It’s Thanksgiving week, and although COVID-19 has messed with a fair share of travel plans, I would guess that many of us will still be sharing the holiday with loved ones. While this is something that can result in joyful feelings of anticipation, it also leaves some of us worried about how people are going to get along around the table.
If only we all agreed on religion and politics.
If only awkward and hurtful things wouldn’t ever be said.
If only we knew how to encourage one another in a way that really hit the mark. Wouldn’t that make things easier?
I think we often conclude that the only way to get through holidays with sticky relationships is to keep things on a very superficial level and not talk about anything that really matters. But when we settle for this, our relationships aren’t very satisfying. How can we take things to a deeper level without things getting fractious?
I believe that asking certain questions and truly listening to the responses can be a game changer. Here’s a link to some conversation starters that we’ve created with diverse groups of people in mind. Most of us have different views represented around the Thanksgiving table. These questions help us to get to know one another on the heart level without focusing on our differences.
Perhaps there is someone on your heart who you know is not open to God and spiritual growth. If the opportunity presented itself and the groundwork has been laid first with good listening, you might want to ask him or her, “What if there’s more?” Allow that question to sink in. Respect the question enough to allow time for silence and processing. Don’t hesitate to leave your loved one with the question hanging. It’s a good one to wrestle with.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving table is a quiet way of ministering to the heart. Beauty breaks down barriers. Another way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us.
Bishop Barron has said, “Agnostics are often deeply interested in beauty, goodness and truth. Find out which one they are interested in—that’s your hook. That’s your string that you need to follow. Keep going in that search for ultimate meaning. The passion for justice is an echo of the voice of God in you. It’s summoning you. The conscience—what is it—what is calling you to something better, something good, something just? Could that be God?”
Perhaps there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is spiritually searching, but he or she is searching in the wrong direction. You are probably really tempted to point out what is wrong about their search. I would encourage you to resist that temptation. Instead, you might want to consider pointing out the things he or she is doing well. Is he seeking truth? Desiring a life of purpose? Let her know you are proud of her. This is something we never stop needing to hear.
I pray that you start having more conversations with your loved ones about the topics of meaning in life, purpose, what we want out of life, how we can be truly fulfilled, and how we can be happy. I pray you’d be able to enter into these conversations and listen. To resist the urge to give the answer. To allow your children to talk.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, you might want to pray the following for the loved ones who will be around your table and those far away.
I ask that you would give my loved ones a heart to know you, that you are the Lord, so that they will be your people and you will be their God. May they return to you with their whole hearts. (Jeremiah 24:7)
I pray that you would give my loved ones a new heart and a new spirit…that you would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
May you open my loved ones’ eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you. (Acts 26:18)
I pray that you would grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
God, we know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. May you draw our loved ones to you. (John 6:44)
May you overwhelm our loved ones with the reality of your love, so that he or she can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
For I declare that “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
I declare that you “will contend with those who contend with us, and you will save our children.” (Isaiah 49:25)
I declare that “not one word has failed of all your good promises.” (1 Kings 8:56)
I declare that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers. (1 Peter 3:12)
I declare that all my children shall be taught by the Lord; and great shall be my children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13)
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved ones' lives, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!
Grace and peace,
Today is a significant day in our country—one where we are able to exercise the incredible right to vote and influence our society. This particular election finds our country polarized along political lines. Many lament our collective inability to take part in civil discourse, fueled no doubt by the influence of social media. Distance demonizes, and many people feel burned out and deeply discouraged by the political process.
I can think of no better response to the current political climate than to go to our knees in prayer. Not to talk about prayer, but to pray; because prayer moves the hand of God, and with God, all things are possible. All things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He is still in control of our spinning world. This is where our hope lies.
I don’t think any verse addresses this better than 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
When God addresses the issue of a land that needs healing (and I think we all agree that ours does), who does He begin talking to? Is it the group of people who are far from Him? No. He begins by talking to HIS OWN PEOPLE, the ones who are called by His name. He starts with family talk. And what’s the first thing He asks us to do? To go out and convince people to look at things the way that we do? No. The first thing He asks is that we’d humble ourselves. That we’d seek His face. That we’d turn from OUR wicked ways.
This isn’t where we want to start. Our desire for justice all too often causes us to look outside of ourselves. That's where we want God to start making things right. But He insists—the place to begin is within each of our hearts.
