When was the last time that you told Jesus, to His face, that He is not enough? For me, it was last week. Was it my finest moment? No. Was it a necessary moment? Yes.
Here is the story...
As we were making dinner one night, my husband asked, “Mallory, I have to go to a conference in Florida. Do you want to come with me and stay in a nice hotel for the weekend?” “Let me think about it,” I replied. “Just kidding. Florida in January with one kid instead of four? I. Am. In.”
As soon as I agreed to go, expectations began to form in my mind. A weekend trip could be a much-deserved break. I could pray, read, rest, and work out. I’d have one baby (who can’t walk), warm weather, and one very busy husband. Finally, “me” time. It’s the thing I had been longing for, and I could not wait.
The first day of the trip arrived, and as always, the actual unfolding of events was far from the dream I had spun in my mind. To begin, we landed in Florida to find the weather so cold and dreary that I barely took off my jacket the entire weekend. So much for warm weather. I was disappointed, but I refused to let the weather stop me from enjoying my break. It wasn’t until the next event occurred that I started to crumble.
We arrived at our swanky hotel only to discover that there had been a mistake. We didn’t have a room. And not only did we not have a room, but there were no more rooms available. We would have to find another place to stay. Even as I type this I realize it seems small, but it was too much for me at the time. I waited in the lobby for three hours as my husband got settled at the conference and figured out the room situation. While waiting, all I could think was that this break for which I had longed was slipping away. I was so angry I could barely talk. Seeing my silent rage, my husband suggested that I go to adoration. (This was a Catholic conference.)
Reluctantly, I walked into the chapel and knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Before I could even stop myself, the words spilled out of my heart: Jesus, I love You, but right now, You are not enough. Ouch. Shame immediately came over me. I’m not supposed to say that. Heck, I’m not supposed to feel that. I make a living by telling the world that Jesus is enough, and there I was, laid bare before Him over a hotel room problem. My heart is so fickle.
Through the shame, however, I heard God say, “Are you willing to hand me your idol?” I didn’t even know I had an idol, and yet, there it was before me, unable to be ignored.
It was the break.
I was so desperate for a break from the often intense responsibilities of mothering such small children that I didn’t even realize that I was starting to live for the break. I accomplished tasks at work to get a break. I loved my kids so that, in the end, I could have a break. I began to think that alone time was the answer to all of my troubles. I had been doing everything to get to a place where I could finally tend to myself and only myself. So when I finally thought that the break would be mine, I could not handle the fact that it might not happen.
That, dear friend, is idolatry. It is looking to something else to receive what only God can give. While a break in my life may be good and even necessary, it will not give me the deep heart satisfaction, the soul rest that I so desire. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus is the rest, not the break itself. So when I finally do get a moment alone, I must connect with Him, or I will enter back into my life still desperate.
And so I ask you, what are you striving for in all of your activities? Are you living for the break, the moment when you can finally get some alone time? Or are you looking to something else to finally give you the rest and satisfaction for which you long? It may be recognition, comfort, compliments, or achievement. Whatever it is, it can only serve as an avenue to God; it cannot give you what only God can.
Psalm 115:3–11 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”
The idols that we worship in our lives are dead, and Scripture tells us that we will be like them if we worship them. But God is fully alive, and it is only He who can bring us into the fullness of life. “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)” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
Pope Benedict XVI is commonly quoted as saying, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!” The implication here is that you were made for discomfort. Why? Because you were made for God, and He is good enough to root out anything that keeps you from Him, even if it means withholding from you the very thing that you think you need.
In the end, my trip to Florida was a good trip. It was not the trip I wanted; I never really got my break. It was, however, the trip I needed. I got the opportunity to lay down an idol. I got some honest, raw time with the Lord, and that is what I needed most.
What is it that you think you need? The Lord may not be giving it to you because He wants more for you. He wants your holiness, your sainthood, and your greatness over your immediate and momentary comfort. In the end, He wants you with Him forever, and there is nothing better than that.
For five months now, I have needed to pick up a bundle of clothing from the cleaners. That’s right, almost half a year ago, I dropped off some dresses for cleaning and then forgot about them for two months. When I finally remembered, I avoided picking them up. I told myself that I was just too busy. I have too many kids to pack into the car, and the errand will have to wait.
You are probably thinking, Mallory, just go get the clothes. You are being silly. I have told myself the same thing, and I have still not remedied the situation. Why? Because I’m afraid. I don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of picking them up after leaving them there for so long. I don’t want to take the chance of hearing the words, “We gave them away,” which, by now, is a real possibility.
The cleaners are only one example of things I avoid out of fear. I could write this entire blog post about friends I didn’t call, opportunities I passed up, and chances I didn’t take. I could give you a million reasons why I didn’t do these things and convince you that I am just being smart or prudent. But in the end, all of those reasons boil down to one. Fear. Fear of what? Fear of what others will think of me, of failing, or of looking like a fool. I fear getting hurt and not being good enough. I fear many things, and when I let them rule my life, I start hiding and stop living.
