brian j plachta
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by brian j plachta on January 18th, 2020

As a writer for my college newspaper years ago, the most important—and often most difficult—task of putting the student press together was composing the headline. After our stories were written and edited, we often sat around the news desk into the early morning hours trying to get the headline just right for each story.  

The headline had to be clear and concise. It had to summarize the truth contained in the story. Usually, after numerous attempts, an idea would form, and, finally, the perfect headline popped out and soon flowed onto the newsprint.

It’s the same thing with our lives. We walk around with headlines in our minds—words and phrases that underscore the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

Some headlines are blatantly negative and untrue. They suggest we’re separated from ourselves and the Source of our Being.

I’m a bad person.
God’s disappointed in me.
I’m a failure.
I can’t do this.
I’m overwhelmed.
I must be going crazy.

Other times, the words and phrases we carry around in our heads are positive and true. They lead us into deeper awareness of who we are and why we’re here on this planet.

God is good and so am I.
The Creator and I are One.
I am a part of God’s story of Divine Love made real in and through me.
I have been blessed with the power of the Creator in mind, body, and spirit.
I am God’s prayer.
I am God’s Beloved.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that emphasizes the importance of having a Right View—a correct perception—about life, ourselves, and God.

The proverb states, “Be careful where you’re going, because you might end up there.”  

If our underlying assumption about ourselves is that we’re broken and in need of repair, we continue to get the headline wrong about who we are. We might just end up living a life of confusion and despair—or in a counselor’s office trying to undo the faulty thinking that got us there.

Those nasty untruths nag us as we grow. They come from verbal attacks and from those who tell us we’re bad. Our religious institutions can add to the intellectual suffering we experience by overemphasizing sin and fear of damnation. Often we become our own worse critics, chastising ourselves with every mistake we make.

The headline pasted on the front page of our newspaper foreheads can soon become, “I’m messed up—separated from myself and God.” And so, we run from ourselves and the truth that could set us free.

What if we made it a regular practice to reassess the headlines we tell ourselves? Would this ease our mental suffering? Would it help us realize we are the only ones who place limits on ourselves? Would it help us awaken to God’s Loving Presence?

According to Christian author and mentor James Finley, our perception of who we are in relationship with God shapes and molds our worldview. It triggers our inner dialogue.

Finley writes, “Although I am not God, I am not other than God.” 

He suggests we are One with God because the Creator is the source of our very lives. If God is love, which is true, then we’re the human expressions of Divine Love. We can never be separated from our Source because it is the essence of who we are and how we’ve been created.

As we come to understand the Truth about ourselves, we realize we honor the Creator and experience inner joy by receiving God’s unconditional love.  

So, how do we correct the headlines in our heads?  

Our intellect alone can’t get us there. Jesus proved that after being baptized. When the Holy Spirit said, “You are my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased,” Jesus seemed to have been surprised and confused. Was it true? How could it be?

In response, Jesus went to the desert to be alone with the Father and figure out who he was. (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1).

During forty days and nights in the desert, Jesus had to reject the false headlines that tried to dissuade him from becoming fully who he was. He learned how to listen for and hear the voice of God. Through direct experience, he deepened his relationship with the Divine. He discovered the importance of solitude, prayer, and meditation as pathways to understanding who he was.

When Jesus returned from his mountaintop retreat, he continued the daily practice of solitude. He set aside time each day to be with his Father so he could learn more clearly who he was and tap into God’s on-going guidance.

We are not God. And we are not other than God. As we allow the Spirit to teach us that truth, perhaps we can toss away the untrue headlines and discover who we really are: God’s Divine Love expressed in human forms.

