I once worked for a magazine written for career-minded women. In every glossy issue, we offered tips and articles to help our readers find balance in their busy lives: Four Ways to get Hubby to Help… Finding a Caregiver who Cares... Dinners You Can Make in Minutes! We offered solutions to help our target audience keep all the balls in the air and jump through hula hoops while walking a tightrope. (Yes, like a circus clown—only in high heels instead of shiny red clown shoes.)
This fall I began the Walking with Purpose Bible Study Keeping in Balance. In its pages I expected to find helpful tips and tricks just like that magazine offered. Three passages from Scripture to evoke calm and promote sleep! Jesus said “no” sometimes; you can too! Instead, the first two lessons took me on a deep dive into authenticity. Like a scuba diver looking for treasure on the deep ocean floor.
To live authentically is to live the life we were created for—truthfully and purposefully; raw and real. But how many of us do that? When your Facebook friend shares pictures of her new dining room set or the red roses that were delivered to her workplace “just because,” is your friend showing her authentic, #nofilter self or the carefully-curated parts of her life?
I really shouldn’t judge. While I don’t post on social media, I’m guilty of doing plenty of things for the sake of appearances. Take my volunteer work. I served on the board of my son’s travel baseball league and didn’t even enjoy it (I was made treasurer—a role I am terribly unequipped for)! So then what did I do? I volunteered to be treasurer of my kids’ school PTA. I didn’t enjoy that either. But the two experiences provided admirable bullet points to spiff up my LinkedIn profile. My PTA work even earned me an engraved piece of lucite. (No clue where that award is now, BTW.)
But sisters, here’s the thing; there’s more to an authenticity deep-dive than exploring how authentic you are to others. Being authentic with ourselves and with God is equally important.
Here are some questions for us to think about: when you experience conflict or are hurt emotionally, how do you react? Do you express your feelings in a healthy way, or do you ignore or “stuff” them away? I’ll admit that I’m a stuffer. That’s what us major-conflict-avoiders do—we put on a mask and push our emotions way down deep.
There’s a quote in Lesson 2 of Keeping In Balance from Peter Scazzaro’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, that underscores the problem with burying or ignoring our feelings:
...To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well...When we deny our pain, losses and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.¹
This, my friends, is not what God wants. He wants us to be the authentic women He created us to be!
While I may not be totally authentic with myself or with those around me, I think I’m authentic with God. My prayers to Him are honest, unpolished, and at times, border-line puerile, but I learned in Opening Your Heart that not only is it OK to talk to God as a child might, it’s a good thing (and I blogged about that here).
Back to the magazine where I used to work: I now know it didn’t truly help women keep their lives in balance. It simply provided coping strategies for living life in a challenging way.
So, let’s remember that it’s OK for our lives to be imperfect. We don’t need to wear a mask or hide our struggles from others or from God, who really does like the messy versions of ourselves anyway.
But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 20.
I had stopped feeling joy. That was the first sign for me that something needed to change- that something was wrong and that I didn't know how to fix it. Things were happening in my life that should have been getting me excited, that should have been touching my heart, that should have sent me reaching for my camera or my journal or someone's hand- to squeeze it and to say, “this is it”- but instead, I just felt kind of numb and very, very tired. I was starting to not care about any of it. That detachment terrified me.
These were some of my journal entries those days:
“I don't feel I'm doing anything well, which means perfect. I wish I had more time to give in almost every area of my life.”
“The weight of the work is pressing on my chest. It is just too much work and not enough hours.”
“How do I fall asleep at night? By listing every single thing I've accomplished that day. It's as if I am giving myself permission to rest.”
I wonder where you are at today. Where are you at in terms of joy, freedom and contentment?
I look around, and I know I am not alone in what I've been feeling. So many of us have been placing our hope in all sorts of things that have frankly not delivered.
We were raised being told that we can be anyone we want to be, that there is nothing out of reach, that we can have it all. So we've been trying. Really, really hard. We're trying to live out that promise where we can have a solid marriage, raise good kids, pursue our passions, and push through the glass ceiling. We've not just been promised that we can do it, we've been told that when we get there, it'll all be worth it. Is it? I'm not so sure.
This reality made me feel really scared that I was missing my life. In the midst of the whirlwind, I determined that somehow, I was going to find it again. And once I found it, I was going to live it.
After a couple of years of deep soul work, I have found that there is another way. There is a different path. There is some new territory that's a little uncharted, but at the same time is an adventure that can bring the change that we are after.
Fearless and Free, an eleven-week Bible study on the book of Ephesians, is the result of that journey. It contains my most personal writing, and offering it to you feels a bit like handing you my heart. I don't like to feel that vulnerable and exposed, to be honest. But I believe it is time for us to face our brokenness and need for inner healing, and I know that it can be scary to peel back the layers around our hearts. So I offer you my brokenness, my honesty, and the truth that I have found to be life-giving and transforming. I offer you my hand on this journey, with the steady assurance that you are not alone.
Fearless and Free leads us on a three-part excursion: the Wakening, the Wrestling and the Warrior.
In the Wakening, we'll wake up to the reality of who we are in Christ. Our true identity has been stolen and messed with, and we need to get it back in order to walk in freedom. Once we have it clear in our heads, we need to live out of that reality.
In the Wrestling, we'll learn to “Be renewed in the Spirit of our minds and clothe ourselves with the new self” (Eph. 4:23-24). This is talking about a totally different mindset. A completely different way to think and deal with our emotions. It's the part of the journey where we learn to recognize our Father's voice. We'll become strengthened from within, as we learn to wield the tools and weapons that have been at our disposal all along.
In the Warrior, we are going to recognize that we are in a battle. It's a battle for our hearts. It's a war on our freedom. And by God's grace- that unearned, unmerited favor and strength- we are going to take back what the enemy has stolen from us.
We are going to allow our loving Father access to our hearts.
We're going to experience healing, and joy, and the high of being fully alive.
No more numbing.
No more hustling for our worth.
No more proving.
We are going to awaken to something totally new, different and free.
Will you join me?
P.S. With an emphasis on healing and wholeness, Fearless and Free is the most personal and transformative study that Walking with Purpose has offered so far. A Leader's Guide is included, to help leaders run group study effectively. Start your journey and share it with a friend here!
This is an updated version of a post that appeared on the WWP website in 2018.
“Beauty will save the world.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
What do you think of when you hear the word beauty? My mind first goes to breathtaking sunsets, softly falling snow, a blue sky reflected on a still lake. When I move beyond nature and think of beauty in people, it isn't exterior beauty that comes to mind, but what emanates from the soul. That's what truly takes my breath away.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? One way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us. But nothing beats the beauty of a life well-lived. This is especially true of someone who is able to find beauty, meaning and hope while suffering. When we see this, we lean in. We wonder how it is possible. When a person of faith faces adversity with grace and grit, a watching world wonders if perhaps their beliefs are true.
While beauty can be found in the ashes, that's not the only place we find it. There is something incredibly attractive about a woman who knows who she is and what she is here for.
Our world is disarmed by genuine transparency. People know how to spot a hypocrite. This means that the way we live is critical. Who we are is intricately tied to what we do. We can't separate the two. The choices we make are forming who we are. Our actions, our choices, are not disconnected from the person we are becoming. In the words of author Brittany Rust, “The definition of who you are belongs to the Creator of the Universe and it is left to you to decide who to become.”
Have you ever said, “I'm a good person deep down, despite what I did last weekend”?
There is a serious disconnect in a statement like that. Why? Because in large measure, you are what you do. If I were to tell you that I'm a good soccer player despite the fact that I never make a goal and don't know how to dribble the ball, you would say, “I'm sorry, but you're actually not a good soccer player. Your desire, your good intentions, don't translate into that actually being who you are.”
So once you determine who you are at the core- a beloved, precious, chosen, daughter of God, you then need to decide, “What kind of a person do I want to be?” When we feel lost-like we can't figure out who we are-it's often because we have never answered the question, “Who do I want to be?”
At the end of your life, how do you want people to remember you? What kind of a person do you want people to say you were? I challenge you to write your answer down. Not a treatise-just five things that you want to be true about you, things that for you would make you feel that you were a person who had lived life well. Then use your mind to start making the choices that are consistent with those goals. Some of those choices will be really hard because you will have to suffer in the short term in order to get what you want in the long term. But as you consistently make those choices, you will start to know yourself and be known as the kind of person who is…whoever you have chosen to be.
Your current actions and choices are forming who you are-right now. You are becoming a certain kind of persona-and this plays out especially in the little things.
