I’ve just celebrated a milestone birthday—my 50th. As I survey the landscape, it’s looking like pretty fertile ground for gratitude. There are some hard-won interior victories that have allowed me to see progress in areas of my life where old patterns remained for far too long. I lost years of joy by allowing other people’s opinions of me to dictate my sense of self-worth. My mood and self-esteem would fluctuate according to how this or that person saw me and treated me. It was a seesaw life emotionally. But after some deep soul work, I have been tasting freedom in this area. I’ve been better able to live for an audience of One, getting a little closer to being able to say along with St. Thomas More, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”
Some of my favorite things about starting this new decade:
A friend of mine read my list, and asked me to help her brainstorm a list for her. She, too, was celebrating a milestone birthday, but said that, while she wished she could just take my list and run with it, her story was unique. There are challenges she is facing that are different than mine. I suggested the following, with hopes that she’d use the list as a springboard to personalize it, tweak it, and come up with her own ideas:
Getting older brings all sorts of things we don’t want (failing eyesight, colonoscopies, and overall sagging, to name a few), but there are a number of things that are undeniably better if we have been good students of life. Suffering can make us more mature or more bitter; it’s up to us which we become. Gratitude factors in here in a big way. The perspective we choose is critical. If we are continuously on the lookout for disappointments, failed dreams, inadequacies, and times that people and life have let us down, we’ll find ample examples. Focusing on them will feed the heaviness. But if we will do the work of finding the good in our current set of circumstances, if we thank God continually for those things, we’ll start to notice all sorts of other small and surprising blessings.
How about you? Can you make a list of your favorite things (lessons learned, victories achieved) as you head into this new decade? May gratitude serve as a catalyst for happiness in 2020 and beyond for each one of us.
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.
What does it mean to live the good life? How can I be happy? What choices will get me there? How we answer these questions has everything to do with the voices we choose to listen to. A life is formed through many small, seemingly insignificant decisions. Bit by bit, we become the result of choices that we all too often make without much reflection.
As summer ends, many of us are feeling that our schedules have heated up. We're jumping back in to life with varied degrees of readiness and are determined to start well. Our focus turns to our calendars, and it's tempting to assume that as long as we are checking off everything on the agenda, we're nailing it. But how are our hearts doing in the midst of the increase in activity? Are we riding the rollercoaster of appointments and check-lists without making sure our minds and hearts are in the right place?
How our day unfolds and feels has less to do with our circumstances and activities than our mindset. While we can't control which events we'll encounter, we can always decide what our attitude will be. Will we filter everything that happens through a lens of gratitude? Will we be kind to ourselves by seeing ourselves through God's eyes? Will we look at suffering as something that always has purpose?
More and more, I am convinced that getting our attitude in the right place has everything to do with how we start each day.
St. Josemaria Escriva coined a phrase that I think is so compelling: the heroic minute. He writes,
The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation; a supernatural reflection and…up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God's help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.¹
I realize that reading the word mortification probably makes you want to run for the hills. Who wants to start the day with something that sounds unpleasant? But stay with me for a minute. How do you feel when you get up and are behind the eight ball before things have even begun? Your first movements are rushed, requests come at you and require your attention, and all you can think is that you have got to clear your head and get some coffee. It's starting the day reacting instead of responding. It's feeling under siege and not knowing exactly why. It's also entirely avoidable.
Giving God the first minutes of your day will pay dividends later. I promise you He will multiply your time. You'll get more done and have a peaceful heart while doing it.
But it's not just a matter of hauling your body out of bed. Resetting your mind is the critical step if you want your day to be the best it possibly can. Which begs the questions:
Which mindset will best equip me to face the day with inner strength and gratitude?
How do I gain that mindset?
St. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We renew our minds by looking at things from God's perspective. This is something we need to do every day. Otherwise our thoughts and emotions will be in the driver's seat, and the ride will be anything but smooth. The best mindset is God's, and we gain it by listening to Him. While few people hear His audible voice, we all can hear His voice speaking through Scripture.
