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,
Six years ago, I heard Lisa Brenninkmeyer preach on Loving People To Christ. Since that day, I have gone back to view the video of this talk at least ten times. And there is one line that always gets me. It's the kind of line you hear that cracks you up and has you elbowing your girlfriend next to you, because it is not only funny, but sadly...it is true.
In the spirit of evangelization and reaching the farthest woman out there, Lisa shared that whenever she gives a shout out and says, “I want everybody to come back here next year with a friend”, we kind of go, “Oh, well, they're all here, so I'm good! Done. Check.” Does this sound familiar? Because it does to me. In fact, I just reviewed my Parish's annual Walking With Purpose Program Survey, and I kid you not, but in answer to the question, “Did you invite women to join you on Connect Coffee days”, someone responded, “No. All of my friends are already there.” See why we laugh?
And I am not picking on any woman who responded this way. I am not laughing at someone out there. I am laughing at me. Because I could've written that response myself.
I am going on my sixth year in Walking with Purpose, having served in a variety of roles, and I will honestly share that the year I simply participated, I got oh so comfortable. I figured I had reached out enough. I had been a Coordinator and a small group leader. I had even worked for National as a Regional Area Coordinator. It was clearly time I got some well-deserved rest, and let some other laborer hit the fields and bring forth the harvest. Now, make no mistake, God is all for our rest and refreshment, and when it comes to ministry work, we especially need it. But rest and complacency are not the same thing. The truth is, if we want to contribute to the building up of God's Kingdom, I am pretty sure we need to cross feeling comfortable off of our lists.
How did I know I was too comfortable? It wasn't because I started showing up at Bible Study in my pajamas (as tempting as it was). It was because I stopped reaching outside of my circle.
“We get comfortable in our holy huddle”, Lisa says, referring to these circles. ”We turn inward. The circle gets smaller and smaller and what we become are spiritual consumers looking for the next thing to feed us and keep us going and the focus stays right here.”
Let's be honest. We want to be the one that God sends out, so long as He doesn't send us outside of our comfort zone. We come up with all sorts of reasons why God shouldn't send us: we don't know enough; we are not the right woman; we can just live it out right where we are with the small circle of friends that we have and that is good enough. But ladies, God is not calling us to comfort. He is calling us to go and gather every single one of His precious daughters, and by the power of His spirit, to lead them to Him so that He can break open their hearts just as He has done to our own. We are called to freely give away what we ourselves have been given, and the only way we can do that is if we broaden our circles.
Is this scary? Yes. Is evangelization going to be a battle? Absolutely. But the biggest battle we are facing is one that is hidden. “The war is against our selfish hearts”, says Lisa. And I nod my head in agreement to the beat of my own selfish heart, because really, do I practice as I preach? Do I reach out so that I feel the stretch? Hebrews 12:15 instructs us to “see to it that nobody misses the grace of God.” Notice, the Scripture verse does not say, “see to it that nobody within your small circle misses the grace of God.” Nobody refers to everybody.
Did you ever consider that your story might be what saves another woman? Did you ever consider that there is someone in your neighborhood, at your school, in your grocery store, at the gym, at your Bible Study, that is in desperate need of your specific story? You will never know the difference your story can make in someone's life if you sit in the same chair and tell it to the same person, year after year. As Lisa says, “We all agree in the power of His presence, but we sometimes underestimate the power of ours.”
This year I have decided to leave the comfort of my Walking with Purpose seat at my table, and step back into the role of Coordinator. Perhaps God is calling you to step out of your comfortable seat as well? Widening our circles, and reaching beyond who we know, is both responsibility and gift. We can still keep our comfy circles. Building His Kingdom can be both. As a wise woman told me, “We need to embrace the power of ‘and.'” We can love our like-minded friends who know us so well, and reach out beyond our comfort zone to the woman whose face is familiar but whose name we don't know. Matthew 10:8 says, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”
This is the charge. This is God's command. It's time to get uncomfortable and start drawing bigger circles.
View Loving People to Christ video.
For years my daughter begged for braces. No denying, her teeth are all sorts of crazy, but the cost of braces is even crazier. Finally giving in, we met with the orthodontist where it was explained that in order for Annie to obtain her dream smile, she would need to do two things. 1. Wear braces. 2. Wear the Herbst Appliance. What is the Herbst Appliance you ask? Well, imagine every piece of metal and hardware in the entire world, and then put it all in my fifteen-year-old's mouth. Because there is so much metal involved, the doctor suggested Annie do braces first, then once removed, put on the Herbst. He said, “You can do both at once if you are in a rush to get this done. It will be uncomfortable and take weeks to get used to. But you will get your perfect smile faster. It's up to you.”
