During Lent, I will have the privilege of co-leading live discussions on two Walking with Purpose Bible studies: Fearless and Free (with Kristy Malik) and Harmony (with Sarah Swafford). Over the past two weeks, I have started to pray through the studies and want to share with you what it has been bringing up in my heart.
Before I started, I was giddy at the thought of the prayer time I would get. I could not wait to dive into God’s Word and spend more time with Him than my busy life typically allows. As an eternal optimist, I literally pictured myself walking with the wind of the Holy Spirit next to a stream in a meadow during springtime. My expectations were far beyond reality, as usual. For starters, it’s winter and I don’t live near a meadow, but more importantly, the glories of sainthood are still far off. Only two lessons into each study, my brokenness is rearing its ugly head, and I am trying harder than usual to hide it from God.
It’s not that I’m necessarily embarrassed to let God see my failures. I know that God sees the darkness in my heart, and He loves me anyway. My desire to hide comes from the fact these are still my failures. There is no doubt that God’s goodness and mercy have completely changed my life. My behavior looks different today than it did when I was living away from Him. But it’s the deep-seated stuff, the heart-issue sins, that I can’t seem to overcome completely. How is it that I have been on fire for God for so many years and still struggle with jealousy, gossip, pride, comparison, vanity, and a whole host of other sins? How is it that the freedom and joy that I know is mine through Christ still feels slightly beyond my grasp?
I wonder if you have looked in the mirror lately and found yourself frustrated that you are not further along in your spiritual journey. Have you walked into the confessional ashamed that you are confessing the same sins? Or avoiding the confessional altogether? Are you finding it difficult to understand why you haven’t overcome your vices when you really love Jesus? Take heart, friend. You and I are further along than we think.
You may feel stagnant in your walk with Christ, like you are constantly taking two steps toward God and one step back, but His view of things is different. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if you can’t see it or feel it, God promises us that He will bring our transformation to completion. This is a promise that we can claim even if some of that transformation is completed in purgatory.
Can we actively make better choices? We can, and we should. Should we take every thought captive to Christ and seek therapy when necessary? Absolutely. Should we put in the work to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul at every moment of our lives? You bet. There is no doubt that our personal choices actively move us toward or away from the kind of life God wants us to live, but the deep transformation, eradicating sin at the core of our being, is a work that we cannot accomplish.
John Mark Comer, a Christian author, spoke of this struggle in his own life in a recent interview. He explained that he comes from four generations of hyper-perfectionism and OCD, which manifests in him being a neat freak, controlling, angry, and critical of his wife and kids over a messy house. He then explained that willpower alone isn’t enough to eradicate that sin from his life—it is woven into his body at a cellular level from generations before. He said that he needs deep healing from the Holy Spirit; to be re-habituated through practices that index him toward love, peace, kindness, acceptance; and to rediscover what it’s like to live in a messy world yet be at peace.
While hiding sounds safe and trying harder seems like the natural solution, neither is helpful or effective. There is an easier, more effective way, but it requires humility, admission, submission, and patience.
To begin, we must not only admit our failures to Him, but we must recognize, without shame, that we are powerless to overcome them on our own. After we accept this, we have to submit to God. Most of us don’t like the idea of submitting to anything, but if we don’t, we won’t get anywhere. Submission requires us to overcome our pride, stay faithful, and give Him space to work in our hearts. We do this through prayer, silence, time in Scripture, and repentance. We rid ourselves of the constant distraction and consumption that often gets in the way of God’s work. We also have to leave behind the expectations that we place on ourselves and receive the healing He offers.
In the midst of all this, we must be patient with our progress. As we continue to walk with Him, He will do the work that sets us free. And when He does, we will be able to look back and see some progress. We will see that we are a bit freer, a bit more like Him. We will recognize how He was moving through those moments when we felt like we were getting nowhere. Then we can praise His name and give Him the glory because it was His power that overcame our weakness.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I confided in her my frustration with the sin that I cannot overcome. I told her how desperately I desire to live a life of total freedom in which I don’t let little things get to me, and I annoy the rest of this cynical world with a spirit of unbreakable joy. She responded by telling me that she was beginning to experience that type of freedom in her life. Some of the struggles over which she had no power had started to melt away, and she knew that she had nothing to do with it. She said that when she fears the struggles will return, she hears in prayer that the Lord has taken them away for good. He did the work, and the healing is permanent.
Encouraged by our conversation, I am refusing to hide. I am instead making an offering to God of these struggles that, yes, I still have. What are you doing with yours? Do not try to hide them. Do not try to ignore them or let them be the source of your shame. Give them to the Father; He is not surprised or scandalized that your struggles are still your struggles. He wants your holiness more than you do, and He is more patient than you are with yourself. He is walking beside you, finishing the work that He began.
 John Mark Comer. Interview with James Bryan Smith. Things Above, audio podcast, January 20, 2021. https://apprenticeinstitute.org/2021/01/20/conversation-with-john-mark-comer/.
At any point during the day, there is an alert mechanism that goes off in my brain when my house becomes too quiet for too long. It’s like a “mom radar” notifying me of an imminent disaster, and unfortunately, it’s usually correct. In our house, prolonged silence is usually the prelude to an inevitable sticky/bloody/flooded/broken mess just around the corner.
As the mom of five (virtual or home-schooling) children, age preschool to high school, I crave silence daily. I look forward to the quiet cup of coffee in the morning, the afternoon lull where I can sit down and breathe, or the evenings with my husband when we can relax and chat or watch a movie. These quiet moments are necessary, and I have learned to carve out these times in my day for my own spiritual and emotional well-being (Keeping in Balance was life-changing for me in this area). These times of silence are “golden,” as they say.
