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Does the importance of a family decrease when children start to leave the home?
Is a homemaker still needed when the laundry pile is small, “chauffeuring” duties are done, and there are fewer places to set at the table?
Does an “empty nest” signal it’s time for a mother to reinvent herself?

These are some of the questions I have been musing over as Leo and I fly home after visiting our adult children on the other side of the country.

Our boys are living full and independent lives—one married, one single. This could lead me to conclude that the days when I am needed are over and that my role is to recede into the background. And to some degree, that is true. They don’t need me telling them what to wear, when to shave, or that they need to put on some sunscreen. But I still have a role to play in their lives. The home I create in Florida is still to be an oasis for all, and my heart can be a home that my family travels to whenever needed. 

The Catechism tells us that the family is the original cell of society (CCC 2207). But this doesn’t mean that a family is like a basic building block where one unit can serve as well as another. Each family is unique, and all are strengthened when the family affirms that each member (whether the mother, father, brother, or sister) is a distinct and unrepeatable person, imbued with dignity. When family members see themselves in this way, they are better able to fulfill their mission of being “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). A Catholic family has a mission to spread the warmth, hope, and peace of Christ into the communities that they are a part of. Saint John Paul II summed up this truth with the words, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” This mission doesn’t end when children leave home.

Most people navigate fear, confusion, worry, and hopelessness on a daily basis. They exist in a world that values them in relation to their productivity. Far from being seen as irreplaceable people of dignity, they are expected to fit into a framework which leaves no room for God and sets a very high bar for success and significance. Even at the end of the day, true rest and restoration is elusive. Many return home just to dash out to evening activities (there’s still more to achieve and accomplish) or to numb out in front of a screen. 

Our homes are meant to be sanctuaries in the midst of the world—to be life-giving alternatives to a sterile way of existing. Our families are called to be the church in miniature, a place of welcome and healing. If we could grasp this vision and reorient ourselves around it, I believe we would find that the need for this kind of a homemaker would never diminish. We’d quickly discover that there is always someone who longs to be invited into this kind of environment. 

I recently watched a video about the transcendental of beauty by philosopher Roger Scruton.[1] In it, he describes two different kinds of beauty. The first is grand and perfect. You know it when you see or hear it. It’s the rose windows in Chartres Cathedral, the face of the Blessed Mother in Michelangelo’s La Pietà, and Andrea Bocelli’s tenor voice. There’s a harmony and a perfection. The second kind of beauty is the type that matters most in our homes. It’s the everyday kind of beauty—the ordinary beauty. We express it in the way we garden, cook, set the table, and fluff the pillows. The reason this beauty is important is because it’s the way we cultivate an environment where things and people fit together, creating an atmosphere that restores. Although this beauty lies all around us, Scruton notes that we need eyes to see it and hearts to feel it. But the most ordinary event can be made something beautiful when people see into the heart of things.  

Scruton considers this kind of beauty as an instrument of peace. It creates a sense of home. It’s an imperfect beauty, but nonetheless, it settles us. It’s not the beauty of a perfectly clean house, a designer interior, or an updated color scheme. It’s the beauty of a space that’s become a haven for all who enter. It’s a place that has been cultivated by a committed woman who has made it her mission to create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. She has prepared for each person’s homecoming (whether a family member or not) by focusing on each person’s unique dignity and unrepeatability. When we think of home in this way, it’s clear that the significance of a homemaker’s role continues throughout the decades. 

Author Leila Lawson writes, “A lot of homemaking consists of being ready for those times when someone needs you—and it’s hard to justify this way of using time to a world that measures productivity in equal units and output.”[2] The world is pulsing, action-oriented, and distracted, rewarding the self-centered. But if we have chosen to center our lives on God, we no longer need to justify the way we use our time to anyone other than Him. He invites you to measure your days by how you love, not by what you produce. And loving well means being available. 

Your heart and home can be a sanctuary. Just being available is a tremendous gift you can offer to those you love. An empty nest is not a signal that you need to reinvent yourself. Those in our care will always need a shelter—a place to come home to where they don’t need to produce something to be considered worthy, where they are received as the gifts that they are. 

