A couple of weeks ago, our parish began to move toward a more open mask and attendance policy. As usual, I hadn’t read the email making this announcement and was surprised to see the tape gone, relatively full pews, and mouths—so many mouths.
Honestly, it was a bit jarring. The world as it was before COVID-19 seems so long ago that it feels unfamiliar. As happy as I am that things are starting to feel a bit more normal, I have been fumbling through what seems like a long transition to the other side of the pandemic. There are so many questions. When my children move around at church, do they make other people uncomfortable? There is a good chance that they do, which, in turn, makes me uncomfortable. And my friends who I haven’t seen, how should I reconnect with them? How do we rebuild? Do we hug? Do we wave? There are so many questions and so many ways to mess up or be insensitive that it can feel paralyzing. A year after shutting down the country to slow the spread, we face another challenge. How do we emerge well? How do we reconnect well with the people that we love?
That day, as I awkwardly sat in our first “normal-ish” Mass, our priest gave a homily that spoke to this very question. Quoting from Ecclesiastes 3, he reminded us, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He then explained that the last year was a season in which we were called out of our normal circumstances to respond to a crisis beyond our control. We buckled down and took precautions that we needed to take, and this came at a cost. We have mourned many losses. We have mourned the loss of regular schedules, coffee dates, restaurant outings, and kids in sport. We have mourned the loss of predictable futures and canceled plans. We have also mourned the loss of loved ones who were taken by the virus or died alone.
A year later, however, we are entering a new season that our priest described as one of hope. He told us to embrace hope, and then challenged us to enter into this new season with the distinct intention to reconnect with our community and rediscover the joy of sharing our life with friends.
I wonder how you are handling this new season. I wonder about the state of your friendships today. Every study that I have read on the secondary effects of the pandemic illustrates a decrease in women’s overall well-being across the board. Compared with last year, our mental health is less stable, our responsibilities have increased, and with social distancing in place as protection from the virus, so our loneliness has also increased. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic reported that a significant decrease in women’s friendships has contributed to a major increase in women’s reported loneliness.
Have you felt that? Have you seen your friendships fall to the wayside amid all your buckling down? Have you found yourself wondering if certain women were ever your friends in the first place? I bet you have. I bet there is room for healing and forgiveness in this area of your life, and the good news is that God is ready and waiting to do something new.
The topic of friendship has been at the forefront of my mind over these months as I have written Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection, a six-lesson Bible study coming later this summer. I have explored and prayed through Scripture to find out what God has to say about friendship, and it turns out that He has a lot to say. Our very salvation included a plan for Him to make Himself available for our friendship.
In John 15:15, Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
Therefore, in the eyes of God, friendship is of utmost importance. The love that Jesus has for you is completely deliberate. He chose you simply because He wanted to, simply because you are you. Your earthly friendships were meant to reflect this love. They were meant to be a source of joy in your life and a witness of God’s love to others.
Ancient philosophers understood the importance of friendship in a way that often is lost on us today. They recognized that it is one of the supreme gifts of life because it is a relationship in which the people in it choose each other for no other reason than they want to choose each other. Pastor Tim Keller said, “Friendship is the only love that is absolutely deliberate,” and St. Thomas Aquinas took it a step further, stating, “There is nothing to be prized more than true friendship.” Wow, what a statement. Do you think that’s true? Has this year shown you that your friendships may have been more important than you thought? I know for me it has.
When I began to write this study, I thought that friendship was a "nice" topic to explore because we have so many experiences with other women, and most of them are not good or godly. While women’s friendships can be an incredible gift, all too often, jealousy, gossip, and competition make friendship feel like it’s not worth the investment. We bring so many of our insecurities and baggage into our friendships. We have wounds and scars that go back as far as our childhood run-in with the mean girl at recess. The effects of COVID-19, however, have revealed the importance of friendship in a new way. Yes, friendship is a good topic to explore, but it’s more than that. It is a necessary part of our well-being. It is a gift from God, and He wants us to reclaim that gift, placing Him at the center of these relationships for the sake of His glory.
In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord challenged His people to face forward. He said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
This is as true now as it was then. The Lord is moving as you emerge from this year-long pandemic. He will use this new season to reclaim what was lost for His purpose and your joy.
As you figure out how to emerge from a season marked by loneliness, don’t forget your friendships. Remember that the Lord is moving.
