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When was the last time you could not fall asleep because you were worried about the future? Was it last night or sometime this week? What are you worried about? 

The older I get and the more I hear your stories as I meet you when I travel, the more I understand. To be a woman almost certainly means to worry deeply about the future. And if you are one of the few who cannot relate, count yourself among the lucky. 

Allow me to illustrate precisely what I am talking about: 

You are thinking about how much you like your job, and then suddenly, you convince yourself that you will eventually lose it. Before you know it, you are planning how you will make due for your family with no income and no hope. 

You are staring at your sleeping baby in pure, unadulterated joy. In a flash, you find yourself spiraling as you consider all the ways that one of you could die. 

As you stay up late worrying about your adult children, you are consumed with regret of all the ways you think you have failed. Things did not turn out the way you had hoped for them and your heart aches as you wonder if they will ever achieve the happiness you so desire for them. 

You turn on the news, and before you know it, you are consumed with fear about the future of society. What will you do when there is no food left and society resembles a scene from the Hunger Games?

Whatever it is, we often allow anxiety about the unknown to consume us. It is a disordered expression of our love, and it leaves us incapable of embracing the joy that God wants to give us. Instead, we tepidly welcome life’s joyful moments—holding them at arm’s length and always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now, I am not writing this post to tell you that you should never worry. Worry, when properly handled, can be helpful to our well being. I recently read an article titled, "How to Worry Better," that explained worry’s usefulness. “When it comes to worry, that function is pretty clear: It draws our attention to the fact that there’s something we maybe should be doing or preparing for or preventing, and it gives us the motivation to do something about that.”[1] 

And yet, 85 percent of the things we worry about will never happen. Yes, 85 percent![2] Ladies, we lose so many hours of sleep. We miss so many moments because we are stuck in our heads, afraid of things that will most likely never happen.

Some of us struggle with anxiety that can only be helped through counseling and medication. But many of us do not struggle with a clinical type of anxiety—we have convinced ourselves that this is just the way we are.  

Today, I want you to know that you can find freedom. You do not have to live in bondage to the cycle of anxious thoughts, worrying over things that most likely will not happen. The Lord calls you to let His peace control your heart (Colossians 3:15). I get that this can be hard. Life can be brutal. And yet, even if it begins incrementally, you can have peace. Instead of focusing on what could happen, God invites you to focus on what did happen. Let the reality of His victory shape the way you handle the unknown. 

Colossians 2:15 says, “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in [the cross].”

St. Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, who were pagans before they accepted Jesus. They worshiped these powers, or in Greek, stoicheia, a word that means “transcendent powers that are in control over events in this world.”[3]

These transcendent powers were not kind. They sought to enslave and control men. Today, we recognize them as “Satan and all his evil spirits who prowl around the world seeking the ruin of souls.”[4]

In verse 15, St. Paul said that Jesus “triumphed” over these spirits. This phrase would have evoked the well-known image of a Roman general who had won a major victory. To spread the news of the victory over all the land, the general marched his victorious army through many villages, dragging members of the defeated army behind them. 

Fr. John Riccardo described a depiction of one of Julius Caesar’s triumph parades in his book Rescued: “The whole Roman Empire was in the streets to greet their victorious hero, a long line of captives behind him. At the very end of the line was a cage with a man in it—naked and chained, with a sign above his head that read, 'This is the one who used to threaten and tyrannize us. He won’t do that anymore.'”[5]

So what does this have to do with our anxiety about the future? When you find yourself unable to stop worrying, remember that Jesus has won a complete victory over the enemy who has brought so much misery onto this world. Your life is not in the hands of one who wants to harm you but One who will protect you. And although tragedy is inevitable, your God wants you to remember that your life is “hidden with Christ" (Colossians 3:3). He has given you His complete protection. He has promised you that you will never walk alone no matter what you walk through. Your Savior has stripped the evil one of his power. You are not in his control, so do not let him deceive you into giving him power that does not belong to him.  

If you are struggling with anxiety about the future, be encouraged. Have peace. Your life is hidden with Christ. 

Recently, I opened the book Jesus I Trust in You: A 30-Day Personal Retreat with the Litany of Trust by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia. In the introduction, she said that in her prayer, she heard Jesus asking her to “Trust in me, not in your circumstances.”[6] Why? Because Jesus is worthy of your trust, and whether you can see it or not, He is with you in your circumstances. Cast your anxieties on Him, for He has won the victory, and now He offers you His peace.