I invite you to join us today at 1 PM ET to pray the rosary for our country. We’re going to do the very thing described in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’ll start with confession. We won’t just be confessing sins that we have personally committed. We are confessing on behalf of our Church, in the same spirit that the prophet Daniel did when he confessed on behalf of the Israelite people in Daniel 9. Daniel was known for his holiness, but perhaps he was able to confess in this way because his humility reminded him that there was nothing the Israelites were capable of doing that he wasn’t capable of doing, and that the sin of one affected all. We are all in this together.
Another thing we’re going to pray for is that people would experience conversion of heart. There is nothing more critical than this. Nothing. All too often, what we begin with is a focus on outward behavior. We jump right away into discussions about how we are supposed to act as Christians. If this is as far as we go, then we have done an enormous disservice to the gospel. The heart of the gospel message does not begin with us cleaning ourselves up and behaving in the right way. The critical starting point is an acknowledgment that we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. We need Jesus. It is only when we are in a relationship with Him that we’ll experience the Holy Spirit giving us what we need to be holy. We do not start with behavior. That leads to self-righteousness and moralism. We start with confession and the gospel. That leads to Jesus.
I love this quote by Pope Francis: “The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.” So let’s turn our eyes to Him. Let’s go to Jesus, through His mother. I hope that as we pray, we’ll catch a glimpse of His beauty. I pray that we’d be overwhelmed with gratitude for the costly grace He offers us—paid in full, by Him, for us, because of His love. Let’s go to our knees, on behalf of our country.
Join us in praying the rosary for our country today, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, at 1 PM ET. This is a free event but you must register to receive the Zoom link. If you are unable to join us for this live event, we will post the call on our website.
 Homily, Mass with Seminarians and Novices, July 7, 2013.
I am an Audible junkie. Seriously, my favorite day of the month is the 20th, when my Audible subscription renews and I can dive into the life of a different historical figure whose story is often stranger than fiction. Last month, in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, I decided to listen to the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was executed for his involvement in the conspiracy to take down the Nazi regime. He was a deeply faithful man who left us beautiful writings such as “The Cost of Discipleship,” and “Life Together.”
Hour 8 of the 22 hour biography tells of Bonhoeffer’s attendance at a youth conference in Fano, a small island off Denmark. It was 1934, and Christian leaders had gathered together to pray and discuss how the Christian Church should exist in Germany as it was falling under Nazi control more and more each day. As the author described Bonhoeffer's time at the youth conference, he commented, “What made him stand out to some as an inspiration, to others as an oddity, and to others as an offense was that he did not hope that God heard his prayers but knew it.”
When I heard this line, I had to stop my household chores and rewind the audiobook. I listened again. Bonhoeffer lived through the darkest times his country had ever seen and he would eventually become a martyr. Through it all however, he knew without a doubt that God heard him.
I felt like I had been found out. I asked myself, “Do I pray because I believe as a good Catholic I am supposed to or do I pray because I have full confidence that the living God hears me and responds in my everyday life? Do I know that my life, lived in the folds of Christianity, actually makes a difference in my life and relationships, now, and forever? Or, do I live my life as a Christian because I made the choice out of passion years ago and I am now cruising on autopilot?”
I have to confess that I am not even sure that I answered these questions before just shrugging and moving on. Life is so busy after all, but in my heart of hearts I knew the answer. While I know somewhere deep down that God hears and answers prayers, a large part of me doesn’t believe it. While I know somewhere in my heart that my actions as a Christian make a difference, my daily behavior suggests otherwise as I make excuses and tell myself that it doesn’t matter all that much.
As a result, I sit down to pray and talk myself out of asking for the big stuff because well, it’s just me in my house, this problem is too big, and God is going to do what God is going to do. Too often, I talk myself out of a simple kindness because I am too busy and I don’t think the gesture won’t matter anyway. Too often, I talk myself out of sharing the truth that knowing Jesus Christ has been the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, because I don’t want to be perceived as a weirdo and it won’t change a life anyway. These are all lies that I subtly believe, and they keep me from fully participating in the type of prayer and action that helps redeem society. How smart of the devil to take my passionate conversion and quell it into moderate belief divorced from action, because at the heart of it, I just don’t think it makes a difference.
Two Saturdays ago, all of this changed as I sat down to pray. I, like everyone else, have been shaken to my core from all the tragedies of 2020. From the angst and uncertainty of the lockdowns, to the horrifying death of George Floyd, and the division, hurt, and misunderstanding that has followed, I forgot to remind myself that my prayers don’t matter and I cried out to God for the big stuff, out loud, for a long time. In the middle of my lamenting, the Lord reminded me that He hears me. He hears the cry of His people and weeps with us. His heart breaks with ours at the reality that things are not as they should be and He answers us even when we can’t see it. Our actions also make a difference now and in eternity, even the small ones, even those little acts of kindness that we pass over because we think they aren’t enough to change anything. They do bring about change. They will be enough.