Perhaps, as Dostoevsky claimed, beauty really can save the world. What might change if more women responded to this high calling to cultivate this kind of home?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] “Why Beauty Matters” by Roger Scruton, https://vimeo.com/128428182, accessed April 4, 2022.
[2] Leila Lawson, The Summa Domestica (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021), 208.

Since childhood, I’ve been inspired by an incredible woman of faith named Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth was widowed with a ten-month-old daughter when her husband was savagely speared by members of a violent Amazonian tribe. Jim had gone to Ecuador to share the gospel, but the mission ended tragically. One might have excused Elisabeth if she wallowed in self-pity or raged against God for taking her husband when he was only trying to do good. But instead of doing any of these things, Elisabeth gathered her daughter, her Bible, a snakebite kit, and tremendous courage, and moved to the very place where her husband had died. She was determined to offer a hand of forgiveness and friendship to the very people who had killed the one she loved most, and many of them came to faith in Christ as a result. 

So when Elisabeth Elliot talks about suffering, I listen.

In her book, A Path Through Suffering, she writes:

Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him, and with Himself His vision to see the glory in the surrender…

He stands ready today to supply us with His wisdom to understand what He wants to teach, and His strength to carry through, for He never allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure. His commands are always accompanied by power to obey. The Everlasting Arms are always underneath us, the everlasting love always surrounds us.[1]

But difficult circumstances don’t automatically make us saints. It isn’t the circumstances themselves that do the shaping. It’s our cooperation. When life throws us a curveball, we have a choice about how we’re going to receive it. We can choose to become bitter, to be filled with self-pity, and to dwell on our doubts. We might begin to ask questions like, “Where was God in this situation?” “Why didn’t He intervene by giving me the answer I wanted?” “Doesn’t He love me?” “Isn’t He powerful enough to do anything about it?” The choice is set before us. We can water the seeds of doubt by focusing on our circumstances. Or we can focus on the fact that somewhere in the midst of the current state of affairs is an opportunity to be transformed. 

When we are going through trials—little ones or big ones—deaths of a sort, and experiences of brokenness, it’s important to remember that Jesus understands suffering from experience. Jesus entered into what appeared to be meaningless suffering. This means He is never indifferent to what you are enduring. He sees all the little and big deaths that you experience. And He stands ready to bring new life in those places that feel desolate.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of that process of transformation: “This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased…Can I not do to you as this potter has done? Indeed, like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:1–6).

These are the verses that get me through hardship. In difficult times, I don’t want to experience what I am going through. I want to escape. But these verses stop me before I give in to bitterness or numb out. They remind me that I have a choice. I can offer myself to God as clay to a potter. I can say to Him, “In this particular set of undesired circumstances, I give you permission to shape me—to mold me—to transform me, because I want to experience a better eternity. I want to become the woman you created me to be. And if a death of sorts is required for new life to be born in me, I accept it. I say yes. I say, Jesus, I trust in You.” 

When the potter sees a bubble or a defect in the pot, he has to press the clay back onto the wheel and reshape the pot. But all the while, he is making it into something of great beauty. So here is the question: can we trust God that when He asks us to experience something that is hard, He promises to use it to mold us into vessels that are filled with His Spirit? May we never forget—He can turn brokenness into blessing and beauty. 

After enduring twenty years of imprisonment, confinement, and hard labor in the Gulag of the Soviet Union, Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. wrote a phenomenal book called He Leadeth Me. In it, he wrote, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere ‘out there’ in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were His will for me. What He wanted was for me to accept these situations as from His hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at His disposal.”[2]

Perhaps you feel hemmed in by your circumstances. You feel stuck. You wonder if things will ever change. The enemy wants you to keep your focus on all those thoughts. But the Lord invites you to raise your eyes and gain a higher perspective. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

What if the peace we so long for is on the other side of surrender?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishing, 1990), 87.
[2] Walter J. Ciszek SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Random House, 1973), 81.

