I once worked for a magazine written for career-minded women. In every glossy issue, we offered tips and articles to help our readers find balance in their busy lives: Four Ways to get Hubby to Help… Finding a Caregiver who Cares... Dinners You Can Make in Minutes! We offered solutions to help our target audience keep all the balls in the air and jump through hula hoops while walking a tightrope. (Yes, like a circus clown—only in high heels instead of shiny red clown shoes.)
This fall I began the Walking with Purpose Bible Study Keeping in Balance. In its pages I expected to find helpful tips and tricks just like that magazine offered. Three passages from Scripture to evoke calm and promote sleep! Jesus said “no” sometimes; you can too! Instead, the first two lessons took me on a deep dive into authenticity. Like a scuba diver looking for treasure on the deep ocean floor.
To live authentically is to live the life we were created for—truthfully and purposefully; raw and real. But how many of us do that? When your Facebook friend shares pictures of her new dining room set or the red roses that were delivered to her workplace “just because,” is your friend showing her authentic, #nofilter self or the carefully-curated parts of her life?
I really shouldn’t judge. While I don’t post on social media, I’m guilty of doing plenty of things for the sake of appearances. Take my volunteer work. I served on the board of my son’s travel baseball league and didn’t even enjoy it (I was made treasurer—a role I am terribly unequipped for)! So then what did I do? I volunteered to be treasurer of my kids’ school PTA. I didn’t enjoy that either. But the two experiences provided admirable bullet points to spiff up my LinkedIn profile. My PTA work even earned me an engraved piece of lucite. (No clue where that award is now, BTW.)
But sisters, here’s the thing; there’s more to an authenticity deep-dive than exploring how authentic you are to others. Being authentic with ourselves and with God is equally important.
Here are some questions for us to think about: when you experience conflict or are hurt emotionally, how do you react? Do you express your feelings in a healthy way, or do you ignore or “stuff” them away? I’ll admit that I’m a stuffer. That’s what us major-conflict-avoiders do—we put on a mask and push our emotions way down deep.
There’s a quote in Lesson 2 of Keeping In Balance from Peter Scazzaro’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, that underscores the problem with burying or ignoring our feelings:
...To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well...When we deny our pain, losses and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.¹
This, my friends, is not what God wants. He wants us to be the authentic women He created us to be!
While I may not be totally authentic with myself or with those around me, I think I’m authentic with God. My prayers to Him are honest, unpolished, and at times, border-line puerile, but I learned in Opening Your Heart that not only is it OK to talk to God as a child might, it’s a good thing (and I blogged about that here).
Back to the magazine where I used to work: I now know it didn’t truly help women keep their lives in balance. It simply provided coping strategies for living life in a challenging way.
So, let’s remember that it’s OK for our lives to be imperfect. We don’t need to wear a mask or hide our struggles from others or from God, who really does like the messy versions of ourselves anyway.
But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 20.
She scrolled through the list on her phone -- at least fifty names -- one name after the other, along with a description of how far she had gone with each. Most of them she'd slept with on the first date. Longing desperately for love, she wondered if she would ever find it. With confusion in her eyes, she asked why they never came back for a second date.
I can't get her question out of my head. This is not because I don't know how to answer it; it's because this precious young woman is not an anomaly in the millennial generation. The level of lostness, confusion, sexual experimentation, lack of purpose, and anxiety among young women has reached a crescendo that I find deeply concerning. They cannot answer the most important questions: Why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? I am talking about our daughters. Our granddaughters. Our nieces. Our loved ones.
St. Paul spoke prophetically about our times in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman...haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it…Among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (emphasis added)
By the millions, young women scroll through their social media feeds, listening to anybody, but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth. This isn't just true of them; this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously,and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion-either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children's tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order-even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.¹
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable. It is time for us to stop wringing our hands, and go after the hearts of the next generation. How do we do this?
First, we pray. This is not a second-rate action item to be used only after we've tried everything else first. The biggest block to God reaching the hearts of our children is stubbornness and pride. Yes, the cultural myth that faith and science are contradictory has, unfortunately, been taught to and embraced by many of our children. Yes, the difficulty of reconciling a good God and the suffering and evil in the world can create a barrier. Yes, many of them have been convinced that faith in God is just a crutch. All these things get in the way of our children finding God. But if a heart is proud and stubborn, it doesn't matter how much proof is presented. The heart will still resist. And the only one who can get into the heart and soften it is the Holy Spirit. So praying for this softening is critical and the first step.
Second, we cling to hope while taking action. I realize our children are leaving the Church in droves. But how many of them are setting off on this path, hoping for misery? That would be zero percent. They are all searching for authentic happiness, and we know that true, transcendent happiness is found in Christ. It is possible to be fulfilled, satisfied, and clear about who you are and why you are here. There are answers to their deepest questions. But it's critical that we meet them where they are, help them to explore the questions they care about, and give them space to journey at their own pace. You may be wondering exactly how to do that. I have spent the past two years noodling on this very topic with a sense of urgency and passion that I haven't experienced in a long time, and things are starting to become much clearer to me. This is why we are throwing open the doors to all women (ages 18+) for Flourish 2020, our first-ever women's conference on March 13-15, 2020.
