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“How can you all have so much joy when you are going through something so painful?” That's the question the new face at my support group asked last night. Followed by, “I want what you all have!”

As I have mentioned before, this group I attend is not faith-based. Of course, if I were to personally give witness to where I have found such joy, all fingers would point towards God. And yet, there is more to it than faith.

It's also about community.

I have always known that God did not create us to be alone. Genesis 2:18 clearly lays this out for us: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” But this isn't just about man finding woman. This is about man not having to go it alone.

And we do this, don't we? We try to go it alone. Be it out of shame of our circumstance or fear of rejection, how many of us choose isolation over connection? How many of us stop reaching out, strap on our masks, and white knuckle through the day, relying on our own strength? Maybe this sounds familiar to you. And if so, I ask. How's it working for you?

You see, I have recognized an undeniable truth. When I am connected to community I thrive. I become inspired and animated. Notice, I did not say, “when life is smooth sailing, I thrive.” My life circumstance is not what controls me. Only Jesus controls me. And when I immerse myself in community; be it a coffee date with a friend, a Wednesday morning at WWP Bible Study, attendance at weekly Mass, or going to my support group, loneliness loses its grip, making way for joy. The truth of “me too” wipes out the lie of “no one understands”, and like a Gospel miracle, I am healed. No doubt, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. No question that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is there. (Matthew 18:20)  And in the most beautiful way, this overwhelms me.

If you read this and feel sorrow because you do not have a community to run to, I am here to say...you do. Walking with Purpose is not about selling Bible studies and throwing pretty pictures up on a website. Walking with Purpose is about handing out life vests and anchors to women struggling to keep their eyes above the waves. Women who are swimming into a storm believing they have to go it alone. We are about sisterhood and support and encouraging one another.  If you do not have a parish program near you, please reach out to us. Let us help to connect you someway, somehow. And no. I am not working on commission nor was asked to say this. This, sweet sisters, is so ridiculously heavy on my heart, because my Walking with Purpose family is what gave me the strength to walk into that other support group. In her Netflix special, Call to Courage, researcher and storyteller Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” I learned how to be vulnerable from my WWP community. And I do not exaggerate when I say, it has saved me.

When searching for Scripture verses that best describe community to me, my eyes fell upon Hebrews 10:24-25, and a smile spread across my face, and truth be told, it is still there. “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Something about we should not stay away grabs me. It is how I feel about my support group. It is how I feel about Walking with Purpose. It is how I feel about a certain friend who calls me in the middle of the day to shout, “I know you are writing and I hate to interrupt but I have to talk to you about the Holy Spirit!” When you encounter people who allow you to be vulnerable and encourage you to be the best you can be, how can you stay away? And when you find friends with a common thread, who weep when you weep and rejoice when you rejoice, how on earth can you not be encouraging?

How can there be joy in the midst of so much pain? Because “two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Praying the Holy Spirit fills us with the desire to step out into community, to supply us with Sisters who are eager to love us and lift us should we fall. Grant, I pray, all our shame of not being worthy be destroyed, as we courageously step into our place, advancing the Kingdom of God.

Bible Study

So, the question came up last night, “Can you grieve and still have hope?”

Let me backtrack here a bit, to give you the full picture. Currently, I run in two different circles: my Bible Study, which aims to lead women into a personal relationship with Christ through Scripture, and my Support Group, which aims to offer encouragement and hope to those who care for, or have tragically lost, a loved one afflicted with substance abuse disorder. This question came up at Group.

What has become crystal clear is my total inability to keep Jesus out of any discussion. To keep Jesus out of any circumstance. To keep Jesus out, period. Because I have grieved without hope; back when I did not know God's character, back when I reduced the Blessed Mother to a plastic statue, back when I believed the Gospel stories to be outdated and unrelatable, back when I did not know...truly know...my Catholic faith.

I see this a lot with cradle Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and non-Catholics. We know bits and pieces of our Catholic story but not the whole thing. Ironically, many of us wind up learning about Catholicism from our friends who have left the Church and encourage us to do the same. We misinterpret Scripture and allow the world to tell us who God is, and our hideous news feed becomes the icing on top of this lopsided cake. Then enter in the blind side: an unexpected twist in the road that takes us out at our knees, pulling us right out of hope and straight into despair; because I mean, really...if God were real, He would never have let this happen. If God were love, why would He stack one more thing upon our already burdened shoulders?

I so get it.

But here is the other thing I so get: God never promised that life will be easy or we will only be given so much. In the Gospel of John, He promises that we will have trouble. And the statement that we love to throw out in times of suffering? You know the one. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Fun fact, folks...that phrase is not in Scripture! As Proverbs 31 Founder, Lysa Terkuerst, points out in her book, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, “Nowhere in the Bible will you read that God will not give you more than you can handle. God does say He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that He always provides a way out (1 Cor 10:13) but that's not the same as God not giving us more than we can handle. He sometimes will allow more and more and more.”¹

Saint Paul's words in 2 Cor 1:8-9 confirms this hard to swallow truth.

