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“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Life has kicked into gear around here. No more sipping iced tea on the porch. Summer is over, and September calls for organization and productivity. It can feel like a shock to the system after months of an easier pace. Do you have so many balls in the air that you are afraid one is going to drop? Are you hustling through your day, yet in the evening, doubt that you have done enough?

We live at a time in history that is more productive and efficient than ever before, yet so many of us are walking around (rushing around) accompanied by a strong sense that we fall short of who and what we are supposed to be. If this describes your life, how long has it been like this? Weeks? Months? Years?

We can so easily fall into the habit of just existing. Of measuring the value of our lives by our productivity, by whether or not we get the job done, by how far we climb up the ladder. But none of those things can give us joy. I was talking to someone about this pace the other day. She said it sounded to her like I was treading water while trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air, which sounds pretty much impossible. That description wasn't news to me. It didn't feel particularly insightful, just observant. But then she went on to say something that really stopped me in my tracks. “I think that at the same time, you are kicking your heart away from you. Not because you think your heart doesn't matter. You just don't have time to stop and take care of it.”

I haven't been able to get her words out of my head. I know that, above all else, I need to guard my heart. I believe wholeheartedly that everything I do flows from my heart. The heart is the essence of who I am, not what I do. It's where joy is found.

Joy does not reside in a life that is all about checking the boxes, even if the boxes are for really good things like spiritual growth, service, and loving your family. When most of what we do is preceded by “I should” or “I must,” then there's a pretty good chance that we are lacking in the joy department. But this is a tricky thing. God asks us to obey Him, and so a ton of things get put on our “I must” list. People around us need to be actively loved, and that makes the “I should” list a million miles long.

I'm committed to wrestling through this paradox. I want to continue to be sold out for Christ. I want to love people tangibly, and I want to obey God completely. But I want to figure out how to do those things in a way that doesn't feel like one enormous should. Not just because it doesn't feel goodit's because the motivation isn't right. And when we operate for too long simply because we must and we should, we become robotic and a little bit dead inside. I want to avoid this at all costs, and I'm sure you do, too.

I want to fight for joy, because “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). If I don't have joy, I'm weakprone to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. I believe “the joy of the Lord” comes from knowing we are God's beloved daughters and living out of that reality. As a loving father, God wants us to experience getting lost in pure delight. He wants us to be replenished. He wants the blinders off our eyes so that we can see all that we have to be grateful for. He wants us to take time to rest. In fact, He's commanded that we rest (Exodus 20:8). He knows us completelywe are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). He wants us to take the time to figure out what truly brings us joy. Not what numbs us, distracts us, or just keeps us busy.

There will always be many things that simply need to get done. Laundry doesn't fold itself, and the bills need to be paid. But let's make sure that we lift up our hearts each day and give them a little tending. That we hold them up to our heavenly Father and ask Him to pour out His love and grace over them. He never withholds that request. And let's look for the little things that bring us joy, and give ourselves permission to lay down the uncompleted to do list and do something that simply breathes life into our hearts.

May we truly LIVE EVERY DAY of our lives and continue to fight for JOY.

Blessings,
Lisa

This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on September 1, 2015.

Hi friends! Today I’d like to share with you a fresh perspective on the feminist movement, written by renowned Catholic scholar and author Carrie Gress. —Lisa

There is something in the female nature that is drawn to fashion and trends. Words like savvy, fresh, and cosmopolitan evoke a woman who is smart and hip. Trends don’t end with skirt hems, eye shadow shades, and changing seasons; ideas can also be fashionable. For the past fifty years, western women have been told by an unrelenting chorus that feminism is a trend we should all get behind.  

Today, feminism feels built into the very fabric of our culture. Few of us can imagine our lives without its influence. And yet for all its sway, we haven’t seen an explosion of happiness and fulfillment among women. The happiness metrics tell a different story when we look at the numbers for suicide, depression, divorce, and sexually transmitted diseases. All of these have continued to climb over the decades.

As Catholic women we can feel a tug to engage with feminism, promote it, and be grateful for it, but like more and more women, we are beginning to see that it isn’t delivering on its promises. 

