There is a path in town I frequently walk with my dogs. Perfectly paved and lined with wild flowers, there is one specific stretch that always catches my eye. Carefully placed, hand-painted rocks with words of positive affirmation are sprinkled along its curve: be awesome...be kind...you are brave. This morning, a new message appeared: blaze your own trail.
I was reminded of the final Connect Coffee Talk in Opening Your Heart, the most tried and true Walking with Purpose Bible study. Titled Outside Activities: Set the World on Fire, women completing this study are encouraged to recognize the battle and stoke the fire by going out into the world and doing something. Something risky. Something bold. Something that appears impossible, but with confidence in God, is totally possible. It is a call to find our holy discontent, check our motivation, and then peel our lazy selves up off our comfy couches and set the world ablaze.
And I wonder. Are we doing this? Because let’s be honest. Our couches are really comfy, Netflix is easier, and starting a fire is dangerous. Why reach for the matches when the remote control is so much closer, not to mention safer?
Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves Netflix.
Ever since my friend Mallory sent me a link to a talk on the cosmic battle, I have been contemplating my own personal battle—examining where I fail to respond to God’s call, and in return, allowing the enemy to ever so slowly extinguish my fire. I have been tracing my own steps and actions, looking for the change in behavior, searching for signs of transformation. And while I am good to report that my branches are not completely void of fruit, I would like to report better than good. For God, I would like to do great. Risky, even. And bold. In the marrow of my bones I know that I have been called to set fires. Not sit by them.
So what trips me up?
Fear. Fear of offending. Fear of looking outdated. Fear of being ridiculed, mocked, hated, or misunderstood. Fear of not being intelligent enough to defend my faith. Fear of negative and mean-spirited comments. You see, I want to be obedient to God’s call, but out of fear, I tend to settle for a shallow faith. Oh, my faith runs deep in the privacy of my home or at Mass with my people or on a phone call with my best friend. But out in public? With the skeptics and doubters and lukewarm Catholics? Not so much. Why? Because I like to be liked. I hate confrontation. Plus, I am a busy woman, and I don’t feel like adding “radical discipleship” to my to-do list. And so I nod my head in agreement when you speak of “your truth” (as if there is more than one), and I have zero response to you when you put down my faith in the frozen food aisle at ShopRite. (And by “you” I really don’t mean you. Unless that was you. Then yes, I am talking about you.)
See? I don’t even like writing that.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.
And yet, to ignore this call from Jesus would be detrimental. Not only to my soul, but to the countless souls He could reach if only I were an obedient disciple. Because, you see, without obedience, discipleship is incomplete. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, “obedience is the first step of faith.” When I choose to be “obedient enough,” there is nothing radical about my discipleship. I am not taking a full step. A devoted disciple understands that following Jesus is not on their terms but on God’s. We don’t get to choose how we follow and tell Jesus our plans. We are shown how to follow, and then He waits to see how we will respond. If we will respond.
And nothing is ever more important than responding in obedience to Jesus’ call.
Do you know what we call those with a negative response to Jesus’ call? The “would-be followers.”
How would you like that engraved on your tombstone?
Here lies Laura...Loving mother, wife, and would-be follower of Christ.
I didn’t make this up. It’s Scripture:
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
Deep breath now ladies, because this is insanely hard. And it is precisely why so many of us choose “easy Christianity.” True discipleship means we let go of who we used to be and step wholeheartedly into the woman God desires us to be. It means breaking old habits, letting go of comfortable sins, and stepping into a brand new life of obedience to Christ. It means embracing a personal relationship with God; trusting Him so much with our lives that we lose our fear of starting fires.
And if you are anything like me, your heart is leaping out of your body screaming, “yes to true discipleship,” while your head is simultaneously shaking, “no way!” There may even be a part of us that assures ourselves, “God doesn’t really mean this. He would never ask us to let go of everything and follow Him.”
Oh, how the enemy loves it when we doubt that what God says is true.
So, practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we lose the fear of being a devoted disciple? How do we connect our heads with our hearts? Honestly? I don’t have a complete answer for you yet. But I can offer one simple step that I am taking because it is what the first disciples did...and it worked.
We get on bended knees and pray in confidence to the Holy Spirit. We beg for the strength to live the Gospel with fervor, to speak the Word of God with boldness, and to increase our zeal for Christ. We ask for the help to defend the Church, to speak of the one and only Truth, and to fearlessly set fires wherever we go.