Given the option - fast results or patiently waiting it out - take a shot at what my teenager chose…
Yesterday, the Herbst went on, on top of the braces. By the time this blog post is published, I am not confident that anyone within a five-foot radius of Annie will still be alive. She is not happy, folks. And do you want to know the worst part of all of this is? It's not Annie's mood that's the problem. It's not even the cost. It is me. It's my reaction to her reaction. As she went on and on about her looks and appearance, with zero gratitude for the privilege of dental care and a mother who had to sell her kidney to afford it, I unlovingly stood in her bedroom doorway reminding her, “This is what you wanted. So, you can be patient and get used to it, and quit being so vain….or tomorrow we can go and get it taken out of your mouth.”
It is ironic, isn't it? We grumble about children today; how they wait for nothing and only know instant gratification, and I have to wonder... am I any different? Sure, maybe my teenager doesn't have patience with this process… but guess what? Neither do I. As quick as she was to choose the shortest road to the fastest results, I am just as quick to pull the stupid metal out of her mouth with my own teeth simply to put an end to her vanity-filled complaints. Let's face it. Waiting is hard, and there is a reason why patience is a virtue and none of this comes easy. And honestly? This isn't even about my straightening my daughter's teeth. It's about straightening priorities. And all of this takes time.
I am just going to say it. I am lacking the patience for my children to encounter Jesus Christ because deep down I fear that they never will. I am afraid that God will show up hours too late, like my sister on Thanksgiving who signs up to bring the appetizer and arrives as we are serving dessert. And so I preach, and I throw Scripture at them, and I stand in their bedroom doorway in utter frustration, because for some unknown reason I have decided that I am their Savior and turning their hearts towards Christ is something that can only be accomplished by my hand.
Welcome to my ugly.
I am not proud of it, but here is the thing: I can do something about it.
If your lack of patience for a loved one's journey to the Lord tends to stomp on newly planted seeds, here are three things you can do:
Praying today that our patience with His plan grows deeper roots than the weeds of fear and control. And I really pray that Annie doesn't need to get on an airplane anytime soon, because honestly...that girl will never make it through the metal detector.
In patience and love,
Some nights, it is the pale blue glow visible in the gap under the bedroom door that gives him away.
On those nights, I stand in the dark hallway, press my forehead against the closed door, and speak into it. “Jack, turn your phone off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your phone again.”
“My phone isn't on!”
Other nights, it is different but the same. The sound of eager young fingers tapping away on a computer keyboard. On those nights I tell the door, “Turn your laptop off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your laptop again.”
“My laptop isn't on!”
My husband and I have tried different tactics to correct our son Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors. We've taken the phone away on many occasions… until Jack convinces us that he needs the phone for school (“Coach is gonna text about practice!”), and we reluctantly hand it back.
We've also installed an app on our wifi that cuts off internet access at night. This limits Jack's technology time... until he convinces us that he needs to sync his laptop with the school server, or offers another similar excuse, and we back off to give him the access he claims he needs.
Of course, the worst of the bad behaviors -- the heartbreakingly bad one -- is the lying.
If you read my January blog post or this one from March, you know that I am currently experiencing the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study Opening Your Heart in a parish-based program. (Shout out to my girls at Holy Name of Mary in Croton, NY!) Each week we meet to review another lesson from Opening Your Heart, and each week it amazes me how applicable the lessons are to my life.
A few weeks ago, my group gathered to watch the Connect Coffee video that goes along with Opening Your Heart Lesson 18, “Reaching Your Child's Heart.” When I watch these videos it's as if author Lisa Brenninkmeyer is speaking just to me, which is awesome, and others in my group have said the same. (Although there was one part of the video I didn't watch because the most delicious toddler accompanied his mom that day, and when an 18-month-old is clutching your legs and grinning up at you, he just cannot be ignored!)
The good news is that the pages in the study guide reinforce what I may have missed in the video, and Lesson 18 made me rethink everything.
“Behavior is simply what alerts you to your child's need for correction. But don't make the mistake that so many parents make and allow your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. If you can reach the heart, the behavior will take care of itself.”¹
Changing Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors wasn't working because his heart wasn't changing.
