“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” Isaiah 42:3
I sat down to write an inspirational reflection on resolutions for the new year. But within five minutes, my seven-year-old's head got slammed by a door (his sister needed PRIVACY), the one-year-old wanted to sit on my lap as I typed, the sixteen-year-old's basketball carpool left without him, and the timer started going off telling me dinner needed to be taken out of the oven. This lovely collection of events made me decide that my New Year's resolution is simply to keep my head above water.
How are you feeling as you head into this new year? Are you tired? Are you in greater need of encouragement than of someone raising the bar and encouraging you to try to reach it? If that's how you're feeling, I want to remind you of the gentleness of the Savior we love and serve. Centuries before Jesus's birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke prophetic words about the Rescuer who was going to come to save us all. “A bruised reed he will not break,” wrote Isaiah, “and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” If your heart feels bruised, if your life feels like a “faintly burning wick,” then this promise is for you.
So many of us have an image of God as one who sets a high standard and gets disappointed and perhaps angry when we don't meet it. Is this really who God is? I don't believe so. God knows our limitations. He is very familiar with our weaknesses. While people in our lives may have unrealistic expectations of us, God sees the whole picture and the degree to which we are trying. And when we're weary, He comes to us with arms of comfort, eyes of understanding, and lips that speak encouragement. When we are weakest, He asks that we rest in His lap and lay our head on His strong shoulder. He doesn't want to see us broken; He came to restore us.
This is the heart of the gospel. God saw the chasm that sin created between us. He knew that no matter how hard we tried, we'd never be able to achieve the perfection required to be in His presence. Instead of telling us to jump higher or try harder, He stooped down, and said, “I'll do for you what you can't do for yourself.” Jesus, who had never sinned, allowed all the sins ever committed to be placed on His shoulders. He paid the price of sin so that we wouldn't have to.
Jesus's sacrifice cleared the way so we could have a personal relationship with God. This is a privilege offered to everyone, but enjoyed by relatively few people. Do you know about Jesus, or do you know Him, personally? I don't ask this question as a rebuke, but rather as an invitation. He's inviting you to draw closer.
Once we know Jesus personally, we never need to be lonely again. We no longer have to worry about being perceived as too emotional when we pour out our hearts. We don't have to worry that our private concerns will be gossiped about if we share them with Him. He is the most intimate, true friend, connecting with us—body, soul, and spirit.
Because of Jesus, we can let go of the “try hard life.” We can rest in His all-sufficiency. We can ask the Holy Spirit to run through us like sap in a tree, nourishing us and doing in and through us what we can't do for ourselves. Now that I think about it, that sounds like the best New Year's resolution of all.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God…be glory…now and forever!” Jude 1:24
Happy New Year!
This post originally appeared on our blog on January 1, 2014.
When others ask me about my story of returning to the Catholic Church, I typically tell a story about a night that I experienced in college when I was getting ready to meet some friends at a local bar. After putting my hair in a ponytail and throwing on a cute blue dress, I took one last look in the mirror. It was what I saw in the mirror that changed everything.
What I saw was not a fresh young woman ready for a night on the town. Instead, I saw in myself all the exhaustion of years chasing after an empty life. At this point in the story, I usually explain that I decided that I wanted to live an honest life which sparked my journey back to faith. I don’t normally talk about the other thing that I saw in the mirror. It was something that I have seen over and over again in my own heart, and lately I have been noticing it again. It’s something that has become a popular attitude in society, and it's so subtle that most of the time it goes unnoticed.
That thing that I saw looming over me in the mirror that night was an attitude of cynicism. In my sin, I had become slightly cynical. My heart had been hardened about everything. Sure, I was funny and often had a smile on my face, but my thoughts, words, and actions had become peppered with the idea that there is something bad to be discovered in everything and no one can be trusted. This is a terrible way to live; yet many of us have taken on a cynical attitude without even realizing it.
According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, a cynic is “a faultfinding captious critic.” A cynical person typically holds a fundamental disposition of distrust toward ideas, institutions, and people. Even when things are good, they will ever so slightly pick apart situations and events in order to reveal what is wrong and expose possible bad motives. The cynical person finds it very hard to hold on to joy or hope in the midst of a tragic world.
What is so wrong with being cynical? After all, we only have to look at this year to be reminded that life is tragic. All too often, people aren’t who they seem to be, institutions are corrupt, and the good guys lose. Scripture tell us repeatedly that the world is evil (Acts 2:40) and that the human heart is not to be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9), so what is it about cynicism that makes it so dangerous, and how can we trade it for something better?
To start, cynicism is a function of pride and hopelessness. Cynics typically notice extra details that the average person might not notice or pull from extra information that the other person might not have. There is almost always an air of intellectual superiority that comes from the cynic. There is never an attitude of humility or seeking to learn from others what they may be missing.