If you don't receive our emails, be sure to sign up to receive them to be the first to know when Reclaiming Friendship is in our store. In the meantime, plan to grab a group of women later this summer, and let God reclaim your friendships in this new season.
 Katerina Lim, “Women Report Higher Levels of Loneliness During Pandemic,” woqw.com, March 9, 2021, https://wqow.com/2021/03/09/women-report-higher-levels-of-loneliness-during-the-pandemic/.
 Tim Keller, “Friendship,” YouTube video, 38:05, October 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc4VIQrXdE.
 Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On Kingship to the King of Cyrus,” book 1, chapter 11, paragraph 77.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think,” I dictated aloud to my phone to record my musings on October 21, 2020. I had been recovering for twelve days after a freak accident put me in the hospital for almost a week. Doctor’s orders were to rest and allow my brain injury to heal—no reading, writing, driving, or screen time. Life came to a screeching halt.
During my time of recovery, I was utterly dependent on others. I required help to walk around the house, get dressed, and remember simple facts like my kids’ birthdays. For months, our friends and family provided meals, helped with our five children, and did countless other things for us that I previously did on my own every day. I am eternally grateful for it all.
As much as I wouldn’t have wished for it, this experience has given me a new perspective on being dependent on others and specifically, being dependent on God.
In our society, accepting help from others is a humbling experience. It requires acknowledging that we can’t do it all on our own. This, as I described in my dictated notes, “was a real gut check” for me. Women are capable of doing so much, and God has made each of us for beautiful, unique missions. Answering His call for our lives is our privilege and duty. Often though, we take on so much that we aren’t aware of our own limitations. We begin believing the lie that “it’s all up to us” and that accepting help is a form of weakness. In fact, our society praises this type of independence.
In Fearless and Free, this mindset is described as ungodly self-reliance, or pride , which often prevents us from being fully grounded in God’s love and grace. It places our worth (which God defines as His beloved daughters) in something other than God (what and how much we do).
While I don’t think God intends for bad things to happen to us, I think He uses hard times to bring us closer to Him. When we are dependent on others in times of need, it’s a reminder that we were never meant to fight our battles alone. And often, it’s not until we are stripped of the things we thought were in our control that we are shown the degree of our dependence on God.
Our dependence on God should be a daily practice. And for many of us (read: recovering) self-reliant folks, this is a struggle. I think C.S. Lewis sums it up best when he says, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” 
What does reliance on God look like? Allow me to reintroduce you to the Beatitudes—in particular, the very first one:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes being poor in spirit as voluntary humility.  It’s consciously recognizing we cannot “do it all,” and we are utterly dependent on God for everything. This applies to us all—no matter how capable, independent, or gifted you are. I don’t know about you, but I want to be in the group that Jesus says possesses the kingdom of heaven. And the ticket in? Humility.
Sometimes it takes a life-altering event to come to the realization that not only can we NOT do it all, but also we were never meant to do it all. Regardless of where you fall on the self-reliance spectrum, can you join me in fostering a true dependence on God every day? Let’s begin by meditating on the virtue of humility.
 Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible Study, Lesson 3 Talk, “Grounded,” https://walkingwithpurpose.com/fearless-and-free-videos/.
 C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.
 Matthew 5:3
 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2546, https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a0.htm#2546.
I am currently finishing a documentary called Sheep Among Wolves Volume II about the underground Church exploding in Iran. You may not know this—I surely didn’t—but the Iranian Christian Church is the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world. According to the U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom, in 2017 there were 350,000 Christians in Iran. That number is rapidly approaching a million today. Praise God!
Hearing the stories of these church leaders, their faces blurred and their voices dubbed in the film, has been devastating and inspiring all at the same time. They walk out the door to worship every day at the risk of not returning, while I have to muster up the motivation to get in my car so that I can sit freely in the adoration chapel. No, I am not writing a guilt-trip post for those of us who live in the west. I could write that post (and make a good case that we need to step it up), but this is about something in the documentary that deeply encouraged me. It is about the women. The testimonies from the women are incredible.
Because everything is underground, the Gospel must be spread from one person to the next, and it’s the women who are leading the movement. They have been unstoppable when it comes to telling everyone about Jesus. Why are the women leading so powerfully? One church leader answered this question as she shared her story.
