What does it mean to live the good life? How can I be happy? What choices will get me there? How we answer these questions has everything to do with the voices we choose to listen to. A life is formed through many small, seemingly insignificant decisions. Bit by bit, we become the result of choices that we all too often make without much reflection.
As summer ends, many of us are feeling that our schedules have heated up. We're jumping back in to life with varied degrees of readiness and are determined to start well. Our focus turns to our calendars, and it's tempting to assume that as long as we are checking off everything on the agenda, we're nailing it. But how are our hearts doing in the midst of the increase in activity? Are we riding the rollercoaster of appointments and check-lists without making sure our minds and hearts are in the right place?
How our day unfolds and feels has less to do with our circumstances and activities than our mindset. While we can't control which events we'll encounter, we can always decide what our attitude will be. Will we filter everything that happens through a lens of gratitude? Will we be kind to ourselves by seeing ourselves through God's eyes? Will we look at suffering as something that always has purpose?
More and more, I am convinced that getting our attitude in the right place has everything to do with how we start each day.
St. Josemaria Escriva coined a phrase that I think is so compelling: the heroic minute. He writes,
The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation; a supernatural reflection and…up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God's help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.¹
I realize that reading the word mortification probably makes you want to run for the hills. Who wants to start the day with something that sounds unpleasant? But stay with me for a minute. How do you feel when you get up and are behind the eight ball before things have even begun? Your first movements are rushed, requests come at you and require your attention, and all you can think is that you have got to clear your head and get some coffee. It's starting the day reacting instead of responding. It's feeling under siege and not knowing exactly why. It's also entirely avoidable.
Giving God the first minutes of your day will pay dividends later. I promise you He will multiply your time. You'll get more done and have a peaceful heart while doing it.
But it's not just a matter of hauling your body out of bed. Resetting your mind is the critical step if you want your day to be the best it possibly can. Which begs the questions:
Which mindset will best equip me to face the day with inner strength and gratitude?
How do I gain that mindset?
St. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We renew our minds by looking at things from God's perspective. This is something we need to do every day. Otherwise our thoughts and emotions will be in the driver's seat, and the ride will be anything but smooth. The best mindset is God's, and we gain it by listening to Him. While few people hear His audible voice, we all can hear His voice speaking through Scripture.
As you head into this new season, I pray that you will make Scripture reading a high priority in your life. Doing this in the context of authentic community makes it even more transformative. The Walking with Purpose Bible studies are formatted to make it easy to read the Bible each day. Instead of opening up to a random verse, you're guided to relevant passages and questions for reflection that help you apply what you've read. The readings give your mind something to chew on for the day. If you actually apply what you read, you will make significant progress in the spiritual life. What I've written relates to the problems, heartaches, and searching that I've experienced over the years. As I've traveled and spoken to thousands of women, I've had the privilege of listening to them unburdening their hearts. I've found that our struggles are universal. We are not alone. My writing aims to touch the heart, strengthen the will, and enlighten the mind. The goal is transformation- that what we read would impact how we live.
But what if you can't start your day this way? No worries. Just look for the first pocket of quiet in your schedule. It always comes, but we usually don't notice because we've fill it with mindless scrolling through our social media feeds or checking our email. What might change if instead of grabbing your phone, you did a short Bible study? It'll just take fifteen minutes, but the impact of that choice will be felt throughout the day.
Much of what I've written speaks of God's unconditional love for you, and everything I've written should be filtered through that perspective. When God asks us to get moving, or change a bad habit, or do something that feels out of our comfort zone, it is always because He wants what is best for us. He is not a cosmic kill joy. He is a good Father who wants His children to flourish.
May what you read travel from your mind to your heart, going beyond information to transformation. May you meet Jesus in the pages of His Word, and may your trust in Him grow. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen,” (Jude 24-25).
With you on the journey,
¹ St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way (NY: Doubleday, 1982), 33.
