My resolve to stick to my new year’s resolutions is so strong first thing in the morning. I’m like Wonder Woman with all her gear on, ready to take on the world. But as hours on the clock keep ticking, my self-control decreases. At 7 am, I recall that wine used to taste like cough syrup to me, but by 7 pm, I’m convinced a cold glass of chardonnay is the reward I deserve for my day’s work. I hate it when I break the promises I’ve made to myself to both be better and do better. I want my grit and resolve to be enough, but I have found that if I want to become a saint, I need something more.
Can you relate? Remember your determination and commitment to change at the start of the new year? Is it beginning to wane a bit? If that’s where you are today, you are not alone. But I encourage you, don’t give up. Don’t settle for a word of the year if what God is really calling you to is intentional growth in holiness.
In our desire to be all that we can be for Christ, we sometimes forget all the resources at our disposal. We set out to do things in our own strength, find it’s not enough, so lower the bar. We justify mediocrity when God is calling us to heroic virtue. Because after all, it’s never too hard to find someone far more messed up than we are. And isn’t the point to be authentic?
Ummm… Authenticity isn’t actually the goal. It’s a means to an end. It’s the first step toward admitting that we need help. But God doesn’t want us to stop there. He wants us to get up, reach out for His aid, and get moving.
You were not meant to figure out the Christian life all by yourself. God’s message is not “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” He wants to be invited into the struggle. When we do this, everything changes. Far from leaving us with unrealistic expectations, God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3). God has placed His own Spirit within us to give us power (Acts 1:8), make us holy (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and recreate and renew us (Titus 3:5).
One of the greatest weapons we have at our disposal in the battle for holiness is the rosary. Are you longing for an outpouring of God’s grace? Could you use a fresh jolt of the Holy Spirit’s power? Then I challenge you to download the Walking with Purpose Meditations for the Sorrowful Mysteries and pray them regularly. These are the prayers I wrote and prayed with you all on our Rosary Call for Personal Holiness, and you can pray along with the video recording as well. I invite you to join the Blessed Mother and boldly go before the throne of grace, asking the Holy Spirit to transform you from within.
When God’s children ask Him for help to grow more like Jesus, God always answers. St. Paul wrote that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Prayer is the key to unlocking that promise. It’s the game changer—the thing that takes our good resolve and grit and infuses them with supernatural grace. It’s what we need if we want to change.
With you on the journey,
Ah, summer 2021. A time that will forever be remembered as the post-quarantine summer. The world is opening back up again, and some people are making up for lost time as soon as possible. Others are experiencing what some experts are calling “re-entry anxiety.”
I wonder where you fall on this spectrum as things begin to return to normal. Statistics have shown that women were especially hit hard during the pandemic with rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol consumption skyrocketing. For me, I’m somewhere between making up for lost time (“Hello, live music—I have MISSED YOU!”) and experiencing re-entry anxiety (“Do I need a mask in this store?” “Can we hug now?”). Our lives look different than they did a year ago, and our habits have likely changed as we have learned to cope with All. The. Things.
In John 10:10, Jesus told us, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” I feel like my life during the past year definitely wasn’t abundant, but that this year has potential. How about you? Do you feel like your life is abundant right now?
So, what is an “abundant” life? I think having an abundant life means having a life you love, not one that you want to run away from. I also think the abundant life Jesus spoke of is offered to us here and now, and isn’t related to our state in life or how much we are “making up for lost time” post-pandemic. This abundant life is one of peace, joy, and grace. It sounds lovely, in theory, but how do we attain it? I believe it requires a choice—a conscious decision to get back to the basics.
“Do the work you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5)
In his message to Ephesus in the book of Revelation, John praises the members for their works and virtues, but admonishes them to repent and return to their former devotion.
This makes me think that the abundant life (having a life that we love) and doing the work we did at first (getting back to the basics of our faith) are intrinsically linked. Will you take a moment and pause with me to reflect on the last time your life felt full and abundant? What were you doing then? When was the last time you felt close to God? What are you not doing now that you were doing then? What habits have you dropped?
