Do you ever have one of those days when you don’t feel bad, but you don’t feel good, either? When you lack motivation and willpower? You feel stuck where you are but can’t quite get yourself to get moving?
If this is where you are today, you are not alone. Women across the United States are emerging from a year of societal lockdowns, uncertainty, and monumental changes. We are collectively pushing the door open, moving from a dark room into the bright outside world. We’re blinking our eyes and thinking about what we’re supposed to do next. There’s a sense that we should be feeling better than we are, but we’re feeling aimless and lackluster. We’re not necessarily burned out or depressed, but we’re definitely not flourishing. Author Austin Kleon pointed out that the Oxford Dictionary of English notes that plants may appear to be languishing simply because they are dormant. He goes on to say, “I’m not languishing, I’m dormant. Like a plant. Or a volcano. I am waiting to be activated.” The right conditions will make all the difference in terms of when and if the flourishing can occur.
It’s been a chaotic and disorienting year. Challenges came at us relentlessly, without notice. Moms who had never signed up for homeschooling found themselves managing virtual school, often while balancing work commitments outside their homes. Searching for necessities like toilet paper, worrying about the coronavirus, widespread loneliness and isolation, death of loved ones with or without a funeral, racial injustice, political unrest, canceled vacations and events—these things and more made it feel like a surreal or lost year.
If we all were honest, I think we’d find that a high number of women are feeling tired of their lives. We’re dragging. Although things seem to be looking up, we’re not sure if we can trust the bits of good news we’ve received. If we get our hopes up, we risk being disappointed. Again.
My observations and musings are obviously anecdotal, but current statistics back me up. What’s pretty clear is that women are not doing very well. Current statistics indicate that women’s mental health has been suffering, alcohol consumption has risen drastically, and feelings of disconnectedness are widespread. Escapism gives us a momentary reprieve from our circumstances, but when it’s excessive it prevents us from ever getting to the root of our problems.
If Austin Kleon is onto something when he describes us as dormant, it begs the question—what kind of an environment will help us bloom? What can help us see clearly and move forward? What will anchor us and help us regain our footing? We are longing for things to feel settled and normal again. We’ve got choices to make. Which ones will lead us toward the path to true flourishing?
As I’ve reflected on the rising rates of alcohol consumption, Netflix binging, and online escapism, I am arrested by the following question: Instead of needing to escape our lives, how about if we build lives we don’t want to escape?
I’m obsessed with this question. I am convinced that if women could start to build lives they don’t want to escape, we’d find that so many of these destructive coping mechanisms wouldn’t be needed. And can we just be honest for a minute and admit that these coping mechanisms are found just as much in the lives of women who love God and are following Him? This isn’t a problem “out there,” it’s here.
We weren’t meant to journey alone. The isolation we have been experiencing has not been good for our hearts. We desperately need good community. Now, this might sound like I am diminishing the importance and significance of God. Shouldn’t He be enough? To be clear, encountering God personally is a total game-changer. His personal and never-ending love for you guarantees that He has never left your side. But even God Himself considers community a non-negotiable. God exists in community—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He invites us into that divine relationship and wants us to move out in the world, gathering people closer to our hearts and His.
That is what the Walking with Purpose community and Bible studies set out to do. The accountability and comradery of a small group provides the support and encouragement that helps keep us on the right path. The study guides provide truth to ponder and questions for reflection, making Scripture accessible and relevant. We have all heard that we need to “do the work,” and we get it. We know there isn’t a magic pill that will fix what we don’t like about our lives. But doing the work in isolation with nothing but inspiring Instagram posts and grit will only get us so far. We need each other, we need structure, we need a guide, we need the Holy Spirit’s power. WWP leads us to those things and helps us move from good intentions to a new reality. It’s not one more thing on our plates—it is the plate. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we’re pursuing at WWP.
I am inviting you to come back to community and start building a life you love. Wondering where to begin? Grab one friend. Ask her if she’s feeling the same way. Commit to getting together once a week and chatting about a WWP Bible study lesson. Gather a few more friends. Keep going. Don’t give up. You need each other. Move over to the parish and keep gathering. Again, we need each other. That woman you think will be annoyed if you invite her to Bible study? It’s likely that she’s feeling disconnected, too. You may be the key to her experiencing the abundant life—starting to bloom instead of settling for being dormant.
My friends, let’s get moving. I know summer is coming and we just want a vacation. But will a trip fix that listlessness inside? I think not. Don’t settle for a vacay when community is what you truly crave.
With you on the journey-
Many years ago, I agreed to attend a healing Mass with a friend. To be honest, I was afraid. I wasn’t sure I belonged there, or had the right to ask to be prayed over because I wasn’t physically sick. There was no terrifying diagnosis, no broken bones. I didn’t even have the sniffles. However, what I did have was killing me.
I was spiritually ill; literally sick from not doing God’s will.
Uncertain of how it all happened, I found myself on a path that was leading me far away from the Lord. Consumed by the fear of money running out, struggling in my marriage, and barely holding onto my sanity raising four small kids, all I could think about was how badly I wanted out of my life and how much better everyone else had it. My mind was a battlefield, and the enemy was all over it.
Do you ever think about what you think about? Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, has researched the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health, and the formation of memory, and she has this to say about our thoughts: “Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.” 
Makes you think twice, doesn’t it?
Scientists aren’t the only ones who have something to say about our thoughts. Scripture is full of references to the mind and our thoughts. The most common verse is Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
What do you dwell on?
When you go to bed, do you think about all the things on your to-do list that you didn’t get to? Or do you recall all the things you did get done?
When you wake up, do you hit snooze, delaying the dreaded day ahead? Or do you roll out of bed and onto your knees, beginning your day in thanksgiving?
Are your thoughts stuck in the past, dragging you down the path of shame and regret? Or do you stay present to the moment, trusting that God knows what He is doing and that His plan for you is good?
If our thoughts precede our actions, and hope can change the structure of our brain, than mindset is everything. Romans 12:2 instructs us: “Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind; that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” In other words, live different. Think with the mind of Christ. Keep your thoughts holy so your actions will be holy, and in doing so, you will be able to recognize God’s will for your life.
And that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s what we are all after, right? Knowing what on earth it is that God wants us to do. Discovering that good plan He has for us. According to Romans, the way to find out is by the renewal of our minds, but easier said than done. Our minds are so powerful, running 24 hours a day. We think nonstop. Did you know that I can pray the rosary, and plan dinner, and worry about everything all at the same time? And don’t get me started on how well I can focus on what might happen someday; which for the record, is never good. It’s terrible, really. Because the more we focus on something, the more that something controls us. And knowing this, the enemy works overtime, blinding our minds because he understands that if he can keep our minds in the dark, we will never be able to see the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-5).
So while renewing our minds sounds great in theory, practically speaking, how do we this? I have three suggestions.
We may not be able to choose what thoughts come into our minds, but we can choose whether we keep them there. So let us be of sound mind, holding every thought captive to Christ, weeding out unhealthy roots, and dwelling on whatever is good.
Thinking of you, and praying as always,
 Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018)
 Caroline Leaf, “How To Detox Your Brain Part I” (January 12, 2018), https://youtu.be/P9UtL9_2jZA