It seems there are three core practices Jesus and many other spiritual heroes teach to develop this mature understanding of ourselves:

1. Connection with the Creator through daily meditation and contemplation.

2. A teacher or spiritual mentor to help us discover the loving movement of God on our life’s path; and

3. Spiritual reading of scripture or other books of wisdom to show us the way, the truth, and the meaning of life.

By regularly practicing these three habits, we learn to let go of the false headlines we’ve told ourselves. Our thinking and daily experiences become filled with an awareness of God’s Presence. An explosion of joy often accompanies the realization that we’re part of God’s Divine and Loving Play. There is nothing to do, nothing to achieve, other than to fully embrace the divine powers that seek to unfold in and through us.

This week, set aside time for solitude and try this practice.

•Take a blank sheet of paper and make two columns: one for the negative false headlines you tell yourself, and the other for the positive truths about who you are.

•Under each column, write down the words or phrases that often rise up in you as you listen to the story in your head.

•Then cross out the false headlines.  

•Highlight those that are true.

•Return to this practice whenever you need to be reminded of who you are.

With the help of the Infinite Source of Love, we can get the headlines right.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on January 9th, 2020

Missy is a dear friend. We stood side-by-side at the opening liturgy at a mountain retreat in New Mexico.

As I stood in silence before communion, my shortcomings and failures hit me like a tsunami. My impatience, the resentments I held, the people I’d hurt, those who had hurt me—and those I’d railed back at—or failed to speak to with love. They were all inside me like angry waves. I bit my top lip. Wiping my eyes with my fist, I pushed away the tears that drowned my face.

Then, as if an angel had nudged her, Missy touched my arm. She leaned toward me and whispered words that pierced my soul: “Don’t believe the lies.”

The words baptized me with truth. I felt free.

Missy was right. I’d become overwhelmed by my human imperfections. It was well beyond humility. The tsunami was shame. It told me I was bad. It turned my anger into fiery judgment of myself and others. But it was a lie.

Missy’s words became an aha moment—an epiphany—a lesson in self-acceptance. Years later, when my mind returns to shame, I often hear the words rise up in my heart again, “Don’t believe the lies.”

The Task of Self-Acceptance

Why is self-acceptance the hardest task of becoming fully human? Why does our self-acceptance meter range from somewhere between “I’m a superstar—a 10” to “I’m nothing but a failure—a negative 90?”

According to Professor Jennifer Crocker, Americans suffer from a low self-esteem crisis. In her article published in the Journal of Social Issues, Crocker states people often base their self-worth on external sources, such as job performance, academic achievement, the car they drive, the house they live in, or what others think of them. If we hang our self-acceptance hats on these external sources, we’re more likely to experience the ups and downs of low self-esteem and mental health issues.

Crocker believes external contingencies of self–worth—especially physical appearance—are unreliable as a basis of self-esteem. They result in stress, aggression, excessive drug and alcohol use, and disordered eating. These outside sources of temporary affirmation are often the cause of our ping-ponging self-acceptance meter.

The Inner Journey

But those who base their self-esteem on internal sources—such as being a virtuous person or adhering to moral standards—are more likely to experience higher levels of self-acceptance and inner peace, says Crocker. They don’t have to be right in the eyes of others to feel self-worth.

From a spiritual perspective, if we let others tell us who we are, we put on airs to meet their expectations—or, worse yet, attack others to protect ourselves and hide our shortcomings.

If we let the Source of Divine Being—God—tell us who we are on the inside, our self-esteem grows without being contingent upon others’ opinions or our accomplishments.

So how do we find healthy self-acceptance?

Meditation—a Pathway to Self-Acceptance

When we take time to get away from the noise and distractions, we enter a deeper inner space. We let our minds sink into our hearts. We connect with the Creator’s infinite wisdom and guidance. It’s as if we open a whole new pathway of listening for the Divine Whisper.

In meditation, our blood pressure lowers. We connect with our inner selves. We open our hearts. We experience love, inner peace, and wisdom.

Meditation doesn’t cost a dime. It’s a daily investment in ourselves. It’s the realization an Infinite Being loves and guides us, and we can connect with that Being. That Infinite Source of Love wants to communicate with us.

Tell Me Who I Am

It’s important to create an inner space for you and God to tell each other who you are.