The world has enough would-be disciples. We can do better. We must do better. It is time to quit reaching for the plow while craning our necks to look at what we are leaving behind. Time to trust that the kingdom we are after is far better than anything we give up here on earth. Are you ready to take your holiness seriously? To step into radical and devoted discipleship and become masters of an unquestioned obedience? Oh, sweet friend, I pray that you are. Because if we collectively do this, imagine the fires we’d set!
 Matt Chandler, “The Cosmic Battle,” The Village Church Resources, 43:03, March 15, 2021, https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/cosmic-battle/
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
 cf. Acts 4: 23-31
Ever since I dropped some packages off at the post office and the postal worker handed me a receipt for $6.66, and I looked at him and him at me, until finally he said, “I didn’t want to say it out loud” and I said, “Well, I am mailing religious books, so take that Satan!”...well, ever since then, things have gone incredibly awry. I will spare you all the horrible details that fell somewhere between the $600 cat surgery and the dead guinea pig, but let’s just say that I must be doing something right because someone down there is not happy.
Being a soldier of Christ Jesus is not for the faint of heart, my friends. Some days I wish I had chosen to become a soldier of anything else...like a soldier of lattes...or manicures…or sleep.
Sitting at my desk while trying to fight off all of the useless questions we like to ask God in times of suffering, questions like, “Why?” and “How long?”, I pulled up the first video for the Living in the Father’s Love Bible study, The Beauty Of A Childlike Faith. In this video, Lisa Brenninkmeyer lists three childlike qualities that God desires to see in each of us. I was most drawn to the second: Having confidence in God, trusting that only He can do what we cannot.
So, let me ask. Do you? Do you trust that He is in control? Are you confident that He has a good plan for you? When the ground is falling out from beneath your feet, do you trust that God knows what He is doing?
I’d like to think I have a firm trust in the Lord. I’d like to say that my confidence is not in myself but all in Him. But then...the cat’s ear blows up and I find the guinea pig hard as a rock and everything starts to crumble around me, and well, suddenly the obedient Christian life is not looking like such a great fit for me!
Have you ever felt this way?
Have you ever gotten to the end of your resources?
Have you ever looked at the path the Lord kept calling you to walk down and thought to yourself, “Good grief, Jesus, can I please get a new path? Or at least a scooter?”
Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you pray, how dedicated you are to being a servant of God, you are the one who continues to draw the short stick?
It is hard to have a childlike faith in the midst of the battle. Staying confident when the storms of life seem to pound and pound to no avail can feel unrealistic and impossible. And as I found myself in this place of doubt, I recognized that unless I physically move, I will remain spiritually stuck. So I took a walk down a long paved path, praying the sorrowful mysteries each step of the way. And I asked the Lord to please conform my will to His. I begged that He remove the doubt and desire to self-rely, and that I would have a firm trust in Him no matter the outcome; that I would still love Him just as much as I do on the mountain top as I do in the desert. That should He say “no” to my prayer, I would continue to say “yes” to whatever He chooses, out of love for Him.
Because here is the thing. When God chooses, He chooses from an eternal perspective. And I can’t even begin to pretend that I know how to wrap my head around that. But I have just enough faith, sprinkled with a good amount of grace, to know that this is a leap worth taking. A true and free gift from God. I am able to accept this; that He has the bigger picture. Not me. And if He does not give me what I ask for, it must be for my good. That this very cross I want to lose is actually my bridge to Heaven. And as hard as this can be to understand, I simply do. Because if this isn’t true, well then, none of it is.
As I neared the end of the path, a vision of Simon of Cyrene came to mind. Simon was the man compelled by the Romans to help carry the cross of Jesus. He was pulled from the sidelines observing, and took action by positioning himself under the cross with Jesus leading the way. I’ve heard many a reflection on this encounter—usually pointing to the theme of discipleship, stewardship, and helping others carry their burden. But, for the first time, a different image came to mind. This time it was not Jesus asking me to go out and help carry the load of another, but very specifically, He was inviting me to help carry His. How could I not step in and help Jesus carry what was meant for me? How could I not suffer under the weight of my cross when He already did? How could I not offer to share in the suffering when I am the one who caused it in the first place? This image completely changed my perspective. What looked impossible to carry only moments ago now looked like a gift. A walk that began in anxiety and doubt was now completed in confidence.
If your confidence in yourself is stronger than your confidence in God, ask yourself: What path of obedience is God calling me to that I am afraid of? Then offer up your need to understand. Say, “Here you go, Jesus. Here is my heart. It is weak and it is imperfect, and sometimes, it is as hard as my dead guinea pig. But here ya’ go, it is all yours.” Make no mistake. This is not giving up hope. This is saying, “I love you so much that I am willing to say “yes” to whatever you choose because you choose from an eternal perspective, and you always choose what is good.” This is how we become like children. This is how we remain confident when the storms of life rock the boat. This is how, compelled by love, we get off the sidelines and take action, positioning ourselves under the cross and walking the path of obedience with Jesus leading the way.
I might have signed myself up for something really stupid or totally life changing. I won't know for sure until it is over.
I, Laura Phelps, a gifted rambler, lover of my own personal space, and unwavering in my belief that without my presence, my family will fall apart, will be attending a three-day silent retreat. I will have no cell phone. I will share a room and bathroom with a stranger. A complete and total stranger with whom I cannot speak.
What on earth was I thinking?
Here is what I was thinking:
I am a spiritual mess and I never stop talking. I am co-coordinating a WWP parish program, traveling the country to speak about God and what He has done and continues to do in my life, and writing on the side. Simultaneously, I am striving to be a good wife and mother by setting a holy example of Catholic marriage and parenting-while feeding the dogs, cleaning the guinea pig cages, and buying large crickets because a bearded dragon was exactly what my life needed.
And I am failing, sisters. I am stretched thin, utterly exhausted, and drowning in the chaos. What is making me even crazier is the fact that I have no idea if I am following God's will in all these aspects of my ridiculous life. Am I doing what God has called me to do? I think I am because everything on my to-do list is gift wrapped in ministry paper and tied with an evangelizing bow. But just because I have said yes to a million and one things that point to Jesus, does not mean Jesus was pointing to me while handing out the million and one things.
Feeling totally confused, and knowing confusion comes from the enemy, I recognized the spiritual danger I was in and did something stupid. I asked a priest for spiritual direction. What I thought was going to amount to a one-hour meeting with him every Tuesday morning, where I'd bring lattes, we'd pray on soft couches, and he'd find me both holy and hysterical, turned into me agreeing to and registering for a three-day silent retreat.
I cried about this to my friend last night. “I am already dreading it. What have I done? This is so not the time for me to leave my family! I want to throw up.”
She responded in her typical, gentle way by asking, “Have you asked the Lord if it is His will for you to go?”
Now, I love my friend. But seriously? Have I asked the Lord? What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I asked the Lord!
Okay. So I didn't ask the Lord. But here's the deal. Do we really think if I asked the Lord, “Hey, Lord...I have this opportunity to let go of everything, sit at your feet, and give you my undivided attention for three whole days where for the first time in...oh, I don't know...maybe in forever...I shut my mouth and listen to You. Is this something you would like for me to do, Lord? What was that, Lord? You'd prefer I stay home and continue to believe that I am in control of everything and that I should never stop talking at You because that's been working out so well? Okay, great-thanks. Phew...that was close! Almost made a mistake and went on retreat!”
Not by coincidence, in my struggle with the Lord's invitation to leave my family and go on a three-day silent retreat, I found myself praying with the story of Jonah-a story titled Disobedience and Flight. I read how Jonah fled far from the Lord when He asked him to set out for Nineveh. Jonah hopped on a boat ignoring God's will and tried to get as far from Him as he possibly could. I closed my eyes as I pictured the violent winds that hurled upon the sea. I imagined Jonah waking up in the hold of the boat and, upon hearing the mariners ask, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God!”, recognizing what he had done. The storm was the consequence of his disobedience. Jonah asks the others to throw him into the sea, and as they do, the seas calm. You would think that Jonah was going to drown but he doesn't. Instead, the merciful Father rescues him. “For the Lord sent a large fish that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 2:1)
Invitations from the Lord can be so hard to receive. But you want to know what's even harder? Fleeing from them. What is the Lord asking of you that you are running from? Where is He inviting you to go that has you jumping on a boat, sailing far away, and going to sleep? Perhaps it is time for you to accept the Lord's invitation. To rise up, call upon your God, and silence the storm.
Now if you will excuse me, it is time I jump off of this boat and quiet my own chaos. Once afraid that my family would drown without me, I am realizing that perhaps this retreat is the very thing that God intends to use to save us. And isn't that just like the Lord? Just when I think I am in over my head, He sends a large fish.
Silently praying for you from the belly of the fish,