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Note: This blog post was originally given as a talk at the 2019 WWP Leader’s Gathering. It’s longer than a typical post, so I beg your patience as I ask for more time than usual in the reading. We are also including an audio link to the talk in case you’d rather listen than read.

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman…haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” 2 Timothy 3:2-5

Listen to the talk.

I consider these verses a sad and disturbing commentary on the days we are living in. Which begs the question, how did we get here? What has brought us to this point where it seems most people are willing to listen to anybody but never arrive at a knowledge of the truth? Why, even among Church-goers, do we see so many examples of people with “the form of religion” but who don’t live like it makes any difference—who, in essence, deny the power of it? Why are children increasingly disobedient to parents, ungrateful, and unholy? Why do we see more lovers of pleasure than lovers of God? Does it feel like things have gotten worse…that things have suddenly spun out of control?

If you feel that the present moment is spinning by so fast, you are not alone. We are in the midst of an explosion of information and data growth never before seen. The volumes of data are exploding, and more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race.[1]

Inventor Buckminster Fuller is the man who created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve.” His research has found that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today, human knowledge is doubling every 12 months. According to IBM, the build-out of the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.[2] So no wonder we feel that things are spinning so fast that we can’t keep up.

But all things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He has got this. And this is His advice to us, found in Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” That is what I intend to do right now. I invite you to slow down and look at history—to explore how we got here and how we should move forward.

Back in the 17th century, a philosopher named Blaise Pascal wrote, “Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine [of original sin], and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.”[3] Sin. A most unpopular word today. In fact, we live in a culture that says sin doesn’t exist. The philosophy of postmodernism says that absolute truth does not exist; as a result, nor can a definitive definition of right and wrong. This makes any discussion of sin not only tricky, it sounds archaic and judgmental. “Who am I to judge,” the motto of the current age, makes it difficult to move beyond superficial conversation. But tolerance is often simply a mask for intellectual laziness. It’s easier to say, “You do you, boo,” than to engage in thought-provoking discussion and respectful argument.

Any discussion of sin seems harsh and degrading to a culture that hails self-esteem as one of its core values. Most people believe that humans are intrinsically good, and that given the right social conditions, we will make the right choices. When things go wrong, we blame poverty, or dysfunctional childhoods, or sexism, or racism. I am not saying that those societal problems are not incredibly damaging and that they do not significantly contribute to what goes wrong in our world. But it’s a “utopian view” of man that leaves all the blame there and assigns none to personal responsibility and choice.

Where does this utopian view come from? It has its roots in two intellectual movements: the Enlightenment and Romanticism. These philosophies or ideologies spread throughout Europe during the 1700s. The intellectuals of the Enlightenment movement rejected traditional religious views and embraced reason, skepticism, and individualism. Romanticism reacted to the belief that reason was the chief means for discovering truth and instead focused on poetry, feelings, emotions, and nature. Both of these intellectual movements rejected traditional religion.

In their rejection of the traditional understanding of sin, they still needed to explain where all the problems came from. They pointed to products of the environment as the cause: poverty, ignorance, and bad social conditions. Given the right conditions, they believed that an ideal society could be created. The influence of the Enlightenment and Romanticism movements gained traction and had tremendous impact on the 20th century. The interplay between the two intellectual movements could be said to make up that period of history’s worldview. It’s called the Modern World View or “modernism.”

This was the century of Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian ethnic cleansing. A century that had dawned with so much hope in terms of what man could do—how much progress he could make—ended up being the bloodiest in history.[4] As G.K. Chesterton said, the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by the centuries of recorded human history.[5]

When we deny that man has a sin nature and that it’s sin that’s at the root of our troubles, we don’t end up with a better society. We end up with tyranny. This is what was proven in the 20th century. Why? Because with God out of the picture, there is no accountability for the leader, no higher authority. This means that they can try to make a perfect society, by doing whatever it takes. In their mind, the end justifies the means. In the words of Adolf Hitler, “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”

What became of sin? How did sixteen centuries of understanding human nature and society in a certain way become so thoroughly replaced by a utopian view? The Enlightenment ideals deeply impressed one particular man in the mid-eighteenth century who went on to have profound influence in the centuries to come. We have all seen the effects of a persuasive writer who is able to name what people are currently feeling but are unable to express. When someone nails it, communicates well what we’ve all been feeling, powerful trends are born. This is what happened when a French philosopher and writer named Rousseau burst onto the intellectual scene.

If we were to look back at the history of philosophy, we would find that from the time of Aristotle, philosophers have taught that people are by nature social, and that they come to their greatest fulfillment in the context of family, church, state, and society. Organized institutions. But Rousseau believed the opposite. He saw society as artificial and detrimental. He was convinced that it was only by moving away from social institutions that man could become his truest and best self. That it was society’s artificial rules that was the problem.

Why did this hit such a resonating note with the people of that day? Rousseau lived during the time of the French aristocracy of the 1700s. This was a time of excess; France before the revolution. He saw it for what it was: artificial, pompous, and self-indulgent. It was a world of excess, while the people around the aristocracy suffered and starved. Rousseau, although born to privilege, fled this world, and dressed in simple and shabby clothes. All that is fine and well.

But he didn’t stop there—he went on to explore the concept of freedom. He believed that individuals needed to be free to discover their own identity, to create themselves, to figure out who they were, apart from society’s conventions. While he considered society (family, church, local community) to be problematic, he did not see the same problem with the state. In fact, he saw the state as a liberator. His famous words, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” became a rallying cry for people who believed that they could appeal to the future—to what they could create—if only the current chains were thrown off. This gave birth to the modern concept of revolution.

