Since childhood, I’ve been inspired by an incredible woman of faith named Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth was widowed with a ten-month-old daughter when her husband was savagely speared by members of a violent Amazonian tribe. Jim had gone to Ecuador to share the gospel, but the mission ended tragically. One might have excused Elisabeth if she wallowed in self-pity or raged against God for taking her husband when he was only trying to do good. But instead of doing any of these things, Elisabeth gathered her daughter, her Bible, a snakebite kit, and tremendous courage, and moved to the very place where her husband had died. She was determined to offer a hand of forgiveness and friendship to the very people who had killed the one she loved most, and many of them came to faith in Christ as a result.
So when Elisabeth Elliot talks about suffering, I listen.
In her book, A Path Through Suffering, she writes:
Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him, and with Himself His vision to see the glory in the surrender…
He stands ready today to supply us with His wisdom to understand what He wants to teach, and His strength to carry through, for He never allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure. His commands are always accompanied by power to obey. The Everlasting Arms are always underneath us, the everlasting love always surrounds us.
But difficult circumstances don’t automatically make us saints. It isn’t the circumstances themselves that do the shaping. It’s our cooperation. When life throws us a curveball, we have a choice about how we’re going to receive it. We can choose to become bitter, to be filled with self-pity, and to dwell on our doubts. We might begin to ask questions like, “Where was God in this situation?” “Why didn’t He intervene by giving me the answer I wanted?” “Doesn’t He love me?” “Isn’t He powerful enough to do anything about it?” The choice is set before us. We can water the seeds of doubt by focusing on our circumstances. Or we can focus on the fact that somewhere in the midst of the current state of affairs is an opportunity to be transformed.
When we are going through trials—little ones or big ones—deaths of a sort, and experiences of brokenness, it’s important to remember that Jesus understands suffering from experience. Jesus entered into what appeared to be meaningless suffering. This means He is never indifferent to what you are enduring. He sees all the little and big deaths that you experience. And He stands ready to bring new life in those places that feel desolate.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote of that process of transformation: “This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased…Can I not do to you as this potter has done? Indeed, like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:1–6).
These are the verses that get me through hardship. In difficult times, I don’t want to experience what I am going through. I want to escape. But these verses stop me before I give in to bitterness or numb out. They remind me that I have a choice. I can offer myself to God as clay to a potter. I can say to Him, “In this particular set of undesired circumstances, I give you permission to shape me—to mold me—to transform me, because I want to experience a better eternity. I want to become the woman you created me to be. And if a death of sorts is required for new life to be born in me, I accept it. I say yes. I say, Jesus, I trust in You.”
When the potter sees a bubble or a defect in the pot, he has to press the clay back onto the wheel and reshape the pot. But all the while, he is making it into something of great beauty. So here is the question: can we trust God that when He asks us to experience something that is hard, He promises to use it to mold us into vessels that are filled with His Spirit? May we never forget—He can turn brokenness into blessing and beauty.
After enduring twenty years of imprisonment, confinement, and hard labor in the Gulag of the Soviet Union, Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. wrote a phenomenal book called He Leadeth Me. In it, he wrote, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere ‘out there’ in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were His will for me. What He wanted was for me to accept these situations as from His hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at His disposal.”
Perhaps you feel hemmed in by your circumstances. You feel stuck. You wonder if things will ever change. The enemy wants you to keep your focus on all those thoughts. But the Lord invites you to raise your eyes and gain a higher perspective. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).
What if the peace we so long for is on the other side of surrender?
With you on the journey,
 Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishing, 1990), 87.
 Walter J. Ciszek SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Random House, 1973), 81.
Recently, I opened my youngest son’s school folder to find an envelope addressed to him. I told him about it, and he excitedly rushed over to open it. And when he did, the biggest smile erupted on his face. It was an invitation to his friend’s birthday party. In the midst of COVID, the birthday party invite was one of a thousand things that we had to forego. My 7-year-old son has not been able to celebrate his own, his cousins’, or his friends’ birthdays together for more than 2 years, so this invitation was special. It was obvious that my son felt eager and excited for this party.
Tomorrow, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. On this day, we enter into a season of deep reflection and prayer. Our heavenly Father invites us on a 40-day journey into the desert. He invites us to be part of the crowd during a procession of palms and Hosannas. He desires our presence at a very special dinner and an evening garden gathering. And don’t forget, He invites us to play a part in a dramatic, yet real-life Passion play. The last place He wishes for us to visit is an empty tomb on an early Sunday morning. Will you be there? Please RSVP—ASAP.
Will you accept this invitation as eagerly and with as much joy as my 7-year-old accepted his birthday party invitation?
We often don’t think of entering into the Lenten season eagerly and with joy, do we? I know what you are thinking: Lent = sacrifice and fasting. And none of that necessarily equals joy. Or does it?
Today, I want to encourage you to accept this invitation extended by the Church and our heavenly Father WITH EAGERNESS AND JOY.
This Lenten invitation is gifted to us right in the middle of Ordinary Time in order to remind us that our Christian call is to be extra-ordinary. I don’t know about you, but I need the reminder right about now. In the middle of our ordinary lives, the Church, through the season of Lent, invites us to go deeper into the desert with Jesus. But we must remember, Jesus was not alone in the desert. Encountering Jesus there gives us the opportunity to become attuned and aware of who the other—very real—player is: the enemy of our souls. And the enemy would like nothing more than to distract us from our time with the Lord and lure us to join him for a succulent feast, tempting us with all of our favorite worldly desires, material goods, and pleasures.
The enemy tempted Jesus in the desert in three specific ways. He invited our Lord to do what FEELS right instead of what IS right, to question our heavenly Father’s love, and to desire His own glory over the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:3–10).
I bet we don’t even have to think too hard to realize the temptations the enemy used with Jesus are ones that we are all too familiar with ourselves. How many of us, in the words of St. Paul, “do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)? I know I have some bad habits that I just can’t seem to kick. Or I kick them for a time, but then slowly, when I’m tired, stressed, or frustrated, those habits start reappearing. How many of us hold onto the shame of a past sin—one that we’ve received absolution for but continue to beat ourselves up about? How many of us get caught up in envy or jealousy when we see another person garner attention or acknowledgement for something we desire? Each of these situations can lead us down the road to sin, and none of them result in joy.
Good thing the Bible didn’t end there in the desert. With each temptation offered, Jesus battled the enemy back with Scripture, “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). And the devil left Him.
Sister, the invitation into the desert with Jesus is to remind us who has won. Jesus didn’t just win the battle in the desert—He won the war on the cross! Lent reminds us that He fought for us then, and He fights for us now. Can we allow this truth to spark in us a desire to enter eagerly into Lent, into the desert of our spirits? It is in this season of Lent, in the desert with Jesus, that we are given the opportunity to discern how the enemy tempts us, to identify his plays against us. We are given the opportunity to learn how we respond to those temptations, and where we need Jesus the most.
Here’s a hint: if we aren’t responding to the enemy with Scripture, as modeled by Jesus, then let this season be the time to change that. When we stop the enemy in His tracks with the truth of Scripture, he has no other play.
Sister, we have the blessing of knowledge on our side. We know what extraordinary events occur at the end of these 40 days. We know what happens the week after we read the Passion at Mass. We know that when Mary Magdalene and the other women approached the tomb of Jesus, the stone had been rolled away, and an angel greeted them and said Jesus was not there “for He has been risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6). What joy and eagerness the women must have felt as they set out to tell the other followers of Jesus! What joy and eagerness Jesus must have felt to be able to meet with His friends and His mother again, to reassure their doubts, to settle their fears, to forgive them and embolden them.
Let’s allow what we already know and who we know to penetrate our hearts. We know Jesus rose from the dead. We don’t have to wait until Easter Sunday to allow that joy to fill our hearts. We can choose to live joyfully through this Lenten season knowing the desert is not the end, knowing the cross is not the end.
Sister, this Lent, let us confidently accept the invitation of this season without reluctance or hesitation. Let’s resolve to be joyful in our discernment of what to abstain from each day or which spiritual book or devotion to begin. Let us choose to fill our hearts with a sense of extraordinary eagerness to return to confession, to ask for forgiveness, or to mend a fractured relationship.
And let us remember our Lord's words to His disciples and to us: “I have told you all these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Take heart, sister. He has won. Let’s celebrate the victory by having an extraordinary Lent. Let us RSVP to Lent—to Jesus—ASAP and with joy in our hearts.
Your sister in Christ,
What are the final thoughts that usually run through your mind when you try to fall asleep? Do you review a litany of unaccomplished tasks, mentally moving them onto tomorrow’s list? Are you thinking with dread of all that’s going to be required of you tomorrow? Do you feel regret over the way you have treated certain people who matter to you?
Almost every night, most of us can think of many things we wish we could have done that are being left unfinished. We can’t always fit in a little bit more. A life well lived is made up of days when the things that are most important are done first and many good things remain undone. As Stephen R. Covey wisely wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Our big rocks are our priorities. But how do we figure out what should be the most important thing?
I don’t believe that a single one of us wants to waste his or her life. We want our lives to count. We read Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or in other words, what does it do for you if you gain the whole world but end up losing your soul? We don’t want to come to the end of our lives having pursued the wrong things.
The world is constantly communicating its priorities to you. You are to prioritize having a perfect body, having as much money as you can, having an HGTV perfect house, and making a name for yourself with your accomplishments. You should be able to present your life in such a way that it lays out beautifully on Instagram—providing a feed worth following.
But is that a life that is truly satisfying? Even if you were to gain all those things that the world says matters most, is it possible that you could lose your soul—who you truly are—in the process?
What kind of a life do you want to build?
If you want to build a life where you love well…
if you want to build a life that feels simpler…
then I’d like to invite you on a journey.
My newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities: Building a Life Well Lived, is where that journey begins.
Ordering Your Priorities lays a foundation that helps women focus on the things that matter most. Diving into the pages of Scripture, we’ll connect our modern-day challenges with the changeless truths of our faith. If we want to live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to start in the right place. We need to begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He is the one who can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well.
My prayer for you and me is that we would apply the principles contained in Ordering Your Priorities and create a life well lived. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we are pursuing here.
Join us on a journey to build a simpler life where you love well. Your transformation is just around the corner!
 Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 161.
Did I ever tell you about the time I bought a homeless man lunch at McDonald’s? His name was Robert. And he cried when I called him “Sir.” That was over ten years ago, and to this very day, I wonder how Robert is doing.
I’ve lived in both Los Angeles and New York City, so encountering the homeless was as likely to happen as my purchasing an overpriced latte. Very likely. But I have to admit that until I had grown children of my own, while I always had compassion, I felt very little sting. Where I used to throw them a quarter or two, now I dig deeper, looking for the larger bill, giving them more. I see their worn faces and vacant eyes and wonder, what is your story? What happened to you? People have told me not to bother with the hand out—"They are just going to buy drugs or alcohol. You are not helping them.” And maybe that is true. But I can’t help it. I dig into my pockets, and I give them the handout. Because every time I drive by a person begging on a street corner, I not only see him, I see his mother.
He has a mother.
And that kills me.
I’ve spent some time today praying with the Sixth Station of the Cross: The Veil of Veronica. Veronica quietly approaches Jesus as He walks the path toward Calvary, and very courageously and lovingly uses her veil to wipe the blood and sweat from His face. I can only imagine what the crowds were thinking. What is she doing? Is she crazy? It was a bold move. And while not recorded in the Bible, here we are during Lent, thousands of years later, meditating on this wordless act of love. And Veronica? Well, as the story goes, Jesus blesses her by leaving an image of His face on her veil.
Have you ever watched your child or a loved one carry a heavy cross? Have you ever stood by and watched them repeatedly fall beneath its weight, wanting so badly to step in and carry it for them? It is a helpless feeling, isn’t it? We want to be the ones who save them, don’t we? We so badly want to remove their pain. And I don’t know about you, but this has been the hardest part of motherhood. We watch and weep, while praying to God that our presence and tears are enough.
But then there is Veronica. And she puts a whole new spin on the way of the cross. Because I picture our Lady watching her Son from a distance, and witnessing this young, holy woman take care of her Son when she could not. Of course, she could have stepped in. But God’s will for Mary was not for her to step in and save her Son from the cross. Quite the opposite. God’s will for Mary was that she accompany Jesus to the cross, and participate in His crucifixion as only the Mother of God can. This was the culminating moment that began with Mary’s “yes,” and “yes” she would say right up to the foot of the cross. What gratitude our Lady must have felt then in that moment as Veronica stepped out of the crowd and carefully wiped clean the face of her Son; a face she must have cleaned herself many times when He was young. I imagine Mother Mary looking on, watching and weeping over the compassion Veronica so lovingly offered Jesus.
This is why I can’t drive by the homeless without thinking of their mothers. And I wish I had something really powerful to close this with. Some sort of theological statement that knocks your socks off. But honestly? All that I have today is a mother’s heart. A heart that is so grateful for the Veronicas in my own children’s lives. The Veronicas in all of our lives. The unrecorded moments and wordless acts of charity that step into our loved ones' paths as they walk toward their own Calvary, helping them along the way when we cannot.
If you are among the watching and weeping, know this, my friend. Mother Mary watches and weeps with you. God has a Veronica for you. Your presence and tears are enough.
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.”
Have you ever carried a large statue of Mary, up hill, in a trash bag, in the snow? I haven’t either, but I did watch a student do this very thing a few years ago when I helped lead a college mission trip to Peru. Our trip leader told us that it wasn’t supposed to rain, let alone snow, so many of us, coming from Texas, packed nothing more than a light fleece to combat the chill of the Andes mountains.
When we arrived in Macusani, Peru (14,000 ft elevation), I immediately regretted not packing something heavier. We were teaching faith formation to young children in the village after sunset, and it was freezing. I had no idea that it would be the weather that made this mission trip so internally difficult. Every night all fourteen of us would return from teaching and huddle around the stove fire until our soup warmed up. We would eat our soup in a freezing room, and then run to our beds where the warmth of our blankets awaited.
About a week after our arrival, my mission team and I sat in the courtyard soaking up a bit of sunlight before traveling up the hill to teach our evening classes. The plan for that night was to do a quick lesson in the chapel and then head to the street for a rosary procession around the neighborhood. Since no procession is complete without a statue, we had borrowed a statue of Mary to bring for the occasion. In late afternoon the clouds rolled in, and by the time we were packing up to leave, it had started to snow. It had started to snow a lot.
We were not prepared for this sort of weather so we considered canceling that night’s catechesis. I was STRONGLY on the side of canceling. No one had the proper clothing, it would be dark, we could get sick, and we could do it tomorrow. I came with as many reasons to cancel as possible, and every single one was valid. Nevertheless, our trip leader insisted we still go. He told us these children were used to adults not showing up for them, and that we were going to be different. We would show up even if it was hard.
It would be nice to say that I rose to the occasion with heroic generosity, but that was not the case. My participation was half-hearted. It was tiring being so cold for so long, and my desire to be comfortable again was strong. Begrudgingly, I layered on my thin clothing, and we started walking up the hill. It was then, looking up the dark road, that I saw her. There she was: Our Blessed Mother traveling with us, on a student’s back, in a trash bag. If she could do it, I could do it.
When we arrived at the chapel, I expected it to be empty. The kids could have stayed home, but they didn’t. Almost all of them were there, enthusiastically awaiting our arrival. We did a short lesson, decorated a procession altar, hoisted Mary on top, and headed for the street. For the next forty-five minutes, we walked through dark streets no longer lit with electricity, in a blizzard with Mary held high, reciting the rosary not once but twice. Let’s just say I was more enthusiastic about saying the first rosary than the second!
After our procession ended, we told the kids goodnight and headed back to eat. Over dinner, our trip leader, who has led many mission trips down to Peru, casually mentioned that the area of the village we had just left had been experiencing demonic activity. “Wait a minute, demonic activity?” I thought to myself. I stopped eating and let the comment sink in as repentance flooded my heart. Clearly, God had a plan that was much bigger than my desire for comfort.
With no power, the village stood in complete silence. The only sound to be heard was the sound of the rosary filling every corner of the streets. The good Lord had used our voices to reclaim His town. Thank God I was not allowed to choose comfort that night! Thank God I was not allowed to stay home! Thank God that someone stronger than I decided that we would be generous; that we would push through when it would have been ok not to. The parents of those kids would have simply told them that we had to cancel because of the weather. We would have been more comfortable for sure, but we would have missed out on what God wanted to do that night through our commitment to Him.
As I sit in the chapel today, years later, I read the verse before the gospel in the daily readings: “Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance.” The Lord multiplies our generosity and creates miracles through our perseverance. Too often, the comfort we choose is the barrier to His movement in the world. I am always asking God to use my life for His glory, but when the rubber hits the road, I choose to stay comfortable. I make excuses for why I can’t push through to see what He wants to do on the other end.
We are in the last weeks of Lent, and if you are anything like me, by now you are over it. You are tired of sacrificing, or maybe you have given up altogether, hoping next year will be better. What if instead of retreating back to comfort, we asked our Lord for the grace to push through with hearts of generosity and perseverance? What if He still wants to do something in us and through us in this season of sacrifice? Don’t give up just yet; the Lord may have a miracle waiting for you right on the other side of your comfort.
“For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.” Ephesians 2:14
God has answered a prayer I have been pestering Him about for the past three years. At that time, my husband and I made the decision to uproot our family and hit reboot in a new state. We've been asked many times what prompted our move. Most people heard our standard answer: we wanted to be closer to family, it was a better business environment for my husband, and we were ready for a slower pace of life. All true, but not the whole story.
The truth is, God began messing with our hearts one summer as He began to reveal the degree to which the American dream had become intertwined with the gospel in our lives. Quotes like this one by David Platt led us to question the way we were living, “Radical Obedience to Christ is not easy…it's not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things.”
We weren't taking very many risks. And we were too comfortable. Another concern: pretty much everyone around us looked like us, was from more or less the same socio-economic background, and saw life through the same lens that we did. With a desire to decrease our spending and increase our giving, slow down and be more present to people, to move out of the comfort zone and experience discomfort in order to radically obey, we set out.
We've been working on each of these areas, some more successfully than others. But grace abounds, and I have seen God taking our meager attempts to step out of our comfort zones and give us far more in return than we could have expected. One of those gifts was meeting a new friend, the one I had prayed for all these years.
God has brought a beautiful woman into my life who is willing to let me borrow her glasses; to see life from her point of view. It's different than mine in so many ways—she is African American and I am white—yet we are very much alike at the heart level. We met at a dinner and cut to the chase, immediately going deep and talking about the racial divide in our country. I asked her if she would be willing to keep the dialogue going, and send me articles and concerns that are intersecting her life that I might be missing. She has been faithful to do that. Every day she has given me something to think about which has tendered my heart and challenged me.
At a time of such division in our country, she challenges me to not tell her how to feel. To not make assumptions about what it is like to walk in her shoes. Instead, she invites me to lean in and listen. To make room in my heart for her perspective, and to allow what she teaches me to open my eyes.
Lent is a time that we focus on fasting. I've heard it said that we fast in order to make more room in ourselves for God. Following that thought, how can we fast to make more room in our hearts to welcome someone whose perspective on life is different than ours?
What if we fasted from speaking and listened instead?
What if we fasted from the holy huddle and made sure we took time every day to talk to someone unlike us?
What if we fasted from comfort in order to build a bridge of unity across the divide?
Diversity consultant and Inclusion thought leader Howard Ross suggests using the following four questions to engage in dialogue with someone whose point of view is different than yours:
1) Why do you feel the way you do?
2) What is it about the other point of view that frightens you?
3) What are some questions you have about the other person that you want to ask?
4) Is there anything you need to say to be complete? (This is a chance to apologize for and let go of judgments and behaviors that you now see were inappropriate toward the other or the people they represent)
In 2 Corinthians 5:18, St. Paul tells us, “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” This is our job. The message He has entrusted to us is helping to reestablish a close relationship between two parties that are experiencing a divide. I believe it is time to stop fasting from ignoring this mission, and instead, to take it up.
Could you trade lenses with someone this Lent? Could you fast from your own point of view, and instead feast on what life feels like in someone else's shoes?
This post originally appeared on the blog in March, 2017.
Did I ever tell you about that time I gave up portobello mushrooms and goat cheese for Lent, and while out to lunch with my husband, he had the nerve to order the portobello mushroom and goat cheese sandwich?
There is so much to unpack in this one question that I hardly know where to begin. How about we start and finish with the fact that, at one point in time, my Lenten sacrifice was not eating portobello mushrooms and goat cheese. I mean, exactly how many portobello mushrooms and how much goat cheese was I consuming? Clearly, enough that to not eat it qualified as an appropriate sacrifice to the Lord, who gave up His very life in exchange for my sins. Safe to say, based on the level of suffering that must have caused, I experienced some radical spiritual growth that Lenten season. Didn’t Saint Teresa of Calcutta give up something similar? Or was that the 2000 vintage cote de boeuf and hunk of gouda?
Lord, have mercy on me.
The Lenten sacrifice. I struggle with it every year. Not so much the sacrifice itself but the motive behind it. Do I give up sugar, carbs, and eating between meals for love of Jesus, or for love of weighing less? Do I give up shopping at Target for love of Jesus, or because I will save us some money? Do I fill up bags of my possessions to donate for love of Jesus, or am I just cleaning out my junk drawer? Because if the motive is anything other than love of Jesus, then He will rise and the Alleluia will be proclaimed, but I will be no different. Perhaps I will be thinner with more cash in my pocket and a clean closet, but where it counts—nothing will have changed.
I told my husband we needed to start thinking about what we will give up for Lent now; that we must be intentional about how we journey. Of course, in “wife code language,” what I was actually saying was, “You need to get off of your phone, honey.” Something I should probably give up is telling my husband what he needs to give up. Is it just me or is it so much easier to see what’s in the way of other people’s relationship with Christ than it is our own?
So, what is in your way?
What are your disordered attachments?
What do you choose to tie yourself to?
What or who do you run to in place of Jesus?
What is your biggest obstacle to surrendering it all?
What is that thing you do repeatedly that breaks God’s heart?
These are the questions I have been asking: Lord, what do you see that I am allowing to get in your way? What are the distractions I reach for that have become so second nature, I don’t even recognize that they are distractions? What sins do I love so much I refuse to believe they are sins? Where do I live “for the show,” putting out all of my good but hiding my true self? Show me the attitude of my soul. Give me the grace to want to suffer for love of You.
As I have been praying with these questions, the Holy Spirit has been ever so gently nudging me...specifically at bedtime. You see, I get into bed with every intention to pray my nighttime prayers. Yet, it never fails that every time I go to set my phone down, I do one last Instagram check. Yup. You know where this is going, don’t you? That one last check turns into thirty minutes later, leaving me too tired to pray and knowing all sorts of unimportant things about people I don’t know that play zero role in getting myself to heaven. The easy sacrifice this Lent would be to give up Instagram, right? (I know, crazy talk.) Or maybe, at least, give it up before bedtime? There. Done. Easy, right?
Because I am a girl that requires a big plan. If I want real Easter morning transformation and resurrection, I need something meaningful to put in the space that I clear out. And I need to be held accountable.
Sisters, I have an idea…
This Lent I will replace the thirty minutes of bedtime scrolling with the Walking With Purpose short study, Living in the Father’s Love. And I can’t make the excuse that there is no way I can add a second Bible Study to my schedule due to lack of time. If you checked the daily screen time on my phone, you would see that not only do I have the time to add another study, but I have the time to write my own study, in three different languages! And get this, sisters: Because I love you all so much, I am inviting you to join me in this daily thirty minute Lenten challenge! (That’s the being held accountable part.)
Here is what we will do: The Bible study is six weeks long so we will begin on Ash Wednesday, February 26th, and end just in time for Jesus to rise from the dead!
What will you need?
For starters, you will want to identify your own time waster in your life—that thing you do or reach for that adds no value to your life but sucks up a whole lot of your precious time. Maybe it is scrolling through social media. Perhaps it is Netflix binging. Do you have a gift of mindless online shopping when you start to feel restless? Whatever your time waster is, identify it. But don’t just identify it, commit to replacing it with studying God’s Word.
Next, you will want to order the Living in the Father’s Love study guide right now! Two Connect Coffee Talk videos bookend this study. You can watch the videos for free on our website or purchase the videos on DVD or as a digital download.
Then be sure that you are following Walking With Purpose on Instagram. This is important because every week I will hop on Instagram stories, and we will go over the lesson together! We will discuss, interact and share, and come on now, how great will this be?
Sure, you can say there is no way you have the time for this and choose to give up Starbucks this Lent instead. And that is fine and all. But wouldn’t you rather use this Lenten season as an opportunity to pray with your WWP community and root yourself in a deeper understanding of just how crazy God is about you...while drinking your venti coconut milk latte?
Looking forward to not giving up coffee, and living in the Father’s love with you,
PS: Got a middle school age girl? Our Instastories content contributor Kristy Malik and her daughter Hana will be studying the BLAZE Bible study, Discovering My Purpose, this Lent on Instagram stories. They would love for you to join them! Interested in our Young Adult Bible studies? My daughter Annie will be hopping on Instastories as she works her way through Beloved, part I of the Opening Your Heart Young Adult Series. So many beautiful options and women to journey with this Lenten season! Check Instagram on Ash Wednesday (February 26) for more details.
“Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” 1 Samuel 15:19
If we can't wait to tell our girlfriends about our new favorite Netflix series, you can be sure that when we taste the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, we'll want other people to experience the same. Nowhere is that desire more intense than when mothers want to pass their faith to their children. I'm often asked about good resources for this, and what to do about older kids who have stopped coming to us for advice and who probably aren't listening to us much at all. It would be so simple if the solution was found in a book or a program that I could recommend. But that's not what I've seen to be the most effective. Here's what I think is the total game changer: MAMAS WHO ARE RADICALLY OBEDIENT TO GOD.
In 1 Samuel, we find Saul, a man who stood head and shoulders above all the Israelites. God chose him as Israel's first king, but even with all his accolades, good looks, brawn, and leadership opportunities, Saul had self-esteem issues. We know this from the words of the prophet Samuel, Israel's spiritual leader. In I Sam. 15, Samuel was calling Saul out for not obeying the Lord. Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before a battle, but fear crept in, patience wore thin, and Saul took matters into his own hands and did it himself.
The first words out of Samuel's mouth when he saw Saul was this: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:17) He then went on to ask Saul why he didn't obey the voice of the Lord after being given clear instructions.
Samuel was basically saying, “Saul, even though you don't think you are adequate or amount to much, God has chosen you for a really important task. He anointed you to LEAD. He told you to obey. So what were you thinking?!”
Saul responded by saying, “I have obeyed the Lord. I went on the mission he sent me on. These are all the things I did do. Why the obsessive attention to minute details? I obeyed in the big things. Isn't that good enough?”
And Samuel's answer brought down the hammer; “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Then the news was delivered that God had rejected Saul as king. Obedience didn't just matter in the big stuff. God was concerned with the details.
So back to our kids and our desire to pass our faith to them. There are great materials and programs out there, and we are wise to expose our kids to them. But there is nothing that will have greater effect on our children than our own radical obedience- not just in the big things, but in the little day-to-day decisions that most people in our lives don't see but our children do.
Romans 12:1 says that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This is a picture of us offering everything we have on an altar to God. It's a declaration that we are willing to take our hands off our lives and let God be utterly in charge. It's giving Him the right to call the shots on the big things and the little things. It's committing to a life of prayer where we are in touch with God throughout the day so that we recognize the small ways He's asking us to obey, not just the big and obvious ones. It's committing to radical obedience where we do what He has asked ALL THE WAY, RIGHT AWAY. This is what our kids notice. This is what impacts them deeply.
Our kids are asking the question, “Is this faith thing for real? Does Jesus really make that big a difference?” And they look to our lives more than our words for the answer.
We hear that call to offer our lives as living sacrifices-to obey radically-and all too often we say, “God, I'll obey you if….”.
Make no mistake. Whatever is on the other side of that word “if” is what we want and worship most. That is what we are willing to sacrifice for. And our kids know it. They see it. We all worship something. Whether it's comfort, a career, a relationship, status… there is something that we will give anything to have and hold onto. God asks that it be HIM. He asks that our obedience not be tied to conditions.
The only way we will ever be able to obey Him in this way is if we see Him as infinitely wise and infinitely kind. We need to know Him in order to trust Him. This is why we delve into Scripture- so that we can know Him better. So that we can see evidence of His wisdom in order to trust in His plan for our lives. In order to hear of His kindness so that we remember He is utterly FOR US.
Where is God asking you to obey right now? What choice is in front of you? Who will you worship in this moment? What is holding you back?
I pray that we can follow hard after God in the big and in the small, because what our world needs is women whose trust in God translates into brave and radical obedience. Being up to date on our social media feeds, having perfectly organized homes, nailing it with deliverables at work- all of that feels great. But the simple acts of obedience CHANGE THE WORLD.
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in February 2017.
For someone who likes words and lots of them, editing a book can be hard work. After pouring over each sentence and getting to the point where you love them all, no author wants to hear that she has to cut hundreds of words. But that is exactly what a writer is told and tends to be reluctant to do. When I was in the midst of that very process, I received great advice from an editor. Surprisingly, it applies to Holy Week. She said, “You have to kill your precious.” To the writer, every word seems golden. But unless you “kill your precious” and get rid of the parts that are unnecessary, the finished work won't be as concise or impactful.
Holy Week offers us opportunities to kill lots of precious. It's the home stretch, the last incline of the journey of Lent. It might be tempting to just switch gears and start focusing on Easter Sunday, but if we skip over these key days in the Church calendar, we'll miss out. The spirit of sacrifice is hard for us pleasure-seeking people, but a few more days of focused effort can make the celebration of the resurrection that much sweeter.
We all have those sins that we like to justify. The ones that we hide and don't think matter much. I struggle in this way too. It makes me think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and the way he called the ring that he coveted “his precious.” This was something he had possessed that wasn't actually good for him, but he longed for it nevertheless.
What is it that you reach for when you are longing for security or comfort or an escape? Maybe it's attention from someone who doesn't belong to you. Perhaps it's too much wine. Maybe it's shopping and spending money you don't have. It can be porn, or Netflix, or eating food to try to fill a void in the heart...anything that distracts or diverts. Maybe it's your ego that needs to die a death. Instead of a hearty dose of accomplishments and accolades, you are actually needing to grow in humility. Even as I write this, it all sounds quite horrible to me. I suppose it does to us all, which is exactly why we reach for these things. They feel so good in the short-term.
God is asking us to “kill our precious,” not because he is out to spoil our fun, but because He knows that's the very thing that is holding us back from the life that is truly life. He is asking us to have a long-term perspective. He wants my eye not just on the reward of Easter Sunday but on the ultimate reward of being in His presence in heaven. Which do I want more, short-term gain or long-term glory?
What I have found very helpful is to kneel before the altar with that “precious sin” on my mind. I picture holding it in my hands. And this is what I pray: “This is the sin I am wanting to play around with. This is what looks so good to me in the short-term. But I want to be a saint more. And I want to be free.” Romans 6:16 tells us, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I wish that our desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy of our souls would just give up and leave us alone. But nothing scares him more than people who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God we get, the more the enemy will tempt us to settle for mediocrity. Let's resist him with all we've got- especially during this Holy Week.
Our lives are too short and our calling too great to play around with sin. We're in the home stretch, the final incline in the marathon of Lent. Let's finish well. Let's fling aside those sins that entangle and cling so closely. Let's ask God to kill our precious, and do all we can to stay on the path of holiness.