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.” 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.
 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.”
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,
 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
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.” 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,
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.
 CatholicCulture.org. (2020). Catholic Dictionary: Divination. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=33143
"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,
This post originally appeared on the blog in January 2013.
My 77-year-old mother is a model of efficiency. When she has news to share with her three children, rarely will she make three phone calls. If you ask my mom, email is sufficient for most communications. She also seems to doubt that group texts actually work. But group email? That’s her game. And the most recent email she sent to my brother, sister, and me read exactly as follows:
“The doctor called. I have the virus. Quarantined for 14 days after symptoms go away. Mom.”
Unfortunately, this was not the first piece of news I had received informing me that COVID-19 hit close to home. Over the past couple of months, a steady stream of texts and phone calls has revealed to me that someone tested positive, someone else was hospitalized, someone else passed away, and so on. I live in the NYC suburbs, and I need two hands to count the number of close friends and family members who were seriously affected by this virus.
However, the email from my mother was the first piece of news that kicked my anxiety into full swing. It was the first time in my life that I had to come to terms with the possibility of losing a parent.
At the same time, my high schooler was completely ignoring his remote learning, my husband was stressed out at work, and thoughts about Walking with Purpose had been keeping me awake at night. COVID-19 cancelled all the WWP spring events and impacted Bible study sales, and as the director of marketing, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to support the ministry.
By late April it was clear to me that absolutely everything in my life was out of control. But friends, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t try to control it. If there’s one thing I learned from the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart, it's that God is in the driver’s seat.
But what to do about the constant anxiety? Yes, we can give up control and hand our struggles over to Christ, but I seem to have feelings of panic and worry that come on quite suddenly, triggered by stressful moments, no matter how much control I give up. When the Director of the CDC announced a week ago that a second and more difficult wave of COVID-19 was coming this fall, I uncorked a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc faster than you can say quarantine.
Clearly, I needed better coping techniques.
In the Walking with Purpose Bible study Keeping in Balance, there’s a lesson that talks about anxiety as a barrier to contentment. It is such a helpful lesson that Walking with Purpose sent it out as a PDF to our email list last week (you can find that PDF here). In this lesson we are asked to reflect on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What I love about WWP Bible studies is how author Lisa Brenninkmeyer makes scripture passages easy for newbies like me to understand. Lisa says the way we take a thought captive is by “replacing the worry with a truth that builds [our] trust in God.”
That right there? That is an action item I can turn to (in place of the wine).
Here’s the truth I came up with to build my trust in God: Christ is present in humanity’s compassion, and that compassion is so clearly EVERYWHERE these days!
COVID-19 has unified humanity into the most massive force of good that I think this planet has ever seen. Millions around the globe are doing whatever it takes to fight the virus. From philanthropists pledging billions to speed the development of a vaccine, to medical professionals risking their lives to save COVID-19 patients, and school children collecting canned goods for food pantries, people are overflowing with kindness, and I recognize God in them.
As I finish writing this blog post, I’m singing in my head, “...every little thing, is gonna be alright.”
PS: I’m sorry to keep you hanging about my mom. She battled the virus quite easily, actually, and pulled through quickly. Thank you for all of your prayers!
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (Walking with Purpose, July 2019), 151.
Ever since we were told to shelter in place, I have been generally upbeat about everything going on. I know that it's bad out there, but I am naturally an optimist, so I focused on the positives. "Oh, the opportunities," I thought to myself. Sure, we couldn't go out, which is sad, but I'm an introvert, and there is an endless amount of projects to do and habits to form. By the end of this, my house would look perfect, and my husband and I would have finally started that couple's workout routine I have been dreaming about. With a smile on my face, I went about starting the new life in quarantine that we are all establishing. Then Easter came, and I hit my wall.
My husband and I tried to make our family’s Easter celebration as special as possible, but everything we did fell flat. Doing church while social distancing made me want to be next to people all the more. It made me miss the sacraments more than I ever have before. On a drive to get doughnuts from the grocery store, we saw another family that we know, and that was it. As we waved and drove on, all of that optimism crumbled as I finally admitted to myself that we are in this for the long haul.