But silence is only golden until it’s not.
While creating silence can be a good thing, there are times when it can be harmful. Sometimes we choose to be silent out of fear or anger. Fear and anger can be powerful motivators with devastating effects.
Sometimes we need to say something and we don’t.
That time I could have spoken up in defense of justice or life for those who need an advocate? I silenced a voice in my head that was longing to speak up because I was afraid of what people would think of me. That could have been a moment the Holy Spirit wanted to use me to reach someone’s heart. When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.
Sometimes we need to deal with something and we don’t.
That hurtful memory from my past that I never addressed? I silenced my pain by ignoring it and hoping it would go away. My instinct to bury or sweep it under a rug only delays and magnifies the inevitable pain. As Fr. Richard Rohr says: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
Sometimes we need to hear something from God and we don’t listen.
Those times in my day when I turn to my phone or a glass of wine to escape from the stress of the day? I silence the call from God to place all my worries on him because He cares for me  by being lazy and zoning out. Those are missed opportunities to turn to God and allow His voice to penetrate my heart and mind with truth.
Rest assured, sister, this is not how God has called us to handle these situations. He wants us to live fearless and free as his beloved daughters. Walking with Purpose has an entire Bible study devoted to this truth: Fearless and Free. Through this study, we learn to recognize His voice (and therefore our true identity), wrestle with the lies and truths in our minds by taking every thought captive to Christ, and finally reclaim ground and move forward.
It’s also important to remember that we are not big enough to hinder God’s plans. He writes straight with crooked lines. All. The. Time. So if you’re like me and catch yourself silencing something that you shouldn’t, it’s never too late to open up and let God back in. To begin, we have to start by listening to the right voices. Do you recognize the Father’s voice in your life? His is the one that speaks hope, life, and direction into our lives.
P.S. Mark your calendars to join Mallory Smyth and me for live, weekly Lenten discussions of Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study on Facebook and Instagram (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST / 5 PM PST starting February 18).
 Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Excerpts From Yevtushenko Statement,” New York Times, Originally published in print on February 8, 1974. https://www.nytimes.com/1974/02/18/archives/excerpts-from-yevtushenko-statement.html.
 Fr. Richard Rohr, “Transforming Pain,” Center for Action and Contemplation, October 17, 2018. https://cac.org/transforming-pain-2018-10-17/.
 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.”
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
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.
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. 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.” 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. As G.K. Chesterton said, the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by the centuries of recorded human history.
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.
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.
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.
 Bernard Marr, “Big Data: 20 Mind-Boggling Facts Everyone Must Read.” Forbes.com, September 30, 2015.
 David Russell Schilling, “Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours.” Industrytap.com, April 19th, 2013.
 Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 148.
 Measured by the total number of deaths from violence throughout the century.
 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.
 Clarence Darrow, Attorney for the Damned (NY: Simon & Shuster, 1957), 3-4.
 Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
I stood in line and fiddled with the scarf wrapped tightly around my nose and mouth, when the TIME magazine cover, “THE AGE OF ANXIETY,” caught my eye. It was the first morning our governor was requiring Marylanders to wear masks in public areas, and the air in our local grocery store was thick with fear. I picked up the yellow magazine and skimmed the articles.
"Fear Can Fuel You"
"Are The Kids Alright?"
"Extra School Stress For Girls”
“A Family of Worrywarts, Coping in an Age of Anxiety”
As I turned the pages, my stomach dropped. Although many of the articles were informative and compelling, they did not tell the full truth of what has taken me decades to personally learn: When it comes to our struggle with anxiety, we always have a choice. Many of us do not get a say in the traumatic circumstances or childhood wounds that sparked our anxiety, but we do get to choose how we will respond.
What God has taught me is that anxiety does not originate in our design; it is birthed in our minds from negative experiences and fed by our brain habits. Anxiety is fueled by worry, often in our subconscious. Anxiety is a SYMPTOM of a deep worry or soul wound. It is a warning flare that our mind has adopted a toxic and untrue thought about our core identity. If we are wise, we will be women who pay attention to our anxieties and see them as signals for soul “work,” instead of trying to numb them.
Author Jennie Allen writes, “The greatest spiritual battle of our generation is being fought between our ears.” Perhaps your toxic thoughts sound something like this:
“I am a terrible mother.”
“The danger of toxic thinking,” says Allen, “is it produces an alternate reality, one in which distorted reasoning actually seems to make sense.”
Our first step in battling anxiety is to become aware of the negative garbage our brain is telling our body. We then have to disrupt those thoughts and anchor them to a new thought that combats the toxic lie we believe about ourselves. The Walking with Purpose Bible study Fearless and Free has helped me identify what unhealthy thoughts swirl in my head and how to arm my mind with healthy truths from Scripture.
When I purposefully disrupt my negative thinking and anchor my mind to God’s Word, I am making a choice to teach my brain and body that my anxious thoughts do not define me. Who defines me? My creator God does. And who does God say I am?
I am chosen and loved. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
I am not ruled by fear. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I am secure in Him. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Our oldest daughter, Lilli, has a talent for basketball. A few years ago Lil was unstoppable because she could blow by her defender by dribbling with her right hand and driving to the basket for a layup. But that all changed mid-season when Lilli fractured her right arm. Because I coached her team, she still had to attend practices with her arm in a big cast. I remember her asking me, “What am I gonna do, just watch?” To her surprise, I handed her the ball and said, “Heck no. You can still practice, you will just have to do everything with your left hand.”
The first few weeks were really frustrating for Lilli. She was weak on her left side. She dribbled off her foot and found it very awkward learning how to shoot properly with her left arm. Driving to the left side of the court was foreign for her. But she worked at it. Every time Lilli made a decision to step onto the court and use her left hand, her CONFIDENCE in her left hand grew.