Pastor Bonhoeffer knew that God heard him. It shaped the way he prayed, and it shaped his actions in such a way that he had an impact everywhere he went. As my former youth minister used to say, “Someone who is on fire with the love of God can’t help but leave a spark everywhere they go.” Bonhoeffer’s love for God changed his friends, his family, his jail inmates, and even some of his jailers.
This is what the Lord wants for us. No matter where we are or what we are doing, He wants us to live as though our relationship with Him makes a difference. Every single prayer and act of kindness is an offering that He can use to change a life, or possibly even a society. Where are you today? Are you scrolling through your social feed wondering where we go from here? Are you wondering how you could possibly make a difference? Put down your phone, close your computer, and get on your knees. Ask God for the biggest things you can possibly imagine and expect to see Him working. Follow through on those acts of love that you dismiss when they enter your mind. They make a difference.
 Mataxas Eric, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy (New York: Thomas Nelson 2020) Audible edition
She scrolled through the list on her phone -- at least fifty names -- one name after the other, along with a description of how far she had gone with each. Most of them she'd slept with on the first date. Longing desperately for love, she wondered if she would ever find it. With confusion in her eyes, she asked why they never came back for a second date.
I can't get her question out of my head. This is not because I don't know how to answer it; it's because this precious young woman is not an anomaly in the millennial generation. The level of lostness, confusion, sexual experimentation, lack of purpose, and anxiety among young women has reached a crescendo that I find deeply concerning. They cannot answer the most important questions: Why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? I am talking about our daughters. Our granddaughters. Our nieces. Our loved ones.
St. Paul spoke prophetically about our times in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman...haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it…Among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (emphasis added)
By the millions, young women scroll through their social media feeds, listening to anybody, but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth. This isn't just true of them; this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously,and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion-either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children's tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order-even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.¹
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable. It is time for us to stop wringing our hands, and go after the hearts of the next generation. How do we do this?
First, we pray. This is not a second-rate action item to be used only after we've tried everything else first. The biggest block to God reaching the hearts of our children is stubbornness and pride. Yes, the cultural myth that faith and science are contradictory has, unfortunately, been taught to and embraced by many of our children. Yes, the difficulty of reconciling a good God and the suffering and evil in the world can create a barrier. Yes, many of them have been convinced that faith in God is just a crutch. All these things get in the way of our children finding God. But if a heart is proud and stubborn, it doesn't matter how much proof is presented. The heart will still resist. And the only one who can get into the heart and soften it is the Holy Spirit. So praying for this softening is critical and the first step.
Second, we cling to hope while taking action. I realize our children are leaving the Church in droves. But how many of them are setting off on this path, hoping for misery? That would be zero percent. They are all searching for authentic happiness, and we know that true, transcendent happiness is found in Christ. It is possible to be fulfilled, satisfied, and clear about who you are and why you are here. There are answers to their deepest questions. But it's critical that we meet them where they are, help them to explore the questions they care about, and give them space to journey at their own pace. You may be wondering exactly how to do that. I have spent the past two years noodling on this very topic with a sense of urgency and passion that I haven't experienced in a long time, and things are starting to become much clearer to me. This is why we are throwing open the doors to all women (ages 18+) for Flourish 2020, our first-ever women's conference on March 13-15, 2020.
We are creating a curated experience that encounters women on their search for happiness, and leads them to the only One who will satisfy. Please join us. Please bring your daughters. I am writing this content for them. I know it isn't easy to work out the costs and logistics for a women's conference, especially if it isn't in your neck of the woods. I know it's hard to talk your daughter into coming to something that sounds religious, but getting yourself and your loved one to this conference is going to be worth the effort. Instead of a birthday or Christmas gift, ask your daughter to give you the gift of her presence with you for the weekend. I promise you, God will meet her there. And He will meet you, too. The deepest desires of your daughter's heart are likely your desires as well. God alone will quench the thirst.
¹ Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
As I navigate a long suffering as a result of loving a wayward child, it is not uncommon for well-meaning friends to assure me that, “This too shall pass.”
But I have to wonder... will it?
I think we say this out of the goodness of our hearts. No one enjoys seeing a loved one suffer. It is good to offer encouragement to a weary soul. However, it is important to note that “this too shall pass” is not in Scripture. It is up there with “God won't give you more than you can handle.” While we say these things out of compassion, they are actually not biblically correct. According to Saint Paul, God absolutely gives us more than we can handle so that we stop relying on ourselves and rely on Him (1 Cor 10:13). According to every Bible…. nowhere will you find the phrase “this too shall pass.” And I don't know about you, but when I am suffering, I need to stand on Truth.
