3 Lessons from St. Joseph: or, the one with two too many camel jokes

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Two unknown facts about me—or well-known facts, depending on who you are 🙂

1. I love Saint Joseph. Seriously, y’all, this guy is the man. His feast day was last Monday and I made a point to be super excited that day 🙂
2. As demonstrated by the fact that I just made a list of two things, I also love lists. I don’t mean those silly lists of utility like to-do lists or shopping lists (the only thing I do just for the sake of utility is drink water. Water?! Gross!), I mean actual fun lists. Like “500 reasons why Stout Beers are the best” or “100 disturbing but hilarious photos of dogs doing something disturbing but hilarious”. You know, real important, life changing stuff.

Well, in honor of the fact that it was St. Joseph’s feast day last Monday, and because I love lists, I figured—why not make a list about things we can learn from St. Joseph?

After a bit of reflection, I found three things that really hit me about this fantastic saint. Of course, there’s so much more but the internet could not hold all of the things we can learn from this guy. Oh. I’m also dramatic. Sorry :).
1. St. Joseph teaches us about Holy Detachment and how to say “Yes” to God in the duties of the moment

I don’t know about you, but I’m an incredibly stubborn human being. I’m pretty good at following the desires the Lord puts on my heart but I am not so good at letting God show me how He wants me to carry out those desires. “Yeah God!” I’ll pray, “You told me you want me to go here, but you got it all wrong. Um. I really should be there.”

Then later: “Okay. Um. I’m here. Nothing is happening. Why isn’t anything happening? Are you sure this right?”

And I do this even on a smaller scale. Our first duty is to love the person God puts in front of us. But, I get frustrated when I’m interrupted by the doorbell at the office, while I’m working on a project. God is asking me to help this person—but I’m more concerned with my own thing.

Joseph shows us a different and better way to be.

His plans were constantly being course corrected and changed by the Lord. He’s about to quietly leave Mary when he finds out she is pregnant. Until an angel appears and tells him to take Mary and her child into his home. And just when Joseph thinks his life is together, an angel appears to him, again, and tells him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus.

Tradition tells us that “the brothers of Jesus” might actually be Joseph’s children from a previous marriage and that Joseph was a widower. This means Joseph might have had a whole other life before becoming the foster father of Jesus.

The life of Joseph was not convenient, logical, or straight. Unlike me, though, he’s not attached to an idea of what he thinks his life should be. He’s completely detached from expectation and is able to follow the Lord with reckless abandon.

Likewise, Joseph is obedient to the work God is asking him to do in the present. He realizes that the only thing that really exists is his current reality. The past is the past, and the future hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, all that really matters is his response to what God has put in front of him.

From St. Joseph, we can learn how to answer the calling of the Lord, even if it’s not what we expected. We can also learn not to dwell on the past or get too focused on our plans for the future. The most important thing we can do is answer ”yes” to the work the Lord gives us, right now.

2.Trust and certitude

One of the things that keeps me from having such detachment and obedience to the daily duties of life is a lack of trust. Sure, I have faith in Christ–in a very academic sort of way. But, I struggle with that trust in my heart.

I struggle with that kind of trust and certitude that comes with knowing that this reality—what is currently happening—is a good for me. In other words, sometimes, I lack the certitude that says that God is using my circumstances for my good and the good of others.

But, St. Joseph gets it. When God directs him through dreams, and possibly even after the death of a wife, Joseph knows that God is guiding his steps. God works through Joseph because Joseph realizes that God is using his circumstances for his good or the good of others.

To live with trust and certitude in the Lord does not mean that we will always get what we want or that life won’t be painful or unfair. But, it means that, in spite of the pain, we know that we were created by a loving Divine Person, who will use what happens to us for our good or the good of another person.

3. Serving God in Monotony.

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like I should be doing something more. What’s that phrase about how we were created for “greatness”?

Likewise, when I want to hear from the Lord, I want there to be huge signs. I am of that “wicked generation” that wants thunderstorms and fire balls. It’s not God if it’s not on fire, right?

And in the case of Joseph, God does talk to him in some pretty big ways. And as the foster-father and protector of the Holy Family, he does do some pretty great things. But, when you think about it, what was Joseph’s life-like on a day-to-day basis? He probably spent most of his life in the quiet town of Nazareth, getting up, going to work as a carpenter, and helping Mary clean up camel poop.

Sometimes, I want to serve God in big ways. I forget that every moment is an opportunity to serve God in small ways. Making coffee for your roommate, giving an encouraging word to a co-worker, or doing your dishes for your wife who hates washing dishes, are ways to serve the Lord and others.

It is not in big and glorious moments that we show the greatest love. Instead, it is in these small, but intentional acts of love that we give God the most glory and show people the most honor. Why? Because small acts of love are simply acts of love for their own sake. They are opportunities for me to love you simply because I love you.

Moreover, I spent so much time looking for signs in the sky, that I ignore God speaking to me in the ordinary ways of life. The time that friend picked up the phone for me when I needed someone to talk to, or that small inclination in my heart to go here or there, are little ways of the Lord speaking to me.