After her cast came off, Lilli was a completely different player because she had created a new habit. She is now unstoppable on both sides of the court. Out of tragedy, Lilli turned her handicap into her greatest strength. She had no choice over her broken arm, but she did get to decide how she would respond. Instead of being sidelined from the setback, she gained confidence in building new muscles.
Choosing to disrupt our anxiety and replace it with healthier habits takes that same type of perseverance. It takes patience and being gentle with ourselves, but it’s so worth it. Each time we make a choice to disrupt our destructive thoughts and anchor our mind to the truth in Scripture about who God says we are, we can grow in confidence that anxiety does not have the last say. God always does.
Learn more about the WWP Bible study Fearless and Free here. You can also read more from Jodi on her blog, The Irreplaceable Mother which encourages women to serve first and best where they matter most.
 Jennie Allen, Get Out Of Your Head (Colorado Springs: Waterbook, 2020), pg 10.
 Jennie Allen, Get Out Of Your Head (Colorado Springs: Waterbook, 2020), pg 24.
A friend texted me last night with good news. It was a long time coming. She deserved it. Her child deserved it. And yet, something prevented me from celebrating with her. A not-so-great feeling crept into my heart, blocking my ability to rejoice in her rejoicing. Instead of praising God for answering her prayer, I wanted to know why He had yet to answer my own.
"Why can’t I be happy for her blessing?" I asked another friend. "Why does her good fortune steer my eyes towards my misfortune? And why does this need to be about me anyway? And what even is this? Jealousy? Envy? Ugh. I hate it."
Determined to pull up this sin by its roots, I knew God had the answer and remedy that I desperately needed.
According to a Catholic definition, jealousy is when you guard something you have and are afraid it will be taken away, whereas envy is when you strongly desire something that somebody else has. Jealousy and envy are some of the worst feelings ever. In fact, they are the only sins we commit that never feel good! They are joy, love, and relationship killers. Not only do they never make us feel good, but they have the potential to lead us into serious spiritual danger. Doing their best to pull us into the pit of discontent and ungratefulness, jealousy says, “What God has given me is just not enough!” while envy whispers, “Someone else got what I deserve.”
The text I received? The good fortune that God bestowed upon my dear friend? I wanted it for myself. I desired what she had received from the Lord so badly, that her happiness made me sad. Her abundance highlighted my lack. Her more made me feel less. I could not be happy for her because with my laser-focus on God working in her life, I was blind to His works in my own.
Have you ever felt this way?
I called my friend again this morning. I was not done talking about envy. Still hard-pressed to find the remedy, we went back and forth, trying to get to its core, when finally she said something that was like a slap on the face; something I think can be a gamechanger for all of us who wrestle with this sinful attitude: “I don’t like that the only way I can feel better about someone getting what I wish that I had is by telling myself that one day, it can all fall apart for them! It is awful to wish for suffering for another! I don’t like it and I need to fix this now!”
And the conversation paused. I knew exactly what she meant. I, too, am guilty of making myself feel better by thinking, “Sure, her daughter is successful now...her husband makes good money now...her kid is the star of the team now...her job is going great now...but you know, this could all take a turn for the worse tomorrow.” And then, she said this….
“At my WWP table this week, the table leader shared a verse she goes to whenever she feels envious; whenever she sees the people around her living the life she thought she would have...the life she thought her children would have. The life she felt she deserved.” And it comes from Lisa Brenninkmeyer’s “I Declares” from the Bible study Fearless and Free. I could hear the pages of her Bible flipping until her eyes rested on the very words—the remedy—both our hearts had been searching for. “Yes! Here it is. Phillippians 1:6.” And then, my friend declared Truth over us:
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved one’s life, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.¹
Next to Jesus showing up and breaking through the darkness of one’s heart, the greatest blessing one can hope for is a faithful friend who allows His light to shine through her. Someone humble enough to admit her sin, and brave enough to declare the truth. A friend who walks alongside you on life’s journey, stopping every few steps to remind you of who God is. Of what He is doing. And that He is not done.
Merciful Jesus, forgive me for believing the lie that you answer everyone’s prayers but my own. For forgetting Who you are. For allowing the enemy to hold me face down in the mud, so that I am not able to see Your glory. For being so focused on myself, I can not be happy for others. Please pull the sin of envy out of the root of my heart. I want to be changed. I am so grateful for all that you have given and continue to give and I pray to never lose sight of that. But because I know that I will, thank you Jesus, for sending me a friend who never shrinks back from correcting me, who listens to my craziness with compassion, who always takes me by the hand and leads me to You. If this friend is all that I am given in this lifetime, You have given me more than enough. I have been blessed with more than I deserve.
Gratefully yours in the name of Jesus,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Fearless and Free (2019), 178.
I had stopped feeling joy. That was the first sign for me that something needed to change- that something was wrong and that I didn't know how to fix it. Things were happening in my life that should have been getting me excited, that should have been touching my heart, that should have sent me reaching for my camera or my journal or someone's hand- to squeeze it and to say, “this is it”- but instead, I just felt kind of numb and very, very tired. I was starting to not care about any of it. That detachment terrified me.
These were some of my journal entries those days:
“I don't feel I'm doing anything well, which means perfect. I wish I had more time to give in almost every area of my life.”
“The weight of the work is pressing on my chest. It is just too much work and not enough hours.”
“How do I fall asleep at night? By listing every single thing I've accomplished that day. It's as if I am giving myself permission to rest.”
I wonder where you are at today. Where are you at in terms of joy, freedom and contentment?