Summer is a great time to reset our calendars and our priorities. Here are some basic things I’ve consciously decided to re-focus on in order to live the abundant life Jesus promised us. Will you join me in getting back to the basics this summer?
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” —St. Francis of Assisi
As we re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have some choices to make. Don’t be swept back into the hurried life you had before, and know that you don’t have to carry bad habits from quarantine with you. You can build a life you love—starting now—one step at a time. The abundant life Jesus offers is waiting for you.
 Jordan Valinsky, “7 signs that summer is about to be lit,” CNN Business, May 29, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/29/business/summer-2021-back-to-normal/index.html.
 Maya Kachroo-Levine, “How to Work Through Your Re-entry Anxiety, According to a Licensed Therapist,” Travel+Leisure, May 28, 2021, https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-tips/covid-reentry-anxiety.
 Dawn Sugarman and Shelly Greenfield, “Women, alcohol, and COVID-19,” Harvard Health Blog, April 6, 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/women-alcohol-and-covid-19-2021040622219.
You matter to God. All that you carry in your heart—your dreams, desires, needs, and heartaches—all this is seen by God. Far from being an impersonal deity who expects you to suck it up and soldier on, God pays attention to everything that touches you. In Psalm 56:9, David writes, “My wanderings you have noted; are my tears not stored in your flask, recorded in your book?” Let that sink in. The Creator of the universe sees you, takes note of your every tear, and holds them. He keeps your tears. When you cry out to Him and say that you are at your limit—that you can’t take anymore—He sees everything that led up to that point. He sees it, and He cares. You are known and understood by God. You aren’t too much for Him; you aren’t too complicated; you aren’t a mess in His eyes. God sees your beautiful, wild heart.
But God is not the only one paying attention to the state of your heart, or women’s hearts in general. This has been a subject of interest and debate for some time. There is a deep longing found in the hearts of women which has always existed. Betty Friedan wrote of it in The Feminine Mystique in the 1960s, describing it as “the problem that has no name.”  It’s an interior restlessness, an inner ache for more.
We have all seen the effects of a persuasive writer who is able to name what people are currently feeling but are unable to express. When someone nails it and artfully communicates what we’ve all been sensing and perceiving, powerful trends are born. Those trends translate into belief systems that are embraced and passed to the next generation. This is what happened with the writing of authors like Betty Frieden, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, and others. Their writing and influence birthed a movement that set out to heal the hearts of women by liberating them from the effects of patriarchy and the chains of home life and motherhood. Decades later, it’s worth asking: are women happier as a result of their efforts? Statistics indicate they are not. Women have never been more medicated, addicted, and confused.
This mission to liberate women has been picked up by women in each subsequent generation, and writers and influencers continue to persuasively describe women’s current feelings. Women read their books, blogs, and social media posts and think, “Yes. That’s me. She sees me. She understands me. She’s putting into words what I’ve not been able to name.” Influencers tap into women’s discontent, articulate what women are feeling, and then offer their solutions.
A #1 New York Times Best Seller, which has sold millions of copies and is considered a book packed with wisdom for women today, offers the following solution:
We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn. 
In years past, I have enjoyed this author’s personality, sense of humor, authenticity, and vulnerability. She has raised millions of dollars for people in need, and I commend her for it. But I pause and am deeply concerned with the direction in which her writing is going. We need more women who are full of themselves? I don’t think so.
You are being delivered a steady message through the media regarding the best way to care for yourself. Self-care represents a $10 billion per year industry in the United States.  Make no mistake, there is vested interest in getting you to care for your heart in such a way that keeps the economic engine running. But is it possible that you are being offered counterfeit self-care? Could it be that the bill of goods we’ve been sold for decades isn’t delivering on its promises? Might it be that the very things that we are “letting burn,” are the things that we most need in order to be fulfilled?
I’m thinking deeply about what true self-care is—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth. To begin with, it’s essential that we connect with our hearts. This means paying attention to what we feel, and inviting God into the places within that need healing. We also need to put in the time to learn what God says about our worth, and then choose to listen to Him more than all the messages that contradict His perspective.
Another key component of self-care is cultivating an unhurried life. I know. Easier said than done. I highly recommend John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, as a fabulous starting point.