[1] Pawlowski, “How to Worry Better,” NBCnews.com, NBC, accessed May 3, 2022,  https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/praise-worry-why-fretting-can-be-good-you-ncna757016
[2] Pawlowski, “How to Worry Better,” NBCnews.com, NBC, accessed May 3, 2022,  https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/praise-worry-why-fretting-can-be-good-you-ncna757016
[3] Bible Tools. https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/1627/Stoicheion.htm
[4] Prayer to St. Michael
[5] Fr. John Riccardo. Rescued (Maryland, The Word Among Us:2020) p. 121
[6] Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, Jesus I Trust in You: A 30-Day Personal Retreat with the Litany of Trust, p. 2

 

There is one woman who knows what it's like to live completely free from worry. The book of Genesis tells us Eve was made by God and in His image and likeness. Genesis 2:25 says, “The man and the woman were both naked, and were not ashamed.” I’m not sure about you, but just picturing my own premenopausal body (with battle stripes from bearing four large babies) stripped naked, “lounging” in a garden with my husband, sounds nothing short of a total nightmare. (The mental image is enough to give me hives.) 

But as scandalous as Eve’s naked escapades seem, there’s even more to her beautiful story that amazes me. The Holy Scriptures tell us that God Himself walked in the garden with Eve and her husband. Eve was literally rubbing shoulders with her Creator. In God’s presence, she was fully exposed yet unconditionally loved. When God created Eve, her primary job was not to wash dishes, or work hard at the gym to fit into her skinny jeans (naked people don’t need these by the way and neither do women who have birthed 9-pound babies), or keep a stellar Instagram hashtag. God designed Eve to walk in total intimacy with Him and with her husband. That was her primary purpose. 

Three things stand out to me about Eve in the beginning of her existence, before she was tempted to take her eyes off the God walking beside her. First, Eve was rested. Second, she was fully present with the people around her. And third, Eve was not trying to control or manipulate things that were in God’s charge. 

But what happened? Eve fell into a trap of doubting God, and it started with her mind believing one destructive thought. And because Eve chose to engage those toxic lies over embracing the truth, she took a giant step toward self-reliance and a giant leap away from fully trusting God.

Genesis 3:8 describes what happens next: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God WALKING IN THE GARDEN in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife HID THEMSELVES from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (emphasis added).

One fig leaf at a time, Eve started putting up heart defenses from the very God who wanted to walk in total intimacy with her. She began covering up pieces of her body and her heart. Eve fought to take control out of God’s hands. Enter the birthplace of worry. 

I’m curious, what worry are you hiding today? What is causing you anxiety? Give yourself permission to take a few quiet moments to say what is really on your heart. What is worrying you today?

That enemy that tempted Eve with the lie that God was holding out on her? He is out for you too. But God gives us what happened in Genesis 3 as game film. Father John Riccardo says the enemy runs the same play he used on Eve—over and over. Why? Because it works.  

The enemy tells us God is not for us. He whispers God is not trustworthy. That it’s not worth pursuing total intimacy with Him. The enemy wants us to turn to things other than a relationship with God to find our heart’s happiness. The evil one waits until we are weary; he distracts us from being fully present with the people He has invited us to love, and convinces us to become totally consumed with things we have zero control over before he pounces with the lies.

Our spiritual enemy wants us to feel trapped in a swirl of anxiety because his goal is to distract us from full intimacy with God. Just like he distracted Eve. 

This is how St. Ignatius described the way the enemy of our souls loves to derail people who are pursuing God: “It is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that a person may not go forward.”

The enemy wants us to live STUCK. But we have a choice. The enemy can whisper lies, but we get to decide if we believe them. He has no power over our minds. Because we know the truth. We know who we are. And no lie, no matter how cunning, can change our core identity. 

This is why, to battle the lies of the evil one, we need to daily center our hearts and minds on God’s Holy Word. Walking with Purpose Bible studies, like Grounded in Hope, remind us who we are and why our Creator made us: 

During those dark times when feelings of inadequacy rush in, when you wonder if you are unloveable, when you question your worth, remember this: 

You are the daughter of the star breather (Psalm 33:6)...
He calls you His “beautiful one” (Song of Songs 2:10)...
You have a fresh start, every morning, because of His limitless mercy (Lamentations 3:23-24). 

Straighten your crown, daughter of the King. Go forth in His power not your own. Rest in your true identity. You are the beloved.[1] 

Eve lived out what David declared in Psalms 91:2: “God alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.” Let’s become women who do the same.

—Jodi

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope (Walking with Purpose, 2019 ), 211-212.

Read more from Jodi on her blog, The Irreplaceable Mother, which encourages women to serve first and best where they matter most.

 

 

I stood in line and fiddled with the scarf wrapped tightly around my nose and mouth, when the TIME magazine cover, “THE AGE OF ANXIETY,” caught my eye. It was the first morning our governor was requiring Marylanders to wear masks in public areas, and the air in our local grocery store was thick with fear. I picked up the yellow magazine and skimmed the articles.

"Fear Can Fuel You"

"Are The Kids Alright?"

"Extra School Stress For Girls”

“A Family of Worrywarts, Coping in an Age of Anxiety”

As I turned the pages, my stomach dropped. Although many of the articles were informative and compelling, they did not tell the full truth of what has taken me decades to personally learn: When it comes to our struggle with anxiety, we always have a choice. Many of us do not get a say in the traumatic circumstances or childhood wounds that sparked our anxiety, but we do get to choose how we will respond.

What God has taught me is that anxiety does not originate in our design; it is birthed in our minds from negative experiences and fed by our brain habits. Anxiety is fueled by worry, often in our subconscious. Anxiety is a SYMPTOM of a deep worry or soul wound. It is a warning flare that our mind has adopted a toxic and untrue thought about our core identity. If we are wise, we will be women who pay attention to our anxieties and see them as signals for soul “work,” instead of trying to numb them. 

Author Jennie Allen writes, “The greatest spiritual battle of our generation is being fought between our ears.”[1] Perhaps your toxic thoughts sound something like this:

“I’m worthless.”

“I’m unloveable.”

“I’m ugly.” 

“I am a terrible mother.”  

“The danger of toxic thinking,” says Allen, “is it produces an alternate reality, one in which distorted reasoning actually seems to make sense.”[2]

Our first step in battling anxiety is to become aware of the negative garbage our brain is telling our body. We then have to disrupt those thoughts and anchor them to a new thought that combats the toxic lie we believe about ourselves. The Walking with Purpose Bible study Fearless and Free has helped me identify what unhealthy thoughts swirl in my head and how to arm my mind with healthy truths from Scripture. 

When I purposefully disrupt my negative thinking and anchor my mind to God’s Word, I am making a choice to teach my brain and body that my anxious thoughts do not define me. Who defines me? My creator God does. And who does God say I am? 

I am chosen and loved. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)

I am a child of God. (John 1:12)

I am not ruled by fear. (2 Timothy 1:7) 

I am secure in Him. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Our oldest daughter, Lilli, has a talent for basketball. A few years ago Lil was unstoppable because she could blow by her defender by dribbling with her right hand and driving to the basket for a layup. But that all changed mid-season when Lilli fractured her right arm. Because I coached her team, she still had to attend practices with her arm in a big cast. I remember her asking me, “What am I gonna do, just watch?” To her surprise, I handed her the ball and said, “Heck no. You can still practice, you will just have to do everything with your left hand.”  

The first few weeks were really frustrating for Lilli. She was weak on her left side. She dribbled off her foot and found it very awkward learning how to shoot properly with her left arm. Driving to the left side of the court was foreign for her. But she worked at it. Every time Lilli made a decision to step onto the court and use her left hand, her CONFIDENCE in her left hand grew. 

After her cast came off, Lilli was a completely different player because she had created a new habit. She is now unstoppable on both sides of the court. Out of tragedy, Lilli turned her handicap into her greatest strength. She had no choice over her broken arm, but she did get to decide how she would respond. Instead of being sidelined from the setback, she gained confidence in building new muscles. 

Choosing to disrupt our anxiety and replace it with healthier habits takes that same type of perseverance. It takes patience and being gentle with ourselves, but it’s so worth it. Each time we make a choice to disrupt our destructive thoughts and anchor our mind to the truth in Scripture about who God says we are, we can grow in confidence that anxiety does not have the last say. God always does. 

Learn more about the WWP Bible study Fearless and Free here. You can also read more from Jodi on her blog, The Irreplaceable Mother which encourages women to serve first and best where they matter most.

[1] Jennie Allen, Get Out Of Your Head (Colorado Springs: Waterbook, 2020), pg 10.

[2] Jennie Allen, Get Out Of Your Head (Colorado Springs: Waterbook, 2020), pg 24.

 

 

My 77-year-old mother is a model of efficiency. When she has news to share with her three children, rarely will she make three phone calls. If you ask my mom, email is sufficient for most communications. She also seems to doubt that group texts actually work. But group email? That’s her game. And the most recent email she sent to my brother, sister, and me read exactly as follows:

“The doctor called. I have the virus. Quarantined for 14 days after symptoms go away. Mom.”

Unfortunately, this was not the first piece of news I had received informing me that COVID-19 hit close to home. Over the past couple of months, a steady stream of texts and phone calls has revealed to me that someone tested positive, someone else was hospitalized, someone else passed away, and so on. I live in the NYC suburbs, and I need two hands to count the number of close friends and family members who were seriously affected by this virus. 

However, the email from my mother was the first piece of news that kicked my anxiety into full swing. It was the first time in my life that I had to come to terms with the possibility of losing a parent.

At the same time, my high schooler was completely ignoring his remote learning, my husband was stressed out at work, and thoughts about Walking with Purpose had been keeping me awake at night. COVID-19 cancelled all the WWP spring events and impacted Bible study sales, and as the director of marketing, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to support the ministry.

By late April it was clear to me that absolutely everything in my life was out of control. But friends, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t try to control it. If there’s one thing I learned from the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart, it's that God is in the driver’s seat.

But what to do about the constant anxiety? Yes, we can give up control and hand our struggles over to Christ, but I seem to have feelings of panic and worry that come on quite suddenly, triggered by stressful moments, no matter how much control I give up. When the Director of the CDC announced a week ago that a second and more difficult wave of COVID-19 was coming this fall, I uncorked a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc faster than you can say quarantine.

Clearly, I needed better coping techniques.

In the Walking with Purpose Bible study Keeping in Balance, there’s a lesson that talks about anxiety as a barrier to contentment. It is such a helpful lesson that Walking with Purpose sent it out as a PDF to our email list last week (you can find that PDF here). In this lesson we are asked to reflect on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What I love about WWP Bible studies is how author Lisa Brenninkmeyer makes scripture passages easy for newbies like me to understand. Lisa says the way we take a thought captive is by “replacing the worry with a truth that builds [our] trust in God.”[1]

That right there? That is an action item I can turn to (in place of the wine).

Here’s the truth I came up with to build my trust in God: Christ is present in humanity’s compassion, and that compassion is so clearly EVERYWHERE these days!

COVID-19 has unified humanity into the most massive force of good that I think this planet has ever seen. Millions around the globe are doing whatever it takes to fight the virus. From philanthropists pledging billions to speed the development of a vaccine, to medical professionals risking their lives to save COVID-19 patients, and school children collecting canned goods for food pantries, people are overflowing with kindness, and I recognize God in them.

As I finish writing this blog post, I’m singing in my head, “...every little thing, is gonna be alright.”

PS: I’m sorry to keep you hanging about my mom. She battled the virus quite easily, actually, and pulled through quickly. Thank you for all of your prayers!

Love,

Jen

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (Walking with Purpose, July 2019), 151.

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When unwanted and unexpected circumstances hit, we are faced with the unwelcome reminder that we are far less in control than we’d like. We’re reminded of our fragility and mortality, subjects we’d rather ignore.

Philippians 4:7 (NAB) promises that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” All too often, I equate that peace with feeling in control. But that isn’t what God has promised me. He’s promised me that HE is in control, and that if I truly believe that, I can experience peace. Pastor A.W. Tozer wrote, “The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.”[1] Our belief in God should keep us from panic, despite our circumstances. Faith, not fear, should be in the driver’s seat.

What should be our witness to a watching world when panic encroaches? Should we respond differently because of our faith? It’s interesting that one of the things that caused early Christianity to spread like wildfire throughout the Roman empire was the way in which Christians courageously stepped into danger. When most fled the city of Caesarea because of the plague, the Christians stayed and cared for the sick and dying. The ripple effects of their compassion resulted in many conversions. 

This does not mean we throw caution to the wind and act recklessly, but the knowledge that our ultimate safety rests with God, and that He has taken care of our eternity, should bring peace to our hearts. These truths should impact our anxiety levels. 

In the words of Dr. Gregory Popcak, “Anxiety is meant to be a sign that we are facing imminent danger.”[2] Are most of us facing imminent danger? What are the things we are afraid of? I would propose that most of us are scared about the wrong things. We’re scared about whether or not the job is secure, or scared that our reputation is tarnished and people don’t like or respect us, or scared that our level of comfort and health might change, or scared that our finances are going to take a turn for the worse, or scared that our children aren’t happy, or scared that our marriage is going to fail and we’ll be left alone. These are not small things. We look at the people we love and…we’re scared of divorce. Of being cheated on. Of mental illness. Of suicide. Of cancer. Of bankruptcy. 

What are most people not afraid of? Eternity. Because they choose not to think about it or because they have a faulty understanding of what it is. As a result, all that matters is the here and now. This way of thinking is the true threat. The biggest threat—the biggest danger—is that the enemy might succeed in getting us to take our eyes off of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Is it possible that we are most afraid of the wrong things?

All too quickly we forget that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, RSV).

Please hear me. These verses are not saying that our suffering doesn’t matter to God—that He thinks what we are going through is no big deal. But what that verse is saying is that none of our suffering is without purpose, none of it is out of God’s control, and this life—this present suffering—is not all that there is. In the words of St. Clare of Assisi, “Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes like a shadow.” This is not the end of the line. We are just passing through. Let’s live with our eyes fixed on eternity. That’s the only way the peace that surpasses understanding can be ours.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1961), 2.

[2] Dr. Gregory Popcak, Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2018), 18.

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