Here’s a way:

1. Find a quiet place to be in solitude, alone with yourself and God

2. Light a candle

3. Close your eyes

4. Ask the Divine Presence to be with you

5. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself.  Focus your attention on your breathing

6. When you’re ready, ask, “What is my name for God? What word, phrase, or image comes to mind when I consider who God is to me?”

7. After a time, ask the Creator, “What’s your name for me, God? What word, phrase or image comes to your Divine Mind when you consider who I am to you?”

8. Sit in silence for a few more moments, savoring what you experienced. Receive it as gift. Lift it up with gratitude. Perhaps write down the words that came to you.

This practice gives us an inner picture of who we are. It helps us let go of the false images of ourselves that drive us toward unhealthy extremes on our self-acceptance meters. When practiced regularly, we are baptized with Truth. We integrate Missy’s wise words: “Don’t believe the lies.”

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on January 2nd, 2020

When our car battery loses power, we often take out the jumper cables, open the hood, and jumpstart the battery to give it new life.  It’s the same thing with our spiritual lives—occasionally we need to step back, open the hood on our lives, and see if our spiritual life needs a jumpstart too.

A tool we can use to evaluate our spiritual lives is called Finding Flow.

Years ago, while studying to become a spiritual director, as part of the coursework, we learned about saints and spiritual masters, including Saint Benedict. Benedict, a fifth-century monk who started the first monastery, wanted to give his monks a template for finding balance between daily work and prayer (ora et labora). He called it a Rule of Life.

The monks had to create an individual Rule which became their guiding principle, a framework for finding inner peace and balance in their daily lives. Today, we might call it a personal mission statement.

As part of our three years of spiritual direction classes, we were tasked with the assignment to create our Rule of Life. As I pondered, I looked to the spiritual giants we studied. I noted how each man and woman—Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, Julian of Norwich, Saint Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther, and others—had four common characteristics that shaped their lives.

•First, they took daily time for solitude, to be alone with God—time to meditate and listen.

•Second, they read the scriptures and the work of spiritual teachers to learn wisdom.

•Third, they surrounded themselves with people who inspired them to grow.

•Finally, they discovered their unique talents and gifts and used them in life-giving ways for themselves and others.

I shaped my Rule of Life around the ancient wisdom of Benedict and the other spiritual masters. The following became my Rule, the guiding principle we can use to evaluate our lives so we can find deeper inner peace and balance. I offer it to you, so you can incorporate it into your daily life.

1.Solitude: establishing rituals to spend daily “quiet time” to deepen our relationship with God

2.Spiritual reading: delving into books that teach and inspire

3.Community: surrounding ourselves with people who nudge us to grow

4.Contemplative Action: discovering our unique gifts and talents and using them to make the world a better place

When put into regular practice, these guideposts form healthy habits that help us experience abiding joy. We can take Benedict’s wisdom, even if we’re not monks, and find unique ways to translate it into modern life. We can look at our lives through the lens of these guideposts to find balance. Wholeness.

For shorthand, I call this  Rule of Life, “finding flow.” Flow means being one with the Divine Spirit who opens our hearts, allowing us to experience inner peace, balance, and wholeness.

Finding flow involves adopting spiritual practices to exercise our souls, just like going to the gym or taking daily walks to help maintain strong healthy bodies.

Consider taking time to look at each of the above four pillars to assess your spiritual life. Check your spiritual battery by giving each of the four a ranking from 1-10 to discover which ones are full and which ones need your attention.

When all four guideposts are fully charged, it’s amazing how God deepens our relationship with him as he invites us daily to find flow.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on December 27th, 2019

It’s customary in some cultures for a groom to carry his bride across the threshold of their home, taking her into the new life they will share.

Traditionally, Polish families place a cross above the inside front door of their houses hoping everyone who passes through will be blessed by God’s grace.

At funerals, it’s typical for the officiating minister to remind us our deceased loved one has not left us—they have simply crossed the threshold to the other side.