There is a verse that I cling to that could be misinterpreted as “this too shall pass,” and that's 2 Corinthians 4:17: For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Saint Paul isn't simply stating that we shouldn't worry because eventually our trouble will go away. He is declaring something far more powerful and essential to our understanding, our faith, and the role suffering plays in our lives. He is sharing, quite possibly, the very key to the door that unlocks all of that grace-the grace we need to endure our trials and tribulations. How do I know this? Well, when I feel like I am getting anxious and too much up in my own head, I dig even deeper into God's Word. Something that has helped me tremendously is to meditate on a verse by reading all of the Biblical translations. I did this with 2 Corinthians 4:17, and when I read the Common English Bible translation, light poured over my blindness and a deep peace rushed in:
Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison.
You see, our sufferings are not something to wish away but something to embrace. Why? Because they are necessary! In suffering them well, we gain eternal glory. In this short time of distress (which I know hardly feels short), the result will be God's richest blessing upon us... forever. So, that thing you are struggling with? That circumstance that has had you on your knees for years? Those millions of tears shed for the one that you love? Every single painful thing is meant to be endured for everlasting life. I know this isn't easy, but I promise you... your present trouble is preparing you for a glory that is incomparable and immeasurable. Rather than praying for it to pass, thank God for entrusting you with it instead. It is your golden ticket. Your “admit one.” Your Disney Fast Pass. Don't lose it.
Saint Louis De Montfort writes, “It is no small matter to lose or gain the Kingdom of God.” And I know that the only way to the Kingdom is by way of the cross. If “this too shall pass” implies a desire that my suffering be removed here on earth, dare I say... no, thank you. My suffering is preparing me for glory. It will all pass soon enough; in that I am confident. But I've got Jesus on my heart and my eyes on that eternal stockpile of grace. As De Montfort encourages and reminds me, “At the hour of death, what shall we not wish to have done, to have suffered, and renounced for the sake of Heaven?”
With confidence in the hope of good things to come,
“I used to believe that prayer changes things. But now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.” - St. Teresa of Calcutta
Raised in a faith-filled home that affirmed the power of prayer, I also grew up in a family of eight whole-heartedly believing that the Lord had empowered me to be self-reliant. After all, hadn't He knitted me into the bossy, older sister and consummate planner whose family nickname was “Mrs. Take Charge”? I was confident the path was mine to direct, and any roadblocks on the journey were my responsibility. I felt that the Lord was leaving it to me to figure it out, shake it off and get on with it. And so I did through college, career and marriage; keeping God at arm's length as I plotted our path.
Our journey veered off-course dramatically when our second child, Will, was born. He came into the world with an extreme leg length discrepancy and offset right foot. We questioned what this would mean for his life. Would he ride a bike? Run the bases in Little League? Even walk on his own? So I mapped it all out to God very simply-heal his leg. And I prayed. And prayed. Multiple experts told us that other than casting and bracing, there was nothing we could do for 5 years; we'll watch and see, they said, to monitor his growth and analyze what could be done surgically. So I soldiered on, waiting for Him to answer me and bring the miracle.
For seven years, Will wore a heavy brace 24/7, and underwent physical therapy 3 times per week. At every hospital scan, I prayed while waiting to see how much the leg length difference had grown, and through decisions to be made as to when to subject him to the arduous surgery and the painful recovery required. And I made my plans; I prayed that the Lord would take this decision from us by growing Will's leg.
When Will turned seven, a sequence of surgeries and ongoing physical therapy were offered. This radical treatment included the insertion of metal rods and screws that we needed to adjust daily to pull the bones apart. My GPS wasn't syncing with my plans, but my prayers had changed.
Along Will's recovery, my prayers for miraculous healing for his bone evolved into prayers for the Lord's strength. I asked for His strength to comfort Will, to encourage a loving father who couldn't bear the painful exercises, to soften the heart of an older brother often overlooked during those difficult years, and to reach out those who stayed away because they found it so hard to witness. I realized that I had turned over my map to the One who had written the plan long ago.
After two more surgeries, the miracles of God's design came into focus. As we read in Isaiah, His ways are so much greater than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God's miracle was found in our family's providential move before Will's birth to a sleepy little town a 45 minute drive from one of only three hospitals in the U.S. that offer the radical orthopedic procedure needed. God's miracle was the gift of a pediatric physical therapist who lovingly and diligently worked with William multiple times a week for over 8 years; a seemingly guardian angel on earth. God's miracle was the community who fed us, made Will laugh, and just showed up. God's miracle was the science research that created a way to grow bone 3 inches so a child born with a mangled leg could grow up to play tennis on his high school varsity team.