I realized the adrenaline rush that I experienced at the beginning of the crisis was gone. What is left is the hard work of waking up every day and choosing if I will live my day in hope or not. As I soberly came to terms with this, I remembered the words that the Lord spoke to me four years ago when my husband and I welcomed our first daughter, and I had to get used to the "new normal" of life as a mother.
When my daughter was three months old, I was up at 2 am for the usual middle of the night feeding. All the excitement that comes with welcoming a baby had faded, leaving me face to face with the constant, often unseen, work of caring for my child. As I jealously looked at my sleeping husband, I started to get honest with God. I told him that, while I loved my daughter with a love that words cannot describe, this was hard. I missed my old life and the freedom I once had. I missed being able to pray whenever I wanted for however long I wanted and the exhilaration of jet-setting around the globe to preach the gospel. I missed a life where I was seen. Here, in the darkness, no one saw what I was doing; no one saw my suffering or my sacrifice. It was hidden.
In the middle of my complaining and mourning with God, he spoke clearly in my heart. "It is here that I make you holy," he said. "It is here in the unseen repetition of this new life, where much is hidden, and there is no applause, that I will expand your capacity to love. In this present monotony, I will sanctify you if you let me."
Friend, we are now a month into this global shutdown. The adrenaline rush is gone, the bad news is constant, and the end is not here yet. We are now officially in the middle, faced with the reality of living with this new normal everyday. While we are all in this together, it is undeniable that we are going through this crisis apart. Our daily realities look completely different depending on where we live and how hard the virus is hitting our city. Day in and day out, it can be so easy to feel that we are alone in our struggles and unseen by the outside world.
It is right here, however, in these unseen moments and unshared sufferings that God sees us. It is here that He wants to heal our hearts and make us holy. It is here that we have to make a choice. We can choose inertia and slowly give in to cynicism, numbness, and fear, or we can actively decide to renew our minds through daily prayer and surrender. We can choose to read too much news and spend too much time on our phones, or we can dive into the scriptures and spend time on things that will feed our soul.
I decided four years ago, in that quiet moment of prayer, that I would let God do His work in the hidden moments of my life, and I would be okay with the fact that they are hidden, only between Him and me. On Easter, I recommitted to that decision. Here in the middle of this crisis, the Lord wants to enter into your daily grind. He wants to be there in the small, hidden moments of your life, and He wants to use them to make you holy. I pray that you will let Him so that, when the end finally comes, you can emerge from this crisis more closely resembling the saint that He has called you to be.
Many years ago, I agreed to attend a healing Mass with a friend. To be honest, I was afraid. I wasn’t sure I belonged there, or had the right to ask to be prayed over because I wasn’t physically sick. There was no terrifying diagnosis, no broken bones. I didn’t even have the sniffles. However, what I did have was killing me.
I was spiritually ill; literally sick from not doing God’s will.
Uncertain of how it all happened, I found myself on a path that was leading me far away from the Lord. Consumed by the fear of money running out, struggling in my marriage, and barely holding onto my sanity raising four small kids, all I could think about was how badly I wanted out of my life and how much better everyone else had it. My mind was a battlefield, and the enemy was all over it.
Do you ever think about what you think about? Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, has researched the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health, and the formation of memory, and she has this to say about our thoughts: “Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.” 
Makes you think twice, doesn’t it?
Scientists aren’t the only ones who have something to say about our thoughts. Scripture is full of references to the mind and our thoughts. The most common verse is Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
What do you dwell on?
When you go to bed, do you think about all the things on your to-do list that you didn’t get to? Or do you recall all the things you did get done?
When you wake up, do you hit snooze, delaying the dreaded day ahead? Or do you roll out of bed and onto your knees, beginning your day in thanksgiving?
Are your thoughts stuck in the past, dragging you down the path of shame and regret? Or do you stay present to the moment, trusting that God knows what He is doing and that His plan for you is good?
If our thoughts precede our actions, and hope can change the structure of our brain, than mindset is everything. Romans 12:2 instructs us: “Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind; that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” In other words, live different. Think with the mind of Christ. Keep your thoughts holy so your actions will be holy, and in doing so, you will be able to recognize God’s will for your life.