Women often feel an allegiance to feminism because it has somehow become bundled in our minds with our basic rights, like voting, driving a car, or owning a home. What radical feminism has deftly done is to make us think that if we look behind the curtain, we are somehow betraying ourselves and all the courageous women who fought for these things. Questioning the source for the liberties we hold dear feels like we are betraying our womanhood. We live in a type of co-dependent relationship where we agree to look the other way when it comes to feminism’s vicious elements (like abortion and destruction of the family), as long as we get to keep our vote, homes, jobs, and so on. 

What few of us realize is that the feminists of the 1960s and 70s wove Marxist theory into the effort, twisting it into something that would have been unrecognizable to women like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Second Wave Feminists made being a man the real ideal (or idol). Fifty years later, we still live with their lies that women are entitled to the sexual liberty of men—and not good men—and children are the main obstacle to our happiness. And like all lies, these have destroyed many women.

We don’t usually see these casualties. The women we see on TV, in magazines and social media, and on the catwalk and the big screen are curated to sell the narrative of success and happiness. Elites in the media, academia, politics, Hollywood, fashion houses, magazines, and book publishing have conspired to show us what they want the ever-trending feminism to look like. Their success is built on the false notion that feminism really has our best interest in mind. This is what ideologies do. They promise bliss and deliver misery.

But perhaps the most curious trend, especially among Catholics, is the effort to try to correct radical feminism’s errors with more feminism, further draining the word of meaning. Yes, there are vestiges from the First Wave of feminism that still could have some relevance for women today, but by and large, feminism has come to mean the Second Wave ideal. If we compare this approach to other ideologies, we can see why it is ineffective. To defeat Nazism, did people ever think, “Why don’t we become a new kind of Nazi, so that we can convince the real Nazis not to be Nazis” or “Let’s call ourselves the Mafia, but a new kind of Mafia, to help straighten out the old Mafia.” These might seem extreme, but when we consider that radical feminism has actually ended many more lives (62 million in the US alone) than either of these two blights on humanity, it suddenly becomes clear that there has to be better strategies.

The Church has more than 2000 years of wisdom to draw upon and doesn’t actually need a twisted ideology propped up by lies to help it lead women to happy and healthy lives. It was truly Christ, the Church, and our Lady who brought to light the equal dignity women have to men. This was not a gift of feminism. One only has to look at what is happening to women in Afghanistan to see how very different things could be. Or to consider the erasure of womanhood in our own culture, leaving most stumped when asked what it means to be a woman. 

Women don’t need feminism to flourish. It can be a hard thing to separate ourselves from what everyone else is doing, but it is something we must have the eyes to see and the courage to do if we want to help women be healthy and happy and to truly become who God made us to be.

In Christ,
Carrie

Carrie Gress is a Fellow at The Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Scholar at The Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University of America. She is a prolific writer and author of several books, including The Marian OptionThe Anti-Mary Exposed, and Theology of Home. A mother of five, she is also the editor of the online Catholic women's magazine, TheologyofHome.com.

Confession: I’ve been one of those rare Catholics that does not have a deep devotion to Mary. There, I said it. I wasn’t planning to admit this in my first blog after three months away, but here it is. I hope you can forgive me. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think she is great. I recognize just how important she is, but I have never been stirred in devotion to her. That, however, all changed last Saturday. 

As I entered the chapel for a moment of quiet, my parish priest handed me a print of the Magnificat, Mary's hymn of praise. I knew we would be reflecting on Mary, which, as stated above, was not my favorite thing. This time, however, it was different. The priest presented a new title for Mary, and it made me desperately want to be more like her. He called Mary the “Enemy of Pettiness.”

Pettiness is an undue concern with trivial matters, especially of a small-minded or spiteful nature [1], and Mary is its enemy. Wouldn't you love that title to apply to you? Maybe it does, but it doesn't apply to me. I am easily discouraged by minor inconveniences and quickly offended by the comments of others. I make assumptions about what other people are like based solely on their social media posts, and regularly allow my mind to go down the rabbit hole of worry about the future.

Pettiness takes up way too much space in my life despite my deep desire to be holy. And so, if Mary is its enemy, I want to live how she lived and approach life with her perspective. 