Thresholds symbolize the passing into something new. To do that, we must let go of what’s behind us and step into the mystery of what’s ahead. Thresholds signal change. Thresholds are signs of hope.

High school or college graduation unveils the departure of the academic world and the entry into the marketplace where we hope to earn our daily bread. The birth of our first child marks the threshold into parenthood.

After long years at our jobs, retirement marks the entry into a new season of our lives, possibly through the doorway of what some call an “encore career.”  We move from earning our daily bread into following our passions, finally arriving at the doorstep of freedom, so we can use our gifts and talents unhindered to make the world a better place.

Other times, we find ourselves at unplanned thresholds. A sudden illness, the death of a loved one, losing our jobs reminds us we are not in control of the universe. Walking through these doorways can be especially scary, but we don’t travel alone. The Holy Presence invites us to enter this new phase of our lives. Excitement and thrill fills our hearts. Yet there is also fear as we let go of the familiarity of life in exchange for the mystery of change.

Perhaps the best way to hold the tension between letting go and beginning anew is to stop and ponder the evidence of how God has led us in the past. Often when we look into the rearview mirror of our lives, it’s amazing how all the puzzle pieces—the people, events and circumstances—unfolded and fit together in a way we could not have planned. It’s obvious the Creator gently led us, putting together the pieces until we were once again whole and in a new safe place.

I am entering a new phase in my life. After thirty-six years of being a lawyer—something familiar, something I do every day—I am leaving behind life as I’ve known it and crossing a threshold into an encore career writing books and teaching spirituality workshops. I will continue practicing law, but part-time.

Excitement and fear summon me. I hold these two emotions in my hands, allowing them to co-exist.

God comforts me by whispering in my heart, “See how I have been here with you? Always. Even when you were not aware or didn’t wish to pay me any attention, I have held your life in the palm of my loving hand. Take my hand again. Let me walk with you across this threshold. I make all things new and beautiful.”

As you enter this new year, look into your rearview mirror at the thresholds of your life. Can you now see the fingerprints of God who stood with you as you moved into each new season?  

Then, look to the present moment of your life. What thresholds are you being invited to cross? What new seasons are you entering? Hold them in your heart. Invite God to walk with you. See how God makes all things new and beautiful as together you cross your thresholds of hope.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on December 19th, 2019

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is putting up our outdoor nativity. As the season of love draws near, I crawl into the basement storage, pull out the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph plastic figures, carry them outside, and construct a makeshift stable with wood, straw, and cornstalks. Christmas music from my iPhone fills the air, warming my heart and inviting a smile to crease my face.

When I’m in the flow of love and laughter, when everything is bright in my world, it’s easy to sing “O Come Let Us Adore Him” as I put up the manger. In those times, I see God’s Divine Love in my family and friends, in the gift of good health, and in the love of my dog Riley, who rolls in the snow as he watches me build the nativity.

It’s harder to see God’s Divine Love when my world is rocked with suffering and loss. My eyes get clouded by the squabbling of siblings, the crisis of a loved one’s heart attack, and the realization that some of my loved ones won’t be rocking around the Christmas tree this year. During an imperfect season, my heart laments, " Where are You, Christmas?"

During a “good” holiday season, we bring our joy and gratitude to God, thanking the Creator for the gifts we’ve been given. But, perhaps the invitation is to also bring our lament, our Where are You, Christmas? emotions to God when we can’t see Divine Love because our eyes are filled with pain and sadness.

This Christmas season has been challenging. I grumbled as I set up our nativity scene. “Go ahead,” I mumbled. “Put up your Plastic Jesus. No one cares. You’re a mess. The world’s a mess.”

Anger and sadness overwhelmed my heart. And during the midst of my pity party at the foot of Plastic Jesus, Riley ran off after the neighbor’s dog. Nothing was right. Not even my dog.