I look around, and I know I am not alone in what I've been feeling. So many of us have been placing our hope in all sorts of things that have frankly not delivered.
We were raised being told that we can be anyone we want to be, that there is nothing out of reach, that we can have it all. So we've been trying. Really, really hard. We're trying to live out that promise where we can have a solid marriage, raise good kids, pursue our passions, and push through the glass ceiling. We've not just been promised that we can do it, we've been told that when we get there, it'll all be worth it. Is it? I'm not so sure.
This reality made me feel really scared that I was missing my life. In the midst of the whirlwind, I determined that somehow, I was going to find it again. And once I found it, I was going to live it.
After a couple of years of deep soul work, I have found that there is another way. There is a different path. There is some new territory that's a little uncharted, but at the same time is an adventure that can bring the change that we are after.
Fearless and Free, an eleven-week Bible study on the book of Ephesians, is the result of that journey. It contains my most personal writing, and offering it to you feels a bit like handing you my heart. I don't like to feel that vulnerable and exposed, to be honest. But I believe it is time for us to face our brokenness and need for inner healing, and I know that it can be scary to peel back the layers around our hearts. So I offer you my brokenness, my honesty, and the truth that I have found to be life-giving and transforming. I offer you my hand on this journey, with the steady assurance that you are not alone.
Fearless and Free leads us on a three-part excursion: the Wakening, the Wrestling and the Warrior.
In the Wakening, we'll wake up to the reality of who we are in Christ. Our true identity has been stolen and messed with, and we need to get it back in order to walk in freedom. Once we have it clear in our heads, we need to live out of that reality.
In the Wrestling, we'll learn to “Be renewed in the Spirit of our minds and clothe ourselves with the new self” (Eph. 4:23-24). This is talking about a totally different mindset. A completely different way to think and deal with our emotions. It's the part of the journey where we learn to recognize our Father's voice. We'll become strengthened from within, as we learn to wield the tools and weapons that have been at our disposal all along.
In the Warrior, we are going to recognize that we are in a battle. It's a battle for our hearts. It's a war on our freedom. And by God's grace- that unearned, unmerited favor and strength- we are going to take back what the enemy has stolen from us.
We are going to allow our loving Father access to our hearts.
We're going to experience healing, and joy, and the high of being fully alive.
No more numbing.
No more hustling for our worth.
No more proving.
We are going to awaken to something totally new, different and free.
Will you join me?
P.S. With an emphasis on healing and wholeness, Fearless and Free is the most personal and transformative study that Walking with Purpose has offered so far. A Leader's Guide is included, to help leaders run group study effectively. Start your journey and share it with a friend here!
This is an updated version of a post that appeared on the WWP website in 2018.
“Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. The day-to-day battles that intersect the life of a daughter of God make binge-watching Netflix very appealing.” (1)
I love that quote. I love it so much.
This is the first line of the foreword to my newly released book, Victorious Secret: Everyday Battles And How To Win Them. And I love this because A) it is so spot on true and B) because it was written by my dear friend and Sister Warrior, Lisa Brenninkmeyer. Lisa and I have been standing shoulder to shoulder on the frontline for some time now, reminding each other that we are in this battle together, handing each other our spiritual weapons when we are too weary to reach for them on our own.
Lisa was the first person I contacted after I was approached to write a book. My publisher was asking me for ideas, and of course, my mind drew a blank. I immediately felt unqualified. I didn't think I was worthy of the task at hand. My mind flooded with negative thoughts and discouragement. Who was I to write about anything?
“Go buy Vogue, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Oprah magazine. Read the questions women are asking, then you go ahead and answer them better.” This advice Lisa gave me was, hands down, the best advice ever. Why? Well, for starters, she gave me permission to go out and buy magazines. As a former Hollywood talent agent assistant and fashion model booker, I used to buy and read magazines like they were my job. Also, having been years since I had actually purchased a woman's fashion magazine, it was a most eye opening experience, and by “eye opening,” I actually mean horrifying. After flipping through pages that discouraged marriage, encouraged abortion, and promoted a do whatever makes you happy attitude no matter the cost, I knew immediately that a battle bigger than I had even imagined was raging. And I took Lisa's advice. I made note of the real struggles, the real questions, the real issues women are battling today, and I set out to answer them better.
So, what do I think these issues are?
For starters, I think we are all exhausted; from striving and hustling and trying to prove our worth.
I think most of us have no idea who we are, that we define ourselves by our job, or how many kids we have, or a number on the bathroom scale, or the size of our house, or how beautiful our Instagram feed is, or what college our child has been accepted to.
I think we believe we are as important as our calendar is filled, that we will never measure up to the woman sitting just to our left, and that clearly, when God handed out talents and gifts, he skipped us, because really...what are we even good at?
I think most days we walk around with our heads barely above the water; drowning in fear and anxiety, terrified that our children will hang out with the wrong crowd, or go down the wrong path and never come back, lonely in our “quit and stay” marriages, beaten down by a life that feels unimportant and insignificant.
And at the end of a long day, I think our weary heads hit the pillow and we fall asleep wondering...what is the point of any of this? Does what I do even matter?
And then, we wake up the next day, pour ourselves some coffee, and start it all over again.
What is the everyday battle? This. This is the everyday battle.
These thoughts that clutter our hearts and distract our minds...they can be relentless. And the worst part of it all? Many of us are walking around completely unaware that we are even in a battle. Totally numbed out. Oblivious to the constant noise that drowns out truth and only lets in the lie. This is so dangerous! The secret to winning the battle is first and foremost, knowing we are in a battle and understanding how important it is that we fight and resist the obstacles, roadblocks and flaming arrows thrown our way. And then, once we know...we can properly suit up, reclaim our territory, shield and protect our minds and hearts, stand firm, and hold our ground.