Are you wrestling with a decision you need to make, and aren’t sure what you should do? Do you wish the right choice was obvious, but instead feel that each of your options look equally viable?

In James 1:8, we are warned against being double-minded. This means having two opposing views in your mind at the same time. Some people call it cognitive dissonance. What results is inconsistency, vacillation, acting one way today and a different way tomorrow, and having trouble making a decision and sticking with it. No one wants to live like that, but too many of us do. Here are some tips for decision making, and a prayer that will invite God into the process.

1. Get in touch with your deepest longings. 

Identify what drains you and what energizes you. Make a list of each. This will help you grow in awareness of what you truly desire and separate it out from others’ expectations of you. Once you’ve made your list, check that your desires, if they came to fruition, would pass the death bed test. In the end, will you consider this thing to be important? Are you choosing a project over people? Accomplishment over relationship? Also note whether or not the things you have listed reflect what God desires most for you. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy, but God wants you to pursue the holiness that will provide you with eternal, not just temporal, happiness. 

Do those longings pass those two tests? Then look at the decision you face in light of those desires. Which decision leads you closer to those longings becoming your reality?

2. Follow the traffic signal.

Picture a traffic signal with three circles: green, yellow, and red. Now imagine that the red circle is the Word of God. Does the red light come on when you think of making a certain decision? Has the Word of God actually already given you an answer? Don’t move forward if God has already said no in Scripture. No red light? Continue to the next circle.

The yellow circle is godly advice. The key word is godly. As you discuss the decision you face with loved ones, pay attention to the life choices being made by the person you are talking to. Is this person pursuing God? Does this person understand God’s desire that you be holy? Don’t just talk to people who tell you what you want to hear. Seek the advice of people who are spiritually mature and love you enough to speak truthfully. Their yellow light might tell you to slow down. But if they give you a go ahead, move onto the next circle.

The green circle is the feeling in your gut. Over-thinking and over-analysis can be paralyzing. Our fear of failure can prevent us from taking necessary risks. Ask God to help you discern the difference between nervousness (which often accompanies a good decision) and true unrest in your spirit, which is your own life-earned wisdom letting you know you are moving in the wrong direction. Imagine yourself having made the decision. Walk around for a day imagining that was the direction you went. How does it feel? 

3. Learn from St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We want to make all our decisions prayerfully. We’re crazy to charge ahead without consulting the One who hung the stars, sees the long-term view with total clarity, and loves us like no other. St. Ignatius of Loyola talks about the importance of praying for confirmation once you’ve made a decision. This prayer takes place before the action of the decision. St. Ignatius also discourages making decisions when you are in a period of spiritual desolation. When everything around you feels hopeless and dark, this is not a good time for change. When that’s your reality, St. Ignatius advises that you make no new decisions. That you wait. The desolation will pass, and clarity will return.

To help you invite God into your decision making, I wrote the Litany of Decision Making. I hope it gives words to the thoughts and feelings swimming in your heart and mind, and carries you down the road to clarity and peace.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

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.



Never change. 

I can’t tell you how many friends wrote that in my high school yearbook. Never change. Could you imagine if I never changed? Since 1988? I don’t know about you, but if I never changed, there’s a good chance I’d be dead. Or still wearing shoulder pads. 

In the past week, I have had multiple close friends comment on a change they see in me. A good change. A deep soul change. Praise the Lord for friends who aren’t afraid to call out spiritual progress. All too often we don’t recognize our own transformation unless someone points it out. But this change? This is one that I am, and continue to become, acutely aware of. 

The people I am closest to don’t just see the change, they understand it. As for those who don’t know me as well, I am not so sure they understand. To protect us all from repeating conversations I was never present for (remember Sirach 19:7–9), let’s just say that the people are wondering, Where did Laura go? And not just where, but why?

It’s a fair question. Let me explain.