This concept is rooted in Scripture. Lesson 18 goes on to say this:
“A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the same hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees? In Matthew 15, Jesus denounces the Pharisees who honored Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him. Jesus censures them as people who wash the outside of the cup while the inside is still unclean.”²
It became clear that I needed to spend some time inside that teenage boy's bedroom (not just talking to the door), and I needed to figure out how to wash the inside of that 15-year-old cup.
Jack and I sat down. I told him how hurtful his dishonesty was, and before I could get to the “lying is a sin” part of the talk, he interrupted.
“If you'll stop trying to control my life, I'll stop lying.”
I was certain there was truth in that statement. If Jack was given free reign with technology and internet access, he wouldn't have much to lie about.
However, it was not a deal I could make. It was, I think, a deal with the devil.
The wifi in our house still shuts off at night, prohibiting internet access. And Jack is still trying to find ways around it. Apparently we are the “only” parents who restrict access to their kids' cell phones and internet. And I think Jack might hate us for it.
Did the "inside of the cup" get washed? Not yet. That's a place I can't go; that's a process I can't force. My husband and I don't have the power to change Jack's heart, but we are fiercely protecting it. And when He's invited in, God can go deep in the heart, to the "inside of the cup." I pray that will happen.
In Lesson 18 of Opening Your Heart, Lisa includes a “Monthly Prayer List for Our Children” and one of the talented WWP designers turned it into this beautiful free printable. (Download the file, print it two-sided, and cut off the extra paper to make the perfect bookmark.) For anyone who has children or grandchildren, this list of twelve prayers is something you'll want to save and turn to. Often.
¹ Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 219
² Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 220
For someone who likes words and lots of them, editing a book can be hard work. After pouring over each sentence and getting to the point where you love them all, no author wants to hear that she has to cut hundreds of words. But that is exactly what a writer is told and tends to be reluctant to do. When I was in the midst of that very process, I received great advice from an editor. Surprisingly, it applies to Holy Week. She said, “You have to kill your precious.” To the writer, every word seems golden. But unless you “kill your precious” and get rid of the parts that are unnecessary, the finished work won't be as concise or impactful.
Holy Week offers us opportunities to kill lots of precious. It's the home stretch, the last incline of the journey of Lent. It might be tempting to just switch gears and start focusing on Easter Sunday, but if we skip over these key days in the Church calendar, we'll miss out. The spirit of sacrifice is hard for us pleasure-seeking people, but a few more days of focused effort can make the celebration of the resurrection that much sweeter.
We all have those sins that we like to justify. The ones that we hide and don't think matter much. I struggle in this way too. It makes me think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and the way he called the ring that he coveted “his precious.” This was something he had possessed that wasn't actually good for him, but he longed for it nevertheless.
What is it that you reach for when you are longing for security or comfort or an escape? Maybe it's attention from someone who doesn't belong to you. Perhaps it's too much wine. Maybe it's shopping and spending money you don't have. It can be porn, or Netflix, or eating food to try to fill a void in the heart...anything that distracts or diverts. Maybe it's your ego that needs to die a death. Instead of a hearty dose of accomplishments and accolades, you are actually needing to grow in humility. Even as I write this, it all sounds quite horrible to me. I suppose it does to us all, which is exactly why we reach for these things. They feel so good in the short-term.
God is asking us to “kill our precious,” not because he is out to spoil our fun, but because He knows that's the very thing that is holding us back from the life that is truly life. He is asking us to have a long-term perspective. He wants my eye not just on the reward of Easter Sunday but on the ultimate reward of being in His presence in heaven. Which do I want more, short-term gain or long-term glory?
What I have found very helpful is to kneel before the altar with that “precious sin” on my mind. I picture holding it in my hands. And this is what I pray: “This is the sin I am wanting to play around with. This is what looks so good to me in the short-term. But I want to be a saint more. And I want to be free.” Romans 6:16 tells us, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I wish that our desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy of our souls would just give up and leave us alone. But nothing scares him more than people who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God we get, the more the enemy will tempt us to settle for mediocrity. Let's resist him with all we've got- especially during this Holy Week.
Our lives are too short and our calling too great to play around with sin. We're in the home stretch, the final incline in the marathon of Lent. Let's finish well. Let's fling aside those sins that entangle and cling so closely. Let's ask God to kill our precious, and do all we can to stay on the path of holiness.