And that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s what we are all after, right? Knowing what on earth it is that God wants us to do. Discovering that good plan He has for us. According to Romans, the way to find out is by the renewal of our minds, but easier said than done. Our minds are so powerful, running 24 hours a day. We think nonstop. Did you know that I can pray the rosary, and plan dinner, and worry about everything all at the same time? And don’t get me started on how well I can focus on what might happen someday; which for the record, is never good. It’s terrible, really. Because the more we focus on something, the more that something controls us. And knowing this, the enemy works overtime, blinding our minds because he understands that if he can keep our minds in the dark, we will never be able to see the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-5).
So while renewing our minds sounds great in theory, practically speaking, how do we this? I have three suggestions.
- Saturate your mind with Scripture. Read it before you go to bed and read it when you wake up. Remember this: “We become what we behold.”
- Pay attention to your negative thoughts. Are they coming from God or the enemy? Write them down and see if you can get to their root. Then, go on and pluck them out!
- I highly recommend making Lisa Brenninkmeyer’s new devotional, Be Still, a daily habit. It will put you in the right mindset, providing you with the tools you need to get through your day.
We may not be able to choose what thoughts come into our minds, but we can choose whether we keep them there. So let us be of sound mind, holding every thought captive to Christ, weeding out unhealthy roots, and dwelling on whatever is good.
Thinking of you, and praying as always,
 Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018)
 Caroline Leaf, “How To Detox Your Brain Part I” (January 12, 2018), https://youtu.be/P9UtL9_2jZA
Last month I managed to do something right. On most days in December, I was able to balance the business of Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking and celebrating with a peaceful mindset focused on His coming. I’ll admit I sometimes didn’t balance the two evenly, and there were days when party prep and presents kept my eyes off the real prize. But I did give more of my attention to Him than I had during past Christmas seasons. I am a work in progress!
So here we are at the start of a new year, and once again I feel compelled to make a New Year’s resolution. Doing so might be a waste of time since I’ve never stuck to any resolutions I’ve made in the past, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Putting God first every day of the year (not just during Advent-Christmas) would make for a great resolution, right? But, I am a full-time employee of Walking with Purpose, and the act of working for a ministry of Jesus Christ keeps Him front-and-center daily. More than that, He and I are in cahoots here in my home office. I pray each day for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my work, and He certainly responds.
I already know He’s Priority Number One.
Which brings me to Priority Number Two, and my resolution for 2020. I got the idea from Matthew 22:37-40:
[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Christ says the second most important thing is to put others next, in the #2 spot to God. Not ourselves. Thinking about this, I realize that there are people in my life who really should be elevated to that #2 spot. People who, sadly, I sometimes ignore. My aging parents and my husband come to mind.
But then, the self-centered part of me that worries about my sanity takes over my thought process. Really? It says. You’re going to give more of yourself to your parents, even though it is always you who visits them and not the other way around? They are the retired ones, after all. How in the world are you going to fit more two-hour-long road trips into your packed schedule?
That selfish voice also has a problem giving my husband second-to-God status. You both work full-time yet it is always you doing the laundry and cooking meals. When’s the last time he made you dinner? Why do you eat Doritos while he and the kids enjoy the steak dinner you prepared for them?
(Side note: I’m a vegetarian, and the rest of the household are big-time carnivores. However, the time it takes to make two dinners each day is time I just don’t have.)
The WWP Bible study Keeping in Balance has a lesson all about putting people “next.” In it, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reveals the key to actually making it happen. She writes:
“The principle of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ works only if you treat yourself well. Do you habitually neglect yourself, forsaking prayer, rest, good nutrition, exercise, and healthy emotional boundaries?...Do you agree that this is a necessary first step in order to love others well?” 
You can’t effectively love others if you don’t love and care for yourself first. Which I think means I need to stop eating Doritos for dinner.
It looks like I might have two resolutions for the new year: Providing more TLC to my “neighbors,” and to myself. I’m going to try like heck to stick to this because of something else Lisa writes in Keeping in Balance:
“At the end of our lives, God isn’t going to ask about all that we have accomplished. He will look at how we’ve loved. This is the true measure of significance.” 
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 32.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 33.