So, how did Mary live, and what was her perspective? Mary's Magnificat reveals her posture toward life and how she saw the world. Both are examples for us to follow. 

In the first line of the Magnificat, Mary says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

Mary did not live her life for her own comfort or glory. Instead, her life was a magnifying glass. Others could not help but look at her and see God. A magnifying glass is different from other types of glass because it has a different shape. The lens is convex so that it magnifies the object behind it. Mary was human like everyone else, but matters of the world did not shape her heart, her soul, and her mind. Matters of heaven shaped them.

Hers was a life in which prayer was the priority, not a priority. Obedience to God's voice was more important to her than her comfort, convenience, or popularity. Because she lived her life in this way, she became conformed to God's will and was able to magnify Him in every circumstance. The world looks at her and cannot help but see another world—an eternal world lit up by the glory of a mighty God.  

The second part of the Magnificat reveals that Mary had a broad understanding of God's faithfulness. She says, “And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation...He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever” (Luke 1:50, 54–55).

Mary knew not only that God had been faithful to her people throughout history, but she also knew how He had been faithful. She knew from Scripture the stories of how God had rescued His people again and again despite their unfaithfulness, and through Scripture, she also learned her identity (Beloved) and God’s character (Good and Faithful). So when the darkness of present circumstance entered in, she turned to what she knew: God would not abandon her, He already knew about her circumstances, and His faithfulness would triumph in the end.   

Friend, what is it that pulls you down into the petty things of this life? What is it that keeps you stuck and worried? 

Many days, it seems like our external circumstances just won't let up and inner joy cannot be found. We live in serious times, and, in these times, we can no longer be passive about how we live and how we see the world. Our Lord must be at the center of it all or pettiness and worry will consume us. So I ask, what is shaping your soul? What is your perspective? How do you view yourself and God? 

And if you can't answer these questions, let me start you with a reminder. According to Ephesians 2:1–2, “You were dead through trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world.” Ephesians 2:4-7 then says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” 

This is the gospel message, the grace offered to you by Jesus Christ that should shape your life. 

How can the world see a God in which it does not believe? Only by looking at people who have conformed themselves so deeply to God that they can't help but magnify Him. Only by encountering people whose perspective gives them the ability to live with a peace that surpasses understanding.

Need an example? Look to our Lady. She did this to perfection. The same God that shaped her longs to shape you. Give Him your whole “yes,” so that, like Mary, you can call yourself an enemy of pettiness and a woman whose life exists for the sake of God’s glory. 

[1] “Pettiness,” Lexico, accessed September 7, 2021, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pettiness.

 

I will be honest, the last couple of weeks have been hard. And would you believe it has nothing to do with Covid, pandemic restrictions, or even vaccinations? This was a different kind of hard. This hard was fueled by swirling negative self-talk and comparisons with other women in which I always ended up short. Old wounds were uncovered in my heart, and with those old wounds came powerful feelings of not being good enough, of feeling less than, of feeling ugly. I was emotionally leveled. 

And all of this happened to bubble up to the surface during a week in which I was planning the ending celebration of my women’s group’s 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph, my youngest was preparing to graduate from kindergarten, my husband was working longer hours on a big project, and my older children were in need of me to help them study for their finals, not to mention being the point person for all of the drop-offs and pick-ups for the various activities that they were now back to. My daily responsibilities were not going to stop just because my emotions and old wounds were getting the better of me. 

I’m not proud to admit that my go-to response has always been to push through the day, do what was needed of me and/or what was required of me and then crawl into bed, pull the covers up, let those negative thoughts wash over me, and succumb to them. I tend to isolate, withdraw, and not allow anyone into my hurt...including God. My seven years of Bible study through Walking with Purpose has strengthened my relationship with Christ, and I know that the enemy is cunning, “prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). At that point, however, I was not strong enough to resist the attack. My rational brain was throwing red flags up everywhere, telling me that this was exactly what the enemy—the “father of lies'' (John 8:44)—does, this is his game plan, this is where he wants me—isolated, alone, despairing, and questioning my worth. My defenses were weak this time around. I stayed right where I was and I believed every lie. This ultimately led to heightened anxiety and rising levels of anger and frustration. My behavior toward those I love most (hint: my husband and children), therefore, was less than stellar, and not my finest moment.