When COVID hit hard and the world shut down, I was already suffering my own personal pandemic. What felt like an endless doggie paddle through the raging waters of mental illness and addiction, I was already exhausted by years of treading in place before we were forced to shelter in place. I know I am not alone. I know that many of us were in the midst of fighting our own battles, only to be told to stand still. Put it on hold. Stop paddling. Stay where you are. 

The problem with not paddling? You drown.

As I watched everything close its doors—doors to things that we had worked so hard to open—the church closing was the final straw. And please do not mistake this post for a debate on whether this response from the church was right or wrong. I do not have the emotional bandwidth for that discussion, and more importantly, to veer off the point here would be unfortunate. This is not about right or wrong, safe or unsafe. This is about my total reliance on God and my need for the sacraments. The Eucharist is my strength, my sanity, my food, my oxygen, my therapy, my everything. It is what keeps me afloat when sinking to the bottom looks like a far better option. And so, when the church doors closed, I did what I knew I needed to do to keep my head above water. To be a good wife and mother. To continue to bear my share of hardship for the gospel (2 Timothy 2:3). I found a church with open doors. 

That’s where I went. And that’s where I have stayed. 

Because, when I walked through those doors, what I found was not only the most beautiful, reverent Mass, but also a holy presence that stilled my soul and silenced the storm in my mind. At a time when the world was spinning out of fear, chaos, and confusion, the Traditional Latin Mass offered a peace and security that transcended all understanding (Philippians 4:7). So caught up in its beauty, I found that participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was not so much about me anymore but about Him. When we read that God works all things for good (Romans 8:28), this right here would be a most appropriate example. What aimed to take me down by keeping me from the sacraments, the Lord has used for me to experience them even greater; to experience Him deeper. No longer treading in my desperation, I found myself swimming in His grace.

And it has come with a cost.

Imagine going from a leader in your parish to nobody knowing who the heck you are. Imagine that one day you are co-coordinating your church’s most vibrant ministry, and the next, you are settling quietly in the back pew, hidden by your veil. And then, imagine how the enemy delights in playing with your mind when word gets back to you that the people are talking. The people are wondering, Where did she go? Does she think that she is holier than thou? Now, I am not going to lie. I would love to be holier than you. In fact, I desire to be as holy as I possibly can be! And you should too. But that’s not why you do not see me anymore. In fact, it was never about you.

I went to where I was unknown by others so as to be convinced that I am known by God. 

And this is the spiritual journey, is it not? A sign of maturing faith. Nobody grows by staying the same. Yes, I have embarked on a new stretch of pavement, but make no mistake, the road I travel is the same, for its destination is eternal glory. If you crave a deeper faith—and you should—don't plan on staying comfortable. Jesus didn't command you to pick up your electric blanket and follow the crowd to Starbucks. He asks that you pick up your cross and follow Him. Not everyone will understand why you do what you do. And that is okay. Since when did being a believer require that everything makes sense? At the center of our faith is total Mystery. If you ask me, understanding is overrated. Blind obedience is where it’s at.

The Lord has been doing a new thing in my life. He has been making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19). And I am utterly amazed by His faithfulness. True, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), but praise God, I do. So do not be afraid, my friend, when the Lord calls you to something new. If He closes a door on you, rest assured, He will open another. You just need a little more courage than fear to walk on through.


Bible Study

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Kristy. I need some help with this decision and would really appreciate it if you could just tell me what to do. I want to do the right thing, and I don’t know what that is. So, can you please show me?” 

*Looks expectantly toward the sky for a lightning bolt with a sign.* 

Gosh, if only it was that easy, right? I can’t tell you how many times that’s exactly how it goes in my prayer life, and I walk away frustrated (or laughing at myself in my naivete). But hey, the lightning bolt thing could happen one day—you never know. 

Making decisions has always been something I struggle with. From little things like which movie to watch (I could give you three totally valid reasons for and against each choice) to bigger things like if I should start writing that book that I feel called to write (or perhaps I should wait a few years until my kids are older). Can you even imagine how the really big decisions go for me? Praise God that He gifted my husband with heroic patience!

How about you? Do you struggle with making decisions? More specifically, do you struggle with hearing God’s voice and discerning His will for your life? 