What this meant was that all sorts of atrocities could be justified if they were occurring because the perfect society was being created. The deal was this: you give me absolute power, and I will give you the ideal society. You might wonder why people didn’t question this—why people didn’t know that absolute power always corrupts. It’s because when you don’t believe that man has a sin nature, then you believe man is naturally good. This produces a certain blindness to what can happen down the road.

Rousseau's writings gave birth to the French Revolution. Robespierre, the architect of the French Reign of Terror, imprisoned 300,000 nobles, priests, and people who disagreed with the new world order. 17,000 citizens were killed within the year. Robespierre, influenced by the philosophy of Rousseau, knew that building a perfect society always meant killing the people who were getting in the way—those who were holding on to the old way of doing things.

We see this same belief system at play in Marxism. Marxist philosophy has inspired countless attempts to create utopian existences around the world. Because Marx denied the existence of God, he also did away with any absolute standard of good and evil. As a result, societies created based on his philosophy have not been founded on moral principles or measures of justice that go beyond man (this is called natural law—something we would do well to understand), and have no limit on bloodthirsty cruelty.

We find these same ideas at the root of fascism. There was no philosopher more loved by 20th century fascists than Nietzsche. Nietzsche denounced sin, considering it something invented by a wretched band of ascetic priests. He saw the moral life—kindness, humility, self-sacrifice, obedience—to be not just a buzzkill but a pathology. He believed that it would be possible for a race of ubermensch (super men) to be created. He believed this would be possible when any man with superior potential completely mastered himself, threw off “Christian herd morality,” and created his own values. No doubt, Nietzsche was not envisioning what the Nazis came up with. He wanted a “Caesar with the soul of Christ.” Nevertheless, Nietzsche became the Nazi’s inspiration. Ideas have consequences.

What effects of this utopian view do we see in the United States today? We see this influence any time society puts all hope for change in politics. We see this influence when we think that external laws will solve problems of human behavior that are actually rooted in the heart. Yes, public policy matters, but if we think that a perfect society will be made when politics are the way we like them, we are displaying a utopian view and ignoring the inherent problem of sin.

The utopian view has also impacted modern psychology. It is undeniable that the work of Sigmund Freud has had a tremendous impact on western culture. He considered words like sin, soul, and conscience to be old fashioned, and instead used words like “instincts” and “drives.” Freud reduced the sense of personal moral responsibility and muddied the water in terms of what could be considered evil. Following Freud’s theory, we can always say, “I can’t help it. I’m in the grip of unconscious forces that I can’t control.”

Behaviorism, a psychological approach built on Freud’s foundation, proposed that human flaws aren’t the result of moral choices but are simply learned responses. This school of thought teaches that those learned responses can be unlearned, and people can be “reprogrammed” by being placed in a different environment. Fixing what is outside a person can then reprogram them to be happy and adjusted, living harmoniously in society.

This utopian thinking has also had a tremendous impact on education. In the past, the focus of education was on pursuing truth and training moral character. But if you are looking at human nature as something that simply reacts to stimulus, if our flaws are caused not by moral corruption inside of us but by learned responses, then we can blame all sorts of situations and people outside of us for our personal choices.

Our education system has been deeply impacted by behaviorism. In the words of the founder of behaviorism, J.B. Watson, “Give me the baby…and the possibility of shaping in any direction is almost endless.” We have given our education system our babies, and they have been shaping them in a certain direction. There was a time when our education system was focused on pursuing truth and training moral character, but when your culture is a postmodern one that does not believe in absolute truth, that academic “pursuit of truth” often results in dissonance and disequilibrium and confusion. Our teachers are actually being trained to this end.

A friend of mine just got her Master’s degree in education from a very well-respected Catholic university. In one of her classes, she asked her professor if he could explain how to best teach the subject matter by teaching the students to pursue truth, beauty, and goodness. She was quickly corrected by the professor. “As teachers, we do not take on the role of the expert in the room,” he said. Now I don’t know about you, but I find that concerning. The teacher is not the expert in the room on the subject matter to be studied?! “Each child,” she was told, “is the expert of his or her own experience. The student is not a vessel to be filled with wisdom, knowledge, or information by the teacher. The student is not like a lump of clay to be molded and formed by the teacher—especially not morally.” So what is the teacher’s job? “The teacher’s role in the classroom is to ensure equity of experience, to facilitate a classroom, never ‘manage,’ and to make sure every lesson culminates in a call to social justice. The purpose of good education is to bring attention to injustice in the world and prepare a generation to combat that injustice to create a more just and equitable society.”

Have you heard of the game Taboo? It’s a game where you are given a word, and you have to get your teammates to guess what the word is. The tricky thing is that you are given five words that you aren’t allowed to use, and they are the words that would make it most clear—the words that would be most helpful. Watching a person try to describe something without the needed words can be quite funny. But it isn’t so funny when you are trying to do that in real life and you’re trying to answer the significant questions that people are wrestling with. Most children don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about moral choices—sin, repentance, responsibility, right, and wrong. We have taken the key words that would help us make sense of what is wrong with the world out of our vocabulary. That’s one of the reasons we run into trouble. We are trying to explain life with some of the most critical concepts “not allowed.”