Do you ever feel like you live your life from behind your fears? The more I talk to women, the more I understand that we often make our decisions according to our fears. We tell ourselves that we are using good judgment, and then we stop stepping out in big and small ways. Slowly but surely, we build lives that are predictable, setting boundaries that keep us safe but leave little room for the Holy Spirit to move. We might be comfortable, but we miss out on the abundant life that God offers to us.
Scripture reveals that an abundant life requires risk. The entire Bible is story after story of God asking someone to take a chance, that person eventually obeying God in faith, and then God performing a miracle. The Christian life is an adventure, not an afternoon coffee break, and it requires that we do some things that make us uncomfortable.
Take Moses, for example. Moses was the man to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the edge of the promised land. But before he was that guy, he was a man on the run for killing an Egyptian. If he returned to Egypt, he could be killed for his crime, a great reason to stay away. Yet, God chose Moses to set His people free.
In Exodus 3, the Lord appeared to Moses and told him that He had seen the misery of His people and had come to rescue them out of Egypt and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. The Lord said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses responded to this high call with four excuses. He had good reasons for thinking he was not able to say yes.
First, he said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Moses was not wrong to raise this objection. After all, he was not a diplomat; he had no political power. He was an outlaw.
How did God respond? He said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Who Moses thought he was didn’t matter. The fact that the God of the universe would be with him mattered much more.
Moses then brought up the second reason he was not the guy to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’” (Exodus 4:1).
Again, Moses’ reason is legitimate. He would sound like a crazy person running into Egypt saying that he heard a message from God. God’s response? He turned Moses’ staff into a snake and reminded him that He is the God of miracles (Exodus 4:2–4). There is no obstacle He can’t overcome.
Moses again contested, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).
This was Moses’ best argument. He did not have the skills to do what the Lord was asking. God replied, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:11–12).
Finally, Moses was out of excuses, and he revealed his fear: “Oh Lord, send I pray, some other person” (Exodus 4:13).
Moses had every reason to be scared. Can you imagine approaching Pharaoh’s throne and asking him to let go of the labor force that had served Egypt for over 400 years? Can you imagine having to convince the Israelites to leave everything they had ever known? Moses could have said no, and who would have blamed him? He would have avoided the risk and the hardship that came from saying yes, but he would also miss seeing God perform incredible wonders.
And so back to you and me. What scares you? Take a moment to write it down and then answer these two questions: Why are you afraid? What is your fear stopping you from doing?
Is fear keeping you from being more generous or stepping into leadership? Is it keeping you from having a much-needed conversation or apologizing to a person you have wronged? Avoiding these things may save you from an awkward or embarrassing situation. It might even keep you from pain and hardship, but it will also keep you from seeing God move in the chances you take.
For clarity’s sake, the Lord is not asking you to be reckless or run into harm’s way with disregard for wisdom and good decision-making. Instead, He asks you to be obedient to Him, even if you have to take risks to do so. He invites you to reject the spirit of fear and embrace the spirit of freedom.
Years ago, Fr. Mike Schmitz gave a sermon in which he highlighted Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. He said that Piglet was the most courageous character in the children’s story because he was afraid of everything but accomplished great things despite his fear. Courage is not fearlessness; it’s doing something even though we are afraid to do them.
So here is my challenge to you for 2022. Tell the Lord all that you are afraid of and let Him answer you with a mighty, “I will be with you,” or “I am the God of miracles.” Then, do the thing that you are afraid to do even if your voice trembles and your legs shake. Make the phone call even if it’s awkward, risk the embarrassment of putting yourself out there even if you make a fool of yourself, or step up to lead even if you don’t feel qualified. Start small and go from there. As for me, I am starting with a trip to the dry cleaners.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
A couple of weeks ago, our parish began to move toward a more open mask and attendance policy. As usual, I hadn’t read the email making this announcement and was surprised to see the tape gone, relatively full pews, and mouths—so many mouths.
Honestly, it was a bit jarring. The world as it was before COVID-19 seems so long ago that it feels unfamiliar. As happy as I am that things are starting to feel a bit more normal, I have been fumbling through what seems like a long transition to the other side of the pandemic. There are so many questions. When my children move around at church, do they make other people uncomfortable? There is a good chance that they do, which, in turn, makes me uncomfortable. And my friends who I haven’t seen, how should I reconnect with them? How do we rebuild? Do we hug? Do we wave? There are so many questions and so many ways to mess up or be insensitive that it can feel paralyzing. A year after shutting down the country to slow the spread, we face another challenge. How do we emerge well? How do we reconnect well with the people that we love?