But what the enemy did not count on this time around was that in these past seven  years of WWP, the Lord had been intentionally placing women in my life who He knew I needed alongside me on my journey. Don’t you just love God?? The Lord had been cultivating these authentic friendships in my life in order to grow the fruits of healing and unconditional love. It was these fierce women who picked me up when I was too weak to fight this battle alone, who picked up their own shields of faith to place in front of me and defend me from the arrows of the enemy. These women called me out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of community in Christ. 

This journey that we are on, sisters, we were never meant to be on alone. From the beginning, the Lord meant for us to be in relationship. We were each made in the image and likeness of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the three persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion with each other, so too are we called to be. Mary DeTurris Poust writes in her book, Walking Together, “We see in the three personas of the Trinity an openness. The Father, Son and Spirit are generous with one another and in constant connection...the three personas are distinct and separate from each other, never in danger of overtaking one another or suppressing one another. There is a harmony there [emphasis added].”[1]  When our friendships are rooted in God, there is a true desire for the other to flourish. There is no judgment or comparison between each other. There is building up, not tearing down. 

We can see examples of holy friendships throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Ruth displays fierce loyalty and faithfulness as she refuses to leave Naomi, and instead accompanies her to Naomi’s family’s home—a place where the culture, language, and traditions were unknown to Ruth. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth tells Naomi (Ruth 1:16). And Naomi reciprocates these feelings as she urges Ruth toward a marriage with a kind and loving man, telling her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you” (Ruth 3:1). These women desired true happiness for one another. 

The greatest examples we have of holy friendships are those between Jesus and His chosen disciples. He called each one to follow Him, seeing special gifts unique to each person. Knowing these men and women would be called for a greater mission after His death, He helped them along their paths toward holiness. He inspired virtue and called out lies and prejudices. He declared truth into their hearts and modeled trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus knew that His disciples would need each other. He sent them out during His ministry two by two (Luke 10:1). And just as He reminds them “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), so too does He remind us that when we ground our friendships in Him, He will be there too. 

Are you seeking harmony in your relationships? Are the friendships you have right now ones that keep you on the path of virtue and in the pursuit of holiness? Sister, are you spending time with others who edify you, who call out your gifts, and encourage you to be a better version of yourself? If not, spend time in prayer, asking for the Lord to lead you to these women. And if you are lucky enough to have these women already in your life, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and then invite these blessed friends back to community and fellowship with you. 

[1] DeTurris Poust, Mary. (2010). Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, pp. 21-22.

I have been doing this thing for years where I spend way too much time looking at myself in the mirror. I lean over the counter and get up real close, taking my face in my hands and stretching my skin back, while calling out to my husband, “Look! See? Look at how much better I look without all of those wrinkles!” He doesn’t quite see me the same way. In fact, he thinks I look creepy with my face pulled back. What does he know anyway?

The aging struggle is real, my friend. And no, you can’t give it up for Lent.

Last week, after an emotionally draining weekend, I found myself staring back at my own reflection while running on the treadmill. Usually, I am good at tearing apart what I see. A face that has gotten way too thin. (Seriously. If it gets any thinner, both eyes will be on one side of my head like a flounder.) Grey hairs sticking straight up out of my scalp. (Why straight up, Lord?)  And don’t get me started on the sagging breasts. It’s terrible that I speak this way of myself. It is actually a sin and makes God so sad. I am His beautiful creation. A masterpiece. Even if I look like a flounder. 

But this time something different happened. Last week, as I ran and reflected on the arena I was thrown into and how, despite years of the battle, I am still standing, my reflection told me a different story. In fact...that just might be IT in a nutshell. 

I didn't see me. I saw A STORY.

A beautiful, fierce, and strong story. A life that despite tragedy and trauma still glorifies God.

Why on earth am I just seeing this now?

The Psalmist begs, “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37).

Tell me, friend. Do you turn your eyes from looking at vanities? 