Do we not see this resulting confusion in our children and grandchildren? They cannot answer the most important questions: why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? The majority of our schools, in their determination to be tolerant and politically correct, are doing more to confuse our children than instruct them.

And what are we doing with our confused children? We are entertaining them. We are logging more hours at sports practices and games than in meaningful conversation. We are making sure they have well-rounded experiences but aren’t so sure what we should do about their character. We are putting screens in their hands whenever they are bored or need a break. How are we raising our children? Like parents or like cruise directors? And the result of giving so much—and we are giving a lot—isn’t gratitude. It’s entitlement.

We see this issue of entitlement in our criminal justice system as well. We could already see this in the early 1900s. Clarence Darrow (you’ll know his name from his defense of Darwinism in the Scopes trial) gave a speech to the prisoners in Chicago’s Cook County Jail. This is what he said:

There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood…I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.[6]

We point to poverty, racism, mental illness, and dysfunction in childhood as the true cause of crimes. And they play a significant part. But when are we allowed to call a heinous crime sin—a choice made to do evil?

I say this carefully and pray you do not take my words out of context, but we have got to stop giving psychological labels to sin. Do psychology and mental health counseling have their place? Yes. Definitely. But counseling that ignores the doctrine of original sin can do someone more of a disservice than help.

I wrote the Bible study Fearless and Free: Experiencing Healing and Wholeness in Christ because I know and believe our hearts and our mental health matter. Not so that we can be victims. Not so that we stop with the diagnosis. Not so that we have new excuses. I wrote Fearless and Free so we could be healed and then step out as warriors.

Instead of looking outside ourselves for the solution, saying things like, “If only he would change, my life would come together,” or “If only my parents hadn’t divorced, I would be different,” or “If only we had more money, or less stress, or better health, then everything would be good,” we need to take personal responsibility for our lives. Yes, there are things out of our control and outside of ourselves that are not ideal. Yes, many of us, as a result, have some significant things to work through. But let’s own our own part in things and get down to the business of working through our stories. Enough of being embarrassed about seeking professional help from a mental health profession. There is too much at stake for you to be stuck. We need you healthy. But get help that takes man’s sin nature into account or you will end up more confused than healed.

In 2 Timothy 3:7, St. Paul prophesied that a day would come when weak women will be captured and “burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” This isn’t just true of weak women, this is true of our society.

In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:

When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously, and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.

In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion—either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.

When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children’s tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order—even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.[7]

My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable.

I know of no other response right now than to go to our knees. To repent—both of our individual sin and the collective sin of our nation. To repent of the ways in which we have failed the next generation. Someone once said, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” That person was Hitler.

I believe that far too often we have entrusted our children’s minds and hearts to the wrong people. It is time to bring them back home. It is time to pray. Not to talk about prayer, but to pray, because prayer moves the hand of God, and with God, all things are possible. All things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He is still in control of our spinning world. This is where our hope lies.

May we not forget God’s words to us in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We started with Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” There’s a tragic addendum to that verse. The verse ends with the words, “But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

May our story be different. May we take the road less traveled and point the way to it. May we confess the times we have left that path and blaze a new trail for the future.

 

P.S. Let's pray together! Please join Lisa along with Father John Riccardo, executive director of ACTS XXIX, and Michelle Benzinger, host of the Abiding Together podcast, as we collectively pray the rosary for our nation. Register now for this Rosary Call (on Zoom) to pray with us on November 3, 2020, at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.

 

[1] Bernard Marr, “Big Data: 20 Mind-Boggling Facts Everyone Must Read.” Forbes.com, September 30, 2015.
[2] David Russell Schilling, “Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours.” Industrytap.com, April 19th, 2013.
[3] Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 148.
[4] Measured by the total number of deaths from violence throughout the century.
[5] Charles W. Colson, “The Enduring Revolution: Templeton Address Delivered by Chuck Colson at the University of Chicago, September 2, 1993.” Cardus.ca, September 1, 1993.
[6] Clarence Darrow, Attorney for the Damned (NY: Simon & Shuster, 1957), 3-4.
[7] Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.

 

 

 

 

Every summer when I was a kid, we’d all pile into the back of the station wagon to make the two-day, endless, no end in sight, drive to Hilton Head Island. There were no seat belts. There was no technology. There were no snacks (because back in the day there was no kitchen in the car, and we were sturdy enough to survive without a snack every 20 minutes). We learned how to entertain ourselves by leafing through books, looking out of car windows, and searching for the alphabet on highway signs and license plates. And every 10 minutes or so we inevitably asked, “Are we almost there yet?”

Life sort of feels like that right about now. I swear, the 5k Fun Run I didn’t want to sign up for, and planned to walk anyway, has turned into a marathon that I am forced to sprint and comes with no finish line. Good grief, is it just me, or did the race officially just get too long? The uncertainty of the future mixed with the fear of “what is to come” is brewing stronger than that third pot of coffee we shouldn’t have made. And yet, here we all are, reaching for another cup, wondering why we can’t shake the queasiness and involuntary twitching.

Has your zeal to emerge stronger finally given way to weariness?
Has your hope been buried somewhere beneath that pile of canceled plans?
Has that positive outlook you put on like a champ taken its last breath, along with your dream of everything going back to normal this fall?

