Every now and then, we have an exchange with a friend that never quite leaves us. We can remember, even years later, exactly what was said, how we felt, and what was revealed during the conversation. I had one of those unforgettable conversations nine years ago. In the days after I became a missionary, I sat down to coffee with a dear friend. We caught each other up on the summer’s events, and I casually made a joke about some of the quirks I had experienced during my five week training. Quick-witted and honest, she immediately responded, “It’s good to see that you didn’t lose your personality.” Ouch. I smiled, made another joke, and told her that, despite popular opinion, my new found pursuit of holiness did not turn me into a robot or wipe away my personality. On the contrary, I felt more alive than maybe ever before.
I never forgot that conversation because I was struck by how easily my friend stated a powerful but subtle lie that most of us believe deep in our hearts. We can’t be fiercely holy and fully human at the same time.
Have you ever made this assumption in your own life? Maybe you have sensed that God is calling you to a deeper commitment to Him, but you are afraid that if you go all in you will become the neighborhood weirdo. Or, maybe you are trying to become exactly who God wants you to be only to find that one human moment leaves you feeling dejected as your halo goes crooked and the mess behind your buttoned-up persona reveals itself. We tend to think holiness will make us bland or that our human moments are sinful simply because they are human. Scripture reveals to us a different story.
A few weeks ago, I read through the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as I prepared for our weekly Instagram Live discussion on our Bible study, Beholding His Glory. Reading this story with fresh eyes, I was impacted by the humanity of Joseph’s holiness. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, a patriarch of Judaism. He had 11 brothers who often watched their father give Joseph special treatment. Eventually, their jealousy turned into scheming, and they sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph went through many trials, twists, and turns, but God’s favor prevailed. He eventually found favor with the pharaoh who appointed him as second-in-command over all of Egypt. When a seven-year famine came upon the land, it was Joseph who led the Egyptians through it.
During the second year of the famine, Jacob sent 10 of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph immediately recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. On the third day of their visit, he heard his brother Rueben scolding the others for what they had done to Joseph. Unable to take it, Joseph had to walk away so that he could weep. The same thing happened when Joseph beheld his only blood brother, Benjamin, who made the trip. Again, overcome with emotion, he ran away to weep. Finally, no longer able to hide his identity, he melted into a mess.
Genesis 45:1-6 says, “Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.”
Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and, in an act of pure heroism, forgave them for everything that they had done. He told them that what they used for evil, God used for good, and they should not be angry with themselves.
Friends, most of us would finish reading this story with our mouths on the floor. What kind of man grants total and complete forgiveness to the family members that sold him into slavery? I have trouble forgiving the strangers who cut me off in traffic. This kind of forgiveness takes nothing short of a miracle of the heart, a level of sanctity that can only come from years of walking with God, trusting Him, and allowing His transformation.
Can you imagine the emotion that must have run through Joseph when he saw his brothers all of those years later? All of the memories of his childhood, the days spent with his father, the mistreatment by his brothers, and the details of the journey they sent him on must have been too much to bear. He didn’t stuff those incredibly human feelings away to play stoic saint or to pretend that everything was fine. He wept three times. The last time, he wept so loudly that the entire royal palace heard about it. It may have been embarrassing, but it wasn’t sinful. Joseph’s life is a challenge to all of us, and yet it also allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Joseph did not have to deny his humanity to reach the heights of holiness and neither do you.
As we continue through the journey of this year, I wonder how you are treating yourself. Is God calling you to a deeper level of holiness to which you are afraid to say yes? Be not afraid. God will not wipe away your personality. He will wipe away your sin so that the very best of your personality can shine forth.
Are you struggling to become holy in this time of uncertainty, or putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to become something more than what God is requiring? Are you face to face with your humanity as you figure out what the next few months will look like for you and those you love? Be patient with yourself. Remember that every saint who came before you was as human as you are. Remember that you have a Savior who was human in every way. Phillipians 4:15 tells us that Jesus himself was able to sympathize with our weakness. He was tempted in every way yet did not sin. With your eyes on Jesus, look to the example of Joseph and every saint who, in loving God, became more human and less sinful. St. Iraneaus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” With this in mind, delight in your humanity as He continues to make you holy.
"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers." (Isaiah 43:18-19)
I can respond to the higher number on my scale in a few different ways. One is to joyfully say, “There’s just more of me to love!” Another is to puddle in a heap on the floor, cursing the woman at the coffee shop who introduced me to Eggnog Chai Lattes. I can look back and regret every time I celebrated the holidays with a tasty morsel. Or I can look forward, lace up my shoes, and get going with some better habits starting now.