I have spent years ignoring this verse and focusing on every imperfection instead. Staring at everything that is wrong and failing to be grateful for so much that is right. I have been scrolling through Instagram boxes that are filled with plump faces and toned bodies, longing for my youthful, fuller face. You know, the face I had in my youth that I thought was too full. Can we say never content?

But it was while I was running and thinking about the hard places God has called me to—the hard place I am currently standing in and the uncertainty of a future I have tried to control—that the scales fell from my eyes, and I heard a question being asked of me.

What if the lines on your face that you so badly want to erase are your roadmap to heaven?

The wrinkles of worry and fear that glide across my forehead, the deep crevices of sorrow and despair that circle my mouth, the fine lines that shoot out from my eyes like rays of light: these are not signs of OLD age. These are signs of BOLD age. These tell the story of who I am, and where I have been. These are a warrior's markings, honoring the mountain tops I have rested on, the deep valleys I have completely crumbled in, and every place in between. Like the black ink on a child's bedroom wall that charts his growth, these are my growth chartings. They are quite literally my life lines. And right there on that stupid treadmill, for the first time in my life, I loved them. I was proud of them. And I was honored to wear them.

I got on the treadmill believing I had been beaten down by life and that it showed; that I was worn out by my circumstances and that it showed. But listen up. Suffering has not handed me a worn out life, but gifted me with a life well worn. And sure, I can erase them all. I can get fillers and Botox and a really good moisturizer and wipe away my life. But why? Why would I do that? Why would I take away the visible reminder of what I have endured? Why would I hide the signs of my suffering so well? 

When it is my time to go home, I want every nook and cranny of my face to speak for me; to tell the beautiful story of surrender and sacrifice and hope against hope. The story of standing strong in the battle and weathering the storm because of a house built on rock. The beautiful tale of a warrior girl who met Jesus at the foot of the cross and knew there was no safer place to be.

Bible Study

If you had told me when I was younger that I would be involved in women’s ministry as an adult, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed at you. I would have said, “No way. Girls are mean and unpredictable, and can’t be trusted—I’d rather just be around my guy friends.”  

Now, as an adult, I could try to laugh off the silliness of that comment and the ignorance of  “my youth.” But the truth is, I bet many of us have felt, or still feel, the same way. The wounds of rejection, gossip, and betrayal from women in our lives can be deep and long-lasting. I challenge you to find a woman today who hasn't been hurt by (or hurt) another woman in some way. 

Often, the wounds of our hearts can hinder us from being who we are truly meant to be. They can cause us to close ourselves off to new relationships for fear of being hurt again. This is what the devil wants. He wants us quietly suffering, immobilized, and feeling like we are all alone. He knows that when women know who they are and where they are meant to be, they are a formidable force. 

Since encountering Walking with Purpose, I’ve had a profound shift in my feelings about the value of female friendships. I have come to realize that deep and meaningful connections with other women are something that we, as women, really need in order to thrive. 

For me, this shift came from experiencing firsthand what it looks like to be in authentic friendship and community with other women through Walking with Purpose. I have seen women encourage someone experiencing the loss of a parent [1], work alongside each other to serve families in need [2], offer to babysit so that a young couple could get some desperately needed time away [3], use their gifts and talents to create beautiful spaces and places for women to meet [4], and weep when an unexpected tragedy occurred and rejoice when a fervent prayer request was answered [5]. These are just a few of the many examples I could share with you from the last ten years of my involvement with Walking with Purpose.

There is something powerful that happens when women come together in an intentional community and encourage one another to live out their lives authentically: women thrive. We thrive because we are given a chance to be heard, to belong, and to be loved. And the result? Confident women with an unshakeable sense of peace and a knowledge of who they are to their core. I’ve seen this happen beautifully through the wisdom and community of authentic friendships in Christ, and I am so grateful for it. 

Maybe you haven’t experienced this kind of friendship yet. Maybe you are praying for this right now. Maybe you are struggling with wounds from gossip or betrayal that are years old but still feel fresh. Maybe you have no idea where God is calling you at this moment, and you are just trying to make it through the day. Trust me, I can relate. I can also tell you that discovering the peace and unshakeable confidence mentioned above will only fully come through knowing Jesus Christ and His Church. And that is what Walking with Purpose is all about. We know what it looks like to be broken women in need of a Savior—because that is who we are too.