And I am not sure what it was that finally broke me. Maybe the hurricane and loss of power and water? Or was it the announcement that my kids would be attending school for only two days a week? Or perhaps the laptop that decided right now would be the perfect time to have a nervous breakdown? (Or was that me?) Whatever it was, something was added to the pile of disappointment and fear, and I finally threw my hands up to the Lord and demanded to know, “Are we almost there yet?”

We all have this desire to know the future, don’t we? That urge to pick up the veil and take a peek. And at the root of this desire? Fear. We want to know how much longer, when will this end, and what will become of us, as if we would be satisfied with the answer; as if knowing the date were the true remedy for the peace our hearts lack. These are the weeds, sprouted from seeds of fear, that thrive and grow in our cluttered minds. If only we were as good at keeping our life-giving thoughts as alive as we were these! And yet, all hope is not lost. 

Two weeks ago I began leading a group of over 50 women in Marian Consecration; 33 days of seeking to know Jesus and offering Him our hearts, by way of Mary. Our Lady was most obedient to the will of God without any certainty. She never asked, “How long, Lord?” She never demanded to see more than one step ahead. Mary is our perfect model for such a time as this, offering us three practical and prayerful ways to handle the fear of uncertainty and temper our need to know what comes next. 

1. Trust the Word of God

This young maiden at the Annunciation agrees to an unimaginable invitation, without certainty or details of the future. The ardent desire of Mary’s heart to do the will of God trumped the desire for more information and put her fear to rest. How do we know she was afraid? Because the angel commanded her, “Do not be afraid.” But it isn’t enough for us to be told “do not be afraid,” is it? In fact, for some of us today, being told to quit being so scared can feel insensitive and unhelpful. This is why what Father Peter Cameron observes about Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation is so important: “Why were the angel’s words to be trusted? Because when Gabriel said to Mary, ‘Do not be afraid’ (Luke 1:30), she stopped being afraid. The Word of God transfigured her. What the angel announced to her corresponded with the deepest longings of her humanity.”[1]

We, too, can be transfigured by the Word of God. 

2. Resist the Urge to Go Back to Egypt

When the journey started to feel too long for the Israelites and complaining got the best of them, they looked back to what they had left behind. And I get it. When there’s no end in sight, you forget that God has a plan and you just want to go back to how things used to be—even if they weren’t that good. With each new obstacle, and report of another cancellation, it is tempting to respond with frustration, anger, and doubt. This is why I turn to Mary. From the moment she gave her fiat, it was one obstacle after the next. Leave your hometown, give birth in a stable, flee to Egypt...I mean, seriously! Had the Scriptures read that Mary jumped off that donkey and ran back home crying to her mother, we’d all be like, “I get you, girl.” But she didn’t. Because of her trust in God’s Word, Mary’s response was always one of heart-pondering.[2] She did not run backward, but remained in place, pondering God’s will in that moment.

We, too, can be at peace in the moment by developing a posture of heart-pondering prayer.

3. Keep an Upward Perspective

Because of her pondering, Mary lived beyond the right here, right now. Her constant disposition was one of faith, and her heart was set firmly on the goal of life: Heaven. When fraught with fear, this is too easily forgotten. If our focus is more on the race than it is on the prize, we will drop dead from exhaustion. This race requires perseverance, not perseFEARance. We must put on our blinders, turn off the world, and keep looking upward.

We, too, being created for heaven, can live in a gesture of looking upward.

Are we almost there yet? That is not for us to know. But God gives us a Mother to wait with; a Mother who teaches us in this moment to trust the Word of God, keep a heart-pondering attitude, and to go beyond our present circumstances as we keep looking upward. 

When uncertainty disturbs your peace, remember these three things. When fear grips your heart, behold your Mother.

[1] Father Peter John Cameron, O.P.,  Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, ST. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010), p. 43
[2]  Luke 2:19, 51

Bible Study

 

“I trust in you, O LORD…My times are in your hands.” (Psalm 31:14-15)

These words were written by King David at a time when he was experiencing deep distress. Earlier in Psalm 31 he wrote, “My strength fails because of my misery” (Psalm 31:10). His circumstances were not what he wanted. He was bone-weary. Yet somehow, he was able to trust God.

I wonder how you are doing right now, if you are weary, too. What circumstances are you facing that makes it difficult for you to trust that “your times” are in God’s capable hands? Are you struggling to be content with what “your times” presently hold?

Is it possible to be content when your finances go up and down? Does a family crisis negate the possibility of contentment? Can you be content when you aren’t achieving very much? Does contentment depend on whether you are married or single? Can you be content regardless of how schools will operate this fall? Does your contentment depend on whether or not the pandemic continues to rage? Is it tied to your health, wealth, comfort, or safety?

Trust in God and contentment go hand in hand. When I think it’s all up to me, I feel I need to hustle. I’m discontent if any of my circumstances are not what I had been working for. But when I recognize my littleness and see that I am not the ruler of the universe and am actually in the palm of God’s hand, I can rest. When I rest, I realize that God has not failed me. I am still standing. He is sustaining me. I am able to pray, “You are my rock and my fortress…into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:3, 5).

Because God is who He says He is, and does what He says He’ll do, “even now, there is hope” (Ezra 10:2). This is a truth you can count on—there is always reason to hope. God was not surprised this morning by what popped up in your news feed. He isn’t wringing His hands as He looks down from heaven at the chaos below. God isn’t playing around with your life, dispassionately seeing what you are made of. He is utterly in control, completely interested in the details of your life, and timelessly working in the future so that even the worst things today can be redeemed down the road. 

