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My dear friend, author Sarah Swafford, is guest blogging for us today! Please read and enjoy Sarah’s post about cultivating interior stillness. —Lisa

Do you ever run into Scripture passages that touch your heart, but also make you pause to think, “But what does that actually mean?” I have always loved the verse Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” As a wife of sixteen years, mother of five children, speaker, author, and also a recovering firstborn perfectionistic people-pleaser control freak (you may know the type), let’s just say that I have always been a bit of a “doer” and a go-getter. I love all my roles in life, and I also love my prayer time and quiet and reading and learning. Navigating daily life (the big and small battles) can at times be exhausting as I try to balance and maintain peace in my own heart and in my family…and tend to the countless responsibilities and tasks that are inevitable each day. 

Recently, I felt compelled to dig into the above verse and pray through this gravitational pull I had to the word “still.” If you break open the book of Exodus, and in particular chapter 14, you will see that this verse is spoken by Moses to the Israelites right before the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. Their backs were up against the sea and Pharaoh's army was charging. Can you imagine the sheer panic the Israelites must have felt in that moment?! Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like life is coming down on you and you’re scrambling to “get it all done,” to protect, to guide, to reign in your emotions, to find the strength to do battle against the attacks that come at you from a million different directions? I know I do sometimes. 

“The Lord will fight for you…” Yes, that is what I want! “Please Lord, step in and go to battle for me! I am exhausted and scared and overwhelmed and…and…and…” Not only does the Lord desire to fight for you, He also longs for you to ask for His help. It is not a form of weakness, but a deep realization that we can’t do it all, and we can’t do it without Him. Just like the Israelites with their backs up against the sea with a charging army, they knew they needed a miracle. And the Lord showed up for them, and all they needed to do was be still.

You may be thinking, “Okay, Sarah, right, like I can just ‘be still’ and all the tasks, chores, emotional angst, etc., will just disappear.” I know I used to think like that, that being “still” was just a little too far out of reach for my life. But as I read the book of Exodus and prayed on these verses, I started to realize that I was looking at it merely as a matter of physical stillness—to just stand around and wait for the Lord to show up and help me get it all done or figure it all out. 

Through prayer, I started to realize that this verse really points (for you, me, and the Israelites) to an interior stillness, something that generally doesn’t come about overnight. If I put myself in the story, as an Israelite with my family watching Pharaoh's army charge, I’m sure I would panic and try to take matters into my own hands; but there would also be a realization that I have just watched the Lord deliver us from our enemies through a series of plagues and a host of other supernatural phenomena. As with the Israelites, so also with us: God is worthy of our trust. I have seen Him fight my battles. 

So how do we cultivate this interior stillness? To be able to stand with our backs against the sea and trust; to not panic, to not flail around in our lives and try to take matters into our own hands? That’s not an easy task. I don’t have all the answers, but I know we can turn to the Scriptures and saints for a wealth of wisdom, and they would point us to the power of daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord. I say “daily,” but what I really mean is hourly—in the moment—in the present moment where we encounter our struggles; this is the place of battle, when we need to turn to the Lord in trust. 

It is helpful to recall the ways He has battled for us in the past because this can give us confidence that He can and will do so again. Each time we do this, we slowly develop a habit of surrendering to Him again and again, cultivating a deep awareness of our need for God. By returning to Him over and over again in the small things every day, we develop the instinct to turn to Him when the big things come our way—like when Pharaoh's army is charging and there is nowhere to go. 

Is it easy to trust, to turn to God in every need, and cultivate interior stillness? No, but the alternative will always be chaos, self-reliance, panic, and fear, and that is no way to live. He wants to fight for you. He has already laid His life down for you. I promise you—He is trustworthy. We need only be still. 

Need more inspiration to move toward daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord? Check out the Walking with Purpose 365-day devotional, Be Still. And while you’re here, be sure to sign up to get our weekly blog delivered to your inbox!

Sarah Swafford is the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries. She speaks internationally to people of all ages on a variety of topics such as: emotional virtue, dating and relationships, modesty of intentions, and interior confidence. She shares her message at school assemblies, retreats, rallies, and conferences around the world and is the author of Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships. 