She shared that she grew up in a culture that doesn’t value women, and she was oppressed and abused repeatedly by the men in her life. She learned to be an atheist from her mother, whose heart was hardened toward God from similar oppressive experiences. After spending her entire young life with no faith, carrying around crushing pain, she tried one last time to end her life. Right before she did, she opened a crack to God, and the Holy Spirit rushed in. She shared that after two years of neither laughing nor crying, she wept all night as she experienced the divine healing of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit transformed her pain and she felt the love of God despite years of feelings unloved, she became relentless. She is now one of the most involved leaders in the Iranian Church.
Listening to her with tears in my eyes, I was reminded of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in John 4:7–42. It is clear from the account that this woman carried a similar pain in her heart from the years of her life that were worn by sin, and Jesus gently but directly addressed that pain. He offered to transform her pain into glory as He offered her Himself, the living water. Once she realized who He was, she accepted His invitation, and became the powerhouse that brought her whole town to Jesus.
The Iranian woman also reminded me of the women who delivered the news of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Him and so started to recount the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. This is what they said about the women: “Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:22–24).
It was the women who went to the very place of their most profound sorrow, the grave of their dead Savior. There, they learned that Jesus had risen and became the first to herald the news of the resurrection.
Ladies, the pain we carry from living in a sinful world, and giving in to the sin ourselves, runs deep and is personal. Whether we experience major trauma or just the beat down of everyday life, the suffering that we experience goes right to the core of our being, and the enemy will do everything in his power to make sure that it is never transformed. He encourages us to verbally degrade ourselves and embrace the belief that we are not valuable, because he is fully aware that the same power that transforms women into relentless kingdom builders will do the same through us. He knows that the moment we allow all of that baggage to be transformed, we will become unstoppable for Jesus and His Church. He will do anything to stop us. The enemy knows just how dangerous you are. Do not let him win.
Dear sister, no matter what your daily life looks like, no matter how you view yourself, God created you to stand confident in His love and to have an impact on His Church that goes far beyond your imagination or understanding. Do you believe that? I’m not talking about fame or achievement. I’m talking about the holy influence that leads others to Christ for eternity.
Every time you choose to lean into holiness, God uses you. Every single time you say no to discouragement and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your pain into glory, He uses your story to reach the heart of another. Just look at your sisters in Christ throughout history and around the globe. They were born into original sin just like you were, they carry similar pain, and they have the same magnificent Savior. Throughout the Church’s history, God has used women just like you to build His kingdom even when their place in society could not have been more insignificant. This Easter season, what does He want to do in and through you? Will you believe that you are worth it? Will you let Him do the work? Say yes—the world will be better off because of you.
 FAI studios, “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II,” YouTube video, 1:53:18, August 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAPOLKF59U
 “2017 Report on International Religious Freedom,” U.S. Department of State, May 29, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-report-on-international-religious-freedom/
 Jayson Casper, “Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million,” Christianity Today, September 3, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/september/iran-christian-conversions-gamaan-religion-survey.html.
Last month, I had a field day fostering my anger while doing the dishes. Who was the perpetrator? My husband. His crime? Going to dinner with his dad. Ok, well, it wasn’t just that. I had held down the fort for three nights while he was on a work trip. He had come home but had made dinner plans with his dad leaving his poor, pregnant, martyr of a wife to handle bedtime yet again. Dish by dish, my resentment grew as I spun a story with me as the hero and him as the villain. I repeatedly told myself some iteration of, “If only he would _____, then I would be happier. Is that so much to ask?” I admit, this isn’t me at my best but it’s true, and I’m guessing you can relate.
My husband eventually came home and immediately apologized over the length of the outing. We talked about it, and I forgave him. With the ordeal over, I settled in to finish The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. If only I had known what I was about to read, I might have put it down to avoid the uncomfortable truth headed my way. The Lord brought me face to face with myself.
If you haven’t read The Great Divorce, it is a fictional story of characters living in hell but are not stuck there. The main character boards a bus with his fellow resident and travels to the foothills of heaven. At the foothills, they find that they are too weak to make the journey up the mountain. Each character meets a representative from heaven who will accompany them up the mountain and help them gain strength along the way. All they have to do is let go of anything keeping them from God, and heaven will welcome them. Sadly, most of the characters refuse to give up what is necessary to climb to heaven and receive God Himself. They freely choose to head back to the bus and spend eternity in hell. The moral of the story is that many of us will choose heaven only if certain conditions are met. In doing so, we choose to stay in hell.
At the end of the story, the main character witnesses a woman come down the mountain to try to convince her earthly husband to make the journey with her to heaven. Obsessed that she doesn’t “need” him, he throws himself a pity party and eventually returns to the bus. The main character is offended by the woman’s refusal to follow her husband into hell and her attempt to force him to join her on the mountain. As he tries to work out what he perceived as a lack of sympathy, his heavenly mentor corrects his perspective.
“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails, and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else forever and ever the makers of misery can destroy the happiness they reject in themselves.”
I reread it. At some point, misery must lose its ability to infect joy. Ouch. I have been a maker of misery for far too long, only accepting joy when my self-imposed terms have been met. No wonder joy is constantly slipping through my grasp.
This attitude that I and so many others have embraced is the attitude of joy if. It’s a joy with conditions, and I have a million conditions. I think I’ll be joyful if my husband acts in a way that pleases me. I will have joy if my kids are healthy and kind. I will be joyful if things go well at work, if COVID goes away, if the government does what I think is right. If all these external circumstances bow down to my will, then I will be happy. How exhausting. How common. How many of us are joyful Christians only when the stars align and our wills are fulfilled? That joy then rarely comes, and if it does, it certainly doesn’t last. There is too much out of our control for us to allow our terms to be the dictator of our joy. In the end, “joy if” isn’t joy at all. It is preference, and in God’s eyes, it is disobedience. He wants more for us.
The Lord commanded over and over again that His people live with His joy. Romans 12:12 tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Scripture goes further in James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, wherever you face trials of many kinds.” St. Peter echoes the same idea when he wrote, “But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
If we know this and repeatedly hear that we should be joyful in all things, why is it so hard to accomplish? I believe it’s because most of us never move from “joy if” to “joy even if.” God offers an “even if” type of joy. It is a true joy. It transcends the ebbs and flows of circumstance because it does not depend on conditions but rather, on the faithfulness of God, who is always faithful.
Every few weeks, when I am on Instagram stories, I ask for your prayer requests, and I am always blown away by your answers. From illness to high-risk pregnancy, infertility, employment issues, anxiety, family issues, and worries about the future, you are dealing with it all. Ladies, you are amazing. You carry a broken world on your back, and so often, you do it with unbelievable strength. When I pray for you, I pray that you can hold onto your joy even if your suffering is great. I pray that your spirit holds on to the hope Christ offers you and your mind is filled with the truth that He is always with you. I don’t necessarily mean happiness or positivity. Joy is more than an emotion. It is a disposition of being that is marked by the truth that, in the end, our situations will bring us closer to God and His glory.
If you have fallen into the trap of “joy if,” ask Him to transform your thinking to “joy even if.” After all, this is exactly how the Lord loves you. He loves you even if you turn away from Him. He is faithful even if your sins are many. He carries you even if you are trying to hold up the weight of the world by yourself. And He offers you His joy even if your life is far from perfect.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19)
 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 136.
At six o'clock this morning, I rolled out of bed and sleepily made my way to the coffee maker. I poured my coffee, as I do every day, and settled into my favorite chair. It was prayer time—my favorite time of day. As usual, I began to fall back asleep in the middle of my prayer. Instead of dreaming, however, my mind began to mull over a million tiny grievances that others have committed against me. I am not talking about deep-seated anger or long-harbored grudges, but rather, small annoyances that come from the dirty cup left out by my husband or the imperfectly worded text from a friend. It's these offenses that leave me thinking, "Doesn't he know that I like to wake up to a clean kitchen?" Or, "Doesn't she know that a quick phone call would have solved this problem?" By the end of my prayer time, before anyone else in my house is even awake, I am trying to work my way out of a bad mood. So much for holiness. I guess I'll try again tomorrow.
Can you relate? It's not that you are always mad or even seeking to hold an action against someone; it's just that you often think that someone else could have been more considerate or accommodating to your needs. If they had just tweaked their words or actions by the smallest degree, they would have met your expectations, and all would have been well. But they didn't, and now you are going through life experiencing low-grade grumpiness because of all the people who didn't meet your secret expectations and desires perfectly.
Dear sister, if this is you, there is no judgment. It is clearly me, too. We live in a culture that teaches us to be easily offended. Now, please don't misread this. I am not talking about the issues of justice and equity that ignite a passion in us all. That is not what this post is about. I am talking about small offenses. Most of us go from day to day slightly offended by the family member who said the wrong thing, the friend who forgot to call, the coworker that didn't communicate properly, and the rude coffee shop barista.
Why is it that every imperfect interaction has the power to pick and prod at our confidence and flare up our entitlement? Genesis 11 reveals to us the root of this problem. The people of the ancient world came together and said in Genesis 11:4, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered all over the earth." The Lord then saw the city and the tower. He got angry, confused their language, and scattered the people across the earth.
Where did the people go wrong? They came together and said, "Let us make a name for ourselves." In their effort to seek out the greatness of their own names, they turned their gaze away from God and His glory. They bought the lie that humanity is the center of the universe, and it is our glory that should be sought at all costs. They failed to see that it was God who gave them their place in life, and they turned their heads away from Him to focus on themselves. Their desires and expectations became the main focus. Romans 1:25 explains it this way: "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator."
Part of our problem is that we have the choice to make God the center of our universe (the truth) or make ourselves the center of the universe (the lie). When we place ourselves in the center, everything and everyone becomes subject to our preferences. When they are not met, it makes sense that we would be offended because we see our own preferences as the most important.
Luckily, in the very next chapter of Genesis, God shows us a better way to live. In Genesis 12, God revealed Himself and His plan to a young man named Abram. God told Abram, "I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2).
Did you catch the difference? In Genesis 11, the people were out to make their own names great. In Genesis 12, God told Abram that He would make his name great. Abram received God's blessing, and he recognized that God is the center of the story, deserving of all the glory. Abram was part of the story, but he wasn’t the center. It is the same with us. We are part of God’s story—not the center of our own.
Who is the center of your universe, the star of your life? Many of us acknowledge God with our lips, but then live as though it is still all about us at the end of the day. It is not. It never was. Every single thing, even our own good, is ultimately about Him and His glory.
There would be a welcomed change in the state of our spirits and tone of our relationships if we moved out of the center and let go of our expectations. We would experience a fresh freedom if we stopped tending to our own greatness and reminded ourselves through unceasing prayer and radical generosity that God’s preference matters most. He will do what He wants with our hearts and our lives if we will only step aside, let go of offense, and join in with the saints and angels, whose unceasing focus is on the One who is worthy of all.
P.S. I loved leading our live discussions through Beholding His Glory and Beholding Your King on social media last summer and fall because both Bible studies focus on God as the center of history. Join Kristy Malik and me on Instagram and Facebook this Lent as we lead a live discussion on the Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST starting February 18). Our focus will be on God as the center of our hearts and how He leads us to healing and wholeness.
Deep abiding joy—the kind that helps us to rejoice even when weary—wouldn’t that be the most amazing Christmas gift? This is what we long for, but for many, it’s difficult to hope because 2020 has held many disappointments. Plans haven’t gone the way they should. Words have been spoken that have pierced many hearts. Much is broken, and we aren’t sure how to put it all back together again. In the midst of a Christmas with more chaos and confusion than we’d like, does the night of our dear Savior’s birth still make a difference?
The ancient words of St. John Chrysostom give me food for thought…
“On this day of Christmas, the Word of God, being truly God, appeared in the form of a man, and turned all adoration to himself and away from competing claims for our attention. To him, then, who through the forest of lies has beaten a clear path for us, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever.”
Could it be that experiencing deep abiding joy is connected to what we adore? Is it possible that some competing claims for our attention have gained our primary focus this year? Has our gaze shifted, and have our bodies followed our eyes into a forest of lies?
I’ve discovered some things about myself this year. All the changes that COVID has brought have made it clear that I adore the following: My comfort. My well-laid plans. Experiences that give me something to look forward to and a burst of joy when I’m in the midst of them. These aren’t the only things that I adore, but when they are taken away, I wilt a little bit.
Since all three of those things have been hard to rely on this year, I can see competing claims for my attention at work. When I lose control on a macro level (hello, pandemic), I try to control things on a micro level. I do this without even thinking about it. I push the dig deeper button, get to work, and rely on grit. My ability to control something as small as my to-do list competes for my attention with “the better part” that God offers me—the invitation to come away and rest a while.
When I ignore His invitation to rest, I’m led into a forest of lies—lies like:
“It’s all up to me.”
“It doesn’t matter how I feel.”
“Things will never get better.”
One thing is for sure—I’d better get out of that forest of lies if I want to have the kind of Christmas that includes rejoicing despite weariness. And here’s the good news: Jesus has beaten a clear path through the forest of lies to bring me to the Father. He’s cleared that path for you, too.