As you head into this new season, I pray that you will make Scripture reading a high priority in your life. Doing this in the context of authentic community makes it even more transformative. The Walking with Purpose Bible studies are formatted to make it easy to read the Bible each day. Instead of opening up to a random verse, you're guided to relevant passages and questions for reflection that help you apply what you've read. The readings give your mind something to chew on for the day. If you actually apply what you read, you will make significant progress in the spiritual life. What I've written relates to the problems, heartaches, and searching that I've experienced over the years. As I've traveled and spoken to thousands of women, I've had the privilege of listening to them unburdening their hearts. I've found that our struggles are universal. We are not alone. My writing aims to touch the heart, strengthen the will, and enlighten the mind. The goal is transformation- that what we read would impact how we live.
But what if you can't start your day this way? No worries. Just look for the first pocket of quiet in your schedule. It always comes, but we usually don't notice because we've fill it with mindless scrolling through our social media feeds or checking our email. What might change if instead of grabbing your phone, you did a short Bible study? It'll just take fifteen minutes, but the impact of that choice will be felt throughout the day.
Much of what I've written speaks of God's unconditional love for you, and everything I've written should be filtered through that perspective. When God asks us to get moving, or change a bad habit, or do something that feels out of our comfort zone, it is always because He wants what is best for us. He is not a cosmic kill joy. He is a good Father who wants His children to flourish.
May what you read travel from your mind to your heart, going beyond information to transformation. May you meet Jesus in the pages of His Word, and may your trust in Him grow. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen,” (Jude 24-25).
With you on the journey,
¹ St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way (NY: Doubleday, 1982), 33.
“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” James 1:17
The landscape of our mind will determine the quality of our day. If our mindset is one of gratitude, contentment will follow. In the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld. One attitude or the other becomes a way of life.” This requires a refusal to fall into the pit of self-pity.
Self-pity causes our focus to turn inwards, and things get very dark, very quickly. When we allow a litany of our woes to run through our minds, self-defeating thoughts begin to build up and cloud our ability to see anything good. Lies like “things will never change” start to make sense, and we head down the path to despair.
The antidote is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Even the most miserable circumstances contain an opportunity for growth. We can thank God for this. I have found that this is critical when I feel stuck in a situation I hate. Instead of asking God, “Why is this happening to me?” I ask Him, “What are you trying to teach me?”
I have begun asking God this question in the midst of chaos, and then telling Him that I want to learn every single bit of the lesson this time around so that I don't have to return to the same set of miserable circumstances to try to learn better later. This is one of the reasons why giving in to escapisms gets in the way of our maturity, and does not ultimately result in happiness.
If those hard circumstances return, it's tempting to assume that the original lesson must never have been learned and to become discouraged as a result. But this isn't necessarily the case. If you did learn the lesson- if the trial resulted in spiritual growth and maturity- then coming up against those same circumstances again means that God is doing a deeper healing. It's the peeling of an onion; the growth is going to be more profound.
Every good and perfect gift in your life comes from God. That gift may come in packaging that you don't like, but if you are willing to open it up anyway, the lessons you will learn will be life-changing. It will be the difference maker between you becoming an immature and superficial person or a person of depth, wisdom and maturity.
What are you trying to teach me right now? Help me to learn everything you have for me in my current circumstances. Amen.
More than ever, I am grateful for Scripture. For truth. For hope with handles, a faith I can grasp with both hands. God's promises? No small thing. They are what get me up and out of bed, sustain me throughout the day, and tuck me in, safe and sound, each and every night. For His Word, I am so incredibly grateful.
But sometimes? Sometimes I forget. Sometimes, I fail to give thanks. But praise be to God, He always manages to pull me back in and remind me of His goodness. Through a stranger's welcoming smile, or tucked inside an encouraging word from a friend, He reminds me. This week, it was through an unexpected encounter while driving through the city; the opportunity to hand whatever was in my wallet to the homeless man begging on the street. The man, whose eyes grew wide as he held the ten dollar bill in his hand, who lit up like a Christmas tree and shouted from the heart, “THANK YOU!” And then, after he gave thanks, offered to help me.
“I can clean up your yard...I am good in the yard…” he said. After I told him I did not live nearby, I asked for his name. Because I thought I should know it, as much as he should say it out loud. He was named after all, by a mother like me. “Benjamin,” he said. And just before I drove away, I promised, “Benjamin, consider yourself covered in prayer.” Holding the ten dollar bill pressed against his chest he nodded his head and said, “Pray for me.” And then, he thanked me, again.