A valuable shift in perspective that has real impact on self-care is looking at our body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. What are some of the alternatives to this? Treating our bodies as workhorses or obsessing with outward appearance. The latter can appear to be self-care, but can actually lead to an unhealthy self-focus.
Are you ready to allow the Creator of your heart to show you what will truly satisfy your deepest longings? Let’s pursue true self-care—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth.
Grace and peace,
 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2001), 433.
 Glennon Doyle, Untamed (New York: Random House, 2020), 75.
 Alice Hickson and Lilly Blumenthal, “The Self Care Obsession,” March 25, 2019, The Tufts Observer, https://tuftsobserver.org/the-self-care-obsession/, accessed February 10, 2021.
I’ve had many spells of homesickness over the years. Typically, I’d try to soothe myself by looking at houses online in the town where I grew up. I imagined what it would be like to move back to Duluth, Minnesota. Could I relive all the comforting memories? Would my desire to belong finally be satisfied if I could go back to those familiar people and places? Maya Angelou writes, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” This makes sense to me. Maybe you long for roots, too. Considering how often extended families no longer stay close together as jobs and preferences transfer people to different parts of the country, I doubt that I am alone with these feelings.
I felt this homesickness most acutely when I lived in Mexico—in large measure because I was surrounded by the most beautiful display of family traditions that I’d ever seen. Families, by and large, stayed close geographically, with weekly gatherings for comida where multiple generations stopped their activities and devoted the afternoon to each other. I admired it from the outside looking in because my family was far away. At that time, I also felt I was rattling around within the Catholic Church. I was a card-carrying member, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. I had a sense that there was an inner circle, a set of behaviors that I wasn’t clued in on, and a heritage and vocabulary that I wasn’t born with, which meant I was destined to be on the outside. This lasted far longer than anyone would have guessed.
But Jesus met me in the pages of Scripture no matter what country I was in or how disjointed my life felt. I might have felt disconnected from the familiar, but I found safety and steadiness in those timeless, sacred words. These were years when I put my roots down deep into God’s Word. In the pages of the Bible, I encountered a Living God who drew me close.
And yet, I didn’t realize in those years that there was more. God wanted me to experience a spiritual family that stretched across the globe; a shared worship where, no matter where we found ourselves, we all turned our hearts to the Lord and prayed in unison, reading the same words of Scripture. He wanted me to continue to experience His words as “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103), but to do so nestled in the heart of the Church.
This is the gift that Franciscan University of Steubenville has given me, and it’s a grace that’s been extended to me without me having to move. I still live in Florida, and that vibrant community is in Ohio. But the university has created an online experience that has been absolutely life-changing for me. For years I have wanted to delve deeper in the study of theology, but I couldn’t see how I could possibly find the time. With seven children and now in-laws and grandsons, my life and schedule are full. I work full-time in ministry, write, travel, and speak at conferences. How on earth could this dream of further study be possible? And was it selfish to pursue it? I played around with these thoughts for years until one day I realized that if I had just taken one class at a time, starting when the dream began, I would now be done. My degree would be in hand. And so I applied to the graduate school and began the journey toward my Master's in Theology.
This program was developed for people like me who are pursuing their studies while living full lives at home and in their careers. Is it demanding? Yes. I have to be self-disciplined with my time. But the way the classes are structured has made it possible to keep it all in balance, and the rewards far exceed any sacrifice I am making. I remember taking undergraduate religion classes in college and leaving them feeling more confused than anything. Franciscan offers an entirely different experience. The theological gaps are being filled in for me, explanation and proofs are being given, and my faith is being strengthened. The more I learn, the more my appetite grows for more.
It occurred to me the other day that I no longer had the same ache to belong that I used to struggle with. This surprised me, and I tried to figure out when that changed. I realized it was a gradual change—not something that happened overnight. It was one of the fruits of my study at Franciscan. As I have seen how Scripture is the soul of sacred theology, I’ve also seen how it’s within the heart of the Church that it truly comes to life. The pieces have come together for me. The richness of our faith started to unfold for me as phenomenal professors have made theology understandable. They’ve made sure their students don’t just learn truth, but also grow in love for Christ. My questions are being answered. Doubts are being settled. What I feel in class after class is an overwhelming sense that it’s all true. The ache has been satisfied.