When I say, “It’s all up to me,” Jesus says, “No, my sweet sister. It was all up to me. And I did for you that which you couldn’t do for yourself. So lay down your burden (Psalm 55:22). The earthly work will never be done. I invite you to rest in my all-sufficiency and let me take care of the things that you didn’t finish.”
When I say, “It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Jesus says, “No, you’re wrong on that point. The heart of the Father is always turned toward you with tenderness, and He has put your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He cares deeply about what’s going on inside you. He is listening. He is paying attention. He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).”
When I say, “Things will never get better,” Jesus says, “Don’t you remember what I said in Revelation 21:5, ‘I make all things new?’ I am at work, I promise! Don’t forget the truth of Isaiah 43:19, ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’”
When we feel too weary to rejoice, we can receive God’s joy as a gift—as a present—delivered by the Word of God incarnate through the Word of God inspired. So let’s declare truth as we leave the forest of lies and journey to the manger in Bethlehem.
For I declare that God gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength (Isaiah 40:29).
I declare that God will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul He will replenish (Jeremiah 31:25).
I declare that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).
I declare that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
I declare that my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever (Psalm 73:26).
I declare that God’s presence will go with me, and He will give me rest (Exodus 33:14).
I declare that I will lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).
I declare that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Oh that we would rejoice despite our weariness, celebrating the One who has led us out of the forest and into a place of true rest for our souls.
Praying for a merry and refreshing Christmas for you.
I recently read a meme on the internet that said, “Gonna ask my mom if that offer to slap me into next year is still on the table,” and all I could think was, Can I get an Amen? 2021, we are ready for you.
Three months ago, I thought for sure that by now we as a country would be emerging from the pandemic and entering a phase of rebuilding our economy. Instead, the pandemic is far from over and we are politically at each other’s throats. We are also at a moment in which we have come face to face with the legacy of our nation’s past sins that have caused deep pain and suffering for many Americans. The uncertainty of all that is out there has become a constant companion in my heart as I find myself combing through the news (I know, bad idea) looking for anything good—any sign of unity and healing on the horizon.
Yes, 2020 is turning out to be the most tumultuous year in my lifetime to this point, but it is not even close to the most tumultuous year in history. Men and women have endured personal and societal events far worse than the moments we are experiencing, and they have emerged from those long, dark events with their faith, joy, and belief in humanity stronger as a result.
Lately, I have been thinking about those men and women. I have been thinking about the early Christians who were so radically committed to the gospel during Roman rule that they looked like crazies as they cared for the undesirables of society and picked up babies who had been thrown out unwanted. There was something so attractive in them that, even in their martyrdom, people were drawn to Jesus and lives were changed.
I have been thinking about the men and women throughout history who were unjustly jailed under tyrannical regimes and never stopped telling others about Jesus. Their kindness and compassion brought hope to those around them and even converted their jailers.
I have even been thinking about the songs of hope that were sung by the slaves in the fields as they sorrowfully yet hopefully acknowledged that this world is not their home and that the joys of true life awaited them within the gates of Zion.
Within the stories of these past giants of our faith, we can find two types of prayer from which they drew their strength and kept their eyes on Jesus no matter what: lamentations and sacrifices of praise.
Lamentations are prayers to God that are born out of suffering and confusion. We see them throughout Scripture. They are a recognition that a life of faith is not always rainbows and butterflies, and that bad things happen which leave us confused and in doubt. While these prayers are cries of sorrow, they guard us against despair because they allow us to mourn the consequences of sin and express our doubts about God’s goodness with God. When we lament, we acknowledge that He sees our pain and will respond even if we don’t understand His ways. We then eventually find our way into hope just as the author writes in Lamentations 3 18-22:
So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
The beauty of these prayers is that they are honest, and honesty eventually leads to the other side of lamenting which is our sacrifice of praise.
In Hebrew 13:15, St. Paul tells us, “Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” When we praise God, our praise is typically an outflow of joy as we behold the blessings that God has bestowed on us. It’s easy to praise God when we stand before the beauty of creation or consider the ways that He has blessed our lives and our families. But what happens when the blessings aren’t so easy to recognize? What about the times that lament feels more appropriate than praise as sorrow fills our souls? It is in these times that Scripture calls us to make our praise a sacrifice, to offer something to God that we may not feel like offering.