Many of us have an awareness of all the things we should be doing better. We might have determined to start an exercise routine, to eat a healthier diet, to give more time to the people who matter most to us, or to deepen our prayer lives. These are all good goals and help us to live out Ephesians 5:15: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise.”
Unfortunately, the best intentions can quickly become sources of discouragement as we encounter our weaknesses while trying to improve. In a few weeks, we might look back and see that false starts, failures, and ingrained bad habits have thwarted our efforts. We might feel disheartened when the very things we disliked in our parents have become so evident in our own lives. We may wonder if we’ll ever change.
The prophet Isaiah challenges us to stop looking backward. God is doing something new! The inspiration we feel to change in positive ways comes from Him. It’s evidence that He is at work within us. “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work” (Philippians 2:13). No matter how much life might feel like a wilderness or a wasteland, God can transform it.
How does this transformation happen? Does it come from striving? Does it depend on our perfection? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The inner change happens in us as we gaze on the glory of the Lord. It takes place as we contemplate Christ. As we sit in His presence and meditate on His holiness, we are soaking up His love. We are beholding His glory and, in the process, we begin to reflect it.
This is our hope. This is what makes us different. God wants each one of us to continuously grow more like Him, but doesn’t expect us to do it alone. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). He is going to do something new in our life this year! What God can transform!
“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Praying for Christ’s richest blessings on you,
This post originally appeared on the blog in January 2013.
Ever since we were told to shelter in place, I have been generally upbeat about everything going on. I know that it's bad out there, but I am naturally an optimist, so I focused on the positives. "Oh, the opportunities," I thought to myself. Sure, we couldn't go out, which is sad, but I'm an introvert, and there is an endless amount of projects to do and habits to form. By the end of this, my house would look perfect, and my husband and I would have finally started that couple's workout routine I have been dreaming about. With a smile on my face, I went about starting the new life in quarantine that we are all establishing. Then Easter came, and I hit my wall.
My husband and I tried to make our family’s Easter celebration as special as possible, but everything we did fell flat. Doing church while social distancing made me want to be next to people all the more. It made me miss the sacraments more than I ever have before. On a drive to get doughnuts from the grocery store, we saw another family that we know, and that was it. As we waved and drove on, all of that optimism crumbled as I finally admitted to myself that we are in this for the long haul.
I realized the adrenaline rush that I experienced at the beginning of the crisis was gone. What is left is the hard work of waking up every day and choosing if I will live my day in hope or not. As I soberly came to terms with this, I remembered the words that the Lord spoke to me four years ago when my husband and I welcomed our first daughter, and I had to get used to the "new normal" of life as a mother.
When my daughter was three months old, I was up at 2 am for the usual middle of the night feeding. All the excitement that comes with welcoming a baby had faded, leaving me face to face with the constant, often unseen, work of caring for my child. As I jealously looked at my sleeping husband, I started to get honest with God. I told him that, while I loved my daughter with a love that words cannot describe, this was hard. I missed my old life and the freedom I once had. I missed being able to pray whenever I wanted for however long I wanted and the exhilaration of jet-setting around the globe to preach the gospel. I missed a life where I was seen. Here, in the darkness, no one saw what I was doing; no one saw my suffering or my sacrifice. It was hidden.
In the middle of my complaining and mourning with God, he spoke clearly in my heart. "It is here that I make you holy," he said. "It is here in the unseen repetition of this new life, where much is hidden, and there is no applause, that I will expand your capacity to love. In this present monotony, I will sanctify you if you let me."
Friend, we are now a month into this global shutdown. The adrenaline rush is gone, the bad news is constant, and the end is not here yet. We are now officially in the middle, faced with the reality of living with this new normal everyday. While we are all in this together, it is undeniable that we are going through this crisis apart. Our daily realities look completely different depending on where we live and how hard the virus is hitting our city. Day in and day out, it can be so easy to feel that we are alone in our struggles and unseen by the outside world.
It is right here, however, in these unseen moments and unshared sufferings that God sees us. It is here that He wants to heal our hearts and make us holy. It is here that we have to make a choice. We can choose inertia and slowly give in to cynicism, numbness, and fear, or we can actively decide to renew our minds through daily prayer and surrender. We can choose to read too much news and spend too much time on our phones, or we can dive into the scriptures and spend time on things that will feed our soul.