Take some time in prayer today and ask God to heal the wounds you may have from past rejection, gossip, or betrayal. Ask Him to remove any obstacles you are holding on to, preventing you from living your life to the fullest in Him. This might not be a one-time process, sisters. But trust me that He wants to heal your wounds, He wants you to have authentic friendships, and He wants you to be fully who you are meant to be—starting now. 

[1] Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
[2] We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)
[3] Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
[4] Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4: 9-10)
[5] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

 

Last Sunday, my second daughter, Eliza, turned three. If you don’t already know this, it’s because you don’t live in my town. She told the whole town. And whoever may have missed the news undoubtedly heard it from her older sister, Penny, who was also shouting it from the rooftops. My three-year-old basked in the joy of her birthday all weekend. She listed off the presents she received at every chance she got, and her older sister did the same. One’s joy was the other’s as they soaked in the glory of this great celebration. As I watched them, it dawned on me that it is hard for adults to do this. It is hard for us to embrace joy, share joy, and celebrate with others. Joy takes courage. 

It is so much easier to focus on all that goes wrong in our lives and the lives of other women. All too often, when women get together, it isn’t long before the conversation turns negative and stays negative. Someone starts to share about her struggles and before long, everyone has jumped in. It has become popular to label those conversations as “real” or “raw,” and while they can be genuine, they easily devolve into unnecessary complaining. 

Please don’t misread this. We should not float along as if nothing ever goes wrong or hide a bad day by pushing our feelings under the rug. Life can be messy and difficult. We need to be able to share honestly with trusted friends for comfort and advice.

That being said, it is much more difficult and risky to focus on and share about the good things that happen to us. There is more at stake. For starters, focusing on the bad is normal. We expect things to go wrong and so when they go well, we don't know how to handle it. Vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown claims that, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience.”[1] Most of us have not been trained to live with a joyful disposition. Even if we find ourselves experiencing it, we dare not share it with others. Being positive, if we are honest, can be downright annoying. No one wants to be a Pollyanna in a Kill Bill world. 

Sharing joy is not only risky because we might annoy someone. We also risk the possibility that we will magnify another woman’s pain. If we share that we received a raise at work, will we hurt the woman who just got laid off? If we share that we are connecting with Jesus in our prayer lives, will another woman feel like she is not enough because her prayer life is dry? What if our kids are behaving, and we are genuinely enjoying our time with them? Will this news twist a knife into the heart of the mother who is struggling to have a relationship with her kids? We are keenly aware that it may seem like we are bragging, and we are all too familiar with the jealousy we have felt at the good fortune of another. With these things in mind, we keep our joy to ourselves or downplay it when we are in a group of women. This is a mistake. 

Joy is not a finite resource. God created each of us to share in His infinite joy and to celebrate when good things happen to others. For example, Elizabeth was joyful at Mary’s news that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. She was not jealous, but instead she celebrated with Mary as they glorified God together. Mary, in turn, celebrated with her the news that she was pregnant with John the Baptist against all odds. There is plenty of goodness to go around. 

So where do we start? How do we shift our focus and become courageous? How do we embrace joy in a cynical world? We start by sitting with the God who is joy. We start by allowing Him to renew our minds so that we can recognize His goodness, share His goodness, and celebrate when He reveals His goodness in the life of a friend. 

In the new Walking with Purpose devotional, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, Lisa Brenninkmeyer shares how we are to renew our minds. “We saturate our minds with what is true—and that’s found in the Bible. This is God’s love letter to us. He is not silent. He speaks to us through His Word.”[2] When we renew our minds by sitting with Him daily in His Word, He gives us the rest we need to discover the joy that He has reserved for us. He blesses us with a spirit of gratitude that enables us to be joyful for others. 

Romans 12:15 implores us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” There has been so much weeping this year. At every level of society, there is tragedy. Every morning we can wake up and be overtaken by the nastiest news cycle of our lifetime. We can look in the mirror and remember just how hard the last year has been. For honesty’s sake, we may need to do this, but where does it lead? Does it lead us into the spiral of despair, or does it lead us to our Savior who endured the very cross for the sake of the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2)? Jesus did not wallow in His suffering for the sake of seeming “real” or “raw.” He endured it, honestly, and held on to the joy, the never-ending joy, that awaited Him. He offers the same to us. He celebrates His goodness with us. We need not be afraid to feel it. We need not be afraid to share it. What is going well in your life? Are you recognizing it with humble gratitude? With whom can you share it? How can you rejoice in the joy of another? 

This, dear sister, is the attitude shift that could change the tone of your year and the years to come. Take courage. Take the risk, and reveal your joy.

[1] "Dr. Brené Brown on Joy: It's Terrifying," SuperSoul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey Network, (YouTube Video, March 17, 2013), 5:58.
[2] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, (Walking with Purpose, 2020), p 67.

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 remember the moment like it was yesterday. The year was 1991. I was sporting my fabulous color block blazer from Express, paired with black stirrup leggings, and authentic cowboy boots. Can you say fashionista? I was seated on the couch across from my therapist. I don’t recall the story I was sharing, but apparently, it wasn’t a happy one (I was in therapy after all), because when I finished she looked at me and said, “You say the saddest things with the biggest smile.” And then she smiled. I took that as a compliment. 

You see, as a Catholic, humor is a very serious thing to me. As it says in the amazing book Victorious Secret, “there is nothing more tragic than a humorless Catholic,” and I have to agree with the author. Of course, I am the author, so disagreeing would be weird. But come on. Jesus was funny. Sure, I know, He suffered a lot. A real lot. But don’t reduce Him to only tears. The man was good looking and He laughed, and you know the ladies loved Him. A camel fitting through the eye of a needle? That was funny stuff back then! Like, serious stand-up material. And don’t get me started on the kind of partier He was. After all, He turned water into good wine, not the cheap box kind. He told stories and parables and was the original Twitter with His classic one-line zingers, usually directed at the Pharisees, who I will bet you any amount of money were not funny.

I don’t know why, but I have always seen the funny in all circumstances ever since I was small. The awful singer at my grandmother’s funeral? Funny. The actual dumpster fire we drove by on our way to driving a child in crisis to the hospital? Come on now. Funny. That one time I stayed so long after Mass in such deep personal prayer that I had no idea a funeral had begun, until I opened my eyes and saw the coffin next to me? SUPER funny. (For the record, out of respect, I stayed for the entire funeral. I am certain the talk amongst family and friends at the reception was, “Who the heck was the girl wearing jeans?” Trust me: had I known I was attending a funeral, I would have dressed better. I also would have packed tissues, because it didn’t matter that I had no idea who we were burying, singing Be Not Afraid gets me every time.)

Some think that finding humor in suffering is inappropriate. And I kind of get that. After the tragedy at my children’s school, there was this certain unspoken rule in our hearts about happiness. Basically, if you felt it, you had moved on. And how on earth does anyone move on from the unimaginable? You don’t, unless you are heartless. But since when did cheerfulness mean we are heartless? When did seeing the joy mean we didn’t care? When did setting yourself apart from the screaming and crying to tell a few jokes make you insensitive?

I struggled with this for a long while. Was I missing a gene of compassion? How on earth could I go through all the stuff that I have gone through (and oh, sweet sister, have I gone through stuff) and still find life funny? Is it just a coping mechanism? Am I pushing grief down, masking my true feelings? It was my coming upon a little blurb about Saint Philip Neri in The Magnificat, that made me feel a whole lot better about my love of what’s funny, no matter how dire the circumstance: “To have a sense of humor is to be wise enough to see things in proportion. Saint Philip Neri...[won]...hearts for Christ by the quality of his joy.”

It’s not that I think that suffering is funny. I don’t. It is 100% painful and insanely hard, and I wish it didn’t slap me in the face as often as it does. But what I do know is this: Every painful thing we endure here on earth doesn’t hold a candle to the feast and the joy and the goodie bags and the cake and who knows what else the Lord has planned for us in that big ol’ party in heaven! I hope that, like Saint Philip Neri, I see things in proportion.