Praise in these moments is not an overflowing response to God’s goodness, but rather, an act of the will that acknowledges a reality that we may not see. King David made a sacrifice of praise when he wrote in Psalm 43:5, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Acknowledging that his soul is downcast, David commands himself to praise God anyway. It is in times like these that we can offer God our praise as a sacrifice when an outpouring of joy is simply not our present reality.
Dear friend, do you need to sit and lament with God these days? Do you need to offer God your praise as a sacrifice? So have many other faithful, heroic people of the past. It is this type of honest praying that got them through their trials. No matter how you are feeling, the Lord meets you where you are. He is not afraid of your honesty or your pain, whatever it may be. Wherever you are emotionally, it is not God’s will that you gloss over it with a smile, and it is not His will that you allow yourself to wallow in despair. Offer the Lord all the movements of your heart. Invite him into your struggles and in the midst of those struggles offer Him your praise. He is the one who fights for you.
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,
I had stopped feeling joy. That was the first sign for me that something needed to change- that something was wrong and that I didn't know how to fix it. Things were happening in my life that should have been getting me excited, that should have been touching my heart, that should have sent me reaching for my camera or my journal or someone's hand- to squeeze it and to say, “this is it”- but instead, I just felt kind of numb and very, very tired. I was starting to not care about any of it. That detachment terrified me.
These were some of my journal entries those days:
“I don't feel I'm doing anything well, which means perfect. I wish I had more time to give in almost every area of my life.”
“The weight of the work is pressing on my chest. It is just too much work and not enough hours.”
“How do I fall asleep at night? By listing every single thing I've accomplished that day. It's as if I am giving myself permission to rest.”
I wonder where you are at today. Where are you at in terms of joy, freedom and contentment?
I look around, and I know I am not alone in what I've been feeling. So many of us have been placing our hope in all sorts of things that have frankly not delivered.
We were raised being told that we can be anyone we want to be, that there is nothing out of reach, that we can have it all. So we've been trying. Really, really hard. We're trying to live out that promise where we can have a solid marriage, raise good kids, pursue our passions, and push through the glass ceiling. We've not just been promised that we can do it, we've been told that when we get there, it'll all be worth it. Is it? I'm not so sure.
This reality made me feel really scared that I was missing my life. In the midst of the whirlwind, I determined that somehow, I was going to find it again. And once I found it, I was going to live it.
After a couple of years of deep soul work, I have found that there is another way. There is a different path. There is some new territory that's a little uncharted, but at the same time is an adventure that can bring the change that we are after.
Fearless and Free, an eleven-week Bible study on the book of Ephesians, is the result of that journey. It contains my most personal writing, and offering it to you feels a bit like handing you my heart. I don't like to feel that vulnerable and exposed, to be honest. But I believe it is time for us to face our brokenness and need for inner healing, and I know that it can be scary to peel back the layers around our hearts. So I offer you my brokenness, my honesty, and the truth that I have found to be life-giving and transforming. I offer you my hand on this journey, with the steady assurance that you are not alone.
Fearless and Free leads us on a three-part excursion: the Wakening, the Wrestling and the Warrior.
In the Wakening, we'll wake up to the reality of who we are in Christ. Our true identity has been stolen and messed with, and we need to get it back in order to walk in freedom. Once we have it clear in our heads, we need to live out of that reality.
In the Wrestling, we'll learn to “Be renewed in the Spirit of our minds and clothe ourselves with the new self” (Eph. 4:23-24). This is talking about a totally different mindset. A completely different way to think and deal with our emotions. It's the part of the journey where we learn to recognize our Father's voice. We'll become strengthened from within, as we learn to wield the tools and weapons that have been at our disposal all along.
In the Warrior, we are going to recognize that we are in a battle. It's a battle for our hearts. It's a war on our freedom. And by God's grace- that unearned, unmerited favor and strength- we are going to take back what the enemy has stolen from us.
We are going to allow our loving Father access to our hearts.
We're going to experience healing, and joy, and the high of being fully alive.
No more numbing.
No more hustling for our worth.
No more proving.
We are going to awaken to something totally new, different and free.
Will you join me?
P.S. With an emphasis on healing and wholeness, Fearless and Free is the most personal and transformative study that Walking with Purpose has offered so far. A Leader's Guide is included, to help leaders run group study effectively. Start your journey and share it with a friend here!
This is an updated version of a post that appeared on the WWP website in 2018.
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,