I decided four years ago, in that quiet moment of prayer, that I would let God do His work in the hidden moments of my life, and I would be okay with the fact that they are hidden, only between Him and me. On Easter, I recommitted to that decision. Here in the middle of this crisis, the Lord wants to enter into your daily grind. He wants to be there in the small, hidden moments of your life, and He wants to use them to make you holy. I pray that you will let Him so that, when the end finally comes, you can emerge from this crisis more closely resembling the saint that He has called you to be.
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.
Why is it we can have total confidence and trust in God's plans with everyone else's life, but not our own? It is easy for me to recognize God's hand in your life... in your misery... in your tragic circumstance, but when the storm hits my own house, I question and doubt. I begin to wonder if my Catholic faith really is crazy and the saints are all just a bunch of nuts.
I spent my summer with the Blessed Mother. I managed to turn a 33 Day Consecration into a four-month plan, but I finally did get there and praise be to God for it. Because no sooner did I give my fiat, uncertainty and disappointment came crashing down on me, and once again, I was hurled back into that pit of doubt and despair-otherwise known as, “Seriously, Lord? THIS is for good?” And I hate this place. I really do. It makes me feel unpleasant, and worse, I become unpleasant. It's more hideous than getting a root canal at the DMV, naked.
Has this ever happened to you? Not the naked root canal at the DMV part; the other part about falling into despair when uncertainty hits. About being so confident and unafraid about everyone else's circumstances, but your own? Because it happens to me more often than I care to admit. I am, however, practicing something that helps get me out of the pit-not immediately but sooner rather than later. I meditate on the virtues of Mary.
Do you know there are ten virtues of Mary? According to the teachings of Saint Louis De Montfort, the ten virtues of Mary are: constant mental prayer, ardent charity, profound humility, universal mortification, blind obedience, divine wisdom, surpassing purity, angelic sweetness, lively faith and heroic patience. Now don't get overwhelmed by this. There is no way any of us can be perfect at all ten virtues all of the time, or quite possibly, ever. Why? Because we were not chosen to be the Mother of God. But, with a brand new consecration to Mary under my belt and the desire to emulate her, I figured if I pick one virtue a month to intentionally focus on, it had to work better in times of trial and tribulation than what I was currently doing (which was yelling at the dog and wondering why on earth my husband has to breathe so darn loud).
I have chosen to work on blind obedience; to fully trust in God's plan for my life and the lives of my loved ones, even when-especially when-I do not understand His ways at all. Even when strapping the dining room table to my back and jumping off of a bridge feels like a safer option. When the ground drops out from beneath you and nothing you planned for or expected appears to be anywhere on God's radar, blind obedience looks as attractive as a 1980's bridesmaid gown. So before I allow myself to spiral into a total abyss of despair and depression, I fly to Mary. I sit with her at the Annunciation. I reflect on her life, which quite frankly was a series of unplanned, difficult to understand events, and I stay in that place with my Mother. I sit with her in that moment when all was changed by her “yes.” Often when uncertainty strikes, we throw aside our “yes” and run miles ahead into the land of “what if?” We let go of God and grasp onto things that give us a false sense of security. But not Mary. Mary loved God enough to trust that all that was required of her was the next one step, not the next hundred miles. She could be blindly obedient because she loved Him more than she loved her plan. What a treasure chest of grace we have in Our Blessed Mother, who took the leap so that we could, too.
On a dog walk with a friend that was filled with both of our projecting and fear over the ones that we love, I finally said it out loud: faith is a leap! It just is. And when we hit these obstacles that aim to knock us off course and throw us into worry, we have to choose this leap. We must embrace this uncertain, unplanned thing in our life and give God our yes, whether we understand it or not, and then... we need to leap... off of our plans and into His. I am not implying that any of this is easy, but boy do I allow my wild imagination and lack of patience to complicate what really is so simple. Leap, or don't leap. Trust, or don't trust. Love, or don't love. The choice is ours.
If you are in the midst of a trial that is uncertain and you feel your doubt increasing, I encourage you to meditate on these ten virtues. Get to know Mary, who knows better than anyone else what it is like to trust that God's uncertain plan is good. Give yourself to Him entirely through her, and do not worry about the future. Will this require you take a leap of the worst kind? Yeah, probably. But as C.S. Lewis says, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole-self-all your wishes and precautions-to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.”
Praying we all take that leap,