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We are in full transition mode in my home. Gone are the days of relaxed schedules, chlorine-smelling hair, hands stained with sidewalk chalk, and flip flops all over my entryway. Our dining room table is full of uniform kilts and pants that need to be hemmed, piles of school supplies, and rolls and rolls of contact paper just waiting to be opened.

With this transition in our home, a burst of excited energy enters my heart. The start of the school year brings with it the fall launch of the Walking with Purpose program at my parish. I have missed this community.  

I have missed the warm and welcoming smiles. I have missed walking into a room and feeling confident that the women meeting me there are rooted in the love of Christ. There have been many lessons learned in these past 18 months of lockdown procedures, virtual school, remote work, and live-streamed Mass. But one is ever present in my heart as summer comes to a close: nothing can replace the joy found in a fellowship of women that come together from all seasons of life and faith journeys to bear witness to the Word of God. 

What I think I have missed the most is the order and organization my spiritual life takes on when I am around these women. How we desperately need the fellowship of like-minded women running the race of life together!

We find ourselves in a world that is broken and fallen, and it is all too easy to be consumed by the world’s empty promises. This world easily invites us to forget about ordering our life toward Christ, and instead pushes us down an alluring rabbit hole of individualism, self-absorption, and pleasure. Do what you want to do, it whispers, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it. And no matter what it’s okay, because it’s your truth. Our world has forgotten that there is one truth, there is one authority. We have forgotten what our Catechism beautifully reminds us, “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and idolatry of the world.”[1]

When we get caught in the rabbit hole of worldliness, we need our community to reach out to us and lead us back to relationship and unity with our Lord. Scott Hahn masterfully tells us in his book, It is Right and Just, that “it is in recognizing and living out the truth of the uniqueness of our relationship with God that we bring ourselves into right order with Him and all of creation.”[2]

Right order. This is what WWP does for me and for thousands of women across this country. This community of women believers—standing together, praying together, and yes, breaking bread together (in the form of casseroles, cookies, and other sweet and savory treats)—helps me to rightly order everything. My WWP community reminds me of our early Church forefathers and mothers. They too found themselves in a world saturated with false idols, corruption, fear, anxiety, and persecution. They knew just how vital and necessary building a community was to combat the pressures of the world around them. They ran their race together. 

They lived together, ordering their daily lives around prayer, worship, and caring for each other. They lived counter to the culture they were immersed in and bore witness to the belief in a purpose higher than themselves—to give glory to God. “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). They lived for the good of the community, not seeking individual pleasure. “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to the breaking of bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Did you catch the order of what they did? Worship first. They worshiped together, praising God, grateful for His presence among them. The order was God first, community second. 

“There was not a needy person among them because each person shared their possessions for the good of the community” (Acts 4:34). They lived by the two greatest commandments spoken by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). The commitment to the authority of Jesus Christ and confidence in His Word and promises led them to live life differently

Each Christian made the choice to order their lives around the Lord. And the joy that followed this choice and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phillipians 4:7) was seen in their faces and appealed to those around them. Thus, the early Church exploded and spread rapidly amidst a pagan and morally destructive culture. How we need a similar explosion of truth today! 

Where can we light the match of truth? How can we fan the flame of faith and hope? 

Through community, sisters.

The noise of the world is LOUD. And the sway of worldliness is so strong. But we have something stronger. We have the might of the heavens in our corner. Communities of faith, like Walking with Purpose, encourage us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). 

Communities of faith offer us what the world cannot—hope. Hope that it is not all up to us. Hope that we are not alone in our suffering. Hope that we are seen and loved just as we are. A drop of hope goes a long way to soften a heart that has been hardened by the brokenness of the world. Softened hearts allow space for movements of grace. And grace changes everything. Grace—this free and undeserved gift from God—helps us to live a life rightly ordered to Christ. 

Sisters, it is time to remember that we too are counted in the commissioning of Christ, to “go out and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 18:19). It is time to act with the gift of grace and, through the choices we make (big and small), model the love of Jesus Christ to others.

[1] Catholic Church, “Life In Christ,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 2097.
[2] Hahn, S. & McGinley, B. (2020) It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion. Emmaus Road Publishing.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)

Could you use some comfort? Most of us would say yes, because none of us gets through life without some suffering. One thing we all seem to have in common are circumstances in our lives that we feel like rob us of joy. We all have a cross to carry.

How about you? What circumstance or heartache is the #1 thing you wish God would relieve you of? And please don’t just scroll through that question…take a moment and think about it. Write it down. Which messy part of your life do you pray God would fix?

Now take a look at what you wrote. That is an area of your life where you are suffering. And your suffering matters. It may be hidden or it may be on public display. It may be something you’ve endured for years or it may be something that sprang up suddenly and acutely. God sees it all and cares deeply. He wants to comfort you in that area of heartache, disappointment, and pain.

But the enemy of your soul wants you to look at that heartache and conclude that you are all alone. He tempts you to think that your suffering is pointless and your circumstances are never going to change. He wants you to believe that God is either not paying attention to you because He doesn’t care, or God IS paying attention to you, but He can’t be bothered to help you.

Those lies are from the pit of hell, and in the name of Jesus, I reject those lies, and I declare these truths over you:

God will never leave you or forsake you.
All suffering has meaning and purpose.
This is not the end of your story. You are not stuck. Things will change.
God IS paying attention to you, HE CARES, and HE IS AT WORK.

And God wants you to take your unique suffering and allow it to better equip you to display an outpouring love for people in your life. That is what St. Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 1:3–5.

I remember a time years ago when God delivered this message to me loud and clear. I had just had a miscarriage, and I was sitting in a hospital room. A nurse came into my room, took hold of my hand, and drew very close to my face. “Why are you here?” she asked.

I said, “You know why I’m here.” I didn’t want to say the words. I didn’t trust my voice or my ability to hold it together.

The nurse replied, “I want you to say the words.” So I told her that I had lost my baby. “Yes, that’s right,” she nodded. “You’ve lost your baby. But you are not alone.” And then she drew closer still. Knowing nothing about me, having never met me, she said, “How do you think you are going to help other women if you have never suffered?” She squeezed my hand and left. I never saw her again.

We all have crosses to carry, but we get to decide how we carry them. 2 Corinthians 1:3–5 pitches a vision of cross-carrying that ministers to others, making every moment of suffering deeply meaningful. 

It makes me think of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew 27. When the soldiers told him he needed to help carry Jesus’ cross, he didn’t do it willingly. He was forced to do it. But something must have changed in his spirit over time. Fulton Sheen writes, “Though at first reluctant because compelled, [Simon] nevertheless must have found, as Our Lord said His followers would, ‘the yoke sweet and burden light.’ Otherwise his two sons would not later have been mentioned by Paul as pillars of the Church.”[1] Simon’s children watched how their father carried the cross, and learned from his example, every step of the way. Who is watching you? Is the way you carry your cross compelling or complaining?

The most difficult suffering to bear is that which appears meaningless. But if we determine to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God,” we’ll be strengthened to persevere. And as we receive the strength from God to take one step at a time, we’ll be a living witness of the difference that Jesus makes. 

As much as we wish that our suffering would go away, if we will allow it to, it will make us more tender and help us to be a soft place for others to land. 

With you on the journey-
Lisa

 [1] Fulton Sheen, The Life of Christ (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 533.

You know the conversation gets good when the person on the other end of the phone leads with, “I love Jesus, but what I really struggle with in the Catholic Church is…” 

We all struggle with our faith. Whether it be with a long personal suffering, a devastating betrayal from our church leaders, or a hard teaching to accept, at one point or another, we will scratch our heads and wonder what on earth have I signed up for? And while it is good to wrestle with and question matters of faith, we have to be careful to whom we bring such questions, because often, it is here in this place of doubt that the enemy senses an unsteady soul. And then we are presented with a choice: Do I jump ship, and settle for earthly consolations because this faith is too difficult to understand and live out; and if I am being honest...it’s totally impractical and irrelevant and besides I am super tired? Or, will I choose to be spiritually grounded and unmovable; like a peg driven into a firm place (Isaiah 22:23), will I remain steadfast no matter the size of the waves or the length of the trials?

I think the reason why so many of us are disappointed, questioning our Church, and completely over our suffering is because we have a shallow understanding of Christ. We want to believe that we are all in for Jesus, but when pushed to the edge of endurance, our thoughts and actions tell a different story, don’t they? Oh, we have faith...to a point. But when the rules feel too rigid and the tests too long, even the most holy among us can begin to wonder, what’s the point?

For years, I wondered this. Why get up before dawn every morning to seek Jesus in silent prayer only to discover that His plan is to break my spirit before lunch? Why volunteer at my parish, write books, or speak at retreats sharing the joy of the Gospel if I am just going to continue to be tested? Why all the rosaries, why all the tears, why all the mortifications if nothing ever changes? And better yet, what if it changes for the worse? Again, I ask...what’s the point?

“The point” was unexpectedly discovered and shared by actor John Voight in an interview with Tucker Carlson. “I was in a lot of trouble,” he confessed, “...and I was really suffering for many reasons...and I found myself on the floor saying, ‘It’s so difficult. It’s so difficult.’ I said it out loud. And I heard in my ear, ‘It's supposed to be difficult.’” It was an audible voice; one of wisdom, kindness, and clarity, and it spoke into Voight’s ear what he will never forget and what forever changed him: It’s supposed to be difficult.

It was on a silent retreat, in the worst accommodations you could ever imagine, that I made the decision to embrace the difficult by surrendering my whole heart to Jesus. And I mean all of it. As in, take what is most precious to you, carry it up a mountain, strap it to wood, and sacrifice it to the Lord kind of surrender. I had been withholding this piece of my heart for years, too afraid to give it to God out of fear of losing it forever. But after years of being tossed about, trying to pray the difficult away, I realized that until I embraced the difficult, I would forever miss the point. And do you know what happened when I offered God what I love most? Do you know what happened when I embraced the test with unwavering confidence in my Lord? I learned to live at God’s pace. I grew in holiness. I began to cultivate a worthy heart. I experienced a holy joy. Not because the trial was over. Not because things got easier. But because I chose obedience in the midst of the difficult.

“Count it all joy” looks great painted on shiplap or printed on a cute mug, but if we stop at the joy we miss the point. The full verse from the Letter of James reads, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Drop down a few more verses and we are assured that “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). I read this, and it all sounds very clear; difficult to obey, perhaps, but not to understand. There is a point to the tests. They steady our soul, detach us from the world, keep us from getting tossed about, earn us the crown. And so I can’t help but wonder. Could it be that we are standing on shaky spiritual ground not because our God is too demanding or the Church outdated, but rather, because we are holding God to promises He never made?