This doesn’t mean I never hop on Zillow and picture myself living in my old stomping ground. But it does mean that I feel grounded and welcomed right where I am. If this can be accomplished in an online experience, I can only imagine the fullness of the experience for students on campus. To give credit where credit is due, I must thank Franciscan University of Steubenville for welcoming me home and making me feel like family.
P.S. I invite you to explore all the online graduate programs offered by Franciscan University of Steubenville. It’s never too late to embark on a new educational journey!
What does it mean to live the good life? How can I be happy? What choices will get me there? How we answer these questions has everything to do with the voices we choose to listen to. A life is formed through many small, seemingly insignificant decisions. Bit by bit, we become the result of choices that we all too often make without much reflection.
As summer ends, many of us are feeling that our schedules have heated up. We're jumping back in to life with varied degrees of readiness and are determined to start well. Our focus turns to our calendars, and it's tempting to assume that as long as we are checking off everything on the agenda, we're nailing it. But how are our hearts doing in the midst of the increase in activity? Are we riding the rollercoaster of appointments and check-lists without making sure our minds and hearts are in the right place?
How our day unfolds and feels has less to do with our circumstances and activities than our mindset. While we can't control which events we'll encounter, we can always decide what our attitude will be. Will we filter everything that happens through a lens of gratitude? Will we be kind to ourselves by seeing ourselves through God's eyes? Will we look at suffering as something that always has purpose?
More and more, I am convinced that getting our attitude in the right place has everything to do with how we start each day.
St. Josemaria Escriva coined a phrase that I think is so compelling: the heroic minute. He writes,
The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation; a supernatural reflection and…up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God's help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.¹
I realize that reading the word mortification probably makes you want to run for the hills. Who wants to start the day with something that sounds unpleasant? But stay with me for a minute. How do you feel when you get up and are behind the eight ball before things have even begun? Your first movements are rushed, requests come at you and require your attention, and all you can think is that you have got to clear your head and get some coffee. It's starting the day reacting instead of responding. It's feeling under siege and not knowing exactly why. It's also entirely avoidable.
Giving God the first minutes of your day will pay dividends later. I promise you He will multiply your time. You'll get more done and have a peaceful heart while doing it.
But it's not just a matter of hauling your body out of bed. Resetting your mind is the critical step if you want your day to be the best it possibly can. Which begs the questions:
Which mindset will best equip me to face the day with inner strength and gratitude?
How do I gain that mindset?
St. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We renew our minds by looking at things from God's perspective. This is something we need to do every day. Otherwise our thoughts and emotions will be in the driver's seat, and the ride will be anything but smooth. The best mindset is God's, and we gain it by listening to Him. While few people hear His audible voice, we all can hear His voice speaking through Scripture.
As you head into this new season, I pray that you will make Scripture reading a high priority in your life. Doing this in the context of authentic community makes it even more transformative. The Walking with Purpose Bible studies are formatted to make it easy to read the Bible each day. Instead of opening up to a random verse, you're guided to relevant passages and questions for reflection that help you apply what you've read. The readings give your mind something to chew on for the day. If you actually apply what you read, you will make significant progress in the spiritual life. What I've written relates to the problems, heartaches, and searching that I've experienced over the years. As I've traveled and spoken to thousands of women, I've had the privilege of listening to them unburdening their hearts. I've found that our struggles are universal. We are not alone. My writing aims to touch the heart, strengthen the will, and enlighten the mind. The goal is transformation- that what we read would impact how we live.
But what if you can't start your day this way? No worries. Just look for the first pocket of quiet in your schedule. It always comes, but we usually don't notice because we've fill it with mindless scrolling through our social media feeds or checking our email. What might change if instead of grabbing your phone, you did a short Bible study? It'll just take fifteen minutes, but the impact of that choice will be felt throughout the day.