That day, as I awkwardly sat in our first “normal-ish” Mass, our priest gave a homily that spoke to this very question. Quoting from Ecclesiastes 3, he reminded us, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He then explained that the last year was a season in which we were called out of our normal circumstances to respond to a crisis beyond our control. We buckled down and took precautions that we needed to take, and this came at a cost. We have mourned many losses. We have mourned the loss of regular schedules, coffee dates, restaurant outings, and kids in sport. We have mourned the loss of predictable futures and canceled plans. We have also mourned the loss of loved ones who were taken by the virus or died alone.
A year later, however, we are entering a new season that our priest described as one of hope. He told us to embrace hope, and then challenged us to enter into this new season with the distinct intention to reconnect with our community and rediscover the joy of sharing our life with friends.
I wonder how you are handling this new season. I wonder about the state of your friendships today. Every study that I have read on the secondary effects of the pandemic illustrates a decrease in women’s overall well-being across the board. Compared with last year, our mental health is less stable, our responsibilities have increased, and with social distancing in place as protection from the virus, so our loneliness has also increased. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic reported that a significant decrease in women’s friendships has contributed to a major increase in women’s reported loneliness.
Have you felt that? Have you seen your friendships fall to the wayside amid all your buckling down? Have you found yourself wondering if certain women were ever your friends in the first place? I bet you have. I bet there is room for healing and forgiveness in this area of your life, and the good news is that God is ready and waiting to do something new.
The topic of friendship has been at the forefront of my mind over these months as I have written Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection, a six-lesson Bible study coming later this summer. I have explored and prayed through Scripture to find out what God has to say about friendship, and it turns out that He has a lot to say. Our very salvation included a plan for Him to make Himself available for our friendship.
In John 15:15, Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
Therefore, in the eyes of God, friendship is of utmost importance. The love that Jesus has for you is completely deliberate. He chose you simply because He wanted to, simply because you are you. Your earthly friendships were meant to reflect this love. They were meant to be a source of joy in your life and a witness of God’s love to others.
Ancient philosophers understood the importance of friendship in a way that often is lost on us today. They recognized that it is one of the supreme gifts of life because it is a relationship in which the people in it choose each other for no other reason than they want to choose each other. Pastor Tim Keller said, “Friendship is the only love that is absolutely deliberate,” and St. Thomas Aquinas took it a step further, stating, “There is nothing to be prized more than true friendship.” Wow, what a statement. Do you think that’s true? Has this year shown you that your friendships may have been more important than you thought? I know for me it has.
When I began to write this study, I thought that friendship was a "nice" topic to explore because we have so many experiences with other women, and most of them are not good or godly. While women’s friendships can be an incredible gift, all too often, jealousy, gossip, and competition make friendship feel like it’s not worth the investment. We bring so many of our insecurities and baggage into our friendships. We have wounds and scars that go back as far as our childhood run-in with the mean girl at recess. The effects of COVID-19, however, have revealed the importance of friendship in a new way. Yes, friendship is a good topic to explore, but it’s more than that. It is a necessary part of our well-being. It is a gift from God, and He wants us to reclaim that gift, placing Him at the center of these relationships for the sake of His glory.
In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord challenged His people to face forward. He said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
This is as true now as it was then. The Lord is moving as you emerge from this year-long pandemic. He will use this new season to reclaim what was lost for His purpose and your joy.
As you figure out how to emerge from a season marked by loneliness, don’t forget your friendships. Remember that the Lord is moving.
If you don't receive our emails, be sure to sign up to receive them to be the first to know when Reclaiming Friendship is in our store. In the meantime, plan to grab a group of women later this summer, and let God reclaim your friendships in this new season.
 Katerina Lim, “Women Report Higher Levels of Loneliness During Pandemic,” woqw.com, March 9, 2021, https://wqow.com/2021/03/09/women-report-higher-levels-of-loneliness-during-the-pandemic/.
 Tim Keller, “Friendship,” YouTube video, 38:05, October 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc4VIQrXdE.
 Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On Kingship to the King of Cyrus,” book 1, chapter 11, paragraph 77.
At six o'clock this morning, I rolled out of bed and sleepily made my way to the coffee maker. I poured my coffee, as I do every day, and settled into my favorite chair. It was prayer time—my favorite time of day. As usual, I began to fall back asleep in the middle of my prayer. Instead of dreaming, however, my mind began to mull over a million tiny grievances that others have committed against me. I am not talking about deep-seated anger or long-harbored grudges, but rather, small annoyances that come from the dirty cup left out by my husband or the imperfectly worded text from a friend. It's these offenses that leave me thinking, "Doesn't he know that I like to wake up to a clean kitchen?" Or, "Doesn't she know that a quick phone call would have solved this problem?" By the end of my prayer time, before anyone else in my house is even awake, I am trying to work my way out of a bad mood. So much for holiness. I guess I'll try again tomorrow.