I've heard it said that there's no treading water in the spiritual life-you are either moving forward or going backwards. Each and every action is reinforcing a habit and all the habits together are forming who you are becoming-what kind of a person you truly are.
As Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” When your true self is a beloved, chosen, forgiven daughter of God, you have an irresistible beauty to share with the world. I pray that we would bring beauty, goodness and truth to a world aching for all three, whether it realizes it or not. In doing so, we will be pointing them to Christ.
I was feeling pretty good about life, until I scrolled through my Instagram account and saw it. The pie. This perfectly, baked cherry pie. And not only was it a beautiful and delicious looking pie, but taken out of it was the perfect little bite. This glorious, gourmet, cherry pie was plated on a perfectly worn piece of vintage china, with a single silver fork, gracefully placed on the edge of the plate. And as if that were not enough, this entire plate and pie was photographed on a rustic, distressed, and absolutely fabulous, farm table.
Now, some people might scroll right past that pie. Because I mean, honestly? Who cares? Big deal. You made yourself a pie and took a picture of it. Congratulations. Whatever. But not me. You want to know the bag of crazy that popped into my mind when I saw that beautiful pie?
How on earth did she have the time to bake that? Why did she bake it? Obviously, she must be having a party or a group of friends over. Or one of her fabulous arts and crafts gatherings. I'll bet she is sitting in her perfect house right now laughing with friends and being all hospitable and crap. Her hair probably looks good, too. Good grief, she has people over now? In the middle of the day? How is her house clean enough for that? And that china plate...I know she got it at a thrift shop. Who the heck even has the time to go thrifting? And where does all of her money come from anyway? She has 19 kids and she doesn't even work! I guess she sits around baking and entertaining and thrifting...nice...while I sit in my mess of a rented home, microwaving some sort of loser dinner for my family who probably hates me, and serving it on a paper plate because all of our chipped china plates are sitting in the sink. And where are all of those kids while she is baking and entertaining? Oh no...great..I know...they probably helped bake the darn thing! In fact, I'll bet as a family, they grew and picked the cherries that went into that pie! I'll bet this was some sort of homeschooling lesson, where they measured and counted and turned pie baking into an educational experience. Probably prayed over the ingredients and had them blessed. And why don't I have a farm table? I think I need a farm table. Seriously. I think I would be so much happier if I just found the right farm table. I hate myself. I really do. I mean look at me. I'm wearing my 13 year olds leggings and my 11 year old's dirty sweatshirt. I look like a homeless woman. I really do. If I sat outside on the corner you would totally give me money. That's how homeless I look right now. And what really gets me is what woman can sit down and eat a pie on a Tuesday afternoon without hating herself? Right? I mean come on, it's gotta be loaded with gluten. And sugar. So much sugar. And she's so skinny! So unfair. She's skinny eating pie with friends in her clean home while I sit at my messy desk in my homeless attire. You know how fat I would get if I did nothing but make and eat pie? She probably doesn't even eat it. She's probably one of those women who invite other women to come over and eat, and she sits and watches. She wants everyone to be fatter than her. Nice. Ugh. I really am a mess. Why can't I just get myself together? The house is a mess, my desk is a mess, I am not even good at my job, and who knows what my kids are up to. I need help. Serious help. And I need a farm table. I really need a farm table. What's wrong with me? I hate that stupid pie.
Ah, the wonderful, encouraging world of social media! Isn't it great?
Ok, so here is the thing. Other than the fact that this woman had a few minutes and the desire to photograph a pie, every other thought that ran through my head was most likely false. (expect for the thrifting. I stand by the thrifting, because honestly, she thrifts too much.) But we do this, don't we? We see an image and our minds create a story around it. We see, and we desire. And this is good. A great picture ought to tell a story, it ought to stir emotion. But there is a problem with this today. Because we are bombarded by images, and we have the hideous ability to see what everyone is doing, eating, drinking, wearing, and enjoying, at every given moment of our every single day. And most of the images we see? Guess what? They are filtered. They are staged. They are untrue. They are the one perfect shot out of 500 others you did not see, and most likely, never will.
But it is hard to not use filters, because they really do make us look so much better. The first time I used a filter on my face, and saw the even, smooth skin, and bright eyes, I was sold! And don't get me started on the animal filters...because honestly, I am at my most beautiful when I look and sound like a deer. Who knew? So strange, but I gotta admit, so true. So much so, that I have already requested that when I die, if possible, I'd like to be laid out in the coffin, looking like that deer. Let's just confess. We all love filters.
