Author Archives: jillsweet

Keep Vigilant Watch…

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;

    that’s where life starts.

~Proverbs 4:23

Day by day, I have been praying this proverb. If you walked into my house, you would eventually notice all the hearts and surmise correctly I was initially drawn to the word heart in this verse. In their own way, these decorative reminders help me pay attention to the stirrings of my heart. However, by the middle of the month I found myself pondering the phrase “keep vigilant watch.”

How do we keep vigilant watch over our hearts on a consistent basis? When I realized how many times a day I glance at my Apple watch, I decided to replace the message app with the heart monitor app. Now the little heart icon on the face of my watch keeps me more attentive to my feelings than to the number of text messages I have.

When I made this switch it never dawned on me I might really need the heart monitor. But just last week before the start of a meeting, I thought I was getting a phone call. However, the vibration on my wrist was so intense I immediately looked down to see my heart rate was 130 beats per minute. My anticipation of what might transpire was affecting my heart, mind and body more than I knew. I was so relieved when the words of this old familiar hymn came to mind:

Be Thou my vision / O Lord of my heart / Naught be all else to me / Save that Thou art / Thou my best thought / By day or by night / Waking or sleeping / Thy presence my light*

The health of our physical bodies, the quality of our emotional lives and the spiritual state of our souls begin and end with how well we pay attention to the beats and stirrings of our hearts. 

All spiritual practices start with being keenly aware of how God is at work in our lives. This awareness equips and enables us to live authentically and lovingly with God, ourselves and others. It takes courage to keep vigilant watch over our hearts. Madeleine L’Engle writes the following:

We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.**

To that end, may the Lord of our hearts help us to always keep vigilant watch over our hearts. 

If you are a spiritual director, how are you keeping watch over your heart so that you can help others do so also?

If you have spiritual direction practice, what are you keenly aware of that you can bring to your director to process?

*Mary Elizabeth Byrne, translator. Be Thou My Vision. (Public Domain, 1905)

** Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (New York: Convergent Books, 2016), 58.

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Wholehearted Trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and do not rely on your own insight.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

~Proverbs 3:5-6 

I began February reflecting on these seemingly straightforward verses from the book of Proverbs. However, my times of reflection soon began to feel like a wrestling match. As March begins, I will continue to wonder what wholehearted trust in the Lord really looks and feels like. For now, I am grateful that I can share a few things I have learned.

Wrestling with God offers the space to authentically assess the fullness of our trust in the Lord. How much of “all your heart” is really trusting in the Lord…a quarter…a third…a half? With greater self-awareness, trust untangles our seemingly good intentions and insights so that the Lord’s straight path is recognizable.

Trust invites us to acknowledge that wrestling is part of our everyday life with God. And within that trust there is faith that at just the right moments, the Lord will lovingly come and lift us up off the proverbial mat of doubt and discouragement.

Love…always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. ~1Corinthians 13:7

Finally, trusting in the Lord’s deep and abiding love is an each-new-day endeavor that offers us renewed hope to share with others.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13

If you are a spiritual director, how is your trust in the Lord helping you listen lovingly and hopefully to others. 

If you are in spiritual direction, how can your practice of spiritual direction help you trust in the Lord’s love for you?

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Fresh Relational Wisdom and an Article

These are the wise sayings of Solomon,

    David’s son, Israel’s king—

Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,

    to understand what life means and where it’s going;

A manual for living,

    for learning what’s right and just and fair;

To teach the inexperienced the ropes

    and give our young people a grasp on reality.

There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,

    still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—

Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,

    the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.

Proverbs 1:1-6 (MSG)

At the end of last year, I was asked to write an article about how to heal broken relationships. This request led me to consider the health of my own relationships, past and present, and to wonder if I had any wisdom to share.

These first verses of Proverbs were a reminder that we all have experiences with God that move us beyond our own knowledge and understanding to living wisely with a firmer grasp on reality. Moreover, I recognized that to write this article I needed fresh relational wisdom to probe and penetrate the rhymes and reasons of my heart and soul. 

Every generation from the time of the Exodus has needed God’s fresh wisdom to resolve the conflicts before them. Irv Cross, a professional football player who went on to be the first black sport analyst on national television, wrote in his biography, There hasn’t been one problem I’ve ever had that wasn’t addressed in the Bible. To me, to solve any issue, you turn to Jesus Christ1

So I turned to the scriptures and the experiences with God that I and others have had to write the following article. It was and is my hope that it offers you relational insight and inspiration. 

1 Irv Cross with Clifton Brown, Bearing the Cross: My Inspiring Journey from Poverty to the NFL and Sports Television (New York: Sports Publishing, 2017), 45, Kindle. 

