?Life's Journey' is to become our own best friend

Friday, Mar. 10, 2006

DRAPER — "The purpose of our parish mission, ‘Life’s Journey,’ is to help others believe God loves us and in the process we become our own best friend," said Jesuit Father Thomas Allender. "When we accept and become comfortable with ourselves, we are then able to embrace and accept others."

Fr. Allender and Donald Fisher presented a three-day parish mission at St. John the Baptist Parish, Draper Feb. 13-15. They have worked together for 23 years conducting parish missions and speaking to groups across the United States. Fr. Allender, who lives in San Francisco, was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) two years ago. He shares his own personal experiences.

Fisher has five children and was a paramedic with the Phoenix fire department before traveling with Fr. Allender. He shares his story of being addicted to pain medication, and how God’s love helped heal his life.

Fr. Allender and Fisher authored the best-selling book, "God Loves an Unmade Bed," in which they share how God is always present, especially in the midst of the messes and struggles of life. They present ways to reconnect and stay connected with ourselves and our God, and thus, spirituality becomes the source of loving one another as God loves us.

"This mission is about the healing power of God’s love," said Fr. Allender. "Our children need our love the most when they deserve it the least. God loves us the most when we deserve it the least. God gives us unconditional love.

"You are really never going to know God’s forgiveness until you mess up," said Fr. Allender. "You are never going to know God’s strength until you experience your own powerlessness. God chooses the weak and he makes them strong in his love. Our ministry is to evangelize the heart. The longest journey in the world is from the head to the heart."

Fr. Allender said somehow our society today has come to the conclusion that material things are going to make us happy.

"Somehow the children’s’ soccer games have replaced the family meal, and their activities have become more important than the family," he said. "We are changing from being family centered to being children centered. We are raising a generation of children who are growing up thinking the world is centered on them.

"I was asked to speak at a school in Cleveland, Ohio. When I listened to the children talk, I realized their language is angry," said Fr. Allender. "In our culture today, it is easier to be a parent than it is a spouse."

"I think it is so important for single parents to know they are not alone. God loves them in a special way and they have an inner power to build a family. Life is much more than survival, but life is difficult."

Fr. Allender said the basis of your religious or spiritual experience has to be a personal experience with God. If you ground your faith in a God who is in the sky somewhere, God is as distant from you as you are from the sky. If you ground your faith in God’s love inside you, God is as close to you as you are to yourself.

"All my life I have tried to be a good person," said Fr. Allender. "It comes from grace. Most of us are good at beating ourselves up. The problem is perfectionism, which is the greatest spiritual disease. We have to give ourselves credit for our efforts and not our results. If you can find God’s love in your darkness, you will see your life as a spiritual journey. But if you do not find God’s love in your darkness, you will see your life as a series of events which will eventually make you bitter. People who do not feel loved are depressed."

Fr. Allender said there is nothing we can do that is so terrible God’s love will not forgive us, and there is nothing so tragic God’s love will not be there to give us the strength we need to survive a situation.

"We realize the thing that makes each one of us so special is not our personality or what we own or do, it is God’s love within us," said Fr. Allender. "I grew up afraid of God. We are not supposed to be a guilt community, we are supposed to be a faith community. Faith is a decision. When you grow up with conditional love, you grow up with fear and guilt. Once we let God love us, we can be ourselves and stop being the person we think our parents want us to be.

"Guilt is about the past, you can never make it better by thinking about it," said Fr. Allender. "Guilt is healthy, it means you have a conscience. But, you have to own your guilt and trust it to God’s mercy. Then you have to forgive yourself as God forgives you. It is in our own sinfulness that we discover how much God loves us and how much God forgives us."

Fr. Allender said the most important thing he did was let go of the anger inside him, which allowed him to get in touch with the love inside him. He believes everyone has an anger problem.

"I was taught when I was young that anger was a sin," he said. "I was punished when I got angry so I learned to stuff my anger inside me. You have an anger problem if, when you get angry, you make a bad situation worse. Anger is not a sin, it is human to get angry. Anger is an emotion very few of us are comfortable with, and fewer know how to express in a healthy manner.

"Whenever you get angry, no matter how justified you are, anger is always your issue," said Fr. Allender. "You are not going to feel better until you get rid of your anger. When we learn to release our anger in healthy ways, it becomes a tool in our spiritual journey.

"Each one of us has to go through our crosses to get to the resurrection," he said. "God’s love is the only thing that makes sense."

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