So here we are, 60 days into the New Year, and I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution.
I can’t pinpoint the exact day it happened. It wasn’t as if I resolved to give up junk food, and then tore through a bag of Doritos while binge-watching Jane the Virgin one particular evening.
As well, I can’t fault the resolution itself. Inspired as it was by Scripture, it had to be a solid resolution, right?
Love your neighbor as yourself.
In early January I made physical and mental lists of the names of people to love; people to whom I thought I needed to show more kindness and attention. My husband, my parents in Connecticut, my brother and sister-in-law in California, the pregnant woman next door, the friend whose fiftieth birthday party I missed...the list went on. And on.
The list was lengthy, and somehow, right after making it, I forgot about nearly everyone on it as I plowed through the first two months of 2020 trying to meet all my deadlines at work along with daily duties as my kids’ personal chef, chauffeur and laundress.
While I was disappointed in myself for neglecting my list, it was also clear that my expectations were a little high. Why in the world did I expect I could pour myself into so many others simultaneously while barely keeping my own life together?
Hoping to find an answer to this question in the Walking with Purpose Bible study, Keeping In Balance, I re-visited the page on the topic of Balancing Expectations titled, “My Expectations of Myself.”  On this page author Lisa Brenninkmeyer directs us to write down the expectations we have of ourselves; then circle the ones that matter to God. And that’s when I had an “aha” moment—there was not a lot that needed circling on my list.
Truth be told, I wanted to squeeze quality time with dozens of people into my schedule so that I could stop feeling guilty and start feeling like I accomplished things. And I don’t think that feeling victorious after checking names off a list mattered much to God.
The dinner in Manhattan that I’d been trying so hard to set up with that friend whose birthday I missed wasn’t for her. It was for me, so I could stop feeling bad about missing her birthday.
I had missed the mark, but last Saturday, I was given a second chance at the Sisters of Life Feminine Genius Brunch in Pearl River, New York. If you know me as the picky, junk food-binging, vegetarian that I am, you won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t partake of the brunch. But I did drink lots of coffee, and I made new friends among the ladies seated at my table. And we all got to hear Sister Virginia Joy deliver an inspiring talk on The Beauty of the Feminine Heart.
Sister said something that has stayed with me—spoken with more eloquence than how I’m about to retell it here, but it was something like this:
Let God’s grace touch others through you.
Sister Virginia Joy gave examples of women who did this, and those women weren’t moving mountains or launching nonprofits or feeding armies. One woman simply reached out on a crowded train and helped a stranger with her crying baby.
That, my friends, is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
I think I’ve got it figured out now. I think the kind of love we’re talking about doesn’t live on a to-do list. It is spontaneous, joyful and unselfish. It is simply letting God’s grace flow through us to others.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 46.
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.
In November, I enjoyed a girls' weekend away with friends from grammar school and high school. Yes, we sat around drinking wine in our PJs, swapping stories about our families. But something else was discussed in far greater detail than whose husband snored the loudest, and it dominated the weekend's chatter, and it was all about getting our kids into college.
My oldest child (Jack) is just 14, but I absorbed every word of this complex subject, fascinated by the lengths to which many parents would go to get their son or daughter into a “good” college.
Honestly? Some of what I learned was just downright crazy, but before I knew it, I had jumped right on that college crazy train.
It became my mission in life to get Jack's grades up, which you should know is about as easy as launching myself into space, since Jack is by no means a scholar and he Just. Doesn't. Care. About. School.
I should qualify that by saying Jack does just fine in the subjects he enjoys (theology and English), but he doesn't give a hoot about his other classes.
And the more I'd push Jack to pay attention in class, and focus on homework, and study for tests, the more frustrated I'd get, because my pushing wasn't paying off (I may have even completed a number of ninth-grade Biology assignments, because we don't need any more homework zeros now, do we?).
In between all the pushing, I allowed myself brief moments of daydreaming about the college sticker on my future car; the sticker from the prestigious university attended by Future Jack. Uppercase block letters in the center of the rear window. That sticker had become my Holy Grail.
My husband was not riding the college crazy train with me. He wasn't having any of the pushing, helping or college-daydreaming. To punish Jack for not trying hard enough in school or to let him fail were the two courses of action my husband would consider.
What, seriously, should a parent do with a kid like Jack? Punish? Accept bad behavior? Pray for divine intervention?
Last Fall I joined an Opening Your Heart Bible study group. Opening Your Heart is the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study, and often as I progress through the lessons, answers to questions like these emerge from the pages, to my great joy, and relief.
A few weeks ago, my small group was reviewing Opening Your Heart Lesson 8, “What is Grace and What Difference Does it Make?” I'll admit that I was a little fuzzy on this topic going in. How grace worked exactly, and the role it had in our lives was hard for me to grasp as a Catholic newbie. But Lesson 8 taught me two things:
Takeaway #1: I'm pretty sure that me writing Jack's biology labs isn't the “free and undeserved help” we're talking about here.
Takeaway #2: The grace I need to give to others, to my children? I think it is the infinite love, support and forgiveness that I give, even when they don't deserve it.
Something else from this lesson that jumped out at me:
“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God.” (3)
Merits - our abilities and achievements - are pure grace. I was really happy to come across that Catechism Clip when I did.
The artistic renderings that Jack sketches on his tablet in lieu of listening to a bio lecture? The piano songs he composes instead of finishing his math homework? Art and music are, for Jack, gifts from God that I was completely overlooking in my quest for a high overall GPA and a college bumper sticker.
Jack's merits don't stop there. Over the years I've watched this son of mine win home-run trophies, sing solos at baseball stadiums and earn cross-country medals as well.
That Opening Your Heart lesson on grace? For me it was a game-changer. It was God saying through the pages, Stop doing ninth-grade biology homework, forgive your son, and watch where his God-given talents take him.
When solutions to my personal problems reveal themselves from the pages of a book, it's a beautiful thing. But this Bible study offers so much more than practical parenting lessons. Opening Your Heart is an incredibly effective guide to lasting transformation of the heart, and to a deeper relationship with Christ. I look forward to meeting Future Jen when she has completed this 22-lesson study 🙂
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996
2 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 95
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2011