Why is it we can have total confidence and trust in God's plans with everyone else's life, but not our own? It is easy for me to recognize God's hand in your life... in your misery... in your tragic circumstance, but when the storm hits my own house, I question and doubt. I begin to wonder if my Catholic faith really is crazy and the saints are all just a bunch of nuts.
I spent my summer with the Blessed Mother. I managed to turn a 33 Day Consecration into a four-month plan, but I finally did get there and praise be to God for it. Because no sooner did I give my fiat, uncertainty and disappointment came crashing down on me, and once again, I was hurled back into that pit of doubt and despair-otherwise known as, “Seriously, Lord? THIS is for good?” And I hate this place. I really do. It makes me feel unpleasant, and worse, I become unpleasant. It's more hideous than getting a root canal at the DMV, naked.
Has this ever happened to you? Not the naked root canal at the DMV part; the other part about falling into despair when uncertainty hits. About being so confident and unafraid about everyone else's circumstances, but your own? Because it happens to me more often than I care to admit. I am, however, practicing something that helps get me out of the pit-not immediately but sooner rather than later. I meditate on the virtues of Mary.
Do you know there are ten virtues of Mary? According to the teachings of Saint Louis De Montfort, the ten virtues of Mary are: constant mental prayer, ardent charity, profound humility, universal mortification, blind obedience, divine wisdom, surpassing purity, angelic sweetness, lively faith and heroic patience. Now don't get overwhelmed by this. There is no way any of us can be perfect at all ten virtues all of the time, or quite possibly, ever. Why? Because we were not chosen to be the Mother of God. But, with a brand new consecration to Mary under my belt and the desire to emulate her, I figured if I pick one virtue a month to intentionally focus on, it had to work better in times of trial and tribulation than what I was currently doing (which was yelling at the dog and wondering why on earth my husband has to breathe so darn loud).
I have chosen to work on blind obedience; to fully trust in God's plan for my life and the lives of my loved ones, even when-especially when-I do not understand His ways at all. Even when strapping the dining room table to my back and jumping off of a bridge feels like a safer option. When the ground drops out from beneath you and nothing you planned for or expected appears to be anywhere on God's radar, blind obedience looks as attractive as a 1980's bridesmaid gown. So before I allow myself to spiral into a total abyss of despair and depression, I fly to Mary. I sit with her at the Annunciation. I reflect on her life, which quite frankly was a series of unplanned, difficult to understand events, and I stay in that place with my Mother. I sit with her in that moment when all was changed by her “yes.” Often when uncertainty strikes, we throw aside our “yes” and run miles ahead into the land of “what if?” We let go of God and grasp onto things that give us a false sense of security. But not Mary. Mary loved God enough to trust that all that was required of her was the next one step, not the next hundred miles. She could be blindly obedient because she loved Him more than she loved her plan. What a treasure chest of grace we have in Our Blessed Mother, who took the leap so that we could, too.
On a dog walk with a friend that was filled with both of our projecting and fear over the ones that we love, I finally said it out loud: faith is a leap! It just is. And when we hit these obstacles that aim to knock us off course and throw us into worry, we have to choose this leap. We must embrace this uncertain, unplanned thing in our life and give God our yes, whether we understand it or not, and then... we need to leap... off of our plans and into His. I am not implying that any of this is easy, but boy do I allow my wild imagination and lack of patience to complicate what really is so simple. Leap, or don't leap. Trust, or don't trust. Love, or don't love. The choice is ours.
If you are in the midst of a trial that is uncertain and you feel your doubt increasing, I encourage you to meditate on these ten virtues. Get to know Mary, who knows better than anyone else what it is like to trust that God's uncertain plan is good. Give yourself to Him entirely through her, and do not worry about the future. Will this require you take a leap of the worst kind? Yeah, probably. But as C.S. Lewis says, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole-self-all your wishes and precautions-to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.”
Praying we all take that leap,
My workday begins at 9 AM, so at 8:59, I commute up the stairs to my home office, formerly known as the guest bedroom. At Walking with Purpose, employees work remotely, which is a blessing and hugely convenient for working moms like me who tend to spend their morning hours searching for their kids' lost sneakers, water bottles, and homework assignments while packing lunches, and, in my case, removing cat fur from the kids' clothes with that sticky roller thing. Once my youngest son climbs on the bus at 8:35, I have 24 minutes to pull myself together enough so that when my boss invites me to a Zoom video conference call at 9 AM, I'm ready (ish).
That scenario played itself out recently, when my boss (WWP's CEO, Julie Ricciardi) Zoomed me at 9 AM from Denver, CO. It was two hours earlier for Julie, but she had been up for hours anyway.
“I went to Mass at 6 AM,” Julie told me that morning. Knowing Julie, she had also exercised, enjoyed an extremely healthy breakfast, answered 100 emails, and maybe even solved world hunger before our 9 AM call. As we spoke, we could see each other via video connection, and I was hoping I was sitting far enough from the camera so Julie couldn't see the cat fur on my shirt.
When that Zoom call ended, I realized I was feeling something unusual-I was feeling envy. Or more exactly, an emotion somewhere between envy and longing. It was envy-longing for what Julie had. I'm not talking about her peaceful and productive mornings. I wasn't envious that she went to 6 AM Mass; I was envious that she wanted to go to 6 AM Mass.
Does that even make sense? Is there logic in that-in feeling envious of a relationship with Christ when that relationship is a thing that I am equally entitled to? No one is keeping it from me, purposefully dangling it out of reach. If it is within my reach, a fruit I can easily pick, I should feel no envy over it.
But I do wish I possessed a faith so strong that waking up before the sun in order to be present with Him in the Eucharist wasn't a chore but a blessing.
The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart was written to help women like me open their hearts to Jesus Christ. I participated in an Opening Your Heart parish program study not long ago and my heart was opened, but now that I really think about it, and now that I'm being honest with myself, perhaps it wasn't opened all the way.
That was really bothering me for a few days last week; that and the fact that envy is a sin.
But as I got caught up in the day-to-day of my hectic life and the kids' activities on Friday and Saturday, my faith envy got back-burnered.
Then Sunday came, and Father Joseph Akunazeri (a newly-ordained priest of the Archdiocese of New York) celebrated the 10:15 AM Mass at our parish. His first Mass as a priest.
Sisters, he was BEAMING; smiling from ear to ear, so full of joy and the Holy Spirit, he was practically glowing.
Me? I was envious, again. I don't know that kind of joy, I thought to myself as I sat bookended in the pew by my two sleepy children.
Suddenly, I was struck with a thought. God knows I don't want to feel envious. He wants me to do something to get rid of that useless feeling.
Joining another Walking with Purpose Bible study group would do wonders for my soul, but the closest WWP parish program is pretty far from where I live. Perhaps I should double my efforts to bring Walking with Purpose to my own parish? Problem is, that would be more of a give than a get, if you know what I mean. Maybe what I really need is a spiritual mentor...
As I was contemplating these questions (while blowing cat fur off my computer keyboard), I decided to turn to my Opening Your Heart study guide in search of answers.
Would you believe that the first page I opened to (Lesson 12, Day 4 introduction) contained these words, written by author Lisa Brenninkmeyer:
“Do you want to become a saint? I'm not talking about wanting recognition for your holiness. A saint is simply someone who has been radically transformed by Christ. She has pursued Jesus wholeheartedly, and in that pursuit has been changed for the better.”
My answer is yes! I do wish to be radically transformed. It is likely that my pursuit of Him has not been entirely wholehearted. How do I open my heart all the way? I'll continue to pray about it, and I hope you'll pray for me too.
In the spring of 2018, my parish wrapped up its first full year of Walking with Purpose. Women's hearts were full, leaders were engaged, and our parish clergy and staff were supportive; but more than anything, participants were excited to share their experiences with others.
This newfound enthusiasm is exactly what makes Walking with Purpose parish programs so special. You may have heard comments just like these:
Finally, this is exactly what I've been waiting for, but better!
I love that it incorporates scripture, as well as our Church's history and teachings all in one!