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Simply Begin Again

As always, a new year begins again. And I am still reflecting on one particular Christmas letter. Initially, I was caught off guard by the authenticity of the young woman I met several years ago and spent time with before she moved to another state. Moreover, I am inclined to keep her letter at the ready to receive the gift of inspiration for my own practice of what the apostle Paul’s encourages in three short verses of 1st Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; 

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. vs.16-18

The following is a portion of the letter (I left out their names and the place). I invite you to consider how you would adjust to unfamiliar living circumstances.

We are entering our 4th year of living here! I still rely way too much on GPS to get around, and I am constantly surprised when I make it to my intended destination! (Honestly, this happened in California too! HaHa!) The weather still keeps us guessing daily, but the predictability of the season changes is just so magical to us. The crisp winters, the awakening of spring, lush green summers, and my favorite – the colors of fall! Seriously, it looks like the most amazing confetti when the leaves hit the ground! I sound just like a travel brochure don’t I!!?!…We do miss everyone in California, but I guess you can say we really have hit our stride this past year. Isn’t it amazing how life can surprise you like that? In 2020 we actually didn’t think we would last another year here. We realized that our original vision of what our life would be like here did not match reality. This was a hard realization, but we both decided we were going to change our thinking and adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for our space and surroundings. Well, here we are Happier!

I am amazed by this couple’s year long adoption of an “attitude of gratitude.” Most often I create a long list for whom and what I have deep gratitude. But this couple was grateful for one thing all year: the space and surroundings of their new home. It was intentional. It was life-giving. And like any spiritual practice, I am sure they had to do as Benedict of Nursia reminds us:

Always we begin again. 

This is a new way to begin again. Simplifying the practice of gratitude by giving thanks for one “thing” at a time be it a person, place, thing or even a pandemic can be life-giving. And I am convinced it includes being generous and gracious with ourselves to “always begin again” with the hope that we will be happier and even rejoicing always!

If you are a spiritual director or in spiritual direction, consider how simplifying gratitude might be incorporated into your spiritual directions sessions?

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Light: The Ending of Advent

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. ~Isaiah 9:2

O Lord, send out your light and your truth…

May your light guide us toward the truth our souls long to know when uncertainty is ever so elusive.

May your truth lead us toward the faith our souls need to have and to hold when reality is again overwhelming.

May your light and your truth bring us to the hope our souls find in your Son’s true light with joy alas exceeding.*

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 

And so Christmas comes to us all…Amen and amen!

*(based on Psalm 43:3-5)

Practice: Saying “Thank You”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

~Matthew 11:25-30

It is Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, and this month I relied on Jesus’s example to deepen my practice of gratitude. By reading daily both Matthew and Luke’s gospel accounts of Jesus giving thanks to the Father, I sought to be more intentional about actually saying “thank you.”

If you are like me, perhaps you have overlooked the verses in Matthew before the Lord’s “Come to me…” invitation. I have often wondered about the connection between this invitation and giving thanks to the Father, so I finally spent time reflecting on it.

It seems to me, Jesus is able to invite us to be yoked to him because all things have been revealed and handed over to him by the Father. Moreover, the rest we long for is ours because Christ chooses to reveal the Kingdom of God to us. And for that we can give thanks!

What can we learn from these verses about the practice of gratitude? Can weariness be a reminder to remain yoked to Christ’s eternal perspective rather than worry? Can responding to others with gentleness and humility be evidence of our thanksgiving for the Father’s tenderness toward us.

I am grateful for the monthly practice of spiritual direction in which what is hidden is brought to light through the mutual reflection on how God has been at work in my life and the lives of those who come to me for spiritual direction. These moments create a deeper connection with God and bring forth thanksgiving and praise to Father, Son and Holy Spirit!  

Jesus said “thank you” to the Father. In the next few days, what detail(s) can we leave undone in order to reflect on how the Lord has been at work in our lives this past year, month, week, day, hour?  As a result, to whom are we being invited to say “thank you“?

May I suggest, if you are in spiritual direction, take time to give thanks for your spiritual director. And if you are a spiritual director, take time to give thanks for those who come to you for direction. 

Practice: The Serenity Prayer

I love Psalm 133 which paints a picture of precious oil running down one’s face and refers to the joy of covenantal unity. I am not enamored with the idea of greasy hair and the unity I need is of heart, soul, mind and strength to love well, but I can anoint my body with small amounts of oil as a reminder that I am blessed to be a blessing.