If this is you, welcome—and pull up a chair. I have come to learn a few things about hearing God’s voice and making decisions, and friend to friend, I want to share them with you. 

For starters, I’ve realized that life isn’t a relay race of decisions that we have to make, with each choice shaping and determining the next lap. I used to think of God providing the coaching at each lap when I asked for it, inviting Him in only when I needed His direction. It was more about the outcome and less about the journey. I’ve since learned that life is less like a frantic relay race and more of a slow walk with the Lord, who is with us each and every step of the way—in the big and small things. 

In John 10:27, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What does His voice sound like? It’s not a lightning bolt or crack of thunder (at least not in my experience). His voice often speaks through Scripture, which is literally the Word of God.[1] The more time we spend in Scripture, the more we know His voice and can recognize it when He does call us. This requires a conscious decision to slow down and spend time in prayer and reading Scripture. It sounds so simple, yet it’s true. You will be able to better discern God’s will for your life if you spend more time in Scripture—there is no shortcut here.  

The next thing I’ve realized about making decisions and discerning God’s will is summed up perfectly by both Robert Frost and Joan of Arc. (I couldn't decide which quote I liked better, so I’m giving you both.) 

“The best way out is always through.”[2]  —Robert Frost

“Act, and God will act. Work, and He will work.”[3]  —St. Joan of Arc

They are both on to something. Something that, quite frankly, sounds terrifying to me. We just have to take a step, even if it turns out that it was the wrong step. 

How can the wrong decision be good? A priest friend once gave me some wise advice when I asked how he makes big decisions that impact an entire parish community on a daily basis. He said, “Once I’ve come to a decision through prayer, I ask the Lord to bless it and pray it’s the right one. If it’s the wrong decision, I ask Him to stop my plans. And if He doesn’t…then I ask Him to help me learn from it.” 

What a humble, yet confident way of approaching decision-making! Humble in the way he admits God is in charge of the outcome either way—he knows he’s not big enough to thwart God’s plan. And confident in the way he knows his role and responsibility to the people he was sent to serve, and God will use whatever his decision is for good. Following this model has truly enabled me to feel peace about decisions that I make. 

When we make our decisions with this type of humble confidence, we allow the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives. Choices that used to bring stress and worry become opportunities for joy as we cooperate with the Lord and allow Him an active role in our lives. It enables us to grow in trust and experience the depth of love that God has for us. 

I still really don’t want to make the wrong decisions in my life. And you know what, God knows that about me. And He knows your doubts and fears about discerning things in your life, too. So, if He allows me (or you) to make the wrong decision, you can bet it’s because He wants to teach me (or you) something because He loves us. 

My spiritual director was advising me in this area lately, and she said, “Kristy, we almost never get certainty from the Lord. But we can often have clarity. And most of the time, that’s all we need.” 

Praying the Holy Spirit will give you clarity in your decision-making, and that you may step out in humble confidence, trusting that the Lord is with you—no matter the outcome. 

P.S. Here is an easy decision: check out the Walking with Purpose YouTube series, Truth with Handles: The Conversation, where I chat with fellow WWP bloggers Mallory Smyth and Laura Phelps about issues that matter to Catholic women today. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to the WWP YouTube channel and turn on notifications so you don’t miss a single episode.

[1] https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/32/
[2] https://www.poetryverse.com/robert-frost-poems/a-servant-to-servants
[3] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/holiness-of-st-joan-of-arc-5569

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)



Now that you have that piece of '90s ear candy stuck in your head...what DO you want? What are you longing for? What precious desire of your heart has not been met yet? That’s a sacred space, I know (unlike the space song lyrics from 30 years ago take up in our heads), but I want you to think about it. For me, it’s many things: I long for the conversion of family members, healing in broken relationships, and jobs for loved ones who are struggling right now, just to name a few. Maybe your desires look different, but we’re all longing for something. And desires in our hearts like these are good

But have you ever been desperate for something? None of us likes to think of ourselves as desperate women, but when we hold our deepest desires so tightly that we cannot hand them over to the Lord and His timing, we become desperate. (And frankly, His timing never seems quick enough, does it? Don’t you wish God worked on Amazon’s delivery schedule sometimes?) 