Joseph talked to the Blessed Mother and Jesus everyday. I bet every interaction was not some sort of revelation. I’m sure they had plenty of relatively non-interesting conversations about what they were going to have for dinner or who was going to walk the camel….:)

We’ll get huge signs, and do great things. But where is God really present? Where is God really asking us to do our work? God speaks to us in the daily, normal, monotony of life. And the beginning of your Christian call to love your brothers and sisters begins in the small acts of love you do daily with your spouse, roommates, and friends.

Joseph probably never even realized the way God was working through Him. And we probably don’t even realize the impact we have on those around us when we simply proactively love in the monotony of life.

Oh, St. Joseph. So much to learn from you and you did not even get one word in the bible! How bad ass is that?!

Stealing My Joy, Distractions, and other lies my ego tells me

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So, I’m waiting in line at the store. I just have to buy this one item. It should take five seconds! I should be home by now! But there’s two people ahead of me. And I swear they are stalking up for the nuclear apocalypse! How much toilet paper does one guy, actually need?!

Get out of my way! I have places to go—like my bed. My needs are a lot more important than yours!

And the next day I’m sitting by two other people. They exchange looks and smiles. They’re obviously laughing about me, right?

Wait. The world doesn’t revolve around me? There’s like six billion other people here? That’s funny. Sorry. I spend most of my time just interacting with one of those people—me.

This Lent, I’ve been particularly interested in the ego. I’ve always known I am selfish—nothing new there. But, I’m just now starting to realize the lies my ego tells me.

My ego distracts me and actually steals my joy.

Just for clarification. Egoism is not the same as being self-aware. I once knew a guy that said he was going to try to eliminate the word “I” from this vocabulary. I might be wrong—but that doesn’t seem like helpful solution.

There’s a very healthy and necessary kind of self-awareness. Being self-aware helps me to emphasize with those in pain, recognize my own needs, and realize when someone is hurting me. We have to be able to know and maintain our identity. Otherwise, we risk burn out or co-dependency. We can’t give ourselves to others if we don’t have any part of ourselves to actually give.

This self-awareness becomes a problem when I am looking at myself for my own sake—for my own glorification and validation. When I stop seeing myself as God’s instrument, and I see myself as my own master, that’s when my egoism and selfishness come to play.

The tricky thing is that I think our egos can be super sneaky. In fact, my ego plays off my normal desires.

For example, I’ve really come to realize that I find a lot of validation in how others see me. I remember being out of college and applying for jobs. I knew I had the skills to do this or that job. But it was really important for this potential employer to know that I was good at this or that thing. When I was rejected, I began to think: “Oh. Maybe I’m not good at this. This employer certainly doesn’t think so.”

Or when I teach a baptism class. I want that external validation that God used me bring this young family closer to Him. Without that validation, I feel insufficient.

Or I reach out to form a friendship with someone and I feel written off. What happened? Am I insignificant?

The struggle is that desires to succeed, to be seen, and to be known, are all good. But, because of our egos, they become disordered. Instead of looking at how God sees me, I become overly concerned with how others, or how I even see myself. I spend so much time on myself, I forget how God sees me, And, as his creation, all that really matters is how my Heavenly Father sees me.

If I can use an metaphore for a second. The Lord is an artist and I’m His paintbrush. My ego makes me forget that brushes can’t paint their own picture (maybe someday they can—in which case—freaky). A paintbrush doesn’t have the power to paint itself, or even to know exactly what it is painting. It just obeys the movement of the artist.

Maybe that’s what God is asking of us. God isn’t asking us to make a masterpiece, but to simply be the instrument He uses to create that masterpiece. Maybe God simply wants our “yes”.

Of course, having this trust to be God’s instrument or “paint brush” requires a lot of wrestling with the Lord. Frankly, my ego doesn’t want to be the paintbrush. I want to paint what I want, or I’d at least like to know what it is I’m painting.

But, I have to learn to trust that the Lord knows what He is doing. To overcome my ego, I have to go to Jesus and ask, “Hey! This is what I see! How do you see me?”

The reason why prayer is so important is because it reminds us of who we are. We have to go to the Lord and see ourselves the way He sees us. The only way to free ourselves from selfishness is to take our eyes off ourselves and fix our eyes on Christ.

But my ego can even find me in prayer. Maybe my prayer starts out fine, but sometimes, it can turn into a monologue,full of sadness and self-pity. My ego robs me of my joy, because I lose sight of how the Lord is working in my life. I’m so focused on the things, people, and problems of this world, that I lose sight of Jesus and the blessings he Has given me. My ego distracts me, because instead of taking time to come closer to the Lord, I’m too busy gazing at my belly button.

My ego looks for validation from others. When I don’t get it, it tells me I’m inefficient or insignificant. But, when I lift my eyes to the Lord, I realize that He is the artist and I am His paintbrush. I find my peace when I recognize that my value is in being a daughter of the Lord. The Lord has and will continue to fulfill my needs and desires. And the Lord has and will continue to use me—even when I don’t always see it.

So, as we journey through Lent, lets take the time to go the Lord in prayer. Let’s ask Him, “Who am I to you?”. Let’s not be afraid to struggle and ask for the trust we need to look out of ourselves, and into the eyes of our Savior and Divine Friend.