Much of what I've written speaks of God's unconditional love for you, and everything I've written should be filtered through that perspective. When God asks us to get moving, or change a bad habit, or do something that feels out of our comfort zone, it is always because He wants what is best for us. He is not a cosmic kill joy. He is a good Father who wants His children to flourish.
May what you read travel from your mind to your heart, going beyond information to transformation. May you meet Jesus in the pages of His Word, and may your trust in Him grow. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen,” (Jude 24-25).
With you on the journey,
¹ St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way (NY: Doubleday, 1982), 33.
“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” James 1:17
The landscape of our mind will determine the quality of our day. If our mindset is one of gratitude, contentment will follow. In the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld. One attitude or the other becomes a way of life.” This requires a refusal to fall into the pit of self-pity.
Self-pity causes our focus to turn inwards, and things get very dark, very quickly. When we allow a litany of our woes to run through our minds, self-defeating thoughts begin to build up and cloud our ability to see anything good. Lies like “things will never change” start to make sense, and we head down the path to despair.
The antidote is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Even the most miserable circumstances contain an opportunity for growth. We can thank God for this. I have found that this is critical when I feel stuck in a situation I hate. Instead of asking God, “Why is this happening to me?” I ask Him, “What are you trying to teach me?”
I have begun asking God this question in the midst of chaos, and then telling Him that I want to learn every single bit of the lesson this time around so that I don't have to return to the same set of miserable circumstances to try to learn better later. This is one of the reasons why giving in to escapisms gets in the way of our maturity, and does not ultimately result in happiness.
If those hard circumstances return, it's tempting to assume that the original lesson must never have been learned and to become discouraged as a result. But this isn't necessarily the case. If you did learn the lesson- if the trial resulted in spiritual growth and maturity- then coming up against those same circumstances again means that God is doing a deeper healing. It's the peeling of an onion; the growth is going to be more profound.
Every good and perfect gift in your life comes from God. That gift may come in packaging that you don't like, but if you are willing to open it up anyway, the lessons you will learn will be life-changing. It will be the difference maker between you becoming an immature and superficial person or a person of depth, wisdom and maturity.
What are you trying to teach me right now? Help me to learn everything you have for me in my current circumstances. Amen.
“Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” 1 Samuel 15:19
If we can't wait to tell our girlfriends about our new favorite Netflix series, you can be sure that when we taste the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, we'll want other people to experience the same. Nowhere is that desire more intense than when mothers want to pass their faith to their children. I'm often asked about good resources for this, and what to do about older kids who have stopped coming to us for advice and who probably aren't listening to us much at all. It would be so simple if the solution was found in a book or a program that I could recommend. But that's not what I've seen to be the most effective. Here's what I think is the total game changer: MAMAS WHO ARE RADICALLY OBEDIENT TO GOD.
In 1 Samuel, we find Saul, a man who stood head and shoulders above all the Israelites. God chose him as Israel's first king, but even with all his accolades, good looks, brawn, and leadership opportunities, Saul had self-esteem issues. We know this from the words of the prophet Samuel, Israel's spiritual leader. In I Sam. 15, Samuel was calling Saul out for not obeying the Lord. Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before a battle, but fear crept in, patience wore thin, and Saul took matters into his own hands and did it himself.
The first words out of Samuel's mouth when he saw Saul was this: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:17) He then went on to ask Saul why he didn't obey the voice of the Lord after being given clear instructions.
Samuel was basically saying, “Saul, even though you don't think you are adequate or amount to much, God has chosen you for a really important task. He anointed you to LEAD. He told you to obey. So what were you thinking?!”
Saul responded by saying, “I have obeyed the Lord. I went on the mission he sent me on. These are all the things I did do. Why the obsessive attention to minute details? I obeyed in the big things. Isn't that good enough?”
And Samuel's answer brought down the hammer; “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Then the news was delivered that God had rejected Saul as king. Obedience didn't just matter in the big stuff. God was concerned with the details.
So back to our kids and our desire to pass our faith to them. There are great materials and programs out there, and we are wise to expose our kids to them. But there is nothing that will have greater effect on our children than our own radical obedience- not just in the big things, but in the little day-to-day decisions that most people in our lives don't see but our children do.