The greatest answer to the prayers I did not ask is our son's unwavering trust in the Lord and his unwavering faith. Not once did Will ask why he had been born with this condition or refuse to do what was needed-not one day. I asked Will if he'd ever felt abandoned by God for all he'd been through. He pondered a minute, then responded, “Mom, you took care of me, Dad took care of you, and God took care of all of us.” He carries this faith to this day as a college student, through campus ministry and ongoing volunteer commitments that allow him to share his incredible gift to call out and walk alongside those who suffer. While I would love to take credit for this incredible faith, I cannot. I confess that it is a gift I never considered asking for; I was too busy trying to navigate the journey on my own.
I am most certainly a work in progress; I constantly wrestle with my desire to map the route for God when the path winds off-road or becomes overgrown with brambles. But when I am at my weakest, I reflect back on all the ways the Lord has responded to my petitions. I am strengthened through prayers of surrender and buoyed by the sisters in Christ I have since found at WWP.
Through my WWP parish program, I found direction in the Lord's Word, insights in our lessons, encouragement from daily prayer, and welcome from a group who didn't judge me for trying to “take charge” of God. And now, working for WWP, I am honored to work alongside a dedicated team who demonstrate daily their beautiful faith and commitment to help Catholic women and girls across the U.S. to open their hearts to Christ.
For those of you still struggling with your own road map, please know that I am praying for you. And for those of you who now rest in the joy of having crossed the finish line, I pray that you will share the miracles now illuminated.
With love in Christ,
Laurie Baschwitz is the Director of Participant Experience at WWP; leading our expansion, customer support and regional area coordinators to support our parish programs and independent studies for adult women, young adult women and middle school girls. She resides in Westchester County, New York with her husband and two sons.
At the close of a Religious Education meeting, we were handed a prayer card, and in unison, recited it together. It was the Prayer of Abandonment. A beautiful prayer. And by beautiful, I mean terrifying and dangerous.
“Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will….”¹
When we finished the prayer it took everything inside of me to not stand up on top of my chair and shout out for all to hear, “Really, everybody? I mean, do you really mean that? DO WITH ME WHAT YOU WILL? Or, do you have no idea what you even just prayed?”
I want to give it all over to God. I want to do His will. But not always. It's not like I enjoy carrying my burdens alone. It is not like I want to add weight to my cross. I would love nothing more than to cast all my cares (plus a few loads of laundry) on Him and move on with my day; anxiety free, iced latte in hand, and yes- make that a Venti, with coconut milk, thank you very much. And yet, there is always something that trips me up. Always something that gets me running back to the foot of the cross to pick up a few items I had laid down, because I mean... what if He doesn't take care of things in the way that I asked? If you ask me, this whole surrender thing, while great in theory, is downright scary.
In my quest to uncover the secret to surrender, I have learned some valuable things. The biggest surprise of all? Fear has nothing to do with it.
Uncovered secret #1: Surrender is not a “one and done” deal. When I had to make a difficult call that involved the well-being of my own child, I was under the false impression that if I did this one hard thing for God-surrendered it all and trusted in Him-surely, the trial with my child would end. This, sweet friends, was not, and is not, the case. Surrender is not some big gesture we make just once, wipe our hands free of, and sit back with a bag of chips; as fabulous as that might sound. But rather, it is a daily choice. We surrender right up until our very last breath.
Uncovered secret #2: Surrender is not the same as compliance. Why do so many addicts do everything right in treatment, get discharged, only to relapse hours later? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with will power, and everything to do with surrendering to HIS will. It is no coincidence that the 12-step program, which is so successful for those who work the steps, begins with admitting you are not in control and handing yourself over to a higher power.
And I suppose, in many ways, I have been nothing more than a religious addict; eager to comply with all of the rules and regulations so when I come face to face with my Maker, He can look at my life and see how well I highlighted verses in my Bible and recited my morning prayers. But this isn't what God wants from me, is it? A life of compliance disguised as surrender might get me out of trouble for a while, but it won't secure my safety. If I simply check the boxes without the buy-in, I'm not really letting go of control, and let's be honest... I'm not fooling anyone. Not even myself.
A few days ago, I found myself wrestling with the enemy's invitation to use this past week's “latest upset” as reason enough to take the reins out of the Lord's hands and put them firmly back in my own. Sure, a few trials back I was good to admit that God was in full control, but now? Now, I am not so sure. And as I struggled to understand how it can be possible to remain at peace when things are in pieces-how I could possibly surrender all to a God who appears to have bought me a season pass to the world's fastest roller coaster of events and emotions-I realized why surrendering to His will and letting go of mine was so hard. It wasn't because I was afraid. It was because I was discouraged.