God loves you with a level of purity that you can’t even fathom. In a time when you might wonder which news, data, and people you can trust, God remains “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is unchanging, unfailing, and unflinching in His commitment to father you faithfully.

Allow yourself to become little—like a child. Let the pressure roll off. Picture yourself in the palm of God’s hands, because that is where you are. Remember what those hands have done. They are the same hands that stretched out the heavens (Isaiah 45:12), told the sea it could go no further (Job 38:11), and healed with a touch (Matthew 8:3).

Psalm 31:15 says, “My times are in your hand.” This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t hold the whole world in His hands. But it’s undoubtedly sweeter when you see that this is a truth meant for you, personally. Jesus loves you and gave Himself up for you, and your life is in the hands of the one whose hands were nailed to the cross for your sake. May you embrace this truth and allow this reality to be the source of your hope, strength, and security. 

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16)

When unwanted and unexpected circumstances hit, we are faced with the unwelcome reminder that we are far less in control than we’d like. We’re reminded of our fragility and mortality, subjects we’d rather ignore.

Philippians 4:7 (NAB) promises that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” All too often, I equate that peace with feeling in control. But that isn’t what God has promised me. He’s promised me that HE is in control, and that if I truly believe that, I can experience peace. Pastor A.W. Tozer wrote, “The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.”[1] Our belief in God should keep us from panic, despite our circumstances. Faith, not fear, should be in the driver’s seat.

What should be our witness to a watching world when panic encroaches? Should we respond differently because of our faith? It’s interesting that one of the things that caused early Christianity to spread like wildfire throughout the Roman empire was the way in which Christians courageously stepped into danger. When most fled the city of Caesarea because of the plague, the Christians stayed and cared for the sick and dying. The ripple effects of their compassion resulted in many conversions. 

This does not mean we throw caution to the wind and act recklessly, but the knowledge that our ultimate safety rests with God, and that He has taken care of our eternity, should bring peace to our hearts. These truths should impact our anxiety levels. 

In the words of Dr. Gregory Popcak, “Anxiety is meant to be a sign that we are facing imminent danger.”[2] Are most of us facing imminent danger? What are the things we are afraid of? I would propose that most of us are scared about the wrong things. We’re scared about whether or not the job is secure, or scared that our reputation is tarnished and people don’t like or respect us, or scared that our level of comfort and health might change, or scared that our finances are going to take a turn for the worse, or scared that our children aren’t happy, or scared that our marriage is going to fail and we’ll be left alone. These are not small things. We look at the people we love and…we’re scared of divorce. Of being cheated on. Of mental illness. Of suicide. Of cancer. Of bankruptcy. 

What are most people not afraid of? Eternity. Because they choose not to think about it or because they have a faulty understanding of what it is. As a result, all that matters is the here and now. This way of thinking is the true threat. The biggest threat—the biggest danger—is that the enemy might succeed in getting us to take our eyes off of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Is it possible that we are most afraid of the wrong things?

All too quickly we forget that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, RSV).

Please hear me. These verses are not saying that our suffering doesn’t matter to God—that He thinks what we are going through is no big deal. But what that verse is saying is that none of our suffering is without purpose, none of it is out of God’s control, and this life—this present suffering—is not all that there is. In the words of St. Clare of Assisi, “Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes like a shadow.” This is not the end of the line. We are just passing through. Let’s live with our eyes fixed on eternity. That’s the only way the peace that surpasses understanding can be ours.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1961), 2.

[2] Dr. Gregory Popcak, Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2018), 18.

Walking with Purpose

 

 

My favorite/least favorite question I have ever been asked is, “If heaven didn't exist, would you still obey God?”

Don't worry, I'm squirming in my seat too.

My first thought was, “Yes, of course I would still follow the rules. I'm a good Christian after all!” But then, I force myself to be honest. At first glance, not following the rules sounds way more fun than following them. And it makes me examine my motives for good behavior. Am I following the rules to earn heaven and avoid going to hell? Or is something else motivating me?

I remember one particular middle school religion class vividly. My teacher stood up in class and discussed a concept of “damning yourself.” She taught us that there were certain things we could do on this earth that would eternally damn us. She said there were certain sins that we could never recover from and that would cause us to turn our backs on God forever.

Without a clear understanding on exactly which sins were so serious, unhealthy “Catholic guilt” took root in my heart. It's led me at certain times to think that if I don't pray the Rosary in this specific way, God won't love me. I have believed that if I don't go to confession every week, God will think less of me.  And, I have to remind myself daily that my not always following every Church teaching perfectly is not going to send me to hell. I am sure some of you can relate.

Our understanding of obedience can easily move from a free act of love to a requirement for receiving love. It's not Church teachings that are flawed, it is the mentality behind our reasons for following them. This is where the negative version of Catholic guilt can get in the way of our spiritual growth. At its worst, it skews the beautiful purpose of obedience and makes following God to be about reward rather than about relationship.

As Christians, the lie many of us face is this: In order for God to love me, I must do particular things. But the truth is: God loves me as I am and although following God should involve obedience to Him - out of my desire to respond to His love - nothing I do can make God love me any more, or any less.

In the second part of the Young Adult Opening Your Heart series, Unshaken, we hear theologian Jean Vanier's perspective on this:

Somewhere along the line in the history of the Church, people have become more centered upon obedience to laws than upon this relationship of love with a person, with Jesus; more centered upon justice than upon love. The heart of our faith is not law, it's a person, Jesus who calls us into the peace and joy of friendship and of love. (1)

I don't think Vanier said “love” three times by mistake. Love is paramount. When faith becomes saturated by rule-following for the sake of being “good,” love can't exist in its purest form because the motive isn't pure.