Romans 12:1 says that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This is a picture of us offering everything we have on an altar to God. It's a declaration that we are willing to take our hands off our lives and let God be utterly in charge. It's giving Him the right to call the shots on the big things and the little things. It's committing to a life of prayer where we are in touch with God throughout the day so that we recognize the small ways He's asking us to obey, not just the big and obvious ones. It's committing to radical obedience where we do what He has asked ALL THE WAY, RIGHT AWAY. This is what our kids notice. This is what impacts them deeply.
Our kids are asking the question, “Is this faith thing for real? Does Jesus really make that big a difference?” And they look to our lives more than our words for the answer.
We hear that call to offer our lives as living sacrifices-to obey radically-and all too often we say, “God, I'll obey you if….”.
Make no mistake. Whatever is on the other side of that word “if” is what we want and worship most. That is what we are willing to sacrifice for. And our kids know it. They see it. We all worship something. Whether it's comfort, a career, a relationship, status… there is something that we will give anything to have and hold onto. God asks that it be HIM. He asks that our obedience not be tied to conditions.
The only way we will ever be able to obey Him in this way is if we see Him as infinitely wise and infinitely kind. We need to know Him in order to trust Him. This is why we delve into Scripture- so that we can know Him better. So that we can see evidence of His wisdom in order to trust in His plan for our lives. In order to hear of His kindness so that we remember He is utterly FOR US.
Where is God asking you to obey right now? What choice is in front of you? Who will you worship in this moment? What is holding you back?
I pray that we can follow hard after God in the big and in the small, because what our world needs is women whose trust in God translates into brave and radical obedience. Being up to date on our social media feeds, having perfectly organized homes, nailing it with deliverables at work- all of that feels great. But the simple acts of obedience CHANGE THE WORLD.
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in February 2017.
This post is for all the people out there who are not eating popsicles or frolicking on the beach this summer.
To narrow it further…
It's for you, my friend, you who are in the middle of a storm of circumstances that make you want to run away.
It's for you, my friend, you who want to scream with frustration, but recognize you need to hold it together.
It's for you, my friend, you who are having a hard time reconciling who you know God to be and how He feels to you right now.
It's for you, my friend, you who feel so alone and so certain that no one understands what you are going through.
It's for you, my friend, you who feel it's all up to you, and think you just might go under if you don't get some relief.
God sees you. He sees that despite all that is weighing on you and overwhelming you, you are remaining faithful and are staying put. He doesn't look at this as a paltry effort. In fact, He, more than anyone, knows what this is costing you.
God is holding you. Your circumstances feel crushing. He is underneath you, holding you up. I know you can't see Him, but I promise you, He is there.
Two things in particular make suffering through a crisis especially hard. One is not knowing why we are having to go through this. If we had an answer to the question of why, there is very little we could not endure. But we usually don't know, which means trust and faith are required. They are needed most when they are the hardest to hold on to.
The second thing that makes a crisis especially miserable is the fact that we so often don't know what to do. If we just had clear instructions, even if we didn't want to do what was required, we could at least force ourselves to move forward. But so often, when our lives are in a free fall, we aren't sure what we can grab hold of. We desperately want someone to tell us exactly how to keep going, yet the uniqueness of our situations prevents that from happening.
I don't presume to know what your crisis entails, but I want to share a few truths that have been lifelines to me when my life feels chaotic and my circumstances are knocking the wind out of me. I pray they are of help to you. They don't answer the question of why, but perhaps they give you some steps to take when you aren't sure where to go and the waves keep crashing over you.
1. Do the next right thing.
You have not been given a strategic plan that addresses every possible obstacle. I get that. I know it would be helpful if you had one. God is keeping you very close at the moment, and only shining a light on the next step. So just do one thing at a time. Just keep asking yourself, “What's the next ‘right thing' to do?” No matter how small the task, if we do it for God, it infuses the day with purpose. When we are in the middle of a crisis, it's not a time to tackle big projects or challenges. But we can do small things and infuse them with tremendous love.