I wanted to run from my emotions. Or, better yet, flip an inner switch in my head and make O Come Let Us Adore Him my heart’s song again. But it didn’t happen.

The next morning during quiet time, I brought my lament to God. “We’re broken, Poppa. The world and me. Please, fix us. Or at least, give me the eyes to see your Divine Love in the midst of this imperfect Christmas.”

The lament felt good. I cried with Divine Poppa. I felt his sadness too. I wondered if he ever gets angry and impatient with our messiness. Was he disappointed that the first Christmas—-the one with Mary and Joseph—was filled with marvel and messiness too? Or is that the way God planned it?

Then something changed. “Look deeper,” came the silent whisper of the Holy Spirit. “Can you see my Divine Love in the presence of your family surrounding your father-in-law at Sunday Mass and brunch before his heart surgery? My Divine Love is there. Look deeper. Can you see my presence in the efforts of siblings learning to love one another better? I am there. Can you see my Divine Love in your grandchildren who sent a video from across the miles singing, ‘We love you, Grandpa. We hope you feel better soon’?

“See, I am not a plastic Jesus. I am a Jesus who lives in flesh and bones. I create Divine Love even in and through the imperfections of life. I know it’s hard. But I am here. That’s why I’m called Emmanuel, because I am with you! I am holding you. I feel your pain and sadness, and I walk through it with you, transforming you with the power of my love. Thank you for bringing it to me. Together, we can fix it.”

Those words from the Spirit echoed in my heart. The tears Poppa cried with me released the sadness and bitterness that had taken root in my soul. It’s as if God gave me a second set of eyes—eyes with which to see the presence of Divine Love.

This Christmas, whether it’s perfect or not, ask God to give you a new set of eyes so you can see the presence of Divine Love in tangible form, in ordinary people, and in experiences that become extraordinary because you see them with the eyes of faith, hope, and love. Ask God for the gift to see as Christ se

What’s right with the world? Divine Love.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on December 14th, 2019

Do you remember the “Jesus Loves Me”  song?

“Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong.”

That song, along with several others we learned as kids, laid the foundation for believing in ourselves and the love of a Higher Power. It was grade school spirituality that worked—it taught us God is love.

But as we matured, grade school spirituality wasn’t enough. It might have even failed us. The schoolyard bully told us we were stupid. He or she challenged and brawled with us.

Then we became adults and ran into toxic people who projected their wounds upon us, blaming us for their unhappiness and trying to control our lives so they could protect their hearts.

We tried to forgive, but our hearts struggled. And we forgot the words of “Jesus Loves Me.”

Unless we continue moving from grade school spirituality to high school and adult spirituality, we get lost in the world. We might even become the toxic people who shame others.

We have to find a mature spirituality, a way to grow beyond the simple words and concepts we learned as children. Otherwise, we lose inner peace and balance. We might flunk life.

Years ago, a wise mentor invited me to read books written by saints and other spiritual masters who discovered a pathway to mature spirituality. I noted how each spiritual giant–Jesus, St. Benedict, St. Francis, Julian of Norwich, St. Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther, and others–shared four common practices that shaped their lives:

•Solitude. They took time daily to be alone with God–to meditate and listen with their hearts and souls.

•Spiritual Reading. They studied the Scriptures and the work of other spiritual teachers to learn wisdom.

•Community. They surrounded themselves with people who inspired them to grow.

•Contemplative Action. They discovered their unique talents and gifts, and used them to make the world a better place.

If these practices worked for them, I pondered, maybe they’d work for me. Perhaps they might be a lifestyle, a template for finding inner peace and wholeness. These concepts intrigued me so much I’m writing a book and creating workshops around them. I’ve also continued looking to other modern writers to discover their wisdom and insight.

One writer is Robert Thiefels. He wrote Standing in the Midst of Grace, a book that captures the importance of continuing to grow spiritually. He says it’s an on-going process. It takes inner work and study to move beyond grade school spirituality. (Check out his book by clicking this link:

Thiefels says, whether we realize it or not, God—our Source—is always a generous and unconditionally loving God. Thiefels writes, “Strange as it may seem at first, God has faith in us. And as hard as it may be for us to believe, God never judges us. In fact, in every moment we are being loved into greater being. It’s God’s love that transforms us.”