Gratitude. It is so powerful.
You see, I believe that gratitude is “holy medicine.” I believe it is healing. I believe that being grateful is the antidote to everything. I also believe that if Christ dwells inside of us, no matter the circumstance, we can be grateful. Like Benjamin, homeless on the side of the road. Like Jesus, among friends on the night He was betrayed. Both, in utterly distressing situations, found reason to give thanks.
This message of gratitude should not be reserved for the month of November or Thanksgiving Day, and should be passed on to everyone we encounter, most especially, our children. Sure, we teach them to say thank you, but to understand real gratitude, to fully grasp the meaning of blessing, they need to start with Jesus. They need to encounter Him. In order to give thanks in all things, knowing truth is essential because the reality is, sometimes being grateful is hard.
The Walking With Purpose middle school girls' ministry, Blaze, offers Between You And Me, a 40-day devotional conversation guide for mothers and daughters that is the perfect way to teach our daughters about the gift of truth, about gratefulness that does not depend on circumstance. Written to read together, each day compares a lie of our secular culture with the truth found in Scripture. I have begun this practice with my own daughters, and I love how it allows us the opportunity to journal, discuss, ask questions, and pray. It has been instrumental in teaching my girls to recognize the lie, to learn truth, and to look for the blessings. Whether it is over breakfast before school, or with a bag of chips in bed at night, it is exactly the tool I needed to enrich my relationship with my daughters, as well as with Christ.
As the month of gratitude starts its wind down, and December, in all its madness, is just around the corner, I have been thinking about how we can all hang on to, and continue to pass on, this message of gratitude and truth. And I was thinking...what if we gifted all of our daughters this Christmas with the Between You And Me devotional? What if our daughters gave them to their friends as gifts? What if we passed them on to our mommy friends, to share with their girls? What if we placed it in the Christmas stocking of the new mom, expecting a daughter? Better than a candle or coffee shop gift card, how about we give the gift that has the ability to change lives, and better our most important relationships? What if we make this year the year we give the gift that we can all truly be grateful for?
Know that on this Thanksgiving Day, and every day, I will be praying and thanking God for the blessing of you and the Walking With Purpose community. May we continue to seek the truth, pass it on, and look for the blessings.
And if you would, please pray for my friend Benjamin, a blessing on the side of the road; who healed my own lack of gratitude and taught me what it means to give thanks...in all things.
Your Sister in Christ,
Want to join me in gifting your girls with a Christmas gift that matters? Purchase the Between You And Me devotional here!
The holidays are coming and the influx of catalogs in my mailbox confirms it. I can't seem to throw them away because their contents might offer me the perfect Christmas gift for my husband, the ideal accessory for my house, or to-die-for shoes. The likelihood of me actually buying something from them is very slim, but there's an underlying sense that I might miss out on something great if I just toss them in the garbage.
We see around 4,000 ads per day (1) which causes a number of things to happen simultaneously. We notice the smooth skin and perfect body on the model and wish we looked differently. We start to dwell on what we don't have instead of being grateful for what we do. Comparisons are made and contentment is eaten away. No matter what's been already given, we want more.
I can blame social media for my discontentment, but the women of Discovering Our Dignity remind me that there is nothing new under the sun. Writing this study on women of the Bible made it clear to me that the problems of comparison and contentment aren't caused by overzealous marketing; it's an age-old wrestling match within the heart. Eve wasn't measuring herself against her Instagram feed, but she struggled as much as we do. Why? Because the enemy has always known that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6), so from the beginning of time he's been messing with our desires.
Satan's message to Eve was, “Are you longing for something more? More knowledge? More wisdom? Then you should be able to have it! Why should you have to experience unfulfilled longings? Take matters into your own hands!” His message is the same to us today. He convinces us that we shouldn't have unfulfilled longings. And our world chimes in, suggesting all sorts of remedies. Do you want something you can't afford? Put it on a credit card. Are you longing for affirmation and attention? Dress seductively to get it. Are you discontent in your marriage? Satisfy your emotional needs with another man.