Disappointments are a part of life, but allowing them to give way to discouragement is something we choose. In Charles Stanley's Life Principles Daily Bible, he writes, “You should not allow the challenges that arise to steal your enthusiasm or confidence in Him.”² I'll admit. I love this. I agree with this. But I fail at it often. And by often, I mean yesterday. Thankfully, Stanley uses Matthew 1:24 to support this life principle: “Joseph did not allow his initial disappointment to give way to discouragement. Rather, he accepted God's will, obeyed the Lord, and brought Mary home to live with him.”
As someone who so easily allows unexpected circumstances to take control of me, I find great comfort in this. I have come too far to allow disappointment to steal my joy, and I will bet you have too. As Stanley says, “You never have to be the victim of your feelings. You can choose to look to God, listen, learn, and move ahead.”³
Today, you have the power to let go and surrender from whatever it is that has you held emotionally hostage; to really buy-in and give it all to God.
Accept God's will, obey the Lord, and bring Mary into your home.
Put yourself totally in His hands.
I promise, there is no safer place to be.
¹ Prayer of Abandonment, Br. Charles of Jesus (de Foucauld)
² The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20
³ The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20
The kids are off from school and summer is here-although it has been raining forever, but nonetheless, so I am told... summer is here. And quite honestly, it can rain for as long as it wants and I will be okay, because I do not have to pack any school lunches for another two months. Can I get an Amen?!
Packing lunches is not my thing, mainly because eating what I pack is not my kids' thing. I'm not sure what fine culinary experience they are expecting to find in a small brown bag. Salad nicoise? An all you can eat sushi buffet? Blackened grouper on a bed of wilted greens? But let us not think of such things! Because glory to God in the highest, school is out and packing lunches are a thing of the past. Hey kids, you can make your own disappointing lunches now! It's summer!
If you follow Walking with Purpose on Instagram, you might have caught my “stories series” on how to have an intentional summer; practical tips on what not to do, or what to do, to refresh and relax without taking a vacation from Jesus. That was my most favorite week with all of you! For those that couldn't join me, Tip #1 was encouragement to women to not sleep in. Not only that, but to get up early; rise with the sun and start each summer day with praise. So I have been taking my own advice, and what I have discovered is that with the hideous chore of packing lunches removed, I actually have more prayer time than ever. This, my friends, is great news… unless you are a recovering perfectionist and overachiever like me. Because once I realized how much more time I was gifted with, do you want to know what this girl thought? Exactly how much more can I cram in?
You see, all too often I approach my spiritual life like my daughter does a blank canvas. At her art school graduation two weeks ago, her creative voice was described by her teachers as “more is more”. As the years unfolded, blank canvases grew larger, paint application thicker, and the more acrylic she applied - always by hand, never by brush - the more she would step back, examine, and then lean into the canvas to add just a little bit more. On a busy sidewalk of New Haven, as I loaded five enormous paintings that barely fit into the back of my car and weighed more than all of Texas, I realized something about my spiritual canvas. I am trying to pray like she paints.
But you want to know the difference between my daughter's paintings and my prayers? Her finished product is a masterpiece because each stroke and design is intentional and executed with extreme devotion to her ultimate vision. She never rushes a project, and always steps back and away, allowing the space to speak and inspire. And my finished product? Well… it isn't even worthy of hanging on the fridge. All too often what I offer my Lord is a litany of memorized words with no meaning, mixed up and thrown together in the hopes that when finished, a beautiful vision will be revealed to me. There is little devotion because of all those distractions, and plenty of frustration because of all those interruptions. Just because your canvas is covered, it doesn't mean it is worthy of hanging on the wall.
And I don't want to be the kind of woman who prays this way-distracted because I have piled on too much; irritated by life's interruptions, that just so happen to be my FAMILY. (Um, remember Laura… you are a wife and mother; NOT a cloistered nun.) I don't want my desire for personal holiness to be fueled by anything other than pure love of God.
Distraction in prayer is a common struggle, and in my attempt to concentrate and free my mind of all the things that pull me away from where I desire to be, I have learned something. You don't wipe a plate clean of distraction by adding more things to your plate. I heard Matthew Kelly say once, “there is genius in simplicity” and well, I have to agree. Of course, he can say anything in that adorable accent and I will agree. But seriously. What if the key to personal holiness has nothing to do with what we add to our life, and everything to do with what we remove from it?