As we slowly emerge out of the craziest months of our lives, bracing ourselves in anticipation as we wait for the next disaster, it would be good to ask, What is the quality of my joy? How do I see things? How do I view the world? Am I so focused on the tragedy of it all that I have failed to see the joy? Am I so wrapped up in the bad news and suffering, that I have forgotten the commission to spread the good news? Because truly, it is our confidence in God and dependence on Him that allows us to live out the joy of the Gospel and bring it to others no matter how distressing the circumstances or trials of our life are. We are an Easter people, after all, and “everything stinks!” is so not our song. Alleluia is! I give you permission to shout it. No matter what you’re facing right now. It is okay to be happy. It is not a crime to spread joy.

Proverbs 15:30 tells us, “A cheerful glance brings joy to the heart; good news invigorates the bones.” And I don’t know about you, but I have witnessed some seriously weary looking bones walking around this earth lately. Hearts are heavy and burdened and terribly afraid. The world could use more cheerful glances. The world is in dire need of some good news right about now. And who better to bring it than you?

Bible Study

My confessor admitted to a common theme he’s hearing among COVID-19-related confessions: no more patience. I think Mother Angelica hit the nail on the head when she said, “We’d all be perfect if it weren’t for people.” Quarantining with the same people, day after day, will certainly challenge one's holiness, don’t you agree?

But here’s the thing. I was struggling with people before COVID-19. And by people, I mean my family. I am just going to come out and say it at the risk of you not liking me, because up until now you had no idea how selfish I was, but here it goes: why do I always have to be the one to go first? 

The first to make the coffee.

The first to ask, “Can I get you more coffee?”

The first to do the dishes.

The first to say sorry.

The first to put others first.

Why can't you go first?

This, sweet sisters, is a toxic weed that we need to pull at the roots. Nothing kills a relationship faster than a tally chart in your head and a stone of pride in your heart. And yet, nurturing the weed is easier than lovingly serving our husbands or friends, especially when it requires putting our own comfort aside.

If we look to Scripture, there is no denying that to “go first” is what we are called to do. Matthew 20:26-28 says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in Philippians 2:3 we are commanded, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Try preaching that one at your next cocktail party. 

It’s tempting to follow the world instead of Christ. The world, after all, would support my complaint. The world would see nothing wrong with the bitterness I harbor and anger I justify when, once again, I have to be the one in a relationship that goes first. Have you ever experienced this feeling? Have you ever been in a relationship that was dying a slow death because you couldn't let go of the resentment for always having to go first? If so, I’d like to offer you one small piece of practical advice; a little something that works for me when resentment invites himself into my heart, and I reach for that tally chart.

I turn to Ephesians 6:5-8:

“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

There is a sentence tucked neatly in the middle that jumps out at me. Did you catch it?

“Do the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings.”

How do we do this? How can we willingly serve God as we struggle with wanting to be served? How do we see God in all of the human faces that we have been staring at for the last three months? I have an idea. And listen up, because I am not saying this is easy but nothing worth gaining heaven ever is. The next time you are called to go first, and something in your heart starts bubbling up, and it is so not love...ask yourself this:

What if...

This cup of coffee I serve, I serve to God?

These dishes I clean, I clean for God?

That loving response I offer, I offer to God?

This is how I have been slowly transforming my heart. Ridding it of the bitterness and anger, and replacing the desire to be served with the desire to be the servant. And not just any servant. But a servant of Christ. Because here is the thing. I do love Him. And I don’t want anything to get in the way of that love.

Just this week, as I grabbed myself a cup of coffee (coffee that I made; one check for me on the tally chart!) and settled on the couch with my Bible, I opened up to begin my morning prayer. The reading was from the First Letter of John, and was not a coincidence:

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

And so I got up, threw out my tally chart, poured a second cup of coffee, and lovingly brought it to my husband. You see, when we ask, “But why do I have to go first?”, we must remember...we don’t. God does.

God did.

God went first.

Love,
Laura

P.S. If you relate to this struggle, I highly recommend watching the Opening Your Heart Connect Coffee Talk 4: Priority Three Marriage (Lesson 14: Marriage - Transformed By Grace in the study guide). You can watch it for free over at the Walking With Purpose website!

Bible Study

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