“...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

God absolutely gives us more than we can handle...beyond our strength...because He wants us to rely on Him. God does not expect us to handle it all on our own; He asks that we hand it all over. If you do not believe you can have hope while grieving, meditate on the Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. The Annunciation cannot bring Mary the joy of carrying the Son of God without the grief of letting go of a life she had planned. The Presentation cannot offer Mary the joy of dedicating her Firstborn to the Lord without grieving the news that her son will be rejected and both will suffer greatly. Joy and Sorrow. Hope and Grief. Our Lady perfectly models how they can live side by side. But to be able to do this, you need to be like Mary; you need to accept whatever God has given you to carry and believe that what He says is true.

Herein lies the obstacle for so many of us: how do we accept something we do not understand from someone we truly don't know? It is the not knowing Jesus that ultimately trips us up. It is our lack of intimacy with Christ that directs our misplaced hope. We have all of these expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, our marriages, our future, and when those expectations we hold tight to do not line up with God's plan, we stay stuck in the need to understand what God is doing; to understand how this plan, which is often endless and painful, could actually be good. I have been stuck in this place myself, sweet friend. Stayed there too long, and it is a recipe for an extinguished faith.

Coincidentally, only hours before sitting in Group and faced with the question, “Can we grieve and still have hope?”, we had just chosen our Parish's Walking with Purpose Bible study for the fall: Grounded in Hope. The course description is as follows: “In a world where levels of despair, addiction, and suicide are rising, we need more than clichés or positive thinking. Grounded in Hope will help you encounter Jesus in such a powerful, comforting, and stabilizing way that He can become your lifeline.”²

If you are in the midst of a suffering causing you to lose hope, maybe the question is not so much, “Can you grieve and still have hope?” but rather…“What has become your lifeline?”

Praying we always stay tethered to the Anchor that grounds us in hope.

Your Sister in Christ,

Laura

 

¹ Lysa Teurkerst, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, 2018, p.111,112

² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope, Walking With Purpose 2019

Bible Study

A risk we all run when we love others lavishly is neglecting to take care of ourselves. What begins as a passion of the heart-a pure desire to help-can actually place us in a dangerous position where we find it hard to stay faithful. When we coast on the fumes of a life that lacks spiritual discipline, we can find that we begin to blend in, and are no longer offering hope and a better way. We're just like everyone else-no different.

Years ago, I was driving home from my parents' house with my daughter. Barreling down the highway at 70 mph, we noticed smoke billowing from the hood. Just in time, I pulled over, as our engine blew up. We couldn't believe it. The car had shown no signs of any trouble up to this point. Imagine my mortification when I realized that the engine had blown up simply because I had failed to EVER change the oil. I guess I just got busy with life and forgot. I didn't take seriously how essential it was to follow the basic directions for taking care of the car.

In that same way, we can be lax about the importance of spiritual discipline. We can coast through life, much as I was in my car, thinking that things that were done in the past were going to keep us going indefinitely. We can have heart and passion, and still lose everything if we ignore these practices.
What does this look like?

It's going through life, too busy to pray.

It's having a schedule that is so full of activities and appointments that there is no time for meaningful relationships and a connection to a faith community.

It's getting up and getting going in the morning, without taking time to read Scripture.

It's having priorities out of order, so that no time is taken to protect and nurture important relationships.

 

May God bless you with a daily dose of all that you need to love and serve well,

Lisa

This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in March 2013.

Walking with Purpose

A risk we all run when we love others lavishly is neglecting to take care of ourselves. What begins as a passion of the heart-a pure desire to help-can actually place us in a dangerous position where we find it hard to stay faithful. When we coast on the fumes of a life that lacks spiritual discipline, we can find that we begin to blend in, and are no longer offering hope and a better way. We're just like everyone else-no different.

Years ago, I was driving home from my parents' house with my daughter. Barreling down the highway at 70 mph, we noticed smoke billowing from the hood. Just in time, I pulled over, as our engine blew up. We couldn't believe it. The car had shown no signs of any trouble up to this point. Imagine my mortification when I realized that the engine had blown up simply because I had failed to EVER change the oil. I guess I just got busy with life and forgot. I didn't take seriously how essential it was to follow the basic directions for taking care of the car.

"When we coast on the fumes of a life that lacks spiritual discipline, we can find that we begin to blend in, and are no longer offering hope and a better way."

In that same way, we can be lax about the importance of spiritual discipline. We can coast through life, much as I was in my car, thinking that things that were done in the past were going to keep us going indefinitely. We can have heart and passion, and still lose everything if we ignore these practices.
What does this look like?

It's going through life, too busy to pray.

It's having a schedule that is so full of activities and appointments that there is no time for meaningful relationships and a connection to a faith community.

It's getting up and getting going in the morning, without taking time to read Scripture.

It's having priorities out of order, so that no time is taken to protect and nurture important relationships.

May God bless you with a daily dose of all that you need to love and serve well!

Lisa Brenninkmeyer

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