As Thiefels puts it, “We evolve through deeper levels of awareness of ourselves and God when we take the steps to grow.” We learn how to listen to the voice of Wisdom as it speaks to us in daily meditation. Through spiritual reading, we seek those spiritual giants that nurture our awakening hearts. These writers become our mentors. We also reach out to those further on the spiritual path, because to grow, we need spiritual community—people who nudge and inspire us.

As we deepen our relationship with our Creator, God showers us with guidance and wisdom so we live in love—what Theifels calls “Christ Consciousness”—literally putting on the mind and heart of Christ.

This deeper lens of Christ consciousness—of seeing ourselves, others, and the world as God does—draws us into the ongoing process of opening our eyes and hearts to discern the movement of the Spirit in our lives and in the world.

One of my favorite passages in Thiefels’ book is this:

We all stand in the midst of grace, whether or not we are conscious of its very real presence…..We are patterned in God’s image and the trajectory of all transformation is to become God’s likeness. Strange as this may seem, in our response to God’s love, we are becoming what we already are, but as yet do not realize.”

Thiefels’ book is a masterpiece. For those seeking to grow, I invite you to read it. It’s one tool you might consider this Advent as you prepare your hearts to celebrate the gift of Christ—and discover how to move beyond grade school spirituality.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on December 8th, 2019

As we enter the Advent Season, the words from the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen offer tidings of “comfort and joy.” But what are comfort and joy? How do we know when we’re experiencing them? And when we don’t experience their presence, how do we get comfort and joy back?

Over coffee the other day, my buddy Joe told me he felt happy. He was peaceful. Everything in his life was going well.

“I don’t know what to do with this ‘happy’ feeling,” he said. “I’m used to being worried about something or someone, angry at this or that, dashing to get here or there. But for the past few days I’ve felt calm, whole, filled with love and compassion for myself and others. It feels strange. Surreal.”

Like Joe, we have plenty of opportunities in life to call out the “Help!” prayer—Help me God to pass that test. Help me seal the deal. Help me or my struggling loved ones.

But what about those times when life is good? When everything seems to be going well? When there are no “issues” to contend with? Do we miss graced moments by looking for a new problem to resolve? Or can we experience happy feelings as part of the “comfort and joy” with which God wishes to bless us?

A mentor, Charm, told me years ago when we feel happy on an on-going basis, it’s actually joy we’re experiencing.

Joy, according to Webster, is a feeling of great happiness, pleasure or delight.

However, joy goes beyond and differs greatly from happiness. According to lifestyle mentor Rachel Fearnley, “Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.”

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Unlike the fleeting emotion of happiness, joy can even be experienced in pain or sorrow because we have the sense that God is with us, that we are held by Divine Love. Joy is rooted in the many emotions described in Galatians 5:22-23:


Charm taught me to name and embrace joy when I experience it so I don’t miss it. She said to place my hands on my heart and “receive it as gift.” Then, raise my hands to the sky and “lift it up to God with gratitude.”

Charm’s wise words have shaped and formed my heart. Although I still often fail to notice moments of joy, when I do, comfort fills me. At a family meal crammed with the sounds of clanging dishes and hearty laughter, I pause for a moment, smile, and wonder how I have been gifted with such an awesome brood. I sometimes even hear the soft whispers of my departed mother and father, and the tears that fill my heart are ones of both sorrow they are not here to share this moment and gratitude they are with us in the presence of Divine Love.

I wonder if this simple practice of noticing joy allows us to let go of fear and live our lives filled with love and thankfulness. When we receive joy and name it, we no longer resent serving others. We embrace giving as a heartfelt way of paying it forward. In the midst of our sorrow or anger we stop and listen to the whisper of love which guides us on the path toward deeper wisdom.