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
So, the question came up last night, “Can you grieve and still have hope?”
Let me backtrack here a bit, to give you the full picture. Currently, I run in two different circles: my Bible Study, which aims to lead women into a personal relationship with Christ through Scripture, and my Support Group, which aims to offer encouragement and hope to those who care for, or have tragically lost, a loved one afflicted with substance abuse disorder. This question came up at Group.
What has become crystal clear is my total inability to keep Jesus out of any discussion. To keep Jesus out of any circumstance. To keep Jesus out, period. Because I have grieved without hope; back when I did not know God's character, back when I reduced the Blessed Mother to a plastic statue, back when I believed the Gospel stories to be outdated and unrelatable, back when I did not know...truly know...my Catholic faith.
I see this a lot with cradle Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and non-Catholics. We know bits and pieces of our Catholic story but not the whole thing. Ironically, many of us wind up learning about Catholicism from our friends who have left the Church and encourage us to do the same. We misinterpret Scripture and allow the world to tell us who God is, and our hideous news feed becomes the icing on top of this lopsided cake. Then enter in the blind side: an unexpected twist in the road that takes us out at our knees, pulling us right out of hope and straight into despair; because I mean, really...if God were real, He would never have let this happen. If God were love, why would He stack one more thing upon our already burdened shoulders?
I so get it.
But here is the other thing I so get: God never promised that life will be easy or we will only be given so much. In the Gospel of John, He promises that we will have trouble. And the statement that we love to throw out in times of suffering? You know the one. “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Fun fact, folks...that phrase is not in Scripture! As Proverbs 31 Founder, Lysa Terkuerst, points out in her book, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, “Nowhere in the Bible will you read that God will not give you more than you can handle. God does say He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that He always provides a way out (1 Cor 10:13) but that's not the same as God not giving us more than we can handle. He sometimes will allow more and more and more.”¹
Saint Paul's words in 2 Cor 1:8-9 confirms this hard to swallow truth.
“...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”
God absolutely gives us more than we can handle...beyond our strength...because He wants us to rely on Him. God does not expect us to handle it all on our own; He asks that we hand it all over. If you do not believe you can have hope while grieving, meditate on the Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. The Annunciation cannot bring Mary the joy of carrying the Son of God without the grief of letting go of a life she had planned. The Presentation cannot offer Mary the joy of dedicating her Firstborn to the Lord without grieving the news that her son will be rejected and both will suffer greatly. Joy and Sorrow. Hope and Grief. Our Lady perfectly models how they can live side by side. But to be able to do this, you need to be like Mary; you need to accept whatever God has given you to carry and believe that what He says is true.
Herein lies the obstacle for so many of us: how do we accept something we do not understand from someone we truly don't know? It is the not knowing Jesus that ultimately trips us up. It is our lack of intimacy with Christ that directs our misplaced hope. We have all of these expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, our marriages, our future, and when those expectations we hold tight to do not line up with God's plan, we stay stuck in the need to understand what God is doing; to understand how this plan, which is often endless and painful, could actually be good. I have been stuck in this place myself, sweet friend. Stayed there too long, and it is a recipe for an extinguished faith.
Coincidentally, only hours before sitting in Group and faced with the question, “Can we grieve and still have hope?”, we had just chosen our Parish's Walking with Purpose Bible study for the fall: Grounded in Hope. The course description is as follows: “In a world where levels of despair, addiction, and suicide are rising, we need more than clichés or positive thinking. Grounded in Hope will help you encounter Jesus in such a powerful, comforting, and stabilizing way that He can become your lifeline.”²
If you are in the midst of a suffering causing you to lose hope, maybe the question is not so much, “Can you grieve and still have hope?” but rather…“What has become your lifeline?”
Praying we always stay tethered to the Anchor that grounds us in hope.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lysa Teurkerst, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, 2018, p.111,112
² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope, Walking With Purpose 2019