Sarah is a contributor to Chosen, Ascension Press’ confirmation program, and YDisciple’s True Beauty; she has also contributed videos for www.womenmadenew.com. Sarah is a proud team member of Chastity Project and speaks at Steubenville conferences in the United States and Canada.

Sarah also works on special projects for Catholic identity at her alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she resides with her wonderful husband, Dr. Andrew Swafford, and their children: Thomas, Fulton, Cate, Kolbe, and John Paul. You can find more information about Sarah and Emotional Virtue Ministries at www.emotionalvirtue.com

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

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

That and potato peel pie.
I’ll explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have got to up our game.

We have got to start building Christ-centered communities.

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

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

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

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

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

How?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible Study

I’m thrilled to have my friend Heather Khym guest blogging for us today! You’ve likely heard Heather on the Abiding Together podcast. Read on for a beautiful reminder about building our lives with Christ as the foundation. —Lisa

Last year we had the amazing experience of building a new house that we hope to be in for the rest of our lives. I’ve watched so many Chip and Joanna Gaines renovations, I felt like I was ready for my honorary design certificate and to get started on my own project. In the midst of my excitement, I underestimated how many important decisions needed to be made before we got to the fun design part. The most important of which was laying a strong foundation so we could have the security and confidence that it was going to last.

One night, a few months after we moved in, my husband woke to our alarm beeping because the power had gone off. On his way back to bed, he glanced outside and noticed there was a huge storm. The trees were bent over with the wind, our entry lantern was erratically swinging back and forth, and our neighbors were outside with flashlights because the storm had damaged their house. My friend later told me that she woke up with the sound of the wind hitting the windows so loud that she thought they were going to shatter. Do you know where I was? I was fast asleep. I didn’t hear a thing. Our house was so strong and insulated that it was completely unaffected by the severity of the storm outside. I was safe and cozy in my bed without a care in the world, because we had prepared for the storms before they even happened.

As a part of our preparation of the home, we had written scriptures all over the wood framing when it was being built. In the basement, I had written the scripture from Matthew 7:25: “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” It reminded me that building our home on a strong foundation is important, but building our life on a strong foundation—with the Word of God as our anchor—is vital.

We have all experienced suffering and trials throughout our lives, especially this last year. We have been overwhelmed with change, disappointments, sufferings, losses, and pain. On top of it all, leaders and institutions we trusted have also let us down. There is only one who has been and always is steady, secure, trustworthy, and safe: Jesus. He is the unchanging One, faithful and good, and He is strong. He truly is the only foundation that is firm and worth putting our hope in.  

It’s so easy for our priorities to shift, and when they do, we have an opportunity to reestablish Jesus as our foundation. We can do this through recommitting our life to Him, through prayer, drawing close to Him through the Sacraments, and through His Word. In recent years, the Word of God has been my most crucial weapon against the tactics of the enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). It has been my daily reminder of where my hope comes from, of the goodness of God, of His plans for my life, and that He truly has won the battle against the enemy once and for all. It has also been the protection and power that I declare over the storms of life.

When we place our hope in anything other than Jesus, we will end up disappointed. When we build our life and place our hope in Him, we can rest easy that He is going to take care of us in the midst of our joys and sorrows. Of course a life built upon Jesus doesn’t mean the storms stop. Jesus clearly says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” A life built upon Jesus means that we are not alone in the trouble, and the One who is with us is bigger than the trouble. Not only is He strong, but He has the power to change trouble into something beautiful.

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Heather has more than 25 years of experience as an established evangelist and speaker. She attended Franciscan University of Steubenville where she studied theology and catechetics and met her husband, Jake. Currently, Heather speaks on a variety of topics, leads conferences, retreats, and women’s ministry, and has a successful podcast called Abiding Together. Her passion is evangelization, discipleship, and creating an environment for people to have a personal encounter with God. She lives in British Columbia with Jake and their three teenage children. Follow Heather on Facebook and Instagram

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