Joy helps us notice beauty without having to possess it or cling to it. Holding an aging parent’s hand or kissing their cheek reminds us of God’s love for us.  

Joy helps us say with conviction, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need”— even if I don’t have everything I want.

Joy allows us to accept ourselves as we are, here and now. It invites our hearts to know, “I Am is everything I need.”

This Christmas season, amidst the chatter of family and friends, during the divine chaos of shopping for loved ones, and even while missing those who are not at our family tables, notice when you experience a tinge of joy. Then step back and recognize everything is right in your world—even if it’s not perfect.

When you notice comfort and joy, “Receive it as gift. Lift it up to God with gratitude.”

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on November 29th, 2019

When my children were young, we loved to read Where’s Waldo books. The Waldo character, with his red-striped stocking cap, splashed across each page, hidden in a montage of cars and trucks, skyscrapers and houses, people and places. When we spotted Waldo, we’d point to him, laugh, and say, “There’s Waldo!”

I wonder if we can find God the way children find Waldo. If we look closely among the splash of people and events of each day and ask, “Where’s God?” we might glimpse the Creator’s presence. We might see the Divine fingerprint everywhere—and on everything.

Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

We tend to look for God in the grand and spectacular—someone’s cure from cancer, the birth of a child. But most of our lives are filled with ordinary moments and routines—drinking coffee, reading a book, driving to work. These everyday experiences can become so familiar they lose significance. And when we see nothing extraordinary in them, we also fail to see God’s presence.

Belden Lane writes in Landscapes of the Sacred, “God meets us where we are….God masks the Holy in the ordinary.”

What if, like looking for Waldo, we trained our eyes to search for God? Perhaps frequently asking, “Where’s God?” might awaken us to the Holy Presence all around us—and even within us.

Everyday chores like washing dishes become a litany of gratitude as we thank God for the gift of our hands and clean water flowing from the tap.

The “ho-hum” becomes “Wow!” The “whatever” changes to “Oh, my God!” The drudgery of daily work shifts to a humble “Thank you, Creator, for the gift of life.”

By asking, “Where’s God?” throughout the day, we reclaim childlike curiosity. We discover the extraordinary in the ordinary. We realize the simple act of opening our eyes each morning is a Divine gift.

“God Surprises”

We can’t move through every moment of the day with awe because we’d never get beyond brushing our teeth. But there are moments when God surprises us.

A white-tailed deer bounces across a field, unmasking God’s beauty. A child’s warm hug radiates Infinite Love. A stranger opening a door for us becomes the Creator’s loving hands. In each enchanted moment, our hearts exclaim, “There’s God!”

Which Lens Do We Choose?

Finding Waldo reminds us there are two lenses through which we can observe our lives. One lens is the ordinary: that’s nice; whatever; I don’t see God. The other is the extraordinary: Wow!; that’s amazing; I see God in everything.

We choose the lens—the level of consciousness—through which we experience our lives. We can ghost lifelessly through the ordinary moments or we can view every good thing as an unmasking of the Holy.

It’s fun to ask, “Where’s Waldo?” If we desire to find Divine Presence in each day, we might ask a deeper question, “Where’s God

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on November 23rd, 2019

“I’m tired of fighting myself,” I ranted to God in a recent bout with the I-hate-myself blues. “I can’t seem to reconcile those parts of me I dislike. I either run from them or beat myself up for not being perfect. It takes a lot of energy to keep up this inner battle. I’m drained. I wish there was a switch I could flip to discover a healthier self-image.”

 “Maybe there is a way.” The silent whisper I recognized as God’s voice interrupted my whining.  “It’s a ‘449’.”

What’s a 449? Then it came. It was something I’d read.

Page 449 of the Big Book in Twelve Step literature (Third Edition) says acceptance is the key to happiness. Here’s what it says:

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. …Unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

Perhaps the Big Book is right. Acceptance is the key to happiness. It’s the mental switch we can flip when people, places, and things—including ourselves and our imperfections—aggravate us.  