Can you relate? It's not that you are always mad or even seeking to hold an action against someone; it's just that you often think that someone else could have been more considerate or accommodating to your needs. If they had just tweaked their words or actions by the smallest degree, they would have met your expectations, and all would have been well. But they didn't, and now you are going through life experiencing low-grade grumpiness because of all the people who didn't meet your secret expectations and desires perfectly.
Dear sister, if this is you, there is no judgment. It is clearly me, too. We live in a culture that teaches us to be easily offended. Now, please don't misread this. I am not talking about the issues of justice and equity that ignite a passion in us all. That is not what this post is about. I am talking about small offenses. Most of us go from day to day slightly offended by the family member who said the wrong thing, the friend who forgot to call, the coworker that didn't communicate properly, and the rude coffee shop barista.
Why is it that every imperfect interaction has the power to pick and prod at our confidence and flare up our entitlement? Genesis 11 reveals to us the root of this problem. The people of the ancient world came together and said in Genesis 11:4, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered all over the earth." The Lord then saw the city and the tower. He got angry, confused their language, and scattered the people across the earth.
Where did the people go wrong? They came together and said, "Let us make a name for ourselves." In their effort to seek out the greatness of their own names, they turned their gaze away from God and His glory. They bought the lie that humanity is the center of the universe, and it is our glory that should be sought at all costs. They failed to see that it was God who gave them their place in life, and they turned their heads away from Him to focus on themselves. Their desires and expectations became the main focus. Romans 1:25 explains it this way: "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator."
Part of our problem is that we have the choice to make God the center of our universe (the truth) or make ourselves the center of the universe (the lie). When we place ourselves in the center, everything and everyone becomes subject to our preferences. When they are not met, it makes sense that we would be offended because we see our own preferences as the most important.
Luckily, in the very next chapter of Genesis, God shows us a better way to live. In Genesis 12, God revealed Himself and His plan to a young man named Abram. God told Abram, "I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2).
Did you catch the difference? In Genesis 11, the people were out to make their own names great. In Genesis 12, God told Abram that He would make his name great. Abram received God's blessing, and he recognized that God is the center of the story, deserving of all the glory. Abram was part of the story, but he wasn’t the center. It is the same with us. We are part of God’s story—not the center of our own.
Who is the center of your universe, the star of your life? Many of us acknowledge God with our lips, but then live as though it is still all about us at the end of the day. It is not. It never was. Every single thing, even our own good, is ultimately about Him and His glory.
There would be a welcomed change in the state of our spirits and tone of our relationships if we moved out of the center and let go of our expectations. We would experience a fresh freedom if we stopped tending to our own greatness and reminded ourselves through unceasing prayer and radical generosity that God’s preference matters most. He will do what He wants with our hearts and our lives if we will only step aside, let go of offense, and join in with the saints and angels, whose unceasing focus is on the One who is worthy of all.
P.S. I loved leading our live discussions through Beholding His Glory and Beholding Your King on social media last summer and fall because both Bible studies focus on God as the center of history. Join Kristy Malik and me on Instagram and Facebook this Lent as we lead a live discussion on the Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST starting February 18). Our focus will be on God as the center of our hearts and how He leads us to healing and wholeness.
We had waited all year for this moment. Giddy with excitement and overwhelmed by the beauty of the hotel we would call “home” for the next five days, we threw our suitcases in our room and then ran down to the lobby to grab a bite to eat. Before we finished our dinner, or unpacked our carefully chosen outfits (and good grief, they were cute), we heard the news. FLOURISH 2020, the Walking With Purpose Women’s Conference that we and 700+ other women couldn’t wait for, was not going to happen.
There is still a piece of me that remains in disbelief. Then there is that other piece of me; the larger piece that looks up to the heavens, winks at God, and says, “I see what you’re doing.”
And perhaps I have driven a few close friends crazy with what appears to be my lack of concern. But on the contrary, it is actually the refusal to fall into fear and disappointment, because here is the thing: every battle, every hardship, every trial and let down that I have endured in my life has prepared me for such a time as this. I have been trained, for better or worse, to look a hard season in its face; not trying to understand “why,” but rather, to look for the lesson. The defining moment that prepared me for such battles was the day a gunman entered my children’s elementary school, killing 20 first graders and six educators, turning life upside down in an instant, and wiping the calendar clear of every single plan we had made. It was the moment I learned the most important lesson that I will never forget: Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
There was a second lesson hidden in the sorrow and chaos that I cling to equally as hard: HE WILL RESTORE. And not only will He restore, but He will restore twice as much to you (Zechariah 9:12). This, my friends, has been my experience. God is in the business of extra. He super-sizes anything we bring Him. Give Him a fish, and He will hand you a seafood buffet. Give Him a few locust-eaten years, and He will make it all up to you and then some. And if He takes something precious out of your hands, you better believe it is because He has something greater to place back in them. He has more in store. He magnifies our dreams. Some of us believe this, and some of us hurt too much to dare to. But I promise, it is the truth.
Only a week after the cancellation of Flourish, Lisa Brenninkmeyer texted me with a Holy Spirit-inspired idea: “What I’d like to do for our women is something to help their Spiritual Communion next Sunday.” Immediately interested, I continued to read: “I am working on a Bible study using next Sunday’s readings.” She went on to fully describe Defining Moments; the format of this free Bible study, her plan to hop on social media every Saturday to give us a short teaching on the Gospel, and I mean honestly...I don’t think I had even unpacked my suitcase from the trip that never happened, and she had already written a Bible study?! Unbelievable.
And yet, totally believable.
Because this is what our God of hope does.
Our God is a God of abundance, double portion, and multiplication. He took our retreat—all that hard work, all that hope, all that energy, all that prayer, and the deep, deep desire to reach the hearts of 700+ women—and do you want to know what He did? He tripled it! He far exceeded our expectations! Through Defining Moments, Walking With Purpose is not only reaching more women than a retreat ever could have, but we are reaching entire families; engaging women and men in a whole new way, helping to prepare thousands of hearts, and challenging them to deeply feast on the Word. What looked like loss, the Lord turned into a win.
Whatever it is you have had to let go of, cancel, put on the back burner, say goodbye to, and wait another year for, I want you to know, I get it. The WWP Team gets it. But we also want you to know this: God wastes nothing. Your plans, hopes, dreams, and efforts matter to Him. So much so that He weeps alongside of you as you mourn. And yet, this is not the end of the story. God is still writing, you know. What appears dead to you, God will raise back to life. What you are suffering now, He will restore.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Hey Friends! Visit www.walkingwithpurpose.com/defining-moments to download our new FREE Bible study, Defining Moments, and receive it in your inbox every Monday. Then join Lisa Brenninkmeyer LIVE on Instagram and Facebook, this Saturday at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT, as she takes us deeper into the Holy Week Mass readings.
The kids piled into the minivan, and as we pulled out onto the street, my fourth grade son suddenly remembered his one homework assignment: bring poster board to class. So I did what all good mothers do. After dropping three kids off at school, with a baby on my hip, I put my own plans aside, raced to the store, purchased some poster board, and brought it to his teacher. Feeling like a hero, I was surprised to be greeted with anything less than praise and gratitude for rescuing my son from the serious wound of humiliation directly caused by his not having poster board. Instead, in front of the class, I was greeted with, “Oh, I am sorry Mrs. Phelps. I can’t accept that from you. It was not your homework assignment. It was your son’s.”
You would think after being called out in front of 20 fourth-graders, I would have learned my lesson. But as a young mom who believed that saving my children from all discomfort was a reflection of my love, I continued to jump to the rescue, no matter the cost. Forgot your backpack? I am on my way! Left your lunch on the kitchen table? I’ll bring it right over! Math assignment on the your bedroom floor? Give me ten minutes...I can swing by the school!
It’s what we do. Convinced that without our help something tragic will happen to them, we love out of fear and we help to control; all the while thinking we are just doing our job.
But it is not our job.
It is God’s job.
And last time I checked, he wasn’t looking to retire.
In the secular world, we call this enabling. It is excusing, justifying, ignoring, denying, or smoothing over a behavior. Not because we support or condone it, but because we are so incredibly anxious and affected by it; not because we approve of our loved ones choices, but because we can not bear to see them walk through the consequences. I tell you this, sweet friend, with authority, as I am a recovering professional enabler. I tried so hard to keep my own child from having to deal with that one big crisis that I managed to prolong the problems by keeping him and my family living in a constant state of smaller crises. At best, a distorted attempt to solve problems, I never did succeed at removing his suffering, but sadly, only postponed it.
How many of us are wasting our time and energy trying to prevent our loved ones from suffering? And how many of us, if we are being honest, aren’t stepping in to clean up their mess because of their potential pain, but rather, because of our own? Let’s face it. It hurts to watch a loved one hurt. It is so much easier to just do for them what we know we can do so that unpleasant conflict is avoided, hard consequences are erased, and can we move on with life.
I have sat in enough circles to finally understand that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. As a firm believer in therapy that is rooted deeply in faith, I’d like to take this a step further and say that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the God it belongs to.
This thought was confirmed yesterday as my Walking With Purpose small group discussed healthy boundaries and relationships in the Keeping In Balance study. Galatians 6:2 teaches that we ought to bear one another’s burdens. But verse 5 commands us to bear our own load. This is some game-changing truth to chew on. Lisa Brenninkmeyer further explains:
Loads are made up of things we’re all expected to do for ourselves. We are to help one another with burdens, but be responsible for our own loads. When do we get into trouble? When we find ourselves carrying others’ loads or refusing to compassionately help others carry their burdens.¹
Raise your hand right now if you are carrying someone else’s load, and ask yourself...why? What am I afraid will happen to my loved one if I hand this load back over to him/her? What am I afraid will happen to me if I do not carry if for him/her?
Handing over a load that we have been trying to carry and control, all in the name of love, is no small matter. It is painfully hard. But you know what’s even harder? Never letting it go. Not because it will exhaust the one who is doing the carrying, but because of the message it sends to the one who was meant to carry it in the first place. The message that, “You aren’t able to carry this. You are not strong enough. God might not show up, so I must step in.”
I shared my exhaustion in confession. I told the priest that I felt like I have been handed a giant clay cistern full of water and holes. Each hole is one of my children, and every time I get one hole covered up, another hole starts spouting. “I feel like it is my responsibility to keep every hole covered...like it is my job to spackle everything...keeping everything smooth...everything at peace.” And the priest, in love, corrected me: “You are not the spackler.”
Not only are we not the spacklers, but in attempting to be so, we add unnecessary stress to our lives. The fact is, no life is without suffering, our pain has purpose, and we gain nothing but an anxious heart when we believe otherwise. The love we have for others is not measured in how much our hands carry, but rather, in how much we place in the hands of God.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping In Balance (Walking With Purpose, October 2018) p.66
For someone who likes words and lots of them, editing a book can be hard work. After pouring over each sentence and getting to the point where you love them all, no author wants to hear that she has to cut hundreds of words. But that is exactly what a writer is told and tends to be reluctant to do. When I was in the midst of that very process, I received great advice from an editor. Surprisingly, it applies to Holy Week. She said, “You have to kill your precious.” To the writer, every word seems golden. But unless you “kill your precious” and get rid of the parts that are unnecessary, the finished work won't be as concise or impactful.
Holy Week offers us opportunities to kill lots of precious. It's the home stretch, the last incline of the journey of Lent. It might be tempting to just switch gears and start focusing on Easter Sunday, but if we skip over these key days in the Church calendar, we'll miss out. The spirit of sacrifice is hard for us pleasure-seeking people, but a few more days of focused effort can make the celebration of the resurrection that much sweeter.
We all have those sins that we like to justify. The ones that we hide and don't think matter much. I struggle in this way too. It makes me think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and the way he called the ring that he coveted “his precious.” This was something he had possessed that wasn't actually good for him, but he longed for it nevertheless.
What is it that you reach for when you are longing for security or comfort or an escape? Maybe it's attention from someone who doesn't belong to you. Perhaps it's too much wine. Maybe it's shopping and spending money you don't have. It can be porn, or Netflix, or eating food to try to fill a void in the heart...anything that distracts or diverts. Maybe it's your ego that needs to die a death. Instead of a hearty dose of accomplishments and accolades, you are actually needing to grow in humility. Even as I write this, it all sounds quite horrible to me. I suppose it does to us all, which is exactly why we reach for these things. They feel so good in the short-term.
God is asking us to “kill our precious,” not because he is out to spoil our fun, but because He knows that's the very thing that is holding us back from the life that is truly life. He is asking us to have a long-term perspective. He wants my eye not just on the reward of Easter Sunday but on the ultimate reward of being in His presence in heaven. Which do I want more, short-term gain or long-term glory?
What I have found very helpful is to kneel before the altar with that “precious sin” on my mind. I picture holding it in my hands. And this is what I pray: “This is the sin I am wanting to play around with. This is what looks so good to me in the short-term. But I want to be a saint more. And I want to be free.” Romans 6:16 tells us, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I wish that our desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy of our souls would just give up and leave us alone. But nothing scares him more than people who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God we get, the more the enemy will tempt us to settle for mediocrity. Let's resist him with all we've got- especially during this Holy Week.
Our lives are too short and our calling too great to play around with sin. We're in the home stretch, the final incline in the marathon of Lent. Let's finish well. Let's fling aside those sins that entangle and cling so closely. Let's ask God to kill our precious, and do all we can to stay on the path of holiness.
The song “Shallow” from the A Star Is Born movie has been in my head for three weeks. If you don't believe me, ask my family. I am driving them crazy.
When I told my friend I hadn't seen the movie, her response was absolute horror. You would have thought I told her that I was leaving the Catholic Church. Or growing out my facial hair. After the Academy Awards, she kept at me, “You have to see how they performed the song! Bradley rested his head on her shoulder while they sang! They looked so in love!” I had to see what she was so taken by. And so I googled, “Academy Awards Shallow Song.”
And now, a moment of silence...because, Oh. My. Word.
When it is time for me to go home to the Lord, if His gaze on me is anything like the way Bradley Cooper looks at Lady Gaga, then take me home now, sweet Jesus! Let's just say I am a little bit obsessed with this movie, or to be more specific, with this on-screen connection. Full disclosure, I could have done without the language, but that aside, this story touched me deeply. I felt like I was right there with Gaga and Cooper, sitting in the parking lot, listening in on a personal conversation. And when the movie ended, I missed their relationship - as co-dependent and tragic as it was - because deep down, I ached for a similar connection of my own.
Who doesn't yearn for deep connection?
I watched an interview with Lady Gaga. She said she originally wrote the song as a solo, but when Cooper heard it, in a stroke of brilliance, he added his voice. “It is a conversation about a man and woman and he actually listens to her,” she said. “Women today want to be heard.”
My husband and I can be pretty poor listeners, because we both work from home, and one of us always seems to have a phone in-hand, and by one of us, I mean my husband. I find I have to repeat what I say because after I wait for his reply, he looks up blankly and apologetically says, “I am sorry. Can you say that again? I wasn't listening.” And sure. I can easily throw him under the bus, but how often do I do the same exact thing? How many times has one of my children carried on with a story that I am half-interested in, only to give a, “that's great!” when I notice they have stopped talking. Or what about that woman you run into at the grocery store who stops to talk and all you can think about is the laundry at home and the appointment you have to get to and how badly you wish she picked up on social cues and closed her mouth? Listening takes time and well, our time is valuable. We don't like to waste it on things like...people.
And if that last line sounds bad, that's because it is.
Let's just admit it. We are losing our listening skills and our relationships are suffering as a result. We want to be heard, but rarely do we have the patience to listen. It is something I am working on this Lent. Looking people in the eye and listening to what they have to say without forming an escape route, or planning in my head what I will say back while they are still speaking.
And we wonder why so many of our relationships feel disconnected.
Or maybe we don't. Some people think we are connected just fine and there is no problem. After all, with technology today, we are communicating with people at an unprecedented rate. But connection beyond screens is different and not just different but vital. In Opening Your Heart, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes,
The truth is, we are growing increasingly socially isolated while online social networks are exploding. We are seeking connection, but so many of our connections aren't satisfying. Too many of our relationships feel superficial, artificial, one step removed from the real thing. This isolation can be soul deadening.1
Why are we so in love with the song “Shallow?” Because in this performance we see everything we long for -- deep connection, face-to-face communion; someone who gazes back at us, hears what we are saying, and offers us a safe place to land. Two people who so beautifully identify and call out what the other yearns for and the exhaustion that comes from filling the void with superficial things. And sure, doesn't hurt that Bradley Cooper is just so darn easy on the eyes, and Lady Gaga's vocal talent is flat out off the charts insane. But don't be fooled into thinking that's all there is on the big screen that tugs at the heart. The hook is not the talent, it is the intimacy they invite us into; the power of deep connection, the moment when you realize that you are not invisible, your voice is heard, and you are finally seen for who you are.
You know, the shallow end of a pool is just three feet deep. How many of us are swimming in the shallow when it comes to our relationships? With our spouses? Our children? Our neighbors? Our friends? Our Church? Our God? How many of us can sing, “I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I'll never meet the ground…?” This Lent, I invite you into the deep end of faith. How? Run to Adoration, grab someone's hand and bring them to Mass, sit across from a friend who simply needs her voice to be heard, really listen to the women at your table in Bible study instead of needing to be the one who is constantly speaking. Put your phone down and look into the eyes of the person you are sharing a room with. Because that intimacy we ache for in a Hollywood story...it is available to us, right here, right now. Truth is, we were made for more than the shallow.
Your Heavenly Father is waiting in the deep end...it is time to dive in.
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For a special February treat, read these words from St. Therese of Lisieux…
I ASSURE YOU THAT THE GOOD LORD IS MUCH KINDER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. HE IS SATISFIED WITH A GLANCE, WITH A SIGH OF LOVE…IN REGARD TO MYSELF, I FIND IT EASY TO PRACTICE PERFECTION, BECAUSE I HAVE LEARNED THAT THE WAY TO JESUS IS THROUGH HIS HEART. CONSIDER A SMALL CHILD WHO HAS VEXED HIS MOTHER BY A DISPLAY OF BAD TEMPER OR DISOBEDIENCE. IF THE CHILD HIDES IN A CORNER THROUGH FEAR OF PUNISHMENT, HE FEELS THAT HIS MOTHER WILL NOT FORGIVE HIM. BUT IF INSTEAD, HE EXTENDS HIS LITTLE ARMS TOWARDS HER AND WITH A SMILE CRIES OUT: ‘LOVE, KISS ME, MAMMA, I WILL NOT DO IT AGAIN,' WILL NOT HIS MOTHER PRESS THE LITTLE ONE TO HER HEART WITH TENDERNESS, AND FORGET WHAT THE CHILD HAS DONE? AND YET, THOUGH SHE KNOWS VERY WELL THAT HER DEAR LITTLE ONE WILL MISBEHAVE AGAIN AT THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY, THAT MEANS NOTHING IF THE CHILD APPEALS TO HER HEART. HE WILL NEVER BE PUNISHED… ~ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX
An appeal to the heart of God never goes unanswered. It's always met with goodness, mercy, and grace. So why do we so often behave as if God is a harsh taskmaster? The lover of our souls wants to shower us with His love, and we run in the other direction, afraid of His disapproval.