My publisher, at first, was not convinced of this topic. She felt like most women do know they are in a battle. But as a woman who went through most of her life unaware, and unarmed, and nearly threw away everything good in her life because of it, I did not back down until I received the “okay.” You know, it was only seven years ago that I was coming out of an intense season of suffering. My husband and I were broke, financially and emotionally...we had just moved across the country, with four kids under the age of ten, a cat and a hamster. I had no friends, and our marriage was on life support because of the stress, and the urge to just get up and RUN AWAY was so strong you could grab hold of it. And there was this moment...I remember it as clear as day...where I was literally on my bathroom floor, crying. I was ready to surrender...I had no fight left in me. And I am not going to say I had a vision of Jesus, or that an angel came down to lift me up, or that I heard a loud booming voice, and since that powerful and extraordinary encounter, I have been a faithful follower of Christ ever since. I wish it were that good of a story! But what actually happened? I saw myself. As if I were standing above me looking down, I could see myself. And then...I stood up.
I walked into that bathroom ready to lose the battle. But by the grace of God, I walked out, a Warrior determined to emerge victorious.
You see, I did not write Victorious Secret from the sidelines, sipping a margarita. I wrote it while in the thick of it, and let me tell you, there were days when I thought this book would never happen because the spiritual warfare was just too much. There is not a single chapter of this book, not one battle, that I have not experienced firsthand for myself. From the battle of self esteem, to the battle of marriage, to the battle of self reliance. Ladies, I have been there. I know how violent the war can get and how easily it can blindside you and knock you face down. But guess what? I also know that it is possible to get back up.
Simultaneously while writing Victorious Secret, I was working my way through the Fearless and Free study. In chapter 6, Lisa writes, “The enemy will always tempt you to forget God's faithfulness. It's your job to remember.” And this is true, isn't it? It certainly is for me. When I forget I am a Warrior in battle, when I allow the present trials to overwhelm me and the confusion to shred my faith, I fail to recall His past faithfulness. And isn't this precisely what the enemy wants? For us to forget about God, His goodness, His unfailing love, and to only zoom in on what appears hopeless? Remember ladies, the everyday battle we are in is “not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Eph 6”12) This battle is no joke.
So, what are we called to do? “ We are called to “Put on the Armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and having done everything to hold your ground.” (Eph 6:13) And if you can do that with a Sister Warrior by your side, cheering you on, then you, my friend, are in good shape. Go ahead and add that to your list of “His past faithfulness.”
I pray that this summer, Victorious Secret will be on your nightstand, and that you read it with your Fearless and Free study guide. The stakes are high, and the enemy is strong, but the good news is: so are we. We are deeply loved by the Lord, and He gives us everything we need to face our everyday battles - if we're willing to receive what He has to offer. I also pray that we may never forget His faithfulness, no matter how hard the battle gets, or how strong the urge to run.
You are not alone in the battle. The victory is His. We have already won.
Your Sister Warrior,
(1) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Victorious Secret (Our Sunday Visitor, 2018), 13.
When my nine-year-old son rode his scooter down a steep hill in flip flops, and took a nasty tumble that resulted in a broken collarbone, the pain and suffering that followed made perfect sense. In fact, too much sense, and annoyingly so, because I had said just moments before the fall, “You really should be wearing sneakers.” That was one of those mom moments when you are so afraid and worried for your child, but also really angry and sort of want to scream at them, because good grief, come on now kids, just listen to your mother! You would endure significantly less pain... if only you listened and did as told.
And this sort of became my mantra for my relationship with God and fast-growing renewal of faith. As a woman who did not always follow the straight and narrow, who lived off of reactions and emotions that had her tossed upon the waves of circumstance, once I encountered Jesus on my filthy bathroom floor (because of course, that would be how my story goes), I knew that the only way to live happily and peacefully was to simply listen, and then to do what He says. Not to listen to me. Not even to listen to my friends. And definitely not to listen to the ladies on Sex and The City, no matter how much fun they always appeared to be having. But listen to God. To Him. To who is Faithful and True. Do what HE says. And your suffering will be minimal. Everything will make sense.
Until it doesn't.
Because sometimes suffering does not make sense. Sometimes we do listen and sometimes we do obey and even so, sometimes….the pain is just too much and seemingly for no reason. And I speak from a very personal perspective. God has been leading me through the bitter valley for way too long, as far as I am concerned. Sure, I know, HIS will be done...but I am starting to wonder if my will ought to be given, at the very least, a try. Because people keep telling me this is not my whole story, it is only a chapter, and well if that is the case, then God really needs to find a new editor because He is writing way too long of a chapter and it is seriously time to move on. I just don't understand what He is doing, and when I am in this place of doubt and questioning, I look up to the heavens and I say some things to God that I can not write in this space without being asked by my editor to please come up with an alternative word...because this moment right here? The moment when you feel like your life is a glass snow globe and you just got picked up by some crazy kid with a sick love of shaking the living daylights out of things, and you can no longer see, feel or hear anything...and you are paralyzed in a snowstorm of confusion that appears to have no end? This right here is where the greatest spiritual damage happens. This right here is where our faith takes a hit. And it has nothing to do with the actual pain and suffering.
I know. Weird. Makes no sense. Right? How can that be? If the pain and suffering are not what is causing us to lose strength and faith, than what on earth is? Because I certainly know plenty of people who were good church-going folk, who stopped being good church-going folk once they were hit with a tragedy, loss, season of intense suffering. I chalked it up to not a strong enough faith...roots weren't deep enough...they were just too angry. But actually, that is not true. So if it is not the suffering that causes us to trade in our Sunday worship for pilates and an iced latte, then what is?