Acceptance isn’t resignation. Like the Serenity Prayer says, acceptance means letting go of the things we can’t change, changing the things we can, and having the wisdom to know the difference.

And maybe acceptance has to start with ourselves before we can extend it to others. I don’t know why it’s so hard for many of us to accept ourselves. Could it be our excessive drive to compete and excel? Is it our plastic self who needs to show others how wonderful we are so we can prove to ourselves we’re good?

If we don’t do the inner work to find healthy self-acceptance, we can project judgment, anger, and disappointment on those around us.

According to Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., self-acceptance takes daily practice. It requires us to embrace a positive form of psychology that focuses on what’s right with us. Here’s some of what she outlines as a toolbox for self-acceptance:

1. Set an intention.

If I set my intention that a life with self-acceptance is far better than a life of self-hatred, then I begin a chain reaction within my being geared to a life of peace.

2. Celebrate your strengths.

List all the hardships you’ve overcome, all the goals you’ve accomplished, and all the lives you’ve touched for the better. Review it frequently, and add to it often.

3. Surround yourself with positive people.

Include in your circle of trust only people who inspire you, those who nudge you to grow.

4. Forgive yourself.

Our mistakes and our imperfections are not failures–they are opportunities for learning, healing, and growth. Forgive yourself, learn wisdom from your mistakes, and move on.

5. Shush your inner critic.

That negative voice in our heads that rubs our noses in shame is not the voice of love. Give your inner critic a name and tell it to be quiet. Replace its voice with positive words such as, “I am good. I am doing the best I can. I am enough.”

6. Perform charitable acts.

It becomes difficult to maintain that you’re a failure when you see how your good deeds help other people.

7. Be kind to yourself.

Practice self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack and let yourself be perfectly human—flaws and all.

This week, practice acceptance. Consider putting a sticker on the mirror in your car or bathroom with the number “449” on it.

Whenever you feel the urge to judge yourself or others, remember page 449—acceptance—is key to happiness and self-respect.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on November 17th, 2019

On Monday mornings, when we think about all the tasks we have to do in the coming week, we can feel overwhelmed. The mass of “stuff” can feel larger than the abominal snowman.
Listing those tasks can help tame that icy monster in our minds, but even then that Yeti can be frightening and crushing.

Our to-do lists can rule our lives. They either bolster our self-esteem as we check off our accomplishments, or they lambast us for not achieving what we intended.  We soon become human to-do lists.

Years ago, Susan, a mentor, gave me advice about how to let my to-do list become part of my spiritual life so my list didn’t control me.

To begin with, she said to quietly pray or meditate each morning. Center yourself by asking the Creator for a word or short phrase to carry in your heart for the day.

If your mind races forward to all you have to do that day, tell yourself you and God will create your to-do list at the end of your quiet time. Let yourself simply rest with God in solitude.

As you approach the end of your meditation, Susan suggested asking the Creator this simple question:  “What’s the work you’ve given me to do today?”

By asking this question, she said, “You’re praying your to-do list. You’re inviting God into the work of your hands for the day. So, take out your list, write down your tasks, and prioritize them as you and the Creator prayerfully consider what work you’ve been given for the day.”

This handy tool has become a source of comfort over the years. It stops my mind from fretting.  It gives me order and direction for the day. I befriend the abominable snowman that once felt overwhelming.

Praying my to-do list also helps me be realistic. If it will be a demanding week, God nudges me to put “down-time” on my task list. He reminds me to schedule time to play, perhaps enjoying a long walk, snuggling up with a warm blanket and a good book, or doing something creative and life-giving.

Try praying your to-do list each morning this week. As you sit with the One who loves you and wants what’s best for you, ask the God of Infinite Love, “What’s the work you’ve given me to do today?” As you begin each day, let you and the Creator tame your to-do list.

—brian j plachta

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