The line between longing and desperation has one word written on it: fear. Fr. Mike Schmitz says that “desperation is desire that’s driven by fear.”[1] We don’t like to admit when we’re afraid, do we? Remember that unmet desire of your heart—are you afraid it won’t come true? Are you afraid that it might not happen the way you want it to? Have you considered doing—or done—whatever it takes to get what you want?

When we cross the line to desperation and allow fear to take over, we have also lost hope, which can be a scary place to be. When we hold our deepest desire too close, we become like Gollum from Lord of the Rings—he became so obsessed with the ring, which he called “My Precious,” that it changed who he was and how he acted. He was obsessed, desperate, and in the end, miserable. Are you holding something so tightly you can’t let go? What is your “precious”?

God wants us to live in freedom. In order for this to be our experience, we must actively give our desires to the Lord. This means letting go of control (sometimes over and over again) and placing them in God's ever-loving and providential hands. Practically speaking, this looks like trusting in Him, rather than an outcome. It takes a conscious shifting of our gaze from our hands to Him. 

Many times, the reason we don’t give God our longings is because we don’t trust him. Do you trust God to handle your heart's desires? If you’re like me, this can be especially difficult because people and experiences in our lives have caused us to withhold trust from others—even God. Maybe you feel like God has let you down in the past, so why would you trust Him now? Or perhaps you trust that God will take care of other people’s problems, but not yours—yours are just too big. 

I’m here to tell you that God is not indifferent to your story. He is not indifferent to your heart’s desires, your longings, or your fears. He knows what is best for you, what is right for you, and His plan for you is tied up in a beautiful bow that is YOUR story—your particular life that He wants to be involved in and through. Will you allow Him in? 

Let these following verses sink into your heart, sister:

For I know full well the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for your misfortune, plans that will offer you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come forth and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, you will find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will allow you to discover me, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:11–14)

Gaze upon the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or store in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of far greater value than they? Can any of you through worrying add a single moment to your span of life?...Your heavenly Father knows what you need. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. (Matthew 6:26–27, 32–33)

These verses point to a God who loves you, who is trustworthy, and is for you. But He will never force His way into your heart and your life. He waits to be invited in. Do you “see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1)? He waits with open arms for his daughters to turn to Him with their deepest longings in confident trust. 

God knows where lack of trust will lead us and the bondage that inevitably results. St. Ignatius of Loyola described sin as the “unwillingness to trust that what God wants for me is only my deepest happiness.” He is for us, and He wants to protect us from the fallout that results when we try to take matters into our own hands.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). May our trust increase, and may we experience the deep happiness that we were created for.

P.S. If you are struggling to trust the Lord with your heart’s desires, meditate on the Litany of Trust.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4pWWCf6aMM

There is a path in town I frequently walk with my dogs. Perfectly paved and lined with wild flowers, there is one specific stretch that always catches my eye. Carefully placed, hand-painted rocks with words of positive affirmation are sprinkled along its curve: be awesome...be kind...you are brave. This morning, a new message appeared: blaze your own trail.

I was reminded of the final Connect Coffee Talk in Opening Your Heart, the most tried and true Walking with Purpose Bible study. Titled Outside Activities: Set the World on Fire, women completing this study are encouraged to recognize the battle and stoke the fire by going out into the world and doing something. Something risky. Something bold. Something that appears impossible, but with confidence in God, is totally possible. It is a call to find our holy discontent, check our motivation, and then peel our lazy selves up off our comfy couches and set the world ablaze.

And I wonder. Are we doing this? Because let’s be honest. Our couches are really comfy, Netflix is easier, and starting a fire is dangerous. Why reach for the matches when the remote control is so much closer, not to mention safer?

Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves Netflix.