We are creating a curated experience that encounters women on their search for happiness, and leads them to the only One who will satisfy. Please join us. Please bring your daughters. I am writing this content for them. I know it isn't easy to work out the costs and logistics for a women's conference, especially if it isn't in your neck of the woods. I know it's hard to talk your daughter into coming to something that sounds religious, but getting yourself and your loved one to this conference is going to be worth the effort. Instead of a birthday or Christmas gift, ask your daughter to give you the gift of her presence with you for the weekend. I promise you, God will meet her there. And He will meet you, too. The deepest desires of your daughter's heart are likely your desires as well. God alone will quench the thirst.
¹ Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.
We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?
Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?
Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.
I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God- seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.
God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:
“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”
No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.
Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward which means things can get very dark very quickly.
If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be cancelled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.
In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:
“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”
We are the most depressed, anxious, lost and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:
Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.¹
There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?
¹ Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.
Dear reader: We have updated one of our favorite blog posts, originally published this time last year. We hope it provides you with a sense of peace and contentment with your place in His plan.
“May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
I've noticed something interesting about what gets me on and what gets me off of social media. Boredom gets me on, and I can lose track of time as I scroll mindlessly. What gets me off is discontentment. I see something or someone that makes me feel badly, less than, or inadequate, so I turn it off. I think I could be spending my time a little better than this.
I'm reminded by Theodore Roosevelt that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I'm tired of allowing my happiness to be robbed by something so preventable. Are you? We all know that everything presented on social media is the curated and filtered version. So why do we get caught in the trap of comparing “my worst with her best?” Because who really knows what's behind that perfect picture on Facebook? My cover photo shows my family happily smiling on my daughter's wedding day. What it doesn't show is my worries that the reception is going to not turn out as planned, my sadness over my daughter moving so far away, my deep desire to turn back the clock and re-do every moment that I missed because I was too busy. Photos don't show the whole story.
Underlying our discontent is the sense that there is something better out there, and the belief that if we had it, we'd be happier. But if you look back on your life, isn't it true that as soon as you get that one thing you've been dreaming of, a new desire takes its place? The appetite for more is never satisfied.
There is a different way to live. God created you as a one-of-a-kind, creative, difference-making masterpiece. Yes you. You are not the exception to the rule. Don't equate that description with success in your career, breathtaking Instagram feeds, or accolades. Being a world-changer simply means that you take seriously the call to run YOUR race without looking to the left or right and comparing yourself to others. It means trusting God that you are exactly where you are meant to be, and being faithful right there.
You are a part of a grand narrative, and if you do not take your place in God's story, the world will miss out on the unique gifts you bring to the table. The writer of Hebrews doesn't want you to miss the specific course that God has mapped out for you, so he describes the race that you are to run:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1-2
The book of Hebrews was written to people who felt beaten down and discouraged. They feel ready to give up, and are asking the question, “If God loves me so much, why is following Him so insanely hard?” My guess would be that they were probably looking to the left and the right, and wondering why life is easier for other people.
So the author seeks to change their perspective on their circumstances. They are asked to picture a race within an arena, with a track for the athletes to compete on, and spectators to witness it all.
The word race comes from the Greek word “Agon” (ag-one'). We get the word agony from this root word, and the word race could also be translated conflict, struggle or fight. What the author of Hebrews wants us to get is that life is a race- and the race is one of agonizing struggle. It isn't a short sprint- it's a marathon.
We need patience, endurance, and the willingness to persevere in order to run this race. We need to throw off comparison, because it hinders us like nobody's business. I love what N.T. Wright has to say about the race:
This race is a long haul, and you need patience. There are always some runners who really prefer a short sprint; some of them, faced with a ten-mile run, will go far too fast at the start and then be exhausted after two or three miles. Sadly, many of us will know Christians like that too: keen and eager in their early days, they run out of steam by the time they reach mature adulthood…Give me the person, any day, who starts a bit more slowly but who is still there, patiently running the next mile and the next and the next, all those years later.
I think it's great news that this race isn't only for sprinters! There is an honored place for plodders- for those who are steady at the wheel when the race is exciting, and when it's boring, and when it's sucking the breath out of you. This is the woman who is less concerned about her personal passions, gifts, and platform than she is about the fact that in the Christian life, someone has to be willing to take out the garbage. If you are one of those women, and if you feel that most of what you do goes unseen and uncelebrated, I salute you. Give me someone like you any day over charisma, sparkle and shine.
This woman's Facebook feed might look insignificant, but don't let that fool you. She's is too busy running her race to photograph it all beautifully.
Last Monday was the feast day of a woman who ran her race beautifully- St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of Walking with Purpose. Instead of comparing herself to others, she trusted that God had her exactly where she was meant to be. She flourished in that place, despite its limitations and suffering. May you cultivate a content heart like hers, trusting God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.