A few months ago, I added Saint Louis De Monfort's True Devotion to Mary to my early morning prayer routine. With Our Lady's hand gently guiding me, I have slowly removed every other practice and prayer, only focusing on this one book, morning, noon, and night. I have fallen deeply in love with St. Louis De Monfort's Prayer to Mary; a prayer that promises to not only give myself wholly to Jesus through her, but one that begs to have “anything which does not belong to thee”¹ be taken away. My hours of mechanical prayers and distracted readings have been condensed into one heart felt, intentional plea, “Destroy in me all that may be displeasing to God, root it up and bring it to nought; place and cultivate in me everything that is pleasing to thee.”²
As my daughter applies more paint to tell her story, I am asking the Lord to peel my paint off so I better know His. Perhaps this gift of a little more time is not about how I can fill it with God, but how God can empty it of me.
Here is to a summer of blank canvases, peeled off paint, and rooting up all that gets in His way.
Your Sister in Christ,
P.S. The only thing I love more than blogging for WWP, is sharing my days with you on WWP Instagram. If you are not a follower yet, what are you waiting for?
¹ True Devotion to Mary with Preparation For Total Consecration, Saint Louis De Monfort, Tan Classics 2010, p.219
² True Devotion to Mary with Preparation For Total Consecration, Saint Louis De Monfort, Tan Classics 2010, p.219
My workday begins at 9 AM, so at 8:59, I commute up the stairs to my home office, formerly known as the guest bedroom. At Walking with Purpose, employees work remotely, which is a blessing and hugely convenient for working moms like me who tend to spend their morning hours searching for their kids' lost sneakers, water bottles, and homework assignments while packing lunches, and, in my case, removing cat fur from the kids' clothes with that sticky roller thing. Once my youngest son climbs on the bus at 8:35, I have 24 minutes to pull myself together enough so that when my boss invites me to a Zoom video conference call at 9 AM, I'm ready (ish).
That scenario played itself out recently, when my boss (WWP's CEO, Julie Ricciardi) Zoomed me at 9 AM from Denver, CO. It was two hours earlier for Julie, but she had been up for hours anyway.
“I went to Mass at 6 AM,” Julie told me that morning. Knowing Julie, she had also exercised, enjoyed an extremely healthy breakfast, answered 100 emails, and maybe even solved world hunger before our 9 AM call. As we spoke, we could see each other via video connection, and I was hoping I was sitting far enough from the camera so Julie couldn't see the cat fur on my shirt.
When that Zoom call ended, I realized I was feeling something unusual-I was feeling envy. Or more exactly, an emotion somewhere between envy and longing. It was envy-longing for what Julie had. I'm not talking about her peaceful and productive mornings. I wasn't envious that she went to 6 AM Mass; I was envious that she wanted to go to 6 AM Mass.
Does that even make sense? Is there logic in that-in feeling envious of a relationship with Christ when that relationship is a thing that I am equally entitled to? No one is keeping it from me, purposefully dangling it out of reach. If it is within my reach, a fruit I can easily pick, I should feel no envy over it.
But I do wish I possessed a faith so strong that waking up before the sun in order to be present with Him in the Eucharist wasn't a chore but a blessing.
The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart was written to help women like me open their hearts to Jesus Christ. I participated in an Opening Your Heart parish program study not long ago and my heart was opened, but now that I really think about it, and now that I'm being honest with myself, perhaps it wasn't opened all the way.
That was really bothering me for a few days last week; that and the fact that envy is a sin.
But as I got caught up in the day-to-day of my hectic life and the kids' activities on Friday and Saturday, my faith envy got back-burnered.
Then Sunday came, and Father Joseph Akunazeri (a newly-ordained priest of the Archdiocese of New York) celebrated the 10:15 AM Mass at our parish. His first Mass as a priest.
Sisters, he was BEAMING; smiling from ear to ear, so full of joy and the Holy Spirit, he was practically glowing.
Me? I was envious, again. I don't know that kind of joy, I thought to myself as I sat bookended in the pew by my two sleepy children.
Suddenly, I was struck with a thought. God knows I don't want to feel envious. He wants me to do something to get rid of that useless feeling.
Joining another Walking with Purpose Bible study group would do wonders for my soul, but the closest WWP parish program is pretty far from where I live. Perhaps I should double my efforts to bring Walking with Purpose to my own parish? Problem is, that would be more of a give than a get, if you know what I mean. Maybe what I really need is a spiritual mentor...
As I was contemplating these questions (while blowing cat fur off my computer keyboard), I decided to turn to my Opening Your Heart study guide in search of answers.
Would you believe that the first page I opened to (Lesson 12, Day 4 introduction) contained these words, written by author Lisa Brenninkmeyer:
“Do you want to become a saint? I'm not talking about wanting recognition for your holiness. A saint is simply someone who has been radically transformed by Christ. She has pursued Jesus wholeheartedly, and in that pursuit has been changed for the better.”
My answer is yes! I do wish to be radically transformed. It is likely that my pursuit of Him has not been entirely wholehearted. How do I open my heart all the way? I'll continue to pray about it, and I hope you'll pray for me too.
As long as I can remember, I've journaled my prayers. This is how I start my time with God each day. Some people consider journaling a form of naval-gazing. I've looked at it differently; it's the way I bring my feelings and emotions to the surface and ask God to heal and order them. I know He wants a relationship with my real self- not some artificial, cleaned up version of me. When He longs to see me walk in freedom, He knows that it's going to involve my heart, not just my behavior.
A good friend of mine shared the questions she was prayerfully journaling each day, and I decided to give them a try. Most of the questions were thought provoking and interesting to pray through. But one stopped me in my tracks, because I didn't know how to answer. The question: “What are you dreaming about right now?” I wracked my brain. What was I hoping for personally? What was I dreaming might be in the future for me? I couldn't think of anything, and that felt really weird and somehow wrong.
It wasn't that I wasn't praying and hoping for anything. But I was cautious when it came to praying big dreams. That didn't feel safe. That felt like I was setting myself up for disappointment. And wasn't it selfish to think about myself? It felt wiser to keep my eyes on reality and stay away from the land of possibilities. I felt too aware of all the things that could go wrong to trust that God might want to do something beyond my wildest imaginings.
This isn't the only area in my life where I've noticed my hope is running on fumes. There are people I have loved and prayed for years, asking God to break through the walls of their disbelief and to draw them to Himself. And nothing has changed. From what I can see, they are just as closed off and disinterested in Him today as they were the day I started praying. And my prayers for them are becoming less frequent. I'm starting to give up because they aren't progressing according to my timetable. I start to wonder why I am bothering. I've started to listen to the lie that things are never going to change.
The truth is, it can be hard to find hope. Some of you know what I'm talking about. You've prayed for something and believed with all your heart that God will come through for you. And then you wait. And all you hear is silence. And all you feel is discouragement. And the promise in John 14:14 (“Ask anything of me in my name, I will do it”) starts to feel like a cruel joke, a bait and switch. So our hearts grow a little bit cynical. We don't want to be naïve. We're smarter than that. We can see the obstacles. We're very good at assessing our reality, and adjusting our expectations accordingly.
There's nothing wrong with seeing things as they truly are, but when we lose the ability to see life through eyes of faith and limitless possibility, our hearts harden against God. Our trust in Him weakens. Bitterness can set in. We may continue to pray, but our prayers become mechanical. Our hearts aren't engaged. We're going through the motions.
So how can we learn it's not hard to find hope again?
The journey back to hope begins with taking a close look at the heart of the Father.
Is our Father's heart for us? Does He love us with the kind of attention that cares about every detail of our lives? Is He only concerned with us as an “end product of holiness” or does He care about our passion and purpose, too? Does He care how we feel in the midst of our struggle, or is He just waiting for us to learn the lessons that come from hard knocks?
Lean in close here and listen, because this is a truth we need to grasp deep… your Father loves to give. He waits to be asked. Perhaps He is whispering to you the words of James 4:2 (NIV), “You do not have because you do not ask God.” He wants you to come to Him like a little child. Think about the way that children ask. They ask for the moon. They don't stop to think about what is possible. And how do most parents respond to those requests? We want to give. We stop to make sure that what is asked for is for their good, and when it is, we want to move heaven and earth to give it.
“If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
The journey back to knowing it's not hard to find hope begins with taking a close look at the heart of the Father.
Your Father has already proven that He is for you. He has already proven that He will hold nothing back if it's for your good. You only need to look at the cross to see the proof of His love.
But keep looking. The cross isn't the only place you can see evidence of your Father's heart. Where have you seen evidence of Him taking care of you? What answers to prayer have you experienced today? Open your eyes.
Cultivating a spirit of gratitude will help you to keep your eyes on the heart of the Father and His never-ending involvement in your life. It will break the hold of cynicism on your heart. It will open you up to the possibility of hoping again. It will give you the courage to dream. And in doing so, you'll come to know your Father's heart.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Note: This is part one of a two-part series on turning our hearts to heaven when we feel it is hard to find hope. The second part can be found here.
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in November 2014.