Yet, when obedience is a free, unconditional act of loving God, we will experience the freedom and beauty that the Lord so desires for us. When we choose to lean into the Sacraments and the teachings of the Church because we want to love God more, we will get to experience all that our walk with the Lord can be.

This is where the positive version of Catholic guilt can help us. Good guilt comes into play when we are not loving God as well as we could be. That unsettled feeling of guilt is God's gift to us in that moment, drawing attention to the fact that something is drawing us away from Him. Of course, this has nothing to do with how much He loves us, but it alerts us to the fact that we have broken God's heart. Good guilt is actually an invitation to turn back to Him.

What might change if we looked at the why behind our obedience? Are we chasing after the Lord because we want to or because we feel we have to? Are we experiencing negative Catholic guilt or is it positive? This matters.

It's my prayer that we'd go to Mass because we want to, not because we have to. That we'd pray the Rosary because we know that it will help us to love God more, not because we believe it will make God love us more. That we'd lean into the teachings of the Church because we believe that obedience brings freedom.

I pray that you may experience this freedom that only exists in love.

Love,

Angelina

(1) Father Paul Farren, Freedom and Forgiveness: A Fresh Look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Dublin:  Columba Press, 2013), x.

It's been said that worry is a misuse of the imagination. This resonates with me, probably because of my award-worthy ability to come up with worse-case scenarios and potential catastrophes.

The Wrestling, the second part of Fearless and Free, is all about getting a grip on your emotions and thought life. Writing it didn't come easy. There's no pontificating in those pages because I am 100% a work in progress. But I have found that God's words are life to those who find them, and they bring healing. I know this, beyond a doubt, from my own experience.

During a seemingly endless season when I walked alongside my child who was in a very dark place emotionally, fear had a grip on my heart and mind that was utterly paralyzing. No amount of praying got rid of it. It helped, but it didn't cause my mind to stop the endless loop of worry. I'd be praying, and all of a sudden I'd be worrying, and the next thing I knew I'd have wandered into a different room of my house without any idea why. There was no rest.

During this time, my dad bought me a little book called Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson. In it, the story is told of a father who decided to pray every word of Scripture over his son's life. I committed to doing the same. I bought a new Bible, and began to read, underlining every verse with a promise to claim for my child. Then I wrote out a prayer claiming that promise in the margin. If there was an example to follow, I prayed for that. If there was an example of the opposite of what I wanted to see, I wrote down my prayer about that. Verse after verse, chapter after chapter, book after book, the Bible became filled with prayers for my child.

There is something incredibly powerful about praying God's words back to Him. We can be assured that we are praying within His will. A few months into this intense time of prayer, I saw the tide beginning to turn in my child's life. I do not believe this was a coincidence.

Something else happened at the same time. My heart calmed. The hours I spent reading Scripture were releasing heavenly power, divine weapons, to be at work in my child's life. But because Scripture is living and active, it was also doing a transforming work in my own heart. As I was saturating my mind with truth, the “what if” fears and lies swirling in my head began to grow quiet. The divine weapon of Scripture was more powerful than the fear and worry.

Another way we can wield the weapon of Scripture is by quoting it out loud. The enemy can hear us. When we speak out self-defeating thoughts and worries, he hears them. He stores them away for later use. He uses them against us later, and they ring true to us on some level because they were our thoughts and words to begin with.

So instead of speaking defeat, fear and worry, we can choose to speak truth. I call this the “I Declares.” I wrote them for various sources of struggle- fear of the future, pain from the past, suffering, and marriage. You'll find them within the pages of Fearless and Free, but I'd like to share the “I Declares” I speak the most often- the ones I battle with for the hearts of my children.

I declare that you who began a good work in my child will bring it to completion. (Phil. 1:6)

I declare that you can reach down from on high and take hold of my child, drawing him out of deep waters. (2 Samuel 22:17)

I declare that my work as a mother will be rewarded and that my child will come back from the land of the enemy. (Jer. 31:16)

I declare that there is hope in my future and in my child's future, and that my child will come back to her own border. (Jer. 31:17)

I declare that all your promises are YES in Jesus, and that not one word of your promises has ever failed. (2 Cor. 1:20 and 1 Kings 8:56)

I declare that you are able to accomplish abundantly more than all I could ask or imagine.(Eph. 3:20)

If you want to mature as a Christian, if you are tired of being tossed by waves and swept along by lies and worries, then grab hold of your Bible. Anchor yourself with the truths found in its pages. Go to it with the passion of a lover who longs to hear the voice of her Beloved. I promise you; the One who is called Faithful and True will meet you there, and He will never disappoint.

Blessings,

Lisa

There is such grace in getting older. Such wisdom in perspective.  When I was younger, I viewed problems as obstacles; unfair circumstances that got in the way of my living the life I believed I desired and deserved. And maybe it is not so much my age, but the fact that I feel like I have been so beaten down by trial and tragedy; beaten down to nothing, that "being small,” as St. Therese instructs us to be, is not something I choose to be on my own, but something that just happened, hit after hit, blow after blow.

But I know it is more than just that.