Never enough. Does that phrase ever describe how you feel? Do you wake up and think, “I didn't get enough sleep”? Do you race through the day and crawl into bed thinking, “I didn't get enough done”? Never perfect enough. Never thin enough. Never beautiful enough. Never happy enough. Never enough.
Whose voice is this? Let me tell you emphatically, it is NOT God's. God looks at you with kindness, and His heart fills with pride. This is the good kind of pride. It rejoices in the wonder of who you are. He says to you, “You have been given fullness in Christ! You are complete in Christ!” (Colossians 2:10).
So who is creating these expectations? Is it possible that we have heard what God desires from us, and then added our own expectations and those of others? Could it be that the feeling of being overwhelmed and inadequate is coming from trying to do things that God hasn't called us to do?
What means the most to God? Is it an impressive resume of volunteering, our accomplishments at work, or the cleanliness of our homes? It's none of those things. What God cares about is how we love. That's how He measures success.
When the voice whispers, “You're not enough,” speak the words, “I choose love.” I choose to stand under the shower of God's love and just soak it up.
I choose to be measured by God's love for me- and it's unconditional, limitless, and steadfast. I choose God's love instead of perfection, love instead of expectations, love instead of a never-ending rat race of busyness.
I won't get all the things done today that feel so important to me. Instead of giving into feelings of discouragement, I'll choose to be defined by love. I'll choose to return God's love by admitting that I don't have nearly as much control over things as I sometimes imagine. Then I'll confirm my love for Him by telling Him I'm glad that He's got it all under control. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll give it all to God as an act of love. As I fill up with His love, I'll ask Him to let it overflow into the lives of those around me. On my own, I'm not enough. But “Christ in me, the hope of glory”…now that's a different story.
Praying that you experience a February full of awareness of how crazy God is about you and choose love.
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in February 2013.
“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” James 1:17
As Christmas approaches, I'm freshly inspired to create the perfect Advent setting in my home. I picture beautiful arrangements of greenery and berries by my front door, a lovely tree by the roaring fire, homemade cookies, and peace and harmony wafting through the house like a scent of cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I want everything on my Christmas Pinterest board to magically appear in my house. Regardless of my good intentions, my reality never seems to match my ideal. Take for example the Advent calendar that I always forget to fill until mid-December. Why on earth I bought the Advent house that has little tiny openings that hardly any candy actually fits in is beyond me. But now it's a tradition (although an empty one, literally), so each year I bring it out and hope that I'll get my act together a little earlier. And then there's the nativity set with no baby Jesus. This isn't because we're waiting to put him in the manger on December 24th. It's because we lost him, and every time I buy a new nativity set, I manage to lose that baby Jesus, too.
Thankfully, a meaningful Advent season isn't dependent on a perfectly decorated house, consistent traditions, homemade cookies or Christmas cards sent out on time. What is Advent all about? It's about getting ready, spiritually preparing, for the coming of Christ. As we wait to celebrate Christ's birth, we remember the long wait the Israelites had as they anticipated the coming of their Rescuer- the Messiah. During their wait, God stretched out a long Advent Calendar, where, from time to time, they were able to “open” a gift that reminded them they were drawing closer to the realization of His promise. These gifts were prophecies that pointed to Christ, and glimpses of God's plan of redemption. Literally hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus.
He continues to fill up a very personal Advent Calendar for each one of us. Every day. Jesus (who is the giver of all good gifts) sends us reminders of His love that are handpicked for His precious daughters. Pope Benedict described this in his Apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, dated October 11, 2011. He wrote, “Faith grows when it's lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.” When we see God's love at work in our lives, our faith grows. Unfortunately, these graces often go unnoticed by us as we dash around, always busy, slaves to our lists of to-do's. Perhaps this Advent season can be different. Look for His unexpected gifts. How is God helping you to experience His love today? Did you listen to a beautiful piece of music? Did you receive an unexpected kindness? Did a piece of Scripture speak to your heart and encourage you? Did your child give you an unexpected hug? What reminder of His love did He send you today? God knows what delights you. It blesses His heart when we recognize what He's sent. I encourage you to make an Advent list, recording what He has given. We can forget and take things for granted so quickly.
For a reminder of how much God adores you and loves to lavish you with the things that delight, take a look at the Connect Coffee Talk from WWP 101, “Priority #3: Your Heart- You Are Captivating!”
Wishing you an Advent season with time to pause and be filled with Christ's sweet love.