Ever since my friend Mallory sent me a link to a talk on the cosmic battle,[1] I have been contemplating my own personal battle—examining where I fail to respond to God’s call, and in return, allowing the enemy to ever so slowly extinguish my fire. I have been tracing my own steps and actions, looking for the change in behavior, searching for signs of transformation. And while I am good to report that my branches are not completely void of fruit, I would like to report better than good. For God, I would like to do great. Risky, even. And bold. In the marrow of my bones I know that I have been called to set fires. Not sit by them.

So what trips me up?

Fear. Fear of offending. Fear of looking outdated. Fear of being ridiculed, mocked, hated, or misunderstood. Fear of not being intelligent enough to defend my faith. Fear of negative and mean-spirited comments. You see, I want to be obedient to God’s call, but out of fear, I tend to settle for a shallow faith. Oh, my faith runs deep in the privacy of my home or at Mass with my people or on a phone call with my best friend. But out in public? With the skeptics and doubters and lukewarm Catholics? Not so much. Why? Because I like to be liked. I hate confrontation. Plus, I am a busy woman, and I don’t feel like adding “radical discipleship” to my to-do list. And so I nod my head in agreement when you speak of “your truth” (as if there is more than one), and I have zero response to you when you put down my faith in the frozen food aisle at ShopRite. (And by “you” I really don’t mean you. Unless that was you. Then yes, I am talking about you.)

See? I don’t even like writing that. 

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.

And yet, to ignore this call from Jesus would be detrimental. Not only to my soul, but to the countless souls He could reach if only I were an obedient disciple. Because, you see, without obedience, discipleship is incomplete. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, “obedience is the first step of faith.”[2] When I choose to be “obedient enough,” there is nothing radical about my discipleship. I am not taking a full step. A devoted disciple understands that following Jesus is not on their terms but on God’s. We don’t get to choose how we follow and tell Jesus our plans. We are shown how to follow, and then He waits to see how we will respond. If we will respond.

And nothing is ever more important than responding in obedience to Jesus’ call.

Do you know what we call those with a negative response to Jesus’ call? The “would-be followers.”

How would you like that engraved on your tombstone?

Here lies Laura...Loving mother, wife, and would-be follower of Christ.

I didn’t make this up. It’s Scripture:

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

Deep breath now ladies, because this is insanely hard. And it is precisely why so many of us choose “easy Christianity.” True discipleship means we let go of who we used to be and step wholeheartedly into the woman God desires us to be. It means breaking old habits, letting go of comfortable sins, and stepping into a brand new life of obedience to Christ. It means embracing a personal relationship with God; trusting Him so much with our lives that we lose our fear of starting fires.

And if you are anything like me, your heart is leaping out of your body screaming, “yes to true discipleship,” while your head is simultaneously shaking, “no way!” There may even be a part of us that assures ourselves, “God doesn’t really mean this. He would never ask us to let go of everything and follow Him.” 

Oh, how the enemy loves it when we doubt that what God says is true. 

So, practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we lose the fear of being a devoted disciple? How do we connect our heads with our hearts? Honestly? I don’t have a complete answer for you yet. But I can offer one simple step that I am taking because it is what the first disciples did...and it worked.

We get on bended knees and pray in confidence to the Holy Spirit. We beg for the strength to live the Gospel with fervor, to speak the Word of God with boldness, and to increase our zeal for Christ. We ask for the help to defend the Church, to speak of the one and only Truth, and to fearlessly set fires wherever we go.[3]

The world has enough would-be disciples. We can do better. We must do better. It is time to quit reaching for the plow while craning our necks to look at what we are leaving behind. Time to trust that the kingdom we are after is far better than anything we give up here on earth. Are you ready to take your holiness seriously? To step into radical and devoted discipleship and become masters of an unquestioned obedience? Oh, sweet friend, I pray that you are. Because if we collectively do this, imagine the fires we’d set!

[1] Matt Chandler, “The Cosmic Battle,” The Village Church Resources, 43:03, March 15, 2021, https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/cosmic-battle/
[2]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
[3] cf. Acts 4: 23-31

Bible Study

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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