About a year ago, I spontaneously began the practice of prayerfully anointing my body with oil* as I say the Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can 

and the wisdom to know the difference!

My routine flows something like this:

  • Put a little oil on the inside of each elbow and recite the first line of the prayer as a reminder that serenity and acceptance include embracing what cannot be changed. 
  • Contemplate the next line of the prayer and touch the back of each knee with a little oil, knowing courage requires the humility to bend the knees in prayer seeking ways to change what can be changed.
  • And finally dab the top of each foot with oil asking God for a discerning heart and the strength to walk in wisdom. 

Healthy spiritual practices and prayer bring greater freedom to our lives. The gift of the Serenity Prayer is the hope of living a life of surrender, courage, and discernment. The practice of anointing the body encourages the joy of freely rising up to bless the Lord and be a blessing each new day.

*A roller ball of oil or even lotion are recommended. 

Prayer: An Upright Heart

February is my favorite month of the year because I love hearts and enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day. Apart from the commercial emphasis on hearts, I find value in dwelling on and living in the light of God’s love.

The following last four lines of Psalm 32 have formed my reflections for this month:

…but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, 

O righteous, and shout for joy,

all you upright in heart. (vs. 10b, 11, NRSV)

Today is also Ash Wednesday. As the journey of Lent begins for this year, I am reminded of the forgiveness, protection and guidance that come with right living before God.

The following has been my prayer this month:

Lord, help me to have an upright heart by conversing with you freely and trusting you explicitly. May your sustaining love help me to love patiently, tenderly and without envy, boasting, arrogance or rudeness. Keep me from insisting my way is best and from being irritable or rude in times of conflict. Lord, may I be found bearing with, believing in, hoping for and enduring always so that goodness is the well-spring of my heart. And when hopelessness besets my soul, may God’s unending love create in me a heart that is happy and rejoices in the greatness of God’s love for myself and others. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ~Amen and amen. 

Prayer: You, Lord, are my Lord.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. 

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; 

their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand,  I shall not be moved. 

Therefore my heart is glad, my and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 

For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 

You show me the path of life. 

In your presence there is fullness of joy;  in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

~Psalm 16:1-11

As I result of praying Psalm 16 the past few weeks, I have written the following:

Lord, you are my Lord, and ever so gently the your Spirit reminds me that you are good. You, Lord, are the very best part of my life, but I confess I do not always choose to trust in you. Too quickly I can fall into believing I am too much for even you to handle. I seek after quick fixes and find only a false sense of security. 

But You, Lord, are my security. Your goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life and you hold me in your loving gaze. I see you seeing me and my heart is glad, my soul rejoices, and I can finally rest. I am thankful and praise wells up within me.  

Lord, in your presence I experience fullness of joy and forever pleasures. A life of hope is part of my each new day reality simply because you, Lord, are my Lord. Amen and amen!

New Year Prayer: Your face, Lord, do I seek.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

    whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me

    to devour my flesh—

my adversaries and foes—

    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,

    my heart shall not fear;

though war rise up against me,

    yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,

    that will I seek after:

to live in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the Lord,

    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter

    in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up

    above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent

    sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,

    be gracious to me and answer me!

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”

    Your face, Lord, do I seek.

In case you had not noticed, I have been stuck, so to speak, on Psalm 27 throughout Advent and Christmas. The psalmist helped me wonder about fear, favor and forever, through the waiting of Advent and bolstered my Christmas faith. As I started turning my attention toward the year ahead, I revisited the familiar words. 

In the middle of the verses, I stopped to let myself see and feel the psalmist gathering up the confidence to plead with the Lord:

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,

    be gracious to me and answer me!

And then I paused a little longer to hear the intention of the psalmist’s heart in verse 8:

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”

    Your face, Lord, do I seek.

I have decided that 2020 was a riddle that no one has discovered the answer to yet. As 2021 begins, I place no hope in individual politicians, pastors, pharmaceutical companies or medical professionals to solve it. The reality is it will take the utmost reliance on the Lord and a collaborative mindset to move us toward a confident resolution. 

The gift of Psalm 27 is its boost to one’s confidence.  Our waiting is not over. But we offer others hope whenever we gather up the courage to cry out to the Lord with boldness.  To that end, may our prayer and the intention of our hearts be that of seeking the Lord’s face, regardless of how the days of the new year unfold.

Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,

    you who have been my help.

Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,

    O God of my salvation!

If my father and mother forsake me,

    the Lord will take me up.

Teach me your way, O Lord,

    and lead me on a level path

    because of my enemies.

Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,

    for false witnesses have risen against me,

    and they are breathing out violence.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage;

    wait for the Lord!