It's important to note that the longing itself is not sinful. In fact, God put this longing into our hearts to draw us to Him. But we get into trouble when we insist on fulfilling that longing with things of earth, and when we're willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill it, regardless of right or wrong (2).
Before sin entered the world, God satisfied man's desires because they were directed at Him. But everything changed when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Desire became misdirected, and ever since that fateful day, we've battled the lie that the fulfillment of our longings will come through temporal achievements or possessions. Desire isn't the problem. The problem is where we go to satisfy it. It's interesting that the word “sin” means missing the mark. It's a picture of us aiming for the wrong thing, and disobeying God in the process.
God doesn't want to squelch or take away our desires; He wants to redeem them and raise them to new heights. He knows what's going to deeply satisfy us, and what will leave us empty.
We have 18 days until Thanksgiving. How do we root out discontentment and cultivate gratitude between now and then? We can do it with the WWP Gratitude Challenge. I hope you keep going to the end because the best one is Day 17. I'm laughing just thinking about it.
We can do this one day at a time!
Day 1: Measure yourself today by contentment and laughter rather than by inches and pounds.
Day 2: Carry a rock in your pocket and every time you touch it, thank God for something.
Day 3: Thank God for three things you like to hear.
Day 4: Satisfy your desire for beauty by listening to 'Duettino- Sull'aria' by Mozart
Day 5: Find someone who works in the service industry and say thanks for the help they provide.
Day 6: When you get in the shower, start to list your blessings and don't stop until you turn off the water.
Day 7: Thank God for three things that you like to taste.
Day 8: Throw out your merchandise catalogs.
Day 9: Go through a drive-through line and pay for the person behind you.
Day 10: Fast from social media for the day.
Day 11: Think of three friends you are grateful for; text them and let them know.
Day 12: Measure today by how many people you complimented instead of how many people got on your nerves.
Day 13: Write a note of appreciation to someone who has taught you something or inspired you.
Day 14: Thank God for three things in your home.
Day 15: Watch a sunset in the most quiet place possible.
Day 16: Unsubscribe from email lists of 20 companies that send you too many ads.
Day 17: Binge watch John Crist videos. As in WATCH THEM ALL. You're welcome.
Day 18: Thanksgiving!
Grateful for you-
1. Ron Marshall, “How Many Ads Do You See In One Day?”, Red Crow Marketing, https://www.redcrowmarketing.com/2015/09/10/many-ads-see-one-day/, accessed October 29, 2018.
2. Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Walking with Purpose, Discovering Our Dignity, 2017, 20-21.
Isn't it strange that we need to be reminded to be grateful- we who live in the most privileged of circumstances? Most of us are wealthy by the world's standards. Do you make $35,000 a year? Then you are in the top 4 percent of wealth in the world. Fifty thousand? Top 1 percent.
In the words of Jen Hatmaker, “Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We're tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can't manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty thousand time that amount? It says we have too much, and it is ruining us.”(1)
The month of November invites us to change our perspective- to focus on what we already have, and express our gratitude for it. November asks to be remembered as its own month, and to stop letting December creep in and switch the focus to Christmas and all the shopping and planning it entails. Don't get me wrong, no one loves Christmas more than I do, but let's give November its moment in the sunshine.
The most impactful place for us to practice gratitude is in our relationship with God. Thanking God for what He gives us is really important, but true praise means thanking God for WHO HE IS. This lifts our focus to a higher plane, and reminds us that it's not all about what we have and what's going on here on earth. There is an eternal perspective that we need in our daily living, one centered on God- His goodness, His mercy, His steadfast love, His holiness, His unchanging nature, His faithfulness, and so much more.
What might change if we began our days by breathing in the fresh air and just thanking God for sustaining us, for the fact that we are ALIVE? What if we followed that act of gratitude with the remembrance that with our generous God, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning?” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
He is a good, good Father to us, providing for our needs. Take a moment to reflect on the way He cares for us by watching the video below and entering into a heart posture of worship. It was filmed at our last WWP Leaders Gathering, and was a truly anointed moment of Eucharistic adoration and praise. (It's especially dear to my heart because one of the singers is my son, Jonny.)
Praying that our hearts would swell with gratitude to the One who calls us THE BELOVED and has proven His love time and again…
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose