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.
“For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God.” Genesis 33:10
While the digital age connects us like never before, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. No email or Facebook message can ever compete with the joy of seeing someone's face light up when you enter the room. My grandparents' home was always an oasis for me for that very reason. When I'd arrive, both of them wouldn't just say they were glad I'd come; it was written all over their faces. No matter how much uncertainty, disappointment, or worry I was experiencing, one look at the two of them reminded me that I was accepted just as I was.
“For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” A man named Jacob spoke these words to his brother, Esau. You might think that a huge compliment like that was born out of a beautiful, loving family relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jacob and Esau were twins who had been rivals even in the womb. Their childhood was marked by favoritism, competition, and deceit. The final straw: Jacob wanted Esau's birthright and inheritance, so he deceived his blind father into thinking he was his brother, and stole it. It made Esau so mad that Jacob had to flee for his life.
Decades had passed, and Jacob was returning home. He had no idea how Esau would receive him. He knew he deserved an angry and bitter reception. But Esau surprised his brother, and showed grace. He accepted his brother with open arms. He offered undeserved favor and unconditional acceptance. He proved that the bond of family was stronger than sin. That's what caused Jacob to say, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God.”
God gazes at us in that same way, only with greater purity, love and delight. Because we have been adopted as God's daughters, His divine blood runs through our veins and proves stronger than any sin. “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” (Ephesians 2:13). “And because you are [daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into [your] hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a [daughter], and if a [daughter], then an [heiress] through God,” (Galatians 4:6-7). Because we are family, we receive unmerited grace and are accepted just as we are. Soak up that truth. When God looks at you, He says, “Hello, beautiful.” He adores you. He delights in you.
And what does He want us to do with all that grace that He's poured over us? He tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love.”
If we're going to imitate Him, then we have to ask ourselves the question: What do our faces communicate to those we encounter? Do people leave our presence feeling like they've seen the face of God?
Or do our faces tell people that they don't matter much, because we are SO BUSY with incredibly important things like checking out the status updates of some old acquaintance?
Do our faces tell people that they aren't accepted, because their behavior doesn't match our opinion of “the right way to do things”?
If it's true that 93% of all communication is nonverbal, we'd better pay attention to what our faces look like.
Of course, this all would be easier to do if people would just act the way we want them to. But unfortunately, some people can be pretty annoying. Often those we love most can aggravate us to distraction.
So here's the good news. You've got some serious mojo to draw on when you feel like you just don't have it in you to reflect the face of God. Remember what you just read in Galatians 4:6. It says that if you're a daughter, then you're an heiress. You've inherited wonderful things (you can read about some of them in Ephesians 1:3-14). One of the things you inherited is the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22 says that we've got the following things at our disposal: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That's the mojo I'm talking about. Mojo is the power to control natural forces through supernatural means. It means that God can supernaturally help us to control our natural reactions of disdain, cynicism, criticism, anger, disappointment and disinterest.
Your inheritance is there for the asking. So no long faces as we continue through Lent. Let's show the world what an amazing God we worship and reflect HIS FACE to everyone we meet! Now that's a great way to celebrate His resurrection!
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in April 2014.
The song “Shallow” from the A Star Is Born movie has been in my head for three weeks. If you don't believe me, ask my family. I am driving them crazy.
When I told my friend I hadn't seen the movie, her response was absolute horror. You would have thought I told her that I was leaving the Catholic Church. Or growing out my facial hair. After the Academy Awards, she kept at me, “You have to see how they performed the song! Bradley rested his head on her shoulder while they sang! They looked so in love!” I had to see what she was so taken by. And so I googled, “Academy Awards Shallow Song.”
And now, a moment of silence...because, Oh. My. Word.
When it is time for me to go home to the Lord, if His gaze on me is anything like the way Bradley Cooper looks at Lady Gaga, then take me home now, sweet Jesus! Let's just say I am a little bit obsessed with this movie, or to be more specific, with this on-screen connection. Full disclosure, I could have done without the language, but that aside, this story touched me deeply. I felt like I was right there with Gaga and Cooper, sitting in the parking lot, listening in on a personal conversation. And when the movie ended, I missed their relationship - as co-dependent and tragic as it was - because deep down, I ached for a similar connection of my own.
Who doesn't yearn for deep connection?
I watched an interview with Lady Gaga. She said she originally wrote the song as a solo, but when Cooper heard it, in a stroke of brilliance, he added his voice. “It is a conversation about a man and woman and he actually listens to her,” she said. “Women today want to be heard.”
My husband and I can be pretty poor listeners, because we both work from home, and one of us always seems to have a phone in-hand, and by one of us, I mean my husband. I find I have to repeat what I say because after I wait for his reply, he looks up blankly and apologetically says, “I am sorry. Can you say that again? I wasn't listening.” And sure. I can easily throw him under the bus, but how often do I do the same exact thing? How many times has one of my children carried on with a story that I am half-interested in, only to give a, “that's great!” when I notice they have stopped talking. Or what about that woman you run into at the grocery store who stops to talk and all you can think about is the laundry at home and the appointment you have to get to and how badly you wish she picked up on social cues and closed her mouth? Listening takes time and well, our time is valuable. We don't like to waste it on things like...people.
And if that last line sounds bad, that's because it is.
Let's just admit it. We are losing our listening skills and our relationships are suffering as a result. We want to be heard, but rarely do we have the patience to listen. It is something I am working on this Lent. Looking people in the eye and listening to what they have to say without forming an escape route, or planning in my head what I will say back while they are still speaking.
And we wonder why so many of our relationships feel disconnected.
Or maybe we don't. Some people think we are connected just fine and there is no problem. After all, with technology today, we are communicating with people at an unprecedented rate. But connection beyond screens is different and not just different but vital. In Opening Your Heart, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes,
The truth is, we are growing increasingly socially isolated while online social networks are exploding. We are seeking connection, but so many of our connections aren't satisfying. Too many of our relationships feel superficial, artificial, one step removed from the real thing. This isolation can be soul deadening.1
Why are we so in love with the song “Shallow?” Because in this performance we see everything we long for -- deep connection, face-to-face communion; someone who gazes back at us, hears what we are saying, and offers us a safe place to land. Two people who so beautifully identify and call out what the other yearns for and the exhaustion that comes from filling the void with superficial things. And sure, doesn't hurt that Bradley Cooper is just so darn easy on the eyes, and Lady Gaga's vocal talent is flat out off the charts insane. But don't be fooled into thinking that's all there is on the big screen that tugs at the heart. The hook is not the talent, it is the intimacy they invite us into; the power of deep connection, the moment when you realize that you are not invisible, your voice is heard, and you are finally seen for who you are.
You know, the shallow end of a pool is just three feet deep. How many of us are swimming in the shallow when it comes to our relationships? With our spouses? Our children? Our neighbors? Our friends? Our Church? Our God? How many of us can sing, “I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I'll never meet the ground…?” This Lent, I invite you into the deep end of faith. How? Run to Adoration, grab someone's hand and bring them to Mass, sit across from a friend who simply needs her voice to be heard, really listen to the women at your table in Bible study instead of needing to be the one who is constantly speaking. Put your phone down and look into the eyes of the person you are sharing a room with. Because that intimacy we ache for in a Hollywood story...it is available to us, right here, right now. Truth is, we were made for more than the shallow.
Your Heavenly Father is waiting in the deep end...it is time to dive in.
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Stories of the misuse of power and the manipulation and abuse of women sicken and anger me. I welcome the long overdue shift that is taking place in this regard. Women's collective voices have become impossible to ignore and are ushering in change. The #metoo movement has swept in, and I pray its influence will remain strong. May the long term effects be change, not just media attention.
When saying “me too” doesn't lead to action, it isn't enough. Nowhere is this more true than with spiritual growth.
We love it when someone describes how we are feeling-when they “nail it.” That desire to be understood is deep and normal. But too many of us stop at the “me too” moment, and settle for panacea fixes. We might look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “I am enough.” We join a yoga class to calm our minds. We may get to the glorious place of living authentically with a few close friends, dropping the mask and allowing our mess to be seen. But these things will only take us so far. The very best that the secular world offers will always fall short of the deep healing and wholeness that God offers us. One of the reasons that American women today are the most medicated, depressed, and addicted generation to date is because we are only willing to go so far in the journey toward wholeness.
We're told in Proverbs 24:3 that “by wisdom a house is built.” You are the house where the Holy Spirit lives, and you will be built strong and secure through wisdom. When Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:17 that we'd be given a spirit of wisdom, he was referring to the wisdom of the deep things of God.
If we're going to grow up in our faith, no longer being spiritual “infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery,” (Ephesians 4:14) then we need to acquire wisdom. This means putting in our time studying Scripture, and then applying what we've read. This requires changing ourselves, instead of waiting for our circumstances or the people around us to change.
Unquestionably, it would be easier to live the way that God asks if people treated the sensitive parts of our hearts with kid gloves. Unfortunately, certain people and circumstances set us off. We're triggered- something causes a flashback or brings a memory to mind that takes us back to the emotions of a traumatic event.
Recognizing our triggers is valuable, but not if all they do is give us an excuse to respond however we'd like. Author Martha Beck describes triggers as “our culture's get out of jail free card,” and makes the important point that “triggers explain-they don't excuse.” If we don't look at it from this perspective, we're acting like victims of our emotions. This is the response of a spiritual infant, an immature believer.
What if we changed the way we looked at triggers? What if we got smart about what was really going on? The truth is, the enemy of our soul is behind much of the hurt we experience. He has made a study of our weak and tender places, and loves to exploit our wounds. He fights dirty.
When the enemy jabs his sword into our hearts through suffering, when he hits on an old wound that we thought was long buried or a fresh one is created, he thinks he's victorious. And God, with all His goodness and power, looks at the enemy and says, “Thank you very much. What you intended to destroy in her has now allowed her to awaken to an area of her heart that I have been waiting to heal. I needed her to notice it, and now I'm waiting to see if she makes the most of this opportunity and invites me into the pain.”
And this is exactly when we most want to run. This is when we want to numb ourselves to any negative emotion or experience. But if we will resist the urge, if we will lean into the pain and name it, if we will start to explore the lies that are swirling in our heads, God will be able to reach in, speak truth, and heal.
What feels like an old wound being reopened is actually an opportunity for deeper healing-for God to do a new thing within us. Listen to His voice speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)
God is always at work. He is continuously offering us opportunities for new spiritual growth. Those opportunities often come in unwelcome packages, but if we open them up and invite God in, we'll be amazed at how we can grow.
Speaking of growth, here at WWP, we are committed to keeping things new and fresh. As we continue to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, we are launching a new website (www.walkingwithpurpose.com) and updated look. We hope you love the changes as much as we do!
God is doing something new in me, in you, and in WWP. Let's invite the Holy Spirit to usher in a new season of growth and maturity for us all!
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
We were living on Carmine Street in New York City's West Village, just between Bleeker and Sixth Avenue, when our first baby was born. It was an incredible spot, a real diamond in the rough, that spilled out into a private courtyard surrounded by brownstone buildings, hidden from the filth and noise. We did not live in the brownstones, but our “nice sized one bedroom” (which was the size of my walk-in closet today) was the one lucky unit in our building that had access to this shared piece of paradise.
For some I hear, New York City is an assault to their senses. But for me? For my husband? It is quite possibly the only place on earth where we are able to fully breathe. And so we dealt with the rats, and we put up with the roaches, because when you truly love something you do not think twice about the sacrifice. We gave up our bedroom and gave it to the baby. We got rid of our queen-sized bed and bought ourselves a pull out couch to save on space. My husband worked odd hours as a hotel doorman in Times Square; jumping on his bicycle during breaks to go on commercial and voice-over auditions, while I strolled the baby through Washington Square park. Our life in the city was not without its challenges, as we struggled to pay rent, and dragged loads of laundry three blocks to the laundromat. But we were New Yorkers through and through and we adored our sweet home and so we stretched out that apartment and life in the city as long as we possibly could.
The hardest part of that tiny home on the corner of Bleeker and Sixth? Lifting the baby stroller over the homeless man that used my doorstep as his bed. Every afternoon I would come home to find him there, lying clear across the stoop, body pressed up against the gate. I imagine the first few times this happened I was frightened and uncomfortable by this unexpected visitor. It is unsettling to see the poorest of the poor up so close, in your face, literally blocking your way home. But over time I got used to it. The poor man no longer alarmed me, and I figured out a way to get around him. Joe's Pizza was just next door, and so every afternoon one of the pizza workers would come on out when they saw me, and as I fiddled with the lock and opened the gate, they would help carry the baby carriage over the homeless man.
In today's Gospel (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus tells us the parable of the rich man who does nothing for Lazarus, the poor man who is literally lying at his door. And it has me thinking. Not only about that homeless man sleeping on my stoop on Carmine Street, but about all of those living in poverty who I encounter, outside of my home and under my roof, and how I respond to their quiet need. Do I respond to their need? In the parable, dogs licked the sores on Lazarus while the rich man dined in purple garments and fine linen. And I suppose if that rich man lived on Carmine Street, he too, would have had the baby carriage lifted over Lazarus, so that he could quickly get inside where he was comfortable, where he did not have to look at the poorest of the poor asleep at his door.
And this is exactly the time of the Lenten season when God does this to me. And maybe to you too. He places a poor man on my doorstep. An unexpected soul in need. He forces me to stop in my tracks and pay attention and to look in the mirror and face my own poverty. And I have a choice here as to how I respond, don't I? I can continue about my business, find my way around it, and grow used to it. Or, I can choose to be like the dogs in the parable, who comforted the poor man, who showed compassion by licking his sores.
Now I will be honest. I have sat here for quite a while debating whether or not I should even say “licking his sores” because I don't know about you, but that is a hard thing for me to imagine. Picturing open sores being licked clean by dogs is not a pretty image. But maybe Lent is not supposed to be pretty. And maybe we are being called to minister to those things that make us uncomfortable, that make us want to carry ourselves over and around it, that make us want to stay in our clean bubble dressed in linen, dining on fine things. Because the bottom line is that hard things are hard to look at and hard people are hard to minister to. But isn't the hard precisely what we are called to look at? Isn't the hard precisely what we are called to do?
It is funny how we do this. How we plan out what we think we need to do for Lent, who we want to help, and how it fits into our everyday living, but how God has other plans to transform us. How we look to our forty day devotional that looks so cute on our nightstand, and our new pretty Lenten planners that photograph so well with a cup of coffee, thinking if we pour into these every day we will find what we are searching for. How we turn down that piece of chocolate or decide against that small purchase, patting ourselves on our backs thinking how good we are being. All the while, stepping over and around or taking the long route home, simply to avoid that one person who lies in our way; the one living in poverty who would settle for our scraps.
But I want to be more than a scrap giver. And I want to be the kind of woman who is alarmed by the incredible and desperate need of those living in poverty around me. And I do not have to live in an apartment in New York City to encounter the poor. The poorest of the poor are everywhere. In our communities, our churches, our streets, our bible studies, our places of work, our exercise classes, our own homes. Every single encounter, from the woman in the pew behind me at daily Mass, to the stranger in the doctor's office lobby, is another piece of my story that God has intentionally put within reach, another clue to my searching out what my heart truly desires.
Sweet friends, are we not the ones who live in poverty when we choose to look the other way? Are we not the poorest of the poor when we are so busy dining we fail to invite the hungry to our table? We are not being asked to feed everyone living in poverty, or to save the world. That is not our job. But we are being asked to not step over that one person, that one inconvenience, that one thing that makes us uncomfortable to look at. God places these very things in our path. When we ignore them, we ignore Him.
Perhaps it is a good and necessary thing when what we choose to do for Lent is interrupted by an unexpected circumstance, a disruptive person, a situation that brings you to your knees, an out of the blue illness, an intense loneliness, or a poor man lying on your doorstep. Maybe these obstacles aren't obstacles at all. Maybe they are God's presence in disguise, pulling us in closer to Him, bringing us face to face with his wounds, gifting us with the incredible opportunity to care for him. Maybe it is God saying, “Your new Lenten planner is really beautiful, but so are these sores...would you put down the planner and tend to these, please.”
May we hold loosely to our own ways of seeking the Lord these next weeks, paying attention to the poor we have grown too used to. May we minister to every single soul we encounter this Lent, especially those we wish were not left on our doorstep, especially the ones we wish we could carry ourselves over. Let's wake up to the dying in need and give more than our scraps. If the dogs can show compassion, surely we can too.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
“They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He made the water flow out of the rock for them; He split the rock and the water gushed forth.” Isaiah 48:21
I'm just returning from a trip with my family that gave us countless opportunities to wait. Just when I'd be about to pray for patience, I'd rethink it, because I've often found that God answers that prayer with more opportunities to practice the virtue. The kids were great at keeping themselves amused with games, one of their favorites being “Would you rather.” Would you rather eat a fried cockroach or a snake? Would you rather pull out your eyelashes or toenails? Would you rather be sleep deprived or be desperately thirsty? You get the picture. And this is my answer: “I would rather eat macaroons in Paris, fly first class, get my nails done, and sleep under fresh sheets that smell like lavender.” Always. There isn't a time when I would rather suffer or deny myself of something pleasurable.
And here comes Lent, a season that asks me to change my perspective on what I truly prefer, deep down. Given the choice, I avoid an itinerary of dry lands, wilderness, or thick darkness. Yet in the depth of my soul, what I desire most is spiritual maturity. And in my experience, that kind of growth has always come out of the harsher landscape.
What circumstance in your life looks like a desert or a wilderness? What landscape are you looking at that appears devoid of life or hope? Which prayer have you faithfully prayed, yet the answer has not yet come? Are you still slogging through the dry land, hoping that the oasis is just around the corner, but wondering if you'll faint before you get there?
The hardest wilderness experiences for me have not actually been my own. They have been the ones that I have watched my children walk through. Pitfalls have surrounded them, fear has paralyzed me, and the reality of how little control I have has threatened to take me out at the knees. Complicating matters is the fact that I have had a plan that would fix everything, if God and all parties involved would just cooperate.
But life has a way of slipping out of our control, and this is guaranteed to happen on the road of motherhood. Recently, I have watched my child move into a place that I have spent years convinced would spell disaster. It seemed to me to be the exact opposite of the environment I had prayed for. Fear robbed me of sleep, and worry upset my stomach continuously.
Who knew what God had up His sleeve. There is not a prayer I have prayed that God has ignored. Every tear I have shed has been stored up and acknowledged. He has not been asleep on the job. What I have called the wilderness, God has decided is the perfect place to split the rock open and answer my prayers.
Is God asking you to release control over someone you love? Are you afraid that doing so will lead to suffering, slaughter or death? In these times, think about Mary and Joseph being warned that they needed to flee with baby Jesus to Egypt. We know about the slaughter of the Holy Innocents that followed, but they knew only the safety of their own country versus the unfamiliarity of the desert of Egypt. In the words of Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., “Jesus was safer with the Egyptians than with the Jews, in a pagan land than in the country of God's people. A Christian is often safer with pagans than in the midst of loose, sensual Christians.”
If God is calling you or your loved one into the wilderness, trust that there is nowhere safer than that very place. Certain things will be put to death there, and some of those things might seem very innocent to us. We may try to justify to God why it's possible for us to keep them and still follow Him. Can we trust that He knows better? How painful the process is will have much to do with how much docility we offer the Lord.
It makes me think of C.S. Lewis' words in the book The Great Divorce. A lizard (representing the power of sin) sits on the shoulder of a ghost of a man, tormenting him with constant chatter. An angel approaches, and offers to make the lizard silent. “Of course!” the man replies. But when the angel explains that this will require killing it, and the angel's approach makes the man feel he is being burned, the man replies, "You didn't say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that."
"It's the only way," said the Angel …. "Shall I kill it?"
"Look! It's gone to sleep of its own accord. I'm sure it'll be all right now. Thanks ever so much."
"May I kill it?"
"Honestly, I don't think there's the slightest necessity for that. I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. Some other day, perhaps."
"There is no other day …."
"Get back! You're burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did."
"It is not so."
"Why, you're hurting me now."
"I never said I wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you."(1)
Sometimes it really hurts when the rock is split open in the desert, but the refreshing, healing waters will come. This Lent, let's allow God to have His way with us. May we follow His lead, and trust that it will not be for our destruction, rather, for our glory.
With love and prayers,
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
(1) C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (HarperCollins, 2009), pp. 106-112.