt that most practicing Catholics who approach this season with sincere intentions for repentance would be surprised to find that God has a specific message of conversion in store for them, but they might be surprised by the particular messenger He sends.

I don’t know about you, but when I imagine God speaking to me or I sit down for prayer desiring Him to do so, I have a good idea of what I expect Him to sound like and what I expect Him to say. Whether it be Lent, or any old time of the year, I often take for granted that I will recognize the sound of His voice and the tone of His message. He will meet my expectations exactly, right? I’m afraid that I have been proved wrong more often than not.

The problem with our expectations is that they are often rooted deeply in pride; they can be tied heavily to our emotions and formed from our deceitful heart condition. We expect the type of correction we feel we can tolerate, the one we have determined to be bearably fair. We are very good at looking just long enough to find a sin that isn’t too inconvenient or a means of conversion that won’t be too difficult. But Jeremiah 17:9 tells us: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” God, that’s who; and He’s the only one. His perfect comprehension of the state of our hearts and the root of our actions often results in His message sounding quite different from the pre-vetted ones we have conjured up for ourselves.

But it is not only His messages that often surprise us; His methods and messengers do as well. God is no respecter of persons, and He uses all kinds. He uses both the people from whom we have asked advice and those from whom we’d rather not hear. He uses both beautiful rhetoric and plain words. He uses brilliant minds and simple ones alike. He uses both saints and sinners.

I want God’s reproach to be palatable, and I want His messenger to handle my feelings with kid gloves. I want the corrections to be as sweetly worded as possible, so as to not trample my delicate emotions nor overlook my admirable achievements. Oh, pride. Oh, deceitful heart. In trying to place a protective hedge around it, I have blocked out the voice of the Father who wants to heal it and make it new.

And though the Father’s voice is one of love, he often uses sinners (just like you and me) in their sin to deliver his messages to us. He’s going to use the disrespectful child’s remark, the husband’s frank observation, the grumpy stranger in the grocery store, the gossiping woman in the carpool line, or the parent who never thinks you do anything right. I believe that it was Elisabeth Leseur who said that every time that someone offends you it is an opportunity for you to examine your own conscience. I think she’s right. If we are waiting for God to use perfect people to speak to us, then we will often miss the voice that He is using to show us where our hearts are deceiving us.

I’ve had to learn the hard way–usually kicking and screaming–that God’s going to get His message through to me one way or another. It’s truly a grace that that’s the case, that He doesn’t stop speaking when we are hard of hearing. Perhaps if I would listen sooner it wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow, but then again pride is always a hard pill to swallow. And isn’t it ultimately prideful for us to insist that had the message been more gentle we would have obeyed immediately? Our track records prove otherwise. What we require is humility to hear His voice, whatever the method or messenger. May we take to heart the Invitatory antiphon that we pray during Lent: “Today, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.”

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

The Joy of Needing Others

I need help.

Those are three words that we usually only hear spoken in moments of high frustration, when someone has reached the max, the breaking point, or is totally overwhelmed. In fact, when I write those three words I immediately think of them punctuated by an exclamation mark. I don’t imagine them as I have written them above, with a nice calm period at the end.

If the words are spoken in a conversation, aren’t they often admitted with a sigh? With a heavy resignation that feels like surrender to defeat? Do you think of someone saying those three words – “I need help” – with a joyful tone and a smile upon her face? Probably not.

Why is it that needing help, not being fully autonomous, fills us with frustration rather than joy? Why is needed assistance an indication of something lacking in us? Why do so many women want to juggle, multi-task, and power through all by themselves? The truth is that we don’t really know ourselves or we aren’t really honest with ourselves.

Think about the last time that someone helped you out in a way that was life-changing. How would it have felt to ask for that help? How did it feel after it was given? In answer to the first, probably dread; in answer to the last, probably relief. We fight so hard to be self-sustaining; but, in the end, we welcome the arm that lifts the heavy burden off our backs.

I wonder if we realize that we have been so formed by a culture of individualism and self-reliance that we find ourselves in bondage to it. We see ourselves as our own individual boats, not part of a fleet. All of our endeavors, and the various tasks that go along with completing them, must be accomplished solo. With things big or small there is the drive for the self-satisfying completion of a goal. I folded four loads of laundry today…I wrote a blog post…I got to all of the most important disciplines…I ran all of my errands and handled everyone’s schedule changes with perfect execution.

We want to check-off all our boxes, and we act as if the checkmark only counts if we did the thing entirely ourselves. Even the idea of task lists is completely individualistic. This is what I am in charge of here; that is on this person’s list over there. I think we realize this mindset doesn’t work on a small scale. Perhaps with various jobs or projects we value the idea of working together to get the job done. But in our personal and overall perspective, we take on tasks and the job of living this life as “mine.”

Why this individualistic perspective that prizes personal achievement over collective effort? I think that, ultimately, we have created the wrong narrative in our heads. We view ourselves as the hero of the story, the leading lady, the main character; and all of the people in our lives are supporting roles to our overall narrative. Within this perspective, they quickly become accessories to us…objects in our story, rather than persons with their own.

It’s not that we don’t all have our own stories; it’s just that we have taken our own stories to be central. We have failed to realize that the grand narrative is God’s, and we are all supporting characters in His story.

We have started our hectic adults lives from the premise that we are people who must become something and make something of ourselves, that we have our stories to write and we better get started. We constantly hear this narrative spoken to us in the self-help genre: are you living the life that you want to live?

We have missed the point that we are already part of the best story. We have been invited into it, and no one is excluded from it. It’s a collective narrative that celebrates the communal nature of the gospel. Will we accept the invitation? Will we open ourselves to the joy of needing others and the blessing of being needed by them? There is immense freedom in recognizing that we are living – alongside of others – in God’s story.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey