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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

 

Today is a significant day in our country—one where we are able to exercise the incredible right to vote and influence our society. This particular election finds our country polarized along political lines. Many lament our collective inability to take part in civil discourse, fueled no doubt by the influence of social media. Distance demonizes, and many people feel burned out and deeply discouraged by the political process. 

I can think of no better response to the current political climate than to go to our knees in prayer. Not to talk about prayer, but to pray; because prayer moves the hand of God, and with God, all things are possible. All things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He is still in control of our spinning world. This is where our hope lies.

I don’t think any verse addresses this better than 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 

When God addresses the issue of a land that needs healing (and I think we all agree that ours does), who does He begin talking to? Is it the group of people who are far from Him? No. He begins by talking to HIS OWN PEOPLE, the ones who are called by His name. He starts with family talk. And what’s the first thing He asks us to do? To go out and convince people to look at things the way that we do? No. The first thing He asks is that we’d humble ourselves. That we’d seek His face. That we’d turn from OUR wicked ways. 

This isn’t where we want to start. Our desire for justice all too often causes us to look outside of ourselves. That's where we want God to start making things right. But He insists—the place to begin is within each of our hearts. 

I invite you to join us today at 1 PM ET to pray the rosary for our country. We’re going to do the very thing described in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’ll start with confession. We won’t just be confessing sins that we have personally committed. We are confessing on behalf of our Church, in the same spirit that the prophet Daniel did when he confessed on behalf of the Israelite people in Daniel 9. Daniel was known for his holiness, but perhaps he was able to confess in this way because his humility reminded him that there was nothing the Israelites were capable of doing that he wasn’t capable of doing, and that the sin of one affected all. We are all in this together. 

Another thing we’re going to pray for is that people would experience conversion of heart. There is nothing more critical than this. Nothing. All too often, what we begin with is a focus on outward behavior. We jump right away into discussions about how we are supposed to act as Christians. If this is as far as we go, then we have done an enormous disservice to the gospel. The heart of the gospel message does not begin with us cleaning ourselves up and behaving in the right way. The critical starting point is an acknowledgment that we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. We need Jesus. It is only when we are in a relationship with Him that we’ll experience the Holy Spirit giving us what we need to be holy. We do not start with behavior. That leads to self-righteousness and moralism. We start with confession and the gospel. That leads to Jesus.

I love this quote by Pope Francis: “The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.”[1] So let’s turn our eyes to Him. Let’s go to Jesus, through His mother. I hope that as we pray, we’ll catch a glimpse of His beauty. I pray that we’d be overwhelmed with gratitude for the costly grace He offers us—paid in full, by Him, for us, because of His love. Let’s go to our knees, on behalf of our country.

Join us in praying the rosary for our country today, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, at 1 PM ET. This is a free event but you must register to receive the Zoom link. If you are unable to join us for this live event, we will post the call on our website.

[1] Homily, Mass with Seminarians and Novices, July 7, 2013.

 

No matter what is going on in our lives, we all want what Jesus offers in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But how often do we read those words and think they are beautiful but hard to experience? Does this type of rest seem intangible? The seeming disconnect between the truths of our faith and our everyday lives can leave us feeling bewildered and discouraged. 

Henry Drummond, a Scottish evangelist from the 1800s, suggested that while many people don’t regret their religion, they are perhaps disappointed by it. He went on to write, “Men sigh for the wings of a dove, that they may fly away and be at rest. But flying away will not help us…We aspire to the top to look for rest; it lies at the bottom. Water rests only when it gets to the lowest place. So do men. Hence, be lowly.”[1]

There is a lot of wisdom in Drummond’s words. First of all, yes, we all find the idea of escape very appealing. Man always has. Drummond is drawing from Psalm 55:6, penned by David, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” While few of us “sigh for the wings of a dove,” we do seek to escape through excessive online shopping, another glass of wine, binge-watching shows, and other activities that take the edge off. We think they will leave us feeling rested, but we’re rarely satisfied by them. Why does escapism not help us? Because the solution isn’t somewhere “out there;” it’s found in the interior life. It’s located in the soul. This is where God meets us, in the present moment, and offers us rest.

Drummond says that rest isn’t located at the top, but lies at the bottom. If we think that hitting a certain goal or reaching a level of achievement will finally give us permission to rest, we’ll be sorely disappointed. Just when we think we’ve reached “the top,” we’re surprised to find that there’s another whole level to go. So what’s going on at the bottom? Is that where we go when we just give up and decide to stop trying? What does Drummond mean by getting to the lowest place and being lowly?

I believe he’s describing the virtue of humility. Humility isn’t thinking that you’re worth less or putting yourself down. It’s seeing yourself as God sees you. Changing the way you see yourself, seeing yourself through the eyes of God, doesn’t always come easy. For some of us, we think our past mistakes cause God to be disappointed in us. We feel that if we could just develop better coping mechanisms, get rid of our selfishness, and get our act together, He’d love us. But in the meantime, we figure we fall short of what God requires. We wonder how He could possibly love us. 

If that’s where you are at, I wrote my latest devotional, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, for you.

It’s for those who have heard Bible verses or messages about God’s tenderness and whispered to themselves, “That may be true for other people, but not for me.” It’s for those whose impression of God is of someone who is indifferent, impotent, or disapproving. If you know with your head that Jesus loves you, but it doesn’t feel like it in your heart, this book is for you.

I wrote this devotional for those of us whose hearts have been hurt, who are experiencing weariness overload, who long to feel treasured but find it hurts too much to hope. It’s for those of us whose inner voice is unkind and who fall asleep at night while a litany of failures runs through our minds. It’s for those who have called out for God and found Him to be silent.

The Bible is full of assurances of God’s love for His people. But I know that believing those verses in theory and feeling that they are true for you personally are two different things. What I am hoping to do through this little book is close that gap. 

So I am inviting you on a journey of the soul. I know that might feel scary or like a waste of time. But what if there is more than what you are currently experiencing? What if it is possible to come to a place of inner peace where you know who you are, and know beyond a doubt that you are seen, known, respected, and loved? 

Going to the lowly place means bowing your head for God’s blessing and outpouring of grace. It’s accepting that you are loved beyond measure and longed for by your Savior. It’s seeing yourself through His eyes.

It’s my prayer that the message of Rest will be a balm to the heart during a time when we all desperately need hope, peace, and a good dose of kindness. Order Rest: 31 Days of Peace for yourself and anyone with a hurting heart. 

May His perfect love drive your fear away,

Lisa

[1] Henry Drummond, Pax Vobiscum (Palala Press, 2015), 30.

 

“I trust in you, O LORD…My times are in your hands.” (Psalm 31:14-15)

These words were written by King David at a time when he was experiencing deep distress. Earlier in Psalm 31 he wrote, “My strength fails because of my misery” (Psalm 31:10). His circumstances were not what he wanted. He was bone-weary. Yet somehow, he was able to trust God.

I wonder how you are doing right now, if you are weary, too. What circumstances are you facing that makes it difficult for you to trust that “your times” are in God’s capable hands? Are you struggling to be content with what “your times” presently hold?

Is it possible to be content when your finances go up and down? Does a family crisis negate the possibility of contentment? Can you be content when you aren’t achieving very much? Does contentment depend on whether you are married or single? Can you be content regardless of how schools will operate this fall? Does your contentment depend on whether or not the pandemic continues to rage? Is it tied to your health, wealth, comfort, or safety?

Trust in God and contentment go hand in hand. When I think it’s all up to me, I feel I need to hustle. I’m discontent if any of my circumstances are not what I had been working for. But when I recognize my littleness and see that I am not the ruler of the universe and am actually in the palm of God’s hand, I can rest. When I rest, I realize that God has not failed me. I am still standing. He is sustaining me. I am able to pray, “You are my rock and my fortress…into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:3, 5).

Because God is who He says He is, and does what He says He’ll do, “even now, there is hope” (Ezra 10:2). This is a truth you can count on—there is always reason to hope. God was not surprised this morning by what popped up in your news feed. He isn’t wringing His hands as He looks down from heaven at the chaos below. God isn’t playing around with your life, dispassionately seeing what you are made of. He is utterly in control, completely interested in the details of your life, and timelessly working in the future so that even the worst things today can be redeemed down the road. 

God loves you with a level of purity that you can’t even fathom. In a time when you might wonder which news, data, and people you can trust, God remains “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is unchanging, unfailing, and unflinching in His commitment to father you faithfully.

Allow yourself to become little—like a child. Let the pressure roll off. Picture yourself in the palm of God’s hands, because that is where you are. Remember what those hands have done. They are the same hands that stretched out the heavens (Isaiah 45:12), told the sea it could go no further (Job 38:11), and healed with a touch (Matthew 8:3).

Psalm 31:15 says, “My times are in your hand.” This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t hold the whole world in His hands. But it’s undoubtedly sweeter when you see that this is a truth meant for you, personally. Jesus loves you and gave Himself up for you, and your life is in the hands of the one whose hands were nailed to the cross for your sake. May you embrace this truth and allow this reality to be the source of your hope, strength, and security. 

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16)

If quarantine has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no escape. The quick and temporary cure to suffering that the world had so generously offered me in the past (yes, I am talking to you, TJ Maxx) is no longer an option. I have had to learn how to sit in the undesirable a few hours longer than I care to, and in times of distress, I am forced to turn to God instead of HomeGoods. And I suppose I should thank COVID-19 for this needed lesson in spiritual growth. But, if I am being honest, I kind of want to kick COVID-19 in the face. 

I miss people. All people.

I miss the unreasonably happy barista.

I miss the crying kids at Mass.

I even miss the aggressive man at the mall kiosk who chases me down with his free sample of hair serum.

And I miss groups of people. Big, loud, smelly groups of humanity. Put me in the Splash Mountain line for eight hours next to the grown man in the Goofy hat. I don't care. I’ll love that guy straight to Jesus, and not once will I make fun of his hat. 

And speaking? Evangelizing? Worshipping? Retreats? Being in a room full of like-minded people talking and singing about Jesus? I miss that most of all.

Until I was told I could not be in a group of people, I had no idea just how much I needed a group of people to be in. But not just any group of people. A faith group of people. There is a difference, you know. You see, a faith community is not merely about good coffee and a break from the kids. It is about the literal hand of God uniting us together, leading us to Him. God specifically designed us to not only desire to be in relationship with others but to thrive in it. 

Right now? I am not thriving so much. I need my tribe.

Hebrews 10:24-25 comes to mind:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Why, right now, does everything feel so hard? It’s because we are not living as God created us to live. We have given up meeting together. The words social and distance are in direct opposition with each other, and it has disordered our lives. I don’t know about you, but what I am witnessing in the faces of people is far more concerning than the threat of my contracting this virus. While I may not know all that there is to know about this world or my Catholic faith, I know that a society divided and driven by fear and self preservation is not how the Lord wants us to live. Yes, as a country, we have a responsibility to follow the law and guidelines and keep one another safe. But as Christians, we also have a responsibility to step out in love, to extend real hope, and to get God’s people back together again. And if that sounds risky, well, my friends...welcome to the faith.

I will be honest. Even though I write this, it still feels hard. Even though I know this, I too worry about the risk. And to be totally transparent, I woke up this morning over it all...phoning in prayer with zero enthusiasm to tackle the day ahead. The thought of another drive-by birthday or Zoom call gathering has me weary, because I, sweet friends, am at about 5%. With piles of work and a family standing in front of me, I am desperately trying to figure out where the needed 95% will come from. And then my eyes fell upon 1 Peter 4:8-11:

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

This? This is why I am at 5%. Not because I can’t go to TJ Maxx, but because I have been separated from my tribe. Keeping fervent in love for one another, and glorifying God in all things, is only possible when we do it together. My community has kept me “sane and sober” for years, and being without them has left an undeniable, spiritual virus that is making me weak. The cure we need does not come from the hand of the scientist but from the hand of God. If we want to get back to life, we need to get back to each other. Community is the cure that we crave. 

So, how do we do it?

How do we hold community together, six feet apart?

I am excited to announce that this Thursday night, June 4, we will get the real support and encouragement we need to get back to community and live the way that God intended for us from the beginning of creation. Walking with Purpose Founder and Chief Purpose Officer Lisa Brenninkmeyer and CEO and Board Chair Julie Ricciardi will host a free webinar, The Art of Creating Community. To join us on this Zoom webinar, please register here. If anyone can lead us through this, it is Lisa and Julie. Walking With Purpose was born out of their authentic friendship and a deep desire to see every woman’s hearts open to the love of Jesus; not in isolation, but in community. For years, they have lived out and modeled Romans 12:4-5 for us, reminding us that we are better together than we are alone. I challenge you to find two greater champions of Christ and community than these mighty warriors.

If you are at 5% my friends, I invite you to join me for this night of much needed assurance. I can’t give you a hug or pour you a drink, but I will be there with you in spirit, spurring you on. In the midst of a world that is scaring us into isolation, let us be different. We can do this. Our health of spirit and mind depend on it. Community is where we belong, and it is time that we return.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1

Bible Study

We had a perfect plan set in place. We were ahead of the game. And we felt really good about it.

Our Walking With Purpose parish program was set to wrap up in April. By March 1st, our fall courses had already been chosen, next season’s registration was getting ready to roll, and the details for our final luncheon were set. With everything falling neatly into place, I dared to exclaim, “At this rate, we will be done with ministry planning by June!”

Stop laughing, God. I can hear you.

Whether you are a WWP co-coordinator or not, chances are, you too were in the midst of planning for something when everything shut down. And so we are left in this weird space of...what now? How do we continue to plan for a future we cannot predict? For the type A, control freak, live by my planner kind of folks, this space can feel like torture, am I right?

And yet, isn’t this precisely what God longs for from each and every one of us? Confidence in Him, not in our plans. Perseverance in the race—not because we can see the finish line but because we can’t.

The world shutting down does not give us the excuse to give up doing what we do for God because it doesn’t look like what we had planned. COVID-19 is not an obstacle to upbuilding the church, encouraging one another, and offering consolation. It is an invitation to find another way. Christian author and speaker Priscilla Shirer remarked in a virtual conference, “How do we see personal dilemmas? As a hiccup in our plan? Or as an opportunity to glorify God in another unique way?”

In today's first reading, the Acts of the Apostles 16:22-34, Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and thrown into the innermost cell with their feet secured to a stake. Why? Because as they were going to a place of prayer, they were “met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying” (Acts 16:16). A Catholic definition of divination is “The art of knowing and declaring future events or hidden things by means of communication with occult forces.”[1] This girl, as told in Scripture, followed Paul and Silas for many days, and was super annoying. So Paul finally turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18). And it did. The owners of this slave girl were not happy, as this meant their gain was gone. No more seeing into the future. 

I have never sought out a fortune teller, or even desired to have my palm read. I’d like to say it is because I trust and follow God’s commandments so perfectly and wouldn’t dare seek out any more light than that for my next step ahead. But honestly? I don’t care to know the future because the present moment is often terrifying enough! And yet, while I do not intentionally seek out divination, I have prayed that God would tell me as clear as day what the heck He wants me to do, exactly how long will my suffering last, will my loved one who is ill make it out of this okay, and should I or should I not plan to have my Walking With Purpose parish program back up and running on my church campus this October? I admit it. Knowing what the future holds would be nice. You know, for planning's sake.

Which brings us right back to that weird place of “what now?”

Thankfully, Scripture has the answer.

“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s chains were unfastened.” (Acts 16:25-26)

Amazing. They didn’t complain. They didn’t get angry. They didn’t cry. And they didn’t give up. They found another way, by praying and singing to God...and the prisoners listened.

As we navigate our way through our own inner cells, what is the message we are sending to those who are listening? Are we spreading a message of hope or despair? Are we sharing the good news of the Gospel or the toxic news of the media? Are we pulling chains loose or tightening them? You see, we may not be able to get back to things as usual, but maybe usual is overrated and not meant to get back to.

What if this weird space is not weird at all, but a divine invitation to stay where we are, praying and singing? If you are a visionary with huge ideas for Jesus like I am, this sounds insanely hard, doesn’t it? If you are a Walking With Purpose co-coordinator, this almost sounds reckless and unproductive, am I right? But hear me out. The prisoners are among us and trust me, they are listening; waiting to see and hear the way the believers respond when they have been stripped and beaten and their pink and green tablecloths have been taken away. Listen, our feet might be fastened and our doors may be shut, but the God that rescued me is a God who has no problem shaking foundations, swinging doors open, and unfastening chains.

This, my friends, is what “what now?” looks like. It is not about knowing what we will do in the future, but about trusting what God is doing in the present. What now is about new opportunities. What now is about glorifying God in a whole new way. What now is about showing the world that we do not need pink and green tablecloths and large group gatherings to edify the Church, Amen?!

You see, the slave owners were mistaken. They thought that in not knowing their future, their gain was gone.

But as slaves of Christ Jesus, we know better; it is precisely in embracing the unknown that our gain is found.

He is working in the waiting, and those doors will soon swing wide open. Until then, wherever you are, sing and pray loud with me, dear sisters! You never know who is listening.

With you in the waiting,
Laura

Go to our events page now to learn about two wonderful opportunities to gather remotely with your friends and all of us here at Walking with Purpose! WWP Founder and Chief Purpose Officer Lisa Brenninkmeyer will lead a free webinar on June 4 that you won’t want to miss: The Art of Creating Community. What’s more, our Instagram team will kick off a virtual summer Bible study on June 11. Click here for details on both, and to register for the webinar.

[1]  CatholicCulture.org. (2020). Catholic Dictionary: Divination. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=33143

Bible Study

"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers." (Isaiah 43:18-19)

I can respond to the higher number on my scale in a few different ways. One is to joyfully say, “There’s just more of me to love!” Another is to puddle in a heap on the floor, cursing the woman at the coffee shop who introduced me to Eggnog Chai Lattes. I can look back and regret every time I celebrated the holidays with a tasty morsel. Or I can look forward, lace up my shoes, and get going with some better habits starting now.

Many of us have an awareness of all the things we should be doing better. We might have determined to start an exercise routine, to eat a healthier diet, to give more time to the people who matter most to us, or to deepen our prayer lives. These are all good goals and help us to live out Ephesians 5:15: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise.”

Unfortunately, the best intentions can quickly become sources of discouragement as we encounter our weaknesses while trying to improve. In a few weeks, we might look back and see that false starts, failures, and ingrained bad habits have thwarted our efforts. We might feel disheartened when the very things we disliked in our parents have become so evident in our own lives. We may wonder if we’ll ever change.

The prophet Isaiah challenges us to stop looking backward. God is doing something new! The inspiration we feel to change in positive ways comes from Him. It’s evidence that He is at work within us. “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work” (Philippians 2:13). No matter how much life might feel like a wilderness or a wasteland, God can transform it.

How does this transformation happen? Does it come from striving? Does it depend on our perfection? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The inner change happens in us as we gaze on the glory of the Lord. It takes place as we contemplate Christ. As we sit in His presence and meditate on His holiness, we are soaking up His love. We are beholding His glory and, in the process, we begin to reflect it.

This is our hope. This is what makes us different. God wants each one of us to continuously grow more like Him, but doesn’t expect us to do it alone. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). He is going to do something new in our life this year! What God can transform!

“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Praying for Christ’s richest blessings on you,

Lisa

Walking with Purpose

This post originally appeared on the blog in January 2013.

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