'Something amazing happens when I accept my hardships as a gift from Him, and ask Him HOW I can best navigate myself and my family through these troubled waters, versus WHY did you send me this trial? The moment I stop complaining, I can hear Him.'

We all have a choice as to how we respond to life's blows and disappointments, and we all know how much easier it is to make the unhealthy, unproductive, poor choice, right? We can choose bitterness or forgiveness, love or indifference, judgement or compassion, argument or discussion, blame or understanding, life or death.  And more often than not, I would have to say, I think we tend to choose the not-so-great response.

Not sure about that? Go check out your Facebook account, then get back to me and tell me what you think.

Reacting out of emotion, and trust me, I speak from personal experience here, is useless. Rarely does it ever make you feel better or result in a happy resolution. It is okay to get angry, it is okay to voice our opinions, it is okay to cry and to protest and to fight for what we believe in, but there needs to be a pause button.  Somewhere in between the anger and boiling blood, sometime before we sharpen our tongues and throw verbal darts at each other, we really all need to take a step back, and hit pause.  

You know, when I do this...which is not as often as I should...but those times when I do this; when I take this pause and do a quick heart and soul check, you know what I find? Buried beneath the anger, hiding at the bottom of my bitter-soaked heart, I find fear. Somewhere underneath the big, loud reaction, is a small, scared voice. And I realize...I am afraid.

And yet, what do we hear Jesus say, over and over and over again?
Be not afraid. Be not afraid.
But I am.  No matter how many times I read it, I still am.

Because as soon as I take my eyes off of Him, and fix them on the ocean of troubles below me, like Peter taking steps out onto the ocean, I start to sink. You see, when we refuse to respond with trust in Him, and instead, choose to cling to our reactions based on how we feel, trust flies fast out the window, and we are left to be drowned.  Drowned, not by our circumstance, but by our own fear.

Turning to scripture, I find unusual encouragement in words I have failed to notice before.

We are not only instructed, "Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid" (John 14:16)

but we are also told that these hardships we try to pray away? They are necessary.

Necessary hardships.

"It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God." (Acts of the Apostles 14:19-28, read it all)

Do you know what necessary means?
Necessary means needed.
That thing you hate with your entire heart and soul?
That tragedy? That illness? That disaster? That heartache? That break up? That loss?
It is needed.
You NEED it.

And I can imagine, that some will read that, and shut their computer off and walk away angry. And I get it. Boy, do I get it.  These are the kind of verses that tempt us to toss scripture aside, call it all crazy, and give up on God.   Hard biblical sayings, often misinterpreted, have sent many running off to another place of worship, a church with “fewer rules,” or perhaps to follow some other false idol that is not so uncomfortable; one that feels good and offers immediate gratification.

Because who in their right mind wants to be told that the very thing that is weighing on their shoulders, and pressing on their chest, and keeping them up at night, and feels like it will absolutely kill them, is NECESSARY?

What kind of God does that?

And so maybe this is something for us to think about today.

Maybe you are going through a hardship right now that you see as a problem, an obstacle, an impossibility, or simply unfair. Maybe you are a victim of a misunderstanding, a injustice, a personal devastation.  And if so, meditate with me, on the word necessary.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand.

Let us pray to recall that His ways are not our ways, and He works all things for good.

It has taken me years to see and believe that every single hardship that I encounter actually was, and is, necessary.  This does not mean I like it.  This does not mean I do not crumble beneath it all, often. This does not mean I do not get on bended knees and try to pray it all away.  This does not  mean I do not ever doubt or get suspicious of God's plan. Because I have done, and still do, all of this.  There are more days than I care to admit, that I wish I could simply pray it all away.

But then...something happens.  

Something miraculous happens when I stop yelling at God, and begging Him to change my circumstances. Something amazing happens when I accept my hardships as a gift from Him, and ask Him HOW I can best navigate myself and my family through these troubled waters, versus WHY did you send me this trial? The moment I stop complaining, I can hear Him.  The moment I stop fighting His plan for me, I soften.  And it is here in this place that He assures me of His faithfulness.  It is here, in this hardship, that I am reminded of how much He loves me. And it is here, in this unpleasant place, that I remember that this world is not my home, and I have my eyes set on something so much better. And it is right here, where I am washed over by His merciful grace, and I am no longer afraid.

Blessings,

Laura Phelps
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose

Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/

 

It had all started out like a Norman Rockwell painting. We had just moved into a new neighborhood, and after living on a busy street for years, we were so grateful to be able to head out the door and take an evening walk. Charlotte was a new baby, and Bobby was a bright-eyed five-year old. Our trusty dog, Bailey (yes, the one of Super Glue fame), needed a little exercise, so she got to come along, too. We set out, and I breathed in the fresh air, so grateful for this simple and satisfying moment.

Bobby wanted to hold the dog leash, insisting that he was big enough, and since Bailey was walking so calmly by our side, I handed it over. All was well until we got to the top of a hill. Bailey saw a squirrel and took off at breakneck speed. It happened so quickly…Bobby's little legs couldn't keep up…he waited too long to let go of the leash…and he took a fall that threw me into a total panic.

I raced to him as quickly as I could and gathered him up in my arms. Between gulps and tears, Bobby looked into my face with fear in his eyes and asked, “Am I dead?” Of course, I assured him that he was not dead, that he would be ok. And he was. Scraped up? Oh yes. Many bandaids and kisses were applied. But he would fully recover.