This, my sweet friends, was my biggest lesson learned from the Fearless and Free study. Lisa Brenninkmeyer quotes Dr. James Dobson, a licensed psychologist and marriage, family and child counselor, who has this to say about the impact of suffering on people's faith:
It is an incorrect view of Scripture to say that we will always comprehend what God is doing and how our suffering and disappointment fit into His plan. Sooner or later, most of us will come to a point where it appears that God has lost control - or interest - in the affairs of people. It is only an illusion, but one with dangerous implications for spiritual and mental health. Interestingly enough, pain and suffering do not cause the greatest damage. Confusion is the factor that shreds one's faith. (emphasis added) ...The human spirit is capable of withstanding enormous discomfort, including the prospect of death, if the circumstances make sense. (1)
And I can't imagine I am the only one who has been there, who is there, who will one day be there; in the midst of a suffering so great, a suffering that makes no sense at all - because you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, and still nothing is right. And so you find yourself back in that snow globe with no other choice other than to yell at this good God and ask Him, “What the heck are you doing? Are you even doing anything?? Can you please, please, please just end this now? Fix everything. I don't understand it. You have to step in and clean this mess up now. Because I am not the girl for this...you have got me all wrong.”
And we all know how God gets things wrong, right?
Lisa shares in Lesson Six, Day Four, of Fearless and Free how she brought this very question to her counselor; the question we all wrestle with, if we are being honest. “If we are following you, God, if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, why is this so hard?” (2) And her counselor said this:
“Our culture equates hard with bad, and easy with good. But what if that's wrong? What if hard is actually good? Sometimes marriage is hard work, but isn't that when something really good is being created? What if we are looking at things from the wrong perspective?” (3)
This struck me and gave me much to think about a year ago when I first read it. And I still find myself wrestling with this today. And what I hate about all of this is...I agree with it. It is the confusion - not the suffering - that gets my head spinning, has me pacing from room to room, forgetting what I set out to do, too distracted to work or pray, quick-tempered with my loved ones, drawn to catastrophic thinking and worst case scenarios, leaving purchased items at Target because I used the self check-out against my better judgement, because my well of patience has run dry and I mean honestly...why is that cashier so slow and does the woman in front of me seriously need all those beach towels and decorative pillows? I think not.
I am ranting. I know. Welcome to my inner thoughts run by confusion in the midst of pain and suffering.
And I'd love nothing more right now than to wrap this up nice and neat by telling you I am fighting back hard in my leather pants and Warrior stance. I am going back to the “I declares,” memorizing Scripture, and taking every thought captive to Christ. But the truth? I am not. I am still fighting the battle of confusion. I am still very much afraid. And I am still lingering in the demand to know “why” and “when does this end?” I am still trying to make sense of the absolute senseless. And I am still stuck in that snowglobe, in the eye of the storm, and the shaking, I fear, has no end.
And yet even so, as I feel tempted to focus on the confusion, when I cannot find the words to pray, I still fall asleep holding tight to my rosary - the ultimate weapon. I continue to keep the holy names of Mary and Jesus on my lips before I slip off to sleep. I still rise up with the sun and get my coffee and sit in my prayer spot, even if the words do not immediately come, even if the prayer is never said. And I sit here, in quiet surrender. I allow myself to be held. I turn my face towards Him, my safeguard and fortress, my rock and my shield, the commander who is training my hands for battle, my fingers for war. (Psalm 144) I do not move. And maybe to the world, this doesn't look strong and brave. Maybe to my foe, I look small and fragile. But make no mistake, my friend. This? This right here is the stance of a warrior. This right here is a fierce woman who will not back down. Remaining open to Him when nothing makes sense? This is my greatest offering.
Sweet friends, if this is you too, I pray you are comforted to know that I am there with you. I pray that we both know that despite feeling alone, we are not. That although we are broken, we can still be brave, and that despite not understanding, He will work all things for our good. Never, ever, for a single second, allow yourself to believe that just because you do not have the strength to pull up those leather pants (or fit in them, for that matter), you are not a Warrior. You are every bit a Warrior. And if all you do today is hold your ground - staking a claim to your territory and not letting the enemy steal even an inch - then you my friend are doing more than enough. You, my friend, are a fierce, and victorious warrior in battle.
And finally, I pray that all of our children listen to their moms. That they wear their sneakers while riding down steep hills on scooters. Because their fall is inevitable. Their pain unpreventable. And well, sneakers on scooters just makes sense.
With you in the battle, holding our ground -
Is confusion because of suffering causing your faith to take a hit? In what area of your life do you believe God is asking you to accept His will, to give your fiat, even when questions remain unanswered? Email your thoughts, comments, and prayers to email@example.com, then join me Thursday at 10 AM EST on Instagram Live as we continue the Fearless and Free discussion!
(1) James Dobson, When God Doesn't Make Sense (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2012),13.
(2) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Fearless and Free (Walking With Purpose, 2018), 147.
(3) Fearless and Free, 147.
It happened without my even noticing it; this inner voice that would remind me over and over again about all the things that weren't right in my life. All the things that were wrong with me. And all the things that I would never become. I never even took a moment to ponder when this all began, because in my mind, it was just always there. It was my self-created truth. And every morning, for countless years, I would wake up, and before even opening my eyes I would say to myself, “I hate my life.”
For years, this was how I began my day.