Cynicism breeds ineffectiveness. Cynics recognize all that is wrong with the Sunday Mass and can tell anyone in earshot how to fix it, but they never volunteer to lead or form a relationship with the clergy. They can tell you all that is wrong with society and what to do to create change, but they do so from a place of comfort far removed from where the problems are unfolding. The cynic observes and judges, but does not act.
Finally, cynicism leads the cynic away from love, hope, and joy because it stems from a hardened heart. It embraces Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” without considering Romans 3:24, “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” With no redemption, there is no real hope, joy is fleeting, and love is temporal.
Dear sister, take a moment to search your heart. Is it shadowed by a cynical attitude? Are you allowing the beauty and joy of the Christian life to be stamped out because your past tells you that nothing stays good and no one remains trustworthy? Are you stifled in your Christian walk because the events of this year have left you with a hardened heart and weary spirit? The world by itself is a tragedy. It is filled with bad news and bad players both inside and outside of our Church and institutions. If we walk through life with a cynical spirit of the world, we will miss God’s call on our lives to enter the mess and be his hands and feet. Our hurting world needs Christians to reject cynicism, repent, and live the gospel.
So what is the proper response? It can be found in one of the most famous bible verses there is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
The Lord knows just how deep the wound of our sin goes. He knows that there is truth to the idea that good things don’t last and no one can be trusted, and yet, He did not sit on His throne and judge from afar. He entered into the mess. He became one of us and reached out a hand with His eyes on our redemption. He did it all, the healing, the miracles, the suffering, death, and resurrection knowing that many would still reject Him. That didn’t stop Him, however, from becoming the least of us with our redemption in mind. He broke through the cynicism and hardness of our sin through His realistic, unwavering love and it changed everything.
The Lord does not call us to take on a blind attitude of idealism and walk around as if real life reflects the movies on the Hallmark Channel. He calls us to the same realistic love that He gave to us. He calls us to see our world's brokenness for what it is and then refuses to be overwhelmed by it. He calls us to serve and to love anyway. With Him at the center of our lives, He challenges us to enter into the mess knowing that we won’t change everything, but through Him, we will change something. Gospel-centered action is the antidote to cynicism.
Yes, we live in a broken world wrought with broken systems. Yes, we may not see the happy ending on this side of heaven, but God calls us to act instead of judge from afar. What is it that bothers you so much about the world? What is it that you wish was different? Let it break your heart, not harden it. Let it bring you to your knees and move your feet to service. Let go of any cynicism that lurks in your heart, and let God use you to become the type of woman whose mere presence proves that redemption exists in a world full of evil.
Today is a significant day in our country—one where we are able to exercise the incredible right to vote and influence our society. This particular election finds our country polarized along political lines. Many lament our collective inability to take part in civil discourse, fueled no doubt by the influence of social media. Distance demonizes, and many people feel burned out and deeply discouraged by the political process.
I can think of no better response to the current political climate than to go to our knees in prayer. 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.
I don’t think any verse addresses this better than 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.”
When God addresses the issue of a land that needs healing (and I think we all agree that ours does), who does He begin talking to? Is it the group of people who are far from Him? No. He begins by talking to HIS OWN PEOPLE, the ones who are called by His name. He starts with family talk. And what’s the first thing He asks us to do? To go out and convince people to look at things the way that we do? No. The first thing He asks is that we’d humble ourselves. That we’d seek His face. That we’d turn from OUR wicked ways.
This isn’t where we want to start. Our desire for justice all too often causes us to look outside of ourselves. That's where we want God to start making things right. But He insists—the place to begin is within each of our hearts.
I invite you to join us today at 1 PM ET to pray the rosary for our country. We’re going to do the very thing described in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’ll start with confession. We won’t just be confessing sins that we have personally committed. We are confessing on behalf of our Church, in the same spirit that the prophet Daniel did when he confessed on behalf of the Israelite people in Daniel 9. Daniel was known for his holiness, but perhaps he was able to confess in this way because his humility reminded him that there was nothing the Israelites were capable of doing that he wasn’t capable of doing, and that the sin of one affected all. We are all in this together.
Another thing we’re going to pray for is that people would experience conversion of heart. There is nothing more critical than this. Nothing. All too often, what we begin with is a focus on outward behavior. We jump right away into discussions about how we are supposed to act as Christians. If this is as far as we go, then we have done an enormous disservice to the gospel. The heart of the gospel message does not begin with us cleaning ourselves up and behaving in the right way. The critical starting point is an acknowledgment that we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. We need Jesus. It is only when we are in a relationship with Him that we’ll experience the Holy Spirit giving us what we need to be holy. We do not start with behavior. That leads to self-righteousness and moralism. We start with confession and the gospel. That leads to Jesus.
I love this quote by Pope Francis: “The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.” So let’s turn our eyes to Him. Let’s go to Jesus, through His mother. I hope that as we pray, we’ll catch a glimpse of His beauty. I pray that we’d be overwhelmed with gratitude for the costly grace He offers us—paid in full, by Him, for us, because of His love. Let’s go to our knees, on behalf of our country.
Join us in praying the rosary for our country today, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, at 1 PM ET. This is a free event but you must register to receive the Zoom link. If you are unable to join us for this live event, we will post the call on our website.
 Homily, Mass with Seminarians and Novices, July 7, 2013.
When I was twenty-three years old, I walked out of Mass almost in tears. “I can’t stay here,” I thought to myself. “They don’t know Jesus; they don’t know scripture; heck, they don’t even seem to know each other.” I was raised Catholic, but it wasn’t until I darkened the door of a non-denominational church that I met Jesus Christ in a way that transformed the very core of my being. For years, I held bitterness toward Catholicism, feeling like I had never learned the true gospel in Mass on Sundays. My experience in the Church, though better than many, was all I had to work with, and it wasn’t enough.
Determined to leave, I started researching the Catholic faith so that I would know what I was leaving. Big mistake. Over the course of six months, I discovered the hidden treasures of Catholicism. Realizing how wrong I was, I returned wholeheartedly and gave my life to Jesus and His Church. It was the best decision of my life.
At least half of my story is THE story of most millenials who were raised Catholic. Millions grew up in Catholic families and attended Mass, but their lackluster experience with what they perceived as a stale religion sent them running for the door. We were in search of greener pastures. The difference between my story and theirs is that most of them did not discover the true beauty of Catholicism. They left and have not come back.
It is these men and women, my generation, that inspired me to write Rekindled: How Jesus Christ Brought Me Back to the Catholic Church and Set My Heart on Fire, which will be released on November 6. For at least the past three generations, our everyday experience of Catholicism has done a disservice to the faith that we profess and the people who are supposed to profess it. I have watched my generation bleed out of the Church, and since I was one of them, I don’t blame them. There is a significant gap between the beauty that awaits us in the teachings of Catholicism and the daily experience of the average Catholic. This book is all that I want to say to the countless men and women who have sat with me and told me their reasons for leaving, and for all the parents that I know who mourn that their children no longer practice the faith. It’s the expression of my heart as it aches for so many of my friends to return to the Church and discover the joy and meaning for which they search, and it starts with the message, “I get it.”
In each chapter, I share honestly about my own experience growing up Catholic, which I believe is a common experience. We have all experienced bad Masses, grappled with the scandals of our clergy, and struggled with insufficient knowledge about what we believe in the first place. My hope is to provide an account that validates the pain and doubt that so many Catholics and former Catholics feel.
Here in these pages, I cover nine reasons that many Catholics have left, explaining what I experienced, what I learned, and why I stayed. This is not a book that is meant to bash the Church, although I do not sugarcoat any of the problems plaguing Catholicism today. I talk about them openly, hopefully even with a sense of humor, as I believe that every Western Catholic alive will be able to relate to the issues in at least one, if not all, of the chapters. After discussing these issues, I share what it was that led me to fall in love with being Catholic.
Hidden under the mess of it all, there are infinite reasons to embrace Jesus Christ, His Church, and His mission. I seek to bring them to light. I believe all of the reasons eventually boil down to this: Christianity is the Truth but Catholicism is the fullness of the Truth. The Church offers us a way of life that, if followed, will lead us to a life of freedom that lands us at the feet of our King, Jesus. All the history, the traditions, the prayers, and, most importantly, the sacraments lead us to the God for whom we were made. There is more here than meets the eye. While there is much work to be done, it would be a shame for those of us who were raised in the Church to miss the jewel that has been right in front of us all along.
Have you ever grappled with your experience as a Catholic? Do you have a loved one, a son, or a daughter who has left this Church that you love so much? Are you struggling with Catholicism yourself or have one foot out the door? I invite you to walk with me through each chapter. Let my story illuminate your own, strengthen your faith, and lead you even more deeply into the heart of Jesus and His broken and beautiful Church.
Preorder Rekindled for yourself or for a loved one, and rediscover this ancient, surprising beauty with me on November 6.
More often than I like, or even care to admit, I feel 100% at the end of my rope. It is embarrassing to write, you know…to even say the words, “I am losing all hope.” It goes against everything I claim to believe. Everything I sit down and write. Everything I teach my children. Every story I share. I worry that friends and family will whisper, “I knew she was a fake, all along,” or begin to doubt my authenticity, and wonder, “Where's the Warrior, now?”
So, why risk sharing this?
I risk sharing this because I refuse to let my unbelief win.
I risk sharing this because I know that all suffering has purpose.
I risk sharing this because right now it is all that I have.
I risk sharing this because I know that God will take anything I offer, and use it.
Even if my offering is small.
Even if my offering is weak.
Even if my offering appears “not enough.”
He takes it, He gives thanks for it, He breaks it, He distributes it.
He wastes nothing.
And maybe this is why I have always been drawn to the story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes (John 6:1-15). Because feeding a crowd of thousands with barely any food is just the kind of miracle I need. And maybe you do, too.
As the large crowd approaches, Jesus asks Philip, “Where can we get enough for them to eat?” Philip responds that even a year's wages could not possibly be enough. And it always gets me thinking, because, honestly? I don't think we need to to be stormed by a hungry crowd of thousands to ask ourselves this question. I also know enough about Jesus to understand that when he asks us a question, it is not because He needs to learn something new about us, but rather, that we are about to learn something new about Him.
Where can we get enough?
Did you see the movie The Greatest Showman? Because there is a song that speaks of this. This idea of never enough. And the lyrics go like this:
All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it'll
Never be enough
Never be enough
This song reminds me of a lesson in Touching The Divine, my favorite Walking With Purpose study, that focuses on the qualities of Jesus revealed through the Gospel of John. Author Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes, “...I'm halfway through the weekend, feeling once again, that what I have to offer is not enough. My family's needs go beyond my resources.” (1)
Have you ever felt this way?
Have you ever felt like you are not enough?
Like you can not possibly give enough?
Like there is nothing in this world...not even towers of gold, or the very world itself...that will ever be enough?
Here is the problem with this need for enough.
Unless we look for our enough in what Jesus has to offer us, we will never be satisfied.
Enough is not in our bank account, an important title, or cleaned up homes. Enough is not in our accomplishments, awards, successes, closets, or spouses. Enough is not in our children, in a bottle of wine, in a bag of chips, or in a bottle of pills. Enough has nothing to do with our completed to do lists, a perfectly fit body, an outstanding report card, an overpriced coffee, or how pretty our Instagram feed looks.
Enough only comes from Jesus.
Why do we feel insufficient?
Because we are.
Why do we feel like we are not enough?
Because we are not.
But this is why we have Jesus.
You see, the miracle of the loaves and the fishes wasn't just that he magically made enough food to satisfy. The miracle was that he needed the crowd...the measly, needy, hungry, unsatisfied, broken, tired, with seemingly nothing to offer crowd, to be a part of his miracle. And I don't know. Maybe you don't agree. But I can't help but feel that the fact that God asks ME...sinful, empty handed me, to step in closer to Him, and offer all that I have - which feels like nothing in comparison to everyone else - is a miracle in and of itself. And that when I do approach Him and offer Him what I have...unafraid that I will be left with nothing...unashamed that it appears too small...He takes it and turns it into something beautiful. He holds it, raises His eyes to His Father, and performs a miracle. He uses me to feeds thousands, supplies me with enough, leaves me with leftovers. Not so I can continue to fill myself up, but so that I can go out into this weary world and offer what I have leftover to others. He is just that good.
When I am honest with myself, I can see that feelings of inadequacy are usually a result of my self reliance. When I am at the end of my rope, it is because I am trying to feed myself and everyone else that I love, by my own strength. And this, my sweet friends, is exhausting. Believing that I can satisfy myself and my family based on my own resources is a recipe for a well run dry.
You know what part of John 6 is jumping at me this morning as I write? After Andrew identifies a young boy who has a small offering of five barley loaves and two fish, but remarks to Jesus, “What good are these for so many?”, Jesus, just before the taking and breaking, commands, “Have the people recline.” He did not ask the crowd to do anything to earn their food, other than to rest in His presence and allow Him to do the work.
And He asks the same of us.
Are we enough?
But Jesus is.
So step in closer, offer the little that you have, and rest in His presence.
The miracle will happen.
He will provide you with more than enough.
And when He does?
Then take what's left over, and go share it with the world.
Your “not enough” Sister in Christ,
“Lord, satisfy me! Please come and fill in the gaps where my efforts are not enough. I try so hard to be self sufficient, forgetting that you are delighted when I turn to you first. You provide superabundance when I un-clench my fists, give you what I have, and wait for you to act.”
P.S. Touching the Divine (TTD) draws us into a deeper relationship with Jesus as we reflect on His personality. It is my all time favorite WWP study! Have you done this study at your parish or on your own? Are you offering it to your women this Fall? Learn more about TTD here! And be sure to stay connected with us all week on Instagram and Facebook - we are a community of women who recognize that our “enough” only comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
(1) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Touching The Divine (Walking With Purpose 2010-2015), 88