In his book Safe House, author Joshua Straub makes the case that emotional safety is the key to raising kids who live, love and lead well. He writes, “Our children's brains are wired for relationships that provide an emotional safe haven when they are stressed (that is, hungry, angry, tired, injured, lost, alone, ill, feeling threatened, and so on).” Even in the face of danger, our children need to know that no matter what happens, broken bones or not, there is nothing to fear. They are emotionally safe.

Parents of this generation are called “helicopter parents,” and this isn't meant as a compliment. It's said that we hover and do all we can to protect our children from discomfort, disappointment and dismay. We are right to want to protect them-that's one of our primary responsibilities. But what if in the process of protecting, we are making them fearful? Don't we want to raise children who are brave and strong? This will only happen if we take some risks, and risk-taking means they will fall sometimes.

When they do, what they need to know is that they are emotionally safe. The core part of who they are is untouched by physical distress. They can take risks-they can step out and try new things, and falling is not the end of the world. Falling and failure doesn't spell death-it is something we recover from.

Bobby looked into my face for reassurance that everything was ok. Whenever possible, I want to be there for my kids when they fall. I want them to be able to look into my eyes and see my calm confidence that they can and will stand back up again. That this is not the end of the road. A fall is always an opportunity to learn.

At the heart of Bobby's question were ones that we all ask-children and adults alike. “Am I emotionally safe?” “Am I secure?” “Is everything going to be ok?” When this is what we feel, we can turn to the face of our heavenly Father for reassurance. He will acknowledge the pain involved in the fall, but He will quickly assure us, it is well with our souls. No matter what obstacles we face-regardless of the depth of the disappointment-even when everything seems to be bottoming out-our souls can rest secure. Who we are remains unaltered because of whose we are.

Let's keep our eyes on the face of our Father

Lisa

As I carried the overflowing laundry basket up the stairs, it occurred to me that its weight felt nothing like the heaviness that was sitting on my heart. I had been reading about world news this morning, and article after article brought me to prayer. ISIS, human trafficking, so much suffering…and it was just getting layered on top of the stories that were really the greater issue for me. These are the stories of the people I love who are in the midst of real trials and pain right now, in this very minute, and I feel helpless in the face of it all. The worry feels like it has wrapped itself around my mind and woven itself into the fabric of my heart. It's a lead weight. It's sapping me of strength.

Can you relate to what I'm talking about? Have you been waking up in the middle of the night with worry and then can't get back to sleep? Is it following you around all day and becoming a filter that clouds everything?

How can we get out from under this thing? God has commanded us not to worry (“Do not be anxious about anything” Philippians 4:6), so it must be possible to bring our thoughts under His control. God never asks us to do something that He doesn't equip us for. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, we're told, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” So we're not alone in this struggle. St. Paul goes on to say, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” So that's what we need to discover. What is the way out for us? What do we have to do to get to the escape door that frees us from the pit of worry?

St. Paul says, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Friends, I'm preaching to myself here. So lean in as this fellow worrier tries to remember the things that she's been taught by people wiser than her. And then let's pray for each other that we would apply these truths.

1. God calls us to live in the present moment.

When I am worrying, I'm projecting myself into the future and envisioning how things could turn out. The problem is, God is not there in my “fantasy worst-case scenario.” The majority of the things we worry about will never happen. The truth is, the present moment is rarely intolerable. What's miserable is to have your body here, right now, but your mind dwelling in the future. This dichotomy is unsettling and robs us of peace.

If we can get it through our minds that all God is asking is for us to obey Him and love like Christ for these next five minutes, we realize that step by step, we can move forward. It reminds me of the proverb, “Worry is like a rocking chair-it give you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere.” Which is really a description of being stuck. Far better to stay in the present moment and ask the Lord, “In this moment, are you asking me to act: to do something specific, or are you asking me to accept: to acknowledge that my current situation is beyond my control and therefore needing to be placed in Your hands?”

2. There is no divine grace provided for our worries.

God provides grace and strength for us to do what He asks us to do. He does not provide grace for worry. This means that when we are dwelling in the land of “what if's,” we are envisioning an outcome without the miracle, without the inexplicable peace that passes understanding and without the divine strength that enables us to persevere beyond our normal limitations. God is faithful to step into reality and transforms bad circumstances into something beautiful. God does not step into the worries in our heads. When we focus on our worries, the best we've got is our own solution to the problem. And if we're worrying, we've probably already realized that our own “best solution” is either out of our control or simply not good enough. As Linda Dillow wisely wrote in her book, Calm my Anxious Heart, “Worry doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” And we need all the strength we can get.

3. The only One who can handle the weight of these burdens is the same One who can fix it all.

Pass the burden over to God. If you have to do this ten times in one minute, then do it ten times in one minute. The human heart isn't strong enough to carry it all. The weight gets to be too much, and the heart begins to despair. Each time we pass the burden over to God, we are making an act of faith. In doing so, our faith is being strengthened. God is faithful to honor your act of faith.

The solutions to our problems do not lie in our heads or in our hearts. God holds the solutions, and only He can see the whole picture. Only He can see the way in which the trial of today is a part of a grander story. If we could see the whole thing, we wouldn't worry. So let's pray for one another to trust God with the larger plan that He is utterly in control of-a plan that He promises is ultimately FOR OUR GOOD and FOR HIS GLORY. God is not limited by time or space. He is already in the future, taking all the threads of our lives and weaving them into a beautiful tapestry.

With love and prayers for you,

Lisa

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