My “old self,” if you can believe it, was more broken than my “new self.” I turned to all sorts of things -- people, addictions, obsessions, and false identities -- just to feel wanted, seen, heard, loved, and in full control. But not only for these reasons. I was also desperately trying to avoid the experience of failure, rejection, and hurt. I had already experienced these things, and well...they didn't feel so good. And so I constructed “strongholds” in my life. Strongholds? Yup. Strongholds. In Lisa Brenninkmeyer's Fearless and Free study, she explains in the Lesson 4 talk what happens to us when we construct strongholds:
We construct strongholds in our lives - places we go to find our security and safety when we feel threatened. We go to those places instead of God. In that moment, we choose to rely on ourselves rather than on Him.
Oh man, I SO mastered this. In fact, this is exactly what I majored in, in college! I graduated with a degree in Stronghold Construction, with a minor in Living In Bondage. Because sadly, sweet friends, as I have learned through painful personal experience, and as confirmed by Fearless and Free - The Wrestling, the strongholds we make do not keep us safe at all. They keep us in bondage. It is fascinating, really, in the most heartbreaking way. How we strive for perfection, how we numb to avoid, how we pretend to be fine, all at the expense of truly living fearless and free. We think we are so smart. We think we have discovered the foolproof way. We think we have made brilliant decisions that will save us, because really...if we don't save ourselves, who will?
After my wakening, which happened at a Matthew Kelly retreat back in 2011, I knew I had work to do. I was physically drained by the inner vows and constant lies; emotionally exhausted by a life based on circumstance that relied on feelings, beaten down by and tossed by each and every wave only to be left alone and despondent, lifeless on shore. My spiritual tank was on empty, and I knew that to do things differently, to lose that “old self” that had me in shackles, something different had to happen. The bottom line? I had to grow up spiritually. It was time to mature.
This is what The Wrestling in Fearless and Free is all about. Maturity. And so it would be wise for all of us to ask ourselves this question: What does it mean to be mature? And we are talking spiritually, right? Not your age, not what you own, not your title at your job, not how intelligent or practical or polite you are...but spiritually. Are you mature?
I knew I was not spiritually mature when I tried to let go of who I was without God, and attempted to live out life as a beloved daughter of God. Why? Well, because honestly? I knew about God. I knew about Jesus. I am a cradle Catholic. I knew about lots of things in the Bible. Sort of. Ya know...I knew about the animals, two by two...and I knew that Moses was super old...and I knew something about a rooster that crowed and those strange and useless baby gifts the wise men brought Mary. But what I lacked was actual understanding. What I never grew were the necessary roots needed to produce good fruit. As Lisa points out in her talk in The Wrestling, you can have the wakening, but if you lack understanding and roots, this “move from desire to reality is not easy.” And I learned this the hard way. There was lots of stumbling, and lots of falling back into old habits, and many visits to the confessional to seek forgiveness for the same thing I had confessed just weeks ago, before I realized what I was forgetting. I was in battle. And I had no weapon.
And oh, how I really do love the image of the battle. Because good grief, sisters, we are so in a battle. And no good soldier goes to battle without her weapon. Battles, weapons, the enemy...get used to these words and do not fear them. In fact, embrace them. Study them. Understand them. Because if we are to wrestle successfully and live fearless and free, half the battle is knowing we are in a battle, and the other half is knowing how to fight it. What are we fighting? Well, I am glad you asked. The enemy. The father of lies who was the one whispering in my ear while I slept, convincing me that my life was something to hate. The ruler of the earth who drowns out the Father's gentle voice. The murderer, who as soon as he sees our progress - the moment we have wakened to the truth about our identity - prowls around us like a lion, and steals back the truth we have just found. The enemy is relentless, yet so subtle, and his specialty is not putting things inside of our minds...but rather, taking things out. And he starts with Truth.
Lisa asks us, Can you recognize truth? Can you recognize the voice of the Father? And these are questions I scribbled down fast on the wrong page of my book, but at least I got them down, because sisters, these are some serious questions. These words, these questions, are the very ones I numbed out and threw out years ago because I think deep down inside I knew that to honestly answer them, I would be agreeing to walk a path away from what I thought was safe, and heading out into the unknown, without a GPS.
In my personal opinion, Fearless and Free is the most powerful and important study ever written, because in a culture that is saturated with self help and relativism, mindfulness, and positive thinking, giving it to the universe and “you do you,” Fearless and Free takes that one crucial step deeper...that one missing ingredient in the secular world's remedy for wholeness and healing...it takes us to Scripture. My friends, if we are going to mature, if we are going to move from desire to reality, if we are going to take off the old self and put on the new, we would be wise to listen to Lisa when she tells us, “we have got to learn how to be renewed and restored in our minds.” Which brings me back to the battle and our weapon needed for the wrestling. Ladies, it is time to put down your latte, and pick up The Sword of Spirit. (actually, your latte probably cost you nine dollars, so go ahead and finish it. Then pick up your sword of Spirit)
In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, we are told to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” Until Fearless and Free, I will be honest; I really had no idea what that even meant. Remember, my Biblical knowledge pretty much stopped with the animals two by two. But The Wrestling helped me to understand. You see, it was no surprise that I believed the enemy's lies about my life and my identity, because the lies were the only voice I recognized - they were the words I listened to, that was the voice that to my mind, made sense. I had not heard enough of God's voice to know the difference. And because I had little knowledge of God, and the attacks were so relentless, the lies became so embedded in my mind, they felt like truth. I knew them to be real. God's voice...His Word...was so distant, so far, so unrecognizable, that his faithful and true whisper didn't stand a chance.
In The Wrestling, Lisa makes one thing clear - we have to discipline ourselves and develop a different mindset if we desire to be healed. For me? Picking up my Bible and actually reading it...praying it...was the game changer. This is how I learned when I was being fed a lie as opposed to truth, when it was the voice of the enemy, as opposed to the voice of my Father. Because we are asked in this lesson, “Based on our knowledge of God, what do we know to be true of Him?” we are being strongly encouraged here to open our Bibles, dig in deep, start to unpack, and learn and memorize His living and active word. We can not restore our minds and be renewed unless we pick up this weapon - Scripture - and saturate ourselves with it.
I'd like to say I have gotten so good at declaring God's truths in times of trouble and trial, that the enemy decided to pack up and focus on some other poor soul. But here is the truth. Just this morning, when I woke up, guess what my very first thought was? “I hate my life.” You see, I am in a season of what feels like wave after wave crashing over me, and in simplest terms, I am weary. And the enemy knows it. And he loves nothing more than a good and tired Catholic woman, because the last thing he wants is another sister warrior of Christ. The urge to roll over and go back to sleep was strong, but after wakening and wrestling, I knew what I needed to do, even though I did not feel like doing it. And so I got up, got my coffee, then sat down with His Word. I kicked the lies to the curb, and blanketed myself in the truth. The truth about God. The truth about myself. And the truth about my beautifully broken life.
P.S. Join me this Thursday at 10 AM EST on Instagram Live to hear more about Fearless and Free - The Wrestling. Have your coffee and Sword of Spirit ready!
Before beginning this post, I said a prayer, paused for a moment and ate a Dove chocolate. The little note on the inside of the wrapper read, “Things have to fall apart in order for them to fall together.” Sure, it's a bit cheesy, cliché, and understated (which is usually true of all messages found attached to chocolate), but nevertheless it spoke to what I learned in the newest Walking With Purpose study, Fearless and Free; sometimes we have to let things fall apart in order to see how they fall together.
Usually we, as women, don't like to do this. We don't like to see things fall apart. Most of us try to avoid this and instead, expend massive amounts of energy holding everything together for as long as we can. And when it finally falls apart, we usually pretend that it has not.
I'm just as guilty of this as the next woman. When I stepped into Fearless and Free (FAF), I was standing in what felt like an absolute ocean of hurt. Meanwhile, I claimed that I was fine.
When I stepped out of FAF, I stepped into counseling. Why? Because I had let things fall apart. I had acknowledged my pain. And letting things fall apart was the greatest gift I could give to myself. Letting things fall apart made me vulnerable. It made me realize that I am not the Savior and it made me recognize my need for our Savior.
But, Lisa was wise in her writing of FAF. She does not force women to immediately jump into this place of “falling apart.” Instead, she begins with what she titles “The Wakening.” She begins by reminding women who they are in Christ; that they are beloved daughters of God.
The goal of this first part of FAF is to wake up to who we really are and what we are worth. It is to know that we are chosen.
While I think the wrestling, the “falling apart” may seem scarier, I think that for a lot of women, this knowing our identity and worth in Christ is actually harder. It was for me and here's why:
We are vulnerable when we're in pain. The enemy knows this, and so he whispers lies about our identity, causing us to question whether we are truly God's beloved daughters. His absolute favorite lies are those that our tied to our identity, because he knows that if he can mess with us here, he is messing with us at the core of who are.
Forgetting your belovedness is harder than falling apart because this identity is foundational.
And when you forget that you are the beloved, your falling apart can be detrimental. You can't wrestle. You can't become a warrior. You can't live fearless and free.
This wakening is essential.
I know this to be true because when I began FAF in this ocean of pain which I was attempting to numb, I had forgotten that I was the beloved. I didn't believe it. Without even being aware of it, through my pain, the enemy had taken me out at the knees by taking away the core of my heart.
You see, as women, we often base our identity on exterior circumstances rather than interior truths. We hear our identity better from other people than we do from God within the silence of our hearts. And above all, I think that most of us base our identities on a feeling.
Which is why my FAF small group spent nearly fifteen minutes on this question: How do we feel like the beloved when we don't feel like the beloved?
I'm honestly still not entirely sure, but I think it has something to do with faith.
It's similar to the age-old, how can I believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist if I can't actually see Him question.
We must embrace an I-believe-Lord-help-my-unbelief-mentality.
Despite our lack of feeling, we must have faith in the reality that we are God's beloved. That He has chosen us.
God has promised us all of this. He has promised us that He has claimed us as His own and that He will fight for us and that He uses everything for our good. And, to sit in our belovedness is to sit in “confident expectation” of the fulfillment of this promise.
Confident expectation. Only someone who believes that they are the beloved can truly sit in confident expectation. It is a full surrender to God in all of His goodness even in the falling apart.
Lucky for us, we see this modeled over and over again in Scripture.
Take a look at Noah. God said to him, “Hey, build an ark for your family and a bunch of animals and I will make it rain for 40 days and 40 nights.” That's it. That's all he told Noah. Implied in that was the promise that Noah and his family would get to come out of the ark at some point. But then we hear, “And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days.” That's a bit more than 40.
But Noah waited in confident expectation. He trusted in his belovedness enough to know that God would fulfill His promise. And God did. We learn in the very next verse that, “God remembered Noah.” God always remembers His people. Despite the falling apart, God remembers His people.
In the Bible we discover that in order for God's promise to be fulfilled, we must depend entirely on God and trust in His way. And then, we must simply embrace Him and all that He does, accepting the arrival of His promise as a gift.
This is what the Wakening is all about. It is about discovering (or rediscovering) our beloved identity and then trusting God and His way as things fall apart, knowing that the falling together will arrive as a pure gift.
I pray that you would allow yourself to fall apart believing always that God remembers you.
P.S. To hear more about Fearless and Free and “The Wakening,” please join me on Instagram Live this Thursday at 10 AM EST!