As the Blessed Mother said at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5). Do whatever Jesus tells you. The way he does this is by helping us to identify the next right thing that our duty in life requires. We ask the Lord, “What is the next right thing that you would like me to do?” It might be unloading the dishwasher or calling a friend to apologize. The next step is to do that next thing for God's glory, not our own. And this changes everything.
If the next right thing feels insignificant, say to the Lord, “I am going to fold this load of laundry for your glory. I entrust the results to you.” Suddenly, this simple activity has become an opportunity for you to encounter God. He is present there with you, delighting in the fact that you are doing the next right thing with a good attitude.
If the next right thing is something that feels overwhelming, say to the Lord, “I am going to step out and do what feels difficult for your glory. I entrust the results to you.” If it goes well, the glory goes to God. If it doesn't go well, the results of it rest with God. Neither the success nor the failure rests on you.
2. Make no changes.
When we are in a crisis, our desire for relief can cause us to question all sorts of previous decisions. We have thoughts like these:
“Why should I keep praying? It doesn't seem to be making much of a difference.”
“Why did I volunteer to help in that way? Forget it. All I can do is take care of myself.”
“Why am I working this wretched job? I can't take it anymore. I'm quitting.”
“Why did I marry this person? I have got to get out of this. I'm leaving.”
When these are our thoughts, we are playing right into the enemy's trap. He is literally jumping up and down with glee and whispering into our ears, “Do it. Get out of it. Quit. You've had enough.”
Here's my advice (which I actually got from St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Discernment of Spirits): DON'T MAKE ANY CHANGES. Stay steady at the wheel. Just get through this chaotic storm. When things calm down, that's when you can re-evaluate your decisions. But not right now.
3. Amp up your spiritual disciplines.
I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but this is critical. We have to fight back. If we lay down like we're already dead, the enemy will be emboldened and mess with us more. If you do more spiritually (just a little bit more- nothing crazy), he will flee. He is a coward. He is weak, and a defeated foe. Get up and fight back. If you previously prayed ten minutes a day, pray fifteen. If you normally go to Mass once a week, go an additional time. If you feel like frowning at everyone you meet, smile instead.
4. Practice gratitude.
Even if it's not what you are feeling, write down what you are grateful for. Do this every day of the crisis. Fill an entire page with gratitude each morning. Type it if your hand gets sore. If you run out of big stuff, thank God for the warm water in your shower. Thank Him for the fact that you don't have malaria. Unless you do. Then come up with something else. The point is, keep thinking until you find things you have that you would be sad if you did not.
God may feel cruel to you right now. I promise you- He is not cruel or capricious. He is a tender and kind Father. He is holding you, and what is crushing you is pressing you closer to His chest. This too shall pass. THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Consolation will come. This will not last forever. “The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are underneath you.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
With you in the storm,
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.
A risk we all run when we love others lavishly is neglecting to take care of ourselves. What begins as a passion of the heart-a pure desire to help-can actually place us in a dangerous position where we find it hard to stay faithful. When we coast on the fumes of a life that lacks spiritual discipline, we can find that we begin to blend in, and are no longer offering hope and a better way. We're just like everyone else-no different.
Years ago, I was driving home from my parents' house with my daughter. Barreling down the highway at 70 mph, we noticed smoke billowing from the hood. Just in time, I pulled over, as our engine blew up. We couldn't believe it. The car had shown no signs of any trouble up to this point. Imagine my mortification when I realized that the engine had blown up simply because I had failed to EVER change the oil. I guess I just got busy with life and forgot. I didn't take seriously how essential it was to follow the basic directions for taking care of the car.
In that same way, we can be lax about the importance of spiritual discipline. We can coast through life, much as I was in my car, thinking that things that were done in the past were going to keep us going indefinitely. We can have heart and passion, and still lose everything if we ignore these practices.
What does this look like?
It's going through life, too busy to pray.
It's having a schedule that is so full of activities and appointments that there is no time for meaningful relationships and a connection to a faith community.
It's getting up and getting going in the morning, without taking time to read Scripture.
It's having priorities out of order, so that no time is taken to protect and nurture important relationships.
May God bless you with a daily dose of all that you need to love and serve well,
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in March 2013.