It would be wise to get to know this God better, lest we become victims of deception. Practically speaking, what does this look like? How do we become steadfast?

  1. Make God a priority. Crave the Eucharist more than your Starbucks. Frequent the sacraments. Grab a friend and commit to a daily devotional that you can discuss together.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people who are seeking to know and understand Christ better. Get yourself in a small group. Lead a Bible study. Ask the hard questions and wrestle with your doubts with people who will lead you to Truth. This is crucial, not optional.
  3. Write down His promises. Not what the world promises. Not what you want Him to promise. But His actual promises. 

Whatever trial you are facing, please know that God is not out to break your spirit. I speak this with authority as I know all too well the risk of surrender. The cross you carry is the same cross that Christ carried; not meant to crush your heart, but to widen it. So stand firm and claim God’s promises. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to embrace the difficult, not remove it. There is a point, my friend, and you can count it all joy. You can even go ahead and paint that on shiplap if you want. I won’t judge. And when you find yourself on the ground asking “what’s the point?” remember this: a faith tortured by questions and still believes is far greater than the faith that never questions at all.

“Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.” (James 5:7)

With love and prayers for you,
Laura

Bible Study

 

One of the many side effects of being trapped at home during a pandemic—according to the woman who sold us our new dining room set and chandelier—is refurnishing your home. “People are bored and have nothing else to do but stare at their living space,” the saleswoman told us. “Figured they might as well make it beautiful.” Anyone else wallpaper a bedroom, buy a new area rug, or rearrange the furniture to keep the boredom at bay? Or did you buy a dog? 

We considered the third dog but opted for a full kitchen remodel and a new dining room set instead. Not because we were bored, but because I wanted to create a beautiful space that fit all of my family and friends. I desired to make my home a place of warm invitation, where there is always an empty chair at the table and charcuterie board within arms reach. When the days grew lonely and hope ran low, it was this vision—this dream of connection and conversation permeating my home and rising like incense—that kept me from spiraling into despair. 

That and potato peel pie.
I’ll explain.

During quarantine, I fell madly in love with the novel turned film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in 1941 on the island of Guernsey during German occupation, the islanders were no longer allowed to have meat. However, a local woman managed to hide a pig from the German soldiers and invited her neighbors into her home to share in a pig roast. Carefully slipping handwritten invitations beneath wooden doors, this strange but irresistible group came together, nourishing more than just their physical bodies. One guest made an offering of his famous potato peel pie, which was exactly what it sounds like. A simple pie made of nothing but potatoes and their peels. 

Later that evening when caught out after curfew, the witty, loving, and quick-thinking character, Elizabeth McKenna, claimed that they were a book club who had been so engrossed that they lost track of time. A club they ridiculously named on the spot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What began as a cover for residents breaking curfew during the German occupation turned into a weekly Friday night refuge. And what began for me as just another Saturday night Netflix movie turned into a stirring of my heart and a conviction of what I already knew to be true: without connection, we will starve to death. 

“We were all hungry,” says the narrator. “But it was Elizabeth who realized our true starvation for connection—for the company of other people, for fellowship.” I replayed that movie three times in one week, completely captivated by Elizabeth and potato peel pie.

Are you like Elizabeth? Do you sense the hunger around you? Do you recognize the needs of others? 

As our world (and let’s be honest, our Church, too) grows more divided, angrier, and motivated by fear, are you able to see through the feelings and emotion and recognize the true hunger at the root of it all? The hunger not for potato peel pie but for godly connection and community rooted in truth. If this sounds like you, I ask that you pay attention to this call. God has placed this desire on your heart. He is calling you to build community so people can experience His kingdom here on earth. 

I say this with urgency because we need more people like Elizabeth. We need more women who are willing to step onto the battleground, which is steeped in isolation and division. We need women like you to feed truth to those who are starving for it. And yes, we specifically need women, because we are the heart of the home, the distillers of hope. We are an “irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people.”[1] Yes, even the other people we disagree with. Yes, even the other people who stand on the opposite side. My friends, if we are not the ones to extend a hand, share a meal, and reflect the image of Christ to all people, then tell me, who will? 

We have got to up our game.

We have got to start building Christ-centered communities.

We have got to step out in the confidence that what we have to offer is far greater than the cheap imitation of the living water that’s being bought and guzzled down like cheap wine.

It is not enough to say “we have the Truth”...we have to share it. We have to let others in on our reason for hope. 

And then...we need to lose our desire to be right, check our pride at the door, and listen well. I fear we have forgotten how to do this. 

I received a text last week from a friend, coincidentally (or not) named Elizabeth. It read: “The Holy Spirit has placed something on my heart, and before I brush it away, I’m going to reach out right now to invite you all to come to my house so that I can share it with you!” Amazingly, we all RSVP’d “yes” immediately. My guess? We were starving. And Elizabeth not only recognized it, she did something about it. It was as simple as that. Do not overcomplicate what it means to build community. You do not need engraved invitations, a fully planned agenda, a parish hall, a perfectly coordinated Bible study, or a new dining room set. Nor do you need to roast a pig—unless, of course, roasting pigs is one of your spiritual gifts. Then by all means, roast away. But honestly? It is much simpler than we think. It starts with spending time in prayer, opening our eyes to the people around us, and then extending an invitation. 

In Hebrews 10:24–25 we read, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together...but encouraging one another.” Can we commit to doing this? Can we agree to live this verse out loud? To stirring one another up? To losing the excuse that we are too busy to get together by saying yes to that invitation? To rejecting the lie that “I have no friends” by going out and making friends?

How?

Approach the woman you see at daily Mass. Sure, you will feel weird, but that is okay. Weird won’t kill you, and weird just might save her life. 

Call that friend you lost touch with because you couldn’t believe who she voted for, and ask her to meet you for a cup of coffee. Do not let the enemy use politics to poison your friendships. You are holier than that.

Reach out to your pastor, and ask if he knows of a woman in need of a friend. Will this feel uncomfortable? You bet! Do it anyway, because spoiler alert: the Catholic faith is rarely comfortable.  

Heck, you can reach out to me, and my own little potato peel society will happily pray with and for you.

I am more convinced than ever that we, God’s beloved daughters, are exactly what the world needs right now. And what a tragedy it would be for us to hear the Holy Spirit, only to brush it away.

It is time to stir up one another. To send that text. To brew that coffee. To roast that pig. Community building is what we women do best. Dare I say, it’s as simple as making potato peel pie. 

Get out your peelers, ladies...we’ve got good work to do.

[1] https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html

Bible Study

A couple of weeks ago, our parish began to move toward a more open mask and attendance policy. As usual, I hadn’t read the email making this announcement and was surprised to see the tape gone, relatively full pews, and mouths—so many mouths. 

Honestly, it was a bit jarring. The world as it was before COVID-19 seems so long ago that it feels unfamiliar. As happy as I am that things are starting to feel a bit more normal, I have been fumbling through what seems like a long transition to the other side of the pandemic. There are so many questions. When my children move around at church, do they make other people uncomfortable? There is a good chance that they do, which, in turn, makes me uncomfortable. And my friends who I haven’t seen, how should I reconnect with them? How do we rebuild? Do we hug? Do we wave? There are so many questions and so many ways to mess up or be insensitive that it can feel paralyzing. A year after shutting down the country to slow the spread, we face another challenge. How do we emerge well? How do we reconnect well with the people that we love? 

That day, as I awkwardly sat in our first “normal-ish” Mass, our priest gave a homily that spoke to this very question. Quoting from Ecclesiastes 3, he reminded us, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He then explained that the last year was a season in which we were called out of our normal circumstances to respond to a crisis beyond our control. We buckled down and took precautions that we needed to take, and this came at a cost. We have mourned many losses. We have mourned the loss of regular schedules, coffee dates, restaurant outings, and kids in sport. We have mourned the loss of predictable futures and canceled plans. We have also mourned the loss of loved ones who were taken by the virus or died alone. 

A year later, however, we are entering a new season that our priest described as one of hope. He told us to embrace hope, and then challenged us to enter into this new season with the distinct intention to reconnect with our community and rediscover the joy of sharing our life with friends.   

I wonder how you are handling this new season. I wonder about the state of your friendships today. Every study that I have read on the secondary effects of the pandemic illustrates a decrease in women’s overall well-being across the board. Compared with last year, our mental health is less stable, our responsibilities have increased, and with social distancing in place as protection from the virus, so our loneliness has also increased. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic reported that a significant decrease in women’s friendships has contributed to a major increase in women’s reported loneliness.[1]

Have you felt that? Have you seen your friendships fall to the wayside amid all your buckling down? Have you found yourself wondering if certain women were ever your friends in the first place? I bet you have. I bet there is room for healing and forgiveness in this area of your life, and the good news is that God is ready and waiting to do something new. 

The topic of friendship has been at the forefront of my mind over these months as I have written Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection, a six-lesson Bible study coming later this summer. I have explored and prayed through Scripture to find out what God has to say about friendship, and it turns out that He has a lot to say. Our very salvation included a plan for Him to make Himself available for our friendship. 

In John 15:15, Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” 

Therefore, in the eyes of God, friendship is of utmost importance. The love that Jesus has for you is completely deliberate. He chose you simply because He wanted to, simply because you are you. Your earthly friendships were meant to reflect this love. They were meant to be a source of joy in your life and a witness of God’s love to others. 

Ancient philosophers understood the importance of friendship in a way that often is lost on us today. They recognized that it is one of the supreme gifts of life because it is a relationship in which the people in it choose each other for no other reason than they want to choose each other. Pastor Tim Keller said, “Friendship is the only love that is absolutely deliberate,”[2] and St. Thomas Aquinas took it a step further, stating, “There is nothing to be prized more than true friendship.”[3] Wow, what a statement. Do you think that’s true? Has this year shown you that your friendships may have been more important than you thought? I know for me it has. 

When I began to write this study, I thought that friendship was a "nice" topic to explore because we have so many experiences with other women, and most of them are not good or godly. While women’s friendships can be an incredible gift, all too often, jealousy, gossip, and competition make friendship feel like it’s not worth the investment. We bring so many of our insecurities and baggage into our friendships. We have wounds and scars that go back as far as our childhood run-in with the mean girl at recess. The effects of COVID-19, however, have revealed the importance of friendship in a new way. Yes, friendship is a good topic to explore, but it’s more than that. It is a necessary part of our well-being. It is a gift from God, and He wants us to reclaim that gift, placing Him at the center of these relationships for the sake of His glory.  

In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord challenged His people to face forward. He said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

This is as true now as it was then. The Lord is moving as you emerge from this year-long pandemic. He will use this new season to reclaim what was lost for His purpose and your joy. 

As you figure out how to emerge from a season marked by loneliness, don’t forget your friendships. Remember that the Lord is moving.

If you don't receive our emails, be sure to sign up to receive them to be the first to know when Reclaiming Friendship is in our store. In the meantime, plan to grab a group of women later this summer, and let God reclaim your friendships in this new season.

Love,
Mallory

[1] Katerina Lim, “Women Report Higher Levels of Loneliness During Pandemic,” woqw.com, March 9, 2021, https://wqow.com/2021/03/09/women-report-higher-levels-of-loneliness-during-the-pandemic/.
[2]  Tim Keller, “Friendship,” YouTube video, 38:05, October 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc4VIQrXdE.
[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On Kingship to the King of Cyrus,” book 1, chapter 11, paragraph 77.

Last month, I had a field day fostering my anger while doing the dishes. Who was the perpetrator? My husband. His crime? Going to dinner with his dad. Ok, well, it wasn’t just that. I had held down the fort for three nights while he was on a work trip. He had come home but had made dinner plans with his dad leaving his poor, pregnant, martyr of a wife to handle bedtime yet again. Dish by dish, my resentment grew as I spun a story with me as the hero and him as the villain. I repeatedly told myself some iteration of, “If only he would _____, then I would be happier. Is that so much to ask?” I admit, this isn’t me at my best but it’s true, and I’m guessing you can relate. 

My husband eventually came home and immediately apologized over the length of the outing. We talked about it, and I forgave him. With the ordeal over, I settled in to finish The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. If only I had known what I was about to read, I might have put it down to avoid the uncomfortable truth headed my way. The Lord brought me face to face with myself. 

If you haven’t read The Great Divorce, it is a fictional story of characters living in hell but are not stuck there. The main character boards a bus with his fellow resident and travels to the foothills of heaven. At the foothills, they find that they are too weak to make the journey up the mountain. Each character meets a representative from heaven who will accompany them up the mountain and help them gain strength along the way. All they have to do is let go of anything keeping them from God, and heaven will welcome them. Sadly, most of the characters refuse to give up what is necessary to climb to heaven and receive God Himself. They freely choose to head back to the bus and spend eternity in hell. The moral of the story is that many of us will choose heaven only if certain conditions are met. In doing so, we choose to stay in hell. 

At the end of the story, the main character witnesses a woman come down the mountain to try to convince her earthly husband to make the journey with her to heaven. Obsessed that she doesn’t “need” him, he throws himself a pity party and eventually returns to the bus. The main character is offended by the woman’s refusal to follow her husband into hell and her attempt to force him to join her on the mountain. As he tries to work out what he perceived as a lack of sympathy, his heavenly mentor corrects his perspective. 

“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails, and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else forever and ever the makers of misery can destroy the happiness they reject in themselves.”[1]

I reread it. At some point, misery must lose its ability to infect joy. Ouch. I have been a maker of misery for far too long, only accepting joy when my self-imposed terms have been met. No wonder joy is constantly slipping through my grasp. 

This attitude that I and so many others have embraced is the attitude of joy if. It’s a joy with conditions, and I have a million conditions. I think I’ll be joyful if my husband acts in a way that pleases me. I will have joy if my kids are healthy and kind. I will be joyful if things go well at work, if COVID goes away, if the government does what I think is right. If all these external circumstances bow down to my will, then I will be happy. How exhausting. How common. How many of us are joyful Christians only when the stars align and our wills are fulfilled? That joy then rarely comes, and if it does, it certainly doesn’t last. There is too much out of our control for us to allow our terms to be the dictator of our joy. In the end, “joy if” isn’t joy at all. It is preference, and in God’s eyes, it is disobedience. He wants more for us.

The Lord commanded over and over again that His people live with His joy. Romans 12:12 tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Scripture goes further in James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, wherever you face trials of many kinds.” St. Peter echoes the same idea when he wrote, “But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

If we know this and repeatedly hear that we should be joyful in all things, why is it so hard to accomplish? I believe it’s because most of us never move from “joy if” to “joy even if.” God offers an “even if” type of joy. It is a true joy. It transcends the ebbs and flows of circumstance because it does not depend on conditions but rather, on the faithfulness of God, who is always faithful. 

Every few weeks, when I am on Instagram stories, I ask for your prayer requests, and I am always blown away by your answers. From illness to high-risk pregnancy, infertility, employment issues, anxiety, family issues, and worries about the future, you are dealing with it all. Ladies, you are amazing. You carry a broken world on your back, and so often, you do it with unbelievable strength. When I pray for you, I pray that you can hold onto your joy even if your suffering is great. I pray that your spirit holds on to the hope Christ offers you and your mind is filled with the truth that He is always with you. I don’t necessarily mean happiness or positivity. Joy is more than an emotion. It is a disposition of being that is marked by the truth that, in the end, our situations will bring us closer to God and His glory. 

If you have fallen into the trap of “joy if,” ask Him to transform your thinking to “joy even if.” After all, this is exactly how the Lord loves you. He loves you even if you turn away from Him. He is faithful even if your sins are many. He carries you even if you are trying to hold up the weight of the world by yourself. And He offers you His joy even if your life is far from perfect.  

In Him,
Mallory

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19)

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 136.

During Lent, I will have the privilege of co-leading live discussions on two Walking with Purpose Bible studies: Fearless and Free (with Kristy Malik) and Harmony (with Sarah Swafford). Over the past two weeks, I have started to pray through the studies and want to share with you what it has been bringing up in my heart. 

Before I started, I was giddy at the thought of the prayer time I would get. I could not wait to dive into God’s Word and spend more time with Him than my busy life typically allows. As an eternal optimist, I literally pictured myself walking with the wind of the Holy Spirit next to a stream in a meadow during springtime. My expectations were far beyond reality, as usual. For starters, it’s winter and I don’t live near a meadow, but more importantly, the glories of sainthood are still far off. Only two lessons into each study, my brokenness is rearing its ugly head, and I am trying harder than usual to hide it from God.

It’s not that I’m necessarily embarrassed to let God see my failures. I know that God sees the darkness in my heart, and He loves me anyway. My desire to hide comes from the fact these are still my failures. There is no doubt that God’s goodness and mercy have completely changed my life. My behavior looks different today than it did when I was living away from Him. But it’s the deep-seated stuff, the heart-issue sins, that I can’t seem to overcome completely. How is it that I have been on fire for God for so many years and still struggle with jealousy, gossip, pride, comparison, vanity, and a whole host of other sins? How is it that the freedom and joy that I know is mine through Christ still feels slightly beyond my grasp? 

I wonder if you have looked in the mirror lately and found yourself frustrated that you are not further along in your spiritual journey. Have you walked into the confessional ashamed that you are confessing the same sins? Or avoiding the confessional altogether? Are you finding it difficult to understand why you haven’t overcome your vices when you really love Jesus? Take heart, friend. You and I are further along than we think. 

You may feel stagnant in your walk with Christ, like you are constantly taking two steps toward God and one step back, but His view of things is different. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if you can’t see it or feel it, God promises us that He will bring our transformation to completion. This is a promise that we can claim even if some of that transformation is completed in purgatory. 

Can we actively make better choices? We can, and we should. Should we take every thought captive to Christ and seek therapy when necessary? Absolutely. Should we put in the work to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul at every moment of our lives? You bet. There is no doubt that our personal choices actively move us toward or away from the kind of life God wants us to live, but the deep transformation, eradicating sin at the core of our being, is a work that we cannot accomplish.

John Mark Comer, a Christian author, spoke of this struggle in his own life in a recent interview. He explained that he comes from four generations of hyper-perfectionism and OCD, which manifests in him being a neat freak, controlling, angry, and critical of his wife and kids over a messy house. He then explained that willpower alone isn’t enough to eradicate that sin from his life—it is woven into his body at a cellular level from generations before. He said that he needs deep healing from the Holy Spirit; to be re-habituated through practices that index him toward love, peace, kindness, acceptance; and to rediscover what it’s like to live in a messy world yet be at peace.[1] 

While hiding sounds safe and trying harder seems like the natural solution, neither is helpful or effective. There is an easier, more effective way, but it requires humility, admission, submission, and patience. 

To begin, we must not only admit our failures to Him, but we must recognize, without shame, that we are powerless to overcome them on our own. After we accept this, we have to submit to God. Most of us don’t like the idea of submitting to anything, but if we don’t, we won’t get anywhere. Submission requires us to overcome our pride, stay faithful, and give Him space to work in our hearts. We do this through prayer, silence, time in Scripture, and repentance. We rid ourselves of the constant distraction and consumption that often gets in the way of God’s work. We also have to leave behind the expectations that we place on ourselves and receive the healing He offers. 

In the midst of all this, we must be patient with our progress. As we continue to walk with Him, He will do the work that sets us free. And when He does, we will be able to look back and see some progress. We will see that we are a bit freer, a bit more like Him. We will recognize how He was moving through those moments when we felt like we were getting nowhere. Then we can praise His name and give Him the glory because it was His power that overcame our weakness. 

In a recent conversation with a friend, I confided in her my frustration with the sin that I cannot overcome. I told her how desperately I desire to live a life of total freedom in which I don’t let little things get to me, and I annoy the rest of this cynical world with a spirit of unbreakable joy. She responded by telling me that she was beginning to experience that type of freedom in her life. Some of the struggles over which she had no power had started to melt away, and she knew that she had nothing to do with it. She said that when she fears the struggles will return, she hears in prayer that the Lord has taken them away for good. He did the work, and the healing is permanent. 

Encouraged by our conversation, I am refusing to hide. I am instead making an offering to God of these struggles that, yes, I still have. What are you doing with yours? Do not try to hide them. Do not try to ignore them or let them be the source of your shame. Give them to the Father; He is not surprised or scandalized that your struggles are still your struggles. He wants your holiness more than you do, and He is more patient than you are with yourself. He is walking beside you, finishing the work that He began.

[1] John Mark Comer. Interview with James Bryan Smith. Things Above, audio podcast, January 20, 2021. https://apprenticeinstitute.org/2021/01/20/conversation-with-john-mark-comer/.

At any point during the day, there is an alert mechanism that goes off in my brain when my house becomes too quiet for too long. It’s like a “mom radar” notifying me of an imminent disaster, and unfortunately, it’s usually correct. In our house, prolonged silence is usually the prelude to an inevitable sticky/bloody/flooded/broken mess just around the corner. 

As the mom of five (virtual or home-schooling) children, age preschool to high school, I crave silence daily. I look forward to the quiet cup of coffee in the morning, the afternoon lull where I can sit down and breathe, or the evenings with my husband when we can relax and chat or watch a movie. These quiet moments are necessary, and I have learned to carve out these times in my day for my own spiritual and emotional well-being (Keeping in Balance was life-changing for me in this area). These times of silence are “golden,” as they say.

But silence is only golden until it’s not. 

While creating silence can be a good thing, there are times when it can be harmful. Sometimes we choose to be silent out of fear or anger. Fear and anger can be powerful motivators with devastating effects. 

Sometimes we need to say something and we don’t.
That time I could have spoken up in defense of justice or life for those who need an advocate? I silenced a voice in my head that was longing to speak up because I was afraid of what people would think of me. That could have been a moment the Holy Spirit wanted to use me to reach someone’s heart. When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.[1]

Sometimes we need to deal with something and we don’t.
That hurtful memory from my past that I never addressed? I silenced my pain by ignoring it and hoping it would go away. My instinct to bury or sweep it under a rug only delays and magnifies the inevitable pain. As Fr. Richard Rohr says: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”[2]

Sometimes we need to hear something from God and we don’t listen.
Those times in my day when I turn to my phone or a glass of wine to escape from the stress of the day? I silence the call from God to place all my worries on him because He cares for me [3] by being lazy and zoning out. Those are missed opportunities to turn to God and allow His voice to penetrate my heart and mind with truth.

Rest assured, sister, this is not how God has called us to handle these situations. He wants us to live fearless and free as his beloved daughters. Walking with Purpose has an entire Bible study devoted to this truth: Fearless and Free. Through this study, we learn to recognize His voice (and therefore our true identity), wrestle with the lies and truths in our minds by taking every thought captive to Christ, and finally reclaim ground and move forward. 

It’s also important to remember that we are not big enough to hinder God’s plans. He writes straight with crooked lines. All. The. Time. So if you’re like me and catch yourself silencing something that you shouldn’t, it’s never too late to open up and let God back in. To begin, we have to start by listening to the right voices. Do you recognize the Father’s voice in your life? His is the one that speaks hope, life, and direction into our lives. 

P.S. Mark your calendars to join Mallory Smyth and me for live, weekly Lenten discussions of Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study on Facebook and Instagram (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST / 5 PM PST starting February 18).

[1] Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Excerpts From Yevtushenko Statement,” New York Times, Originally published in print on February 8, 1974. https://www.nytimes.com/1974/02/18/archives/excerpts-from-yevtushenko-statement.html.
[2] Fr. Richard Rohr, “Transforming Pain,” Center for Action and Contemplation, October 17, 2018. https://cac.org/transforming-pain-2018-10-17/.
[3] 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.”

What a start to the year. Just when we’d packed away the Christmas decorations and swept away the pine needles, chaos erupted. Some might say things have gotten worse; others would say it’s always been this messy, and we’re just seeing more evidence of what lies below the surface. Regardless of all that I see that is not right, my faith tells me that there is much that is right, and I need to build on that. I don’t know about you, but I need to have a fresh attitude as I journey through January, even if my circumstances haven’t changed much.

This has led me to delve into some reading about the virtue of joy. If you’ve spent much time in a Walking with Purpose Bible study, then you’ve already encountered the truth that joy is not found in a perfect state of affairs. Whatever it is that we think will guarantee happiness is simply the next rung on an ever-expanding ladder. We never get to a place where enough is enough, and those who keep trying to get there end up disappointed and often bitter. But even when we understand this lesson and know that perfect circumstances will never be our reality (they won’t satisfy anyway), we can still find joy to be elusive.

We’re promised in Galatians 5:22 that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, which means it’s a gift given to us—something supernaturally infused into our being. That being said, I think that for many of us it resides deep down in the soul, so deep down that it doesn’t make its way up to our faces. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens described one of his characters as a woman “who called her rigidity religion.”[1] Sadly, there are quite a few examples of this in our day as well, but that would never have been said of Jesus.

Jesus has gone before us and gives an example of how to live joyfully in the midst of unrest and severe hardship. We read in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.” We’re encouraged to “consider him” so that we don’t “grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3). St. Catherine of Siena’s words, “All the way to heaven is heaven,” suggests that it is possible to follow His example. 

But how?
What do we do when the way to heaven doesn’t feel very heavenly?
Where does joy come from, and how can we get it to bubble up so it’s our lived experience, rather than a virtue just out of reach?
And does it really matter?
What’s at stake if we lack joy?

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson wrote about a friend who was a dean in a theological seminary. He would occasionally call a student into his office to share these words:

You have been around here for several months now, and I have had an opportunity to observe you. You get good grades, seem to take your calling to ministry seriously, work hard and have clear goals. But I don’t detect any joy. You don’t seem to have any pleasure in what you are doing. And I wonder if you should not reconsider your calling into ministry. For if a pastor is not in touch with joy, it will be difficult to teach or preach convincingly that the news is good. If you do not convey joy in your demeanor and gestures and speech, you will not be an authentic witness for Jesus Christ. Delight in what God is doing is essential in our work.[2]

St. Teresa of Calcutta said that “joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Our authentic witness for Christ is on the line. We are what He has chosen to work with, for better or for worse. We are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). So how do we grow in the virtue of joy? I have discovered three things that are currently helping me in this regard.

#1: There is joy in obedience
The equation “joy = obedience” is one I was taught as a young child, and I am so grateful for it. There’s so much that we cannot control, but we can always choose how we respond to our circumstances. While we don’t know what God thinks about every subject, there is a tremendous amount that we do know in terms of how He wants us to react and behave. When we live in such a way that we can end our day knowing we did all we could to obey God, a deep sense of satisfaction results. We remain under the umbrella of God’s eternal protection, and this brings us an abiding joy, uncoupled from our circumstances.

#2: There is joy in managing expectations
One of the biggest barriers to joy is unmet expectations. Things don’t go as we hoped, and discouragement sets in. But what if the expectations were problematic to begin with? I have found that when I’m disappointed, it’s good to examine my expectations by asking myself the following questions:

What expectation did I have that’s not been met?
Was that expectation based on a promise of God that I can find in Scripture?
What should I do to change the expectation?
What can I learn from this that will affect my expectations in the future?

#3: There is joy in Jesus
Jesus is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). He is joy itself. If we really believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist (John 6:51), if we really believe the He is present in the body of believers (Ephesians 1:22-23), if we really believe that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there (Matthew 18:20), then we need to really pause and consider what we are missing if we are not gathering for worship. We need Him. If you haven’t been able to go to Mass since the pandemic began (I know this varies from diocese to diocese), then you are going to feel that absence. He is not absent, but one of the primary ways He infuses us with joy is something that, for many, has been out of reach. 

So let’s cling to Jesus in whatever way we can, trusting Him to fulfill His promises. This is the path where joy is found.

Grace and peace,
Lisa

[1] Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (New York: Heritage, 1939), 198.
[2] Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 191.

Deep abiding joy—the kind that helps us to rejoice even when weary—wouldn’t that be the most amazing Christmas gift? This is what we long for, but for many, it’s difficult to hope because 2020 has held many disappointments. Plans haven’t gone the way they should. Words have been spoken that have pierced many hearts. Much is broken, and we aren’t sure how to put it all back together again. In the midst of a Christmas with more chaos and confusion than we’d like, does the night of our dear Savior’s birth still make a difference?

The ancient words of St. John Chrysostom give me food for thought…

“On this day of Christmas, the Word of God, being truly God, appeared in the form of a man, and turned all adoration to himself and away from competing claims for our attention. To him, then, who through the forest of lies has beaten a clear path for us, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever.”

Could it be that experiencing deep abiding joy is connected to what we adore? Is it possible that some competing claims for our attention have gained our primary focus this year? Has our gaze shifted, and have our bodies followed our eyes into a forest of lies?

I’ve discovered some things about myself this year. All the changes that COVID has brought have made it clear that I adore the following: My comfort. My well-laid plans. Experiences that give me something to look forward to and a burst of joy when I’m in the midst of them. These aren’t the only things that I adore, but when they are taken away, I wilt a little bit.

Since all three of those things have been hard to rely on this year, I can see competing claims for my attention at work. When I lose control on a macro level (hello, pandemic), I try to control things on a micro level. I do this without even thinking about it. I push the dig deeper button, get to work, and rely on grit. My ability to control something as small as my to-do list competes for my attention with “the better part” that God offers me—the invitation to come away and rest a while.

When I ignore His invitation to rest, I’m led into a forest of lies—lies like:
“It’s all up to me.”
“It doesn’t matter how I feel.”
“Things will never get better.” 

One thing is for sure—I’d better get out of that forest of lies if I want to have the kind of Christmas that includes rejoicing despite weariness. And here’s the good news: Jesus has beaten a clear path through the forest of lies to bring me to the Father. He’s cleared that path for you, too.

When I say, “It’s all up to me,” Jesus says, “No, my sweet sister. It was all up to me. And I did for you that which you couldn’t do for yourself. So lay down your burden (Psalm 55:22). The earthly work will never be done. I invite you to rest in my all-sufficiency and let me take care of the things that you didn’t finish.”

When I say, “It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Jesus says, “No, you’re wrong on that point. The heart of the Father is always turned toward you with tenderness, and He has put your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He cares deeply about what’s going on inside you. He is listening. He is paying attention. He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).”

When I say, “Things will never get better,” Jesus says, “Don’t you remember what I said in Revelation 21:5, ‘I make all things new?’ I am at work, I promise! Don’t forget the truth of Isaiah 43:19, ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’”

When we feel too weary to rejoice, we can receive God’s joy as a gift—as a present—delivered by the Word of God incarnate through the Word of God inspired. So let’s declare truth as we leave the forest of lies and journey to the manger in Bethlehem.

For I declare that God gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength (Isaiah 40:29).

I declare that God will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul He will replenish (Jeremiah 31:25).

I declare that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

I declare that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

I declare that my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever (Psalm 73:26).

I declare that God’s presence will go with me, and He will give me rest (Exodus 33:14).

I declare that I will lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).

I declare that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Oh that we would rejoice despite our weariness, celebrating the One who has led us out of the forest and into a place of true rest for our souls.

Praying for a merry and refreshing Christmas for you.
With love,
Lisa

 

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