I love my small group!
It's true that Walking with Purpose fulfills a longing for many of us. We want to share what we've found, which is fantastic! This is evangelization at its finest, and the Holy Spirit at work in our Church.
There are a few challenges as we seek to share abundantly what we've found, but hold tight! Walking with Purpose Bible studies allow us to meet the needs of many women in one place at one time without draining our leadership teams. This is an opportunity for us to admit that we cannot (and should not) do it all. We must hold our Walking with Purpose programs loosely.
As my parish approached its second year, we had the following to look forward to:
My dreams as we approached our second year included:
I committed these dreams to prayer, and remembered them during daily jogs with my sidekicks, Annie and Rosie (Yellow and Black Labrador Retrievers, respectively) while praying the Rosary. I'm not great at sitting still, so with fresh air and some movement, I found myself face to face with the image of our Savior through the eyes of our Blessed Mother.
The prayers on these jogs allowed for the Holy Spirit to lay out a plan which became a tremendous support to our parish program. Key ideas came to fruition:
First, we looked at all of our Opening Your Heart small group leaders as one group so that our daytime and evening Opening Your Heart small group leaders could support one another. This group received a one page leaders' guide for each week's lesson.
Second, we created a video conference meeting time for all of our Opening Your Heart leaders. We used the leaders' guide to go through the main points of the lesson and discuss any ways that we might make the week special. Most importantly, we prayed for each other and the women in our groups. This was especially important for our evening leaders because this was their only leadership team meeting. Two of my favorite parts of the video conference meeting were that we could be in our own homes and we could record the meeting for those who needed to listen later.
Third, our daytime Opening Your Heart leaders were excited to experience the study planned for our returning participants. Even though they would not lead that study, they completed Touching The Divine as their personal study, which we all discussed at our daytime leadership team meetings.
Finally, we wanted to communicate our schedule and Connect Coffees clearly despite offering two studies at one time. To do this, we created a one-page document with the Opening Your Heart and Touching The Divine schedules side-by-side. We did the same with our invitations to Connect Coffees. We created an attractive one-page invitation with a brief summary of both studies' talks. These were emailed, texted and handed to potential guests. We began to talk and pray about our Connect Coffees a couple of weeks in advance. We promoted them as “easy evangelization” while reminding women that when God places a friend or neighbor on our hearts, we must respond. We began to share simple evangelization tools with everyone in our program. This included prayer and obediently responding to God's prompting by asking the friend more than once (that's the hard part).
I have a dream for each of our parish programs and my dream is a big one! I'm not afraid anymore of asking for big dreams when I know that God has placed them on my heart. So here it is:
Let's all offer Opening Your Heart in our parish programs every time we meet.
Our God is not a God of limits or boundaries. He is a God of miracles and overcoming obstacles. Let's just do it! Yes, you! Place an option for Opening Your Heart on your registration forms alongside each and every one of your study offerings. I promise God will work out the details. I love Lisa's “I Declare” over a fear of the future from 2 Timothy 1:7 --
I declare that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
Let's counter our fears with truth in God's word and offer our parish program up to our Father. Sisters, breathe in the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians, “Let us be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” May God bless you abundantly for placing your trust in the arms of our Savior and incorporating the details for welcoming new women into your parish program through Opening Your Heart.
P.S. Walking with Purpose has turned many of these ideas into leader tools and training videos which are now available in the WWP Leadership Portal! If you don't yet have access to the online Leadership Tools, register for access today.
Based in Kansas, Emily Thengvall is a Walking with Purpose Regional Area Coordinator (RAC), supporting WWP parish program coordinators at 33 parishes in the midwestern and southwestern US.
I know that some of you may be tired of talking about all of this, but I for one need to sit in this pain a little bit longer. Feel free to join me.
I read in a recent Fox News article, “The Vatican responded Thursday to the report of hundreds of Pennsylvania priests abusing children, saying in a statement: ‘There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow.'"
Shame and sorrow.
I want to spend some time sitting with these two words today.
I find it interesting that the Vatican chose the word “shame” rather than the word “guilt” because as psychologist Joseph Burgo expresses, “Guilt and shame sometimes go hand in hand; the same action may give rise to feelings of both shame and guilt, where the former reflects how we feel about ourselves and the latter involves an awareness that our actions have injured someone else. In other words, shame relates to self, guilt to others.”
To feel shame is to feel humiliation when you recognize that your actions do not align with what you know to be good and right and true.
Shame is often associated with sin.
Sorrow is often epitomized by painful feelings of loss or disappointment. It is a close companion to grief.
Sorrow is often associated with sin.
These words make sense for the situation at hand.
A lot of words could make sense right now. Or not make sense at all.
But shame and sorrow are emotions that reach deep into the core of an individual. They are currently making their home at the heart of the Body of Christ as a whole and as individual, hurting people. The Body and all of its parts are grieving and that is okay.
The question now is how do we get up? How do we cope with this grief? How do we address this shame and sorrow?
In Scripture, St. Paul reminds the church of Corinth that, “...godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.”
The Church needs this shame, this sorrow, this grief to be godly. For it to be fruitful, it must lead to repentance and salvation. As a hurting Body, this must be our prayer even if we don't yet have the words to pray.
Because here's the thing, this grief could very well lead to death. It could lead to a large death and it has led - and will probably continue to lead - to a lot of mini-deaths.
And that is exactly what the devil wants. He wants this to be a worldly grief. His greatest fear is that we will embrace this deep pain as a godly grief.
You see, as Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes in the Walking with Purpose young adult women's study, Beloved, “The enemy thinks he has fashioned the perfect weapon to take you out at the knees.”His goal is always to cause death and he thinks he has won. But the truth is, “What Satan intends to use to destroy us, God uses to transform us in beautiful ways - if we cooperate with the process.”
Beauty can come from grief. It doesn't always, but it can. It can come from godly grief.
The challenge lies in the fact that we are currently in the wilderness.
Lisa writes in this same Bible study:
It's dark and frightening in the wilderness. The wasteland makes everything seem pointless and can cause us to feel ruined. When we're in the howling desert, searching for an oasis, our desperation can reach a fever pitch.
This is where our Father meets us. We are lost and wandering, and He comes for us. Instead of waiting for us to clean up and make our way back to Him, He goes on a rescue mission, enters into the confusion and the mess, and grabs hold of His daughters. As we're promised in Matthew 18:14, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any one of these little ones should be lost.” That includes you. He has come to rescue you, the apple of His eye.
It can be hard to believe in godly grief in the wilderness. This sort of darkness and despair can seem pointless and endless.
At this moment, I feel confused and hurt and lost. I'm sure many of you can relate. But in this moment, above all, I know I must remember that God is here in this mess and confusion with me and you and the whole Body of Christ. God never leaves us alone in the wilderness.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we read the truth that, “He found them in a wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert. He shielded them, cared for them, guarded them as the apple of his eye.”
Even in the wilderness, even when we are paralyzed by shame and sorrow and grief, even amidst our righteous anger, we are the apple of God's eye. We are His beloved children.
He knows we are hurting. I promise, He is hurting too. And, He wants to hear our hurt. I encourage you to speak it out loud to Him.
I don't have any answers to any of this grief right now. But I do know that the devil will truly win if we let this situation harden our hearts and cause us to forget God's love for us.
If you take anything from this, know that God is hurting with you. He is broken with you. But this shame and sorrow is sandwiched by our belovedness. God has never ceased to call you the beloved. He has never ceased to chase after your heart. So I beg of you, don't you forget it either. In the pain, in the grief, be angry, be confused; feel whatever it is that you are feeling. But don't stop praying. Don't turn away from the God who moves mountains to tell you that you are loved.
Pray for salvation and repentance. And, allow this grief to be godly.
P.S. In case you missed it, read Lisa Brenninkmeyer's recent response to the abuse scandal.
2 Corinthians 7:10
Brenninkmeyer, Beloved, 17.
Brenninkmeyer, Beloved, 17.
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Beloved: Opening Your Heart Series Part 1, 15-6.