But here is an interesting thing. You know what it means to use a filter? I do. Not because I am smart, but because I looked it up. To use a filter means to “remove what is unwanted.” When I read that, I was really struck by it, and not in a good way. Something about the word remove….something about the word unwanted. Because how many years of my life have I devoted to trying to remove those things about me, that I do not want; those things about me, that I think make me less attractive? Less desirable? Those things in my life that might point to the fact that I am kind of a hot mess and not the perfect woman I'd like you to think that I am? And the answer? Too many. From the nose job when I was just 17, to drastic weight loss in college, to the frantic house cleaning maniac I turn into moments before company arrives. I have been on a nearly life-long quest of seeking out the illusion of perfection. Changing my image to fit whatever crowd I was currently in, transforming myself into the woman I thought a man would be attracted to. And let's be honest ladies, we not only like to be perfect for the men, but even more so, for other women. Right? We are the most competitive species that I know, and we love a good game of comparison, so long as we win. So all of this filtering we do, it really isn't about enhancing the beauty that is already there, is it? No. It is about removing the unwanted, to give the illusion that everything is so much better than it actually is.
And I think we do this because we want everyone to believe that we are better than just okay. I think we remove, and sift, and filter things out, so that people cannot see what is really go on inside of our homes, inside of our families, inside of our marriages, inside of our hearts, inside of our heads. And I get it...not everyone needs to see the inside of your kitchen junk drawer, or what your linen closet looks like, and not everyone should be trusted with the truth of how weary you feel, how lost your child is, how your marriage feels lacking in an incredibly lonely and painful way. But we do need to recognize that filters don't work in real life, and in real relationship because filters don't encourage the basic things we need to thrive, like truth, authenticity, and honesty. And we really need to acknowledge, at some point, that life is not perfect, we are not perfect, and that our pain is valid and real and okay and should be addressed, because sticking a deer's ears and nose on it will not make it go away. It is a temporary fix. It is not made to last. And I don't know about you, but no matter how loud the world gets, and convinces me that nothing lasts forever, and love is a feeling, I disagree. I disagree because I want authentic, lasting relationships, and I want to choose to love because I desire the greatest good for others, not just myself. But if I can't get real with myself, how will I ever learn to get real with others?
It's hard to get real, isn't it? I think we have just pretended for so long, that it feels wrong to drop our masks, and widen the camera lens, and show the whole picture. But here is the thing. There will never be a filter we can use that will keep our true selves from the One who sees all, knows all, and created all. And I often wonder what God thinks, when he sees us pouring over false images, doubting who we are, buying into lies, comparing our lives to others, trying to remake ourselves to look like someone else. I think about how sad He must feel when we pick apart our faces, our bodies, our marriages, our lives, desperately trying to cover up the imperfections, remove the unwanted. And oh, how exhausted we are. How painfully tired we are from all of this performing. And it is when I do this that I can hear His voice. I can see Him reaching out to us, and I can hear Him saying, “Oh, sweet daughter, just stop. Please stop and listen. I made you. Do you hear Me? You are my beautiful creation. And you have been made perfect in my image. Not the images you see on instagram. MY image. There is no bit of you that is unwanted. I knit you Myself, and I do not make mistakes. Stop undoing the threads. It is killing you. You are exhausted. I did not make you to feel this way. Take off the filter, and just be you. Only I can purify you, only I can refine you. Let me. Let my light pass through you. Quit shutting me out. Put down the filter of this world, and take up MY filter. Look at yourself through My eyes. My heart. See yourself how I see you, how I love you, how very much I want you. Just as you are. Every piece of you. Wanted.“
And then I hear Him say, “By the way, she bought that pie from the store and the rest of her house was a mess, and you don't need a farm table, and you want to see homeless? Because I can show you homeless...so please... just shut up.” Only God probably doesn't say shut up. I do. I should probably filter that.
I don't know. I just think we live a half-filled life when we spend it trying to make it look like something it isn't. Because honestly? Who are we fooling? God sees you, and He wants you. Every bit of the you He created. He doesn't want you looking like a deer and He doesn't care how perfect your life looks on your Instagram feed. He sees so much more than you are willing to show, and He wants it all. You are wanted as you are. Unfiltered. Unstaged. Wanted. Look at that image. Post that. And believe it.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/