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What a start to the year. Just when we’d packed away the Christmas decorations and swept away the pine needles, chaos erupted. Some might say things have gotten worse; others would say it’s always been this messy, and we’re just seeing more evidence of what lies below the surface. Regardless of all that I see that is not right, my faith tells me that there is much that is right, and I need to build on that. I don’t know about you, but I need to have a fresh attitude as I journey through January, even if my circumstances haven’t changed much.

This has led me to delve into some reading about the virtue of joy. If you’ve spent much time in a Walking with Purpose Bible study, then you’ve already encountered the truth that joy is not found in a perfect state of affairs. Whatever it is that we think will guarantee happiness is simply the next rung on an ever-expanding ladder. We never get to a place where enough is enough, and those who keep trying to get there end up disappointed and often bitter. But even when we understand this lesson and know that perfect circumstances will never be our reality (they won’t satisfy anyway), we can still find joy to be elusive.

We’re promised in Galatians 5:22 that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, which means it’s a gift given to us—something supernaturally infused into our being. That being said, I think that for many of us it resides deep down in the soul, so deep down that it doesn’t make its way up to our faces. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens described one of his characters as a woman “who called her rigidity religion.”[1] Sadly, there are quite a few examples of this in our day as well, but that would never have been said of Jesus.

Jesus has gone before us and gives an example of how to live joyfully in the midst of unrest and severe hardship. We read in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.” We’re encouraged to “consider him” so that we don’t “grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3). St. Catherine of Siena’s words, “All the way to heaven is heaven,” suggests that it is possible to follow His example. 

But how?
What do we do when the way to heaven doesn’t feel very heavenly?
Where does joy come from, and how can we get it to bubble up so it’s our lived experience, rather than a virtue just out of reach?
And does it really matter?
What’s at stake if we lack joy?

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson wrote about a friend who was a dean in a theological seminary. He would occasionally call a student into his office to share these words:

You have been around here for several months now, and I have had an opportunity to observe you. You get good grades, seem to take your calling to ministry seriously, work hard and have clear goals. But I don’t detect any joy. You don’t seem to have any pleasure in what you are doing. And I wonder if you should not reconsider your calling into ministry. For if a pastor is not in touch with joy, it will be difficult to teach or preach convincingly that the news is good. If you do not convey joy in your demeanor and gestures and speech, you will not be an authentic witness for Jesus Christ. Delight in what God is doing is essential in our work.[2]

St. Teresa of Calcutta said that “joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Our authentic witness for Christ is on the line. We are what He has chosen to work with, for better or for worse. We are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). So how do we grow in the virtue of joy? I have discovered three things that are currently helping me in this regard.

#1: There is joy in obedience
The equation “joy = obedience” is one I was taught as a young child, and I am so grateful for it. There’s so much that we cannot control, but we can always choose how we respond to our circumstances. While we don’t know what God thinks about every subject, there is a tremendous amount that we do know in terms of how He wants us to react and behave. When we live in such a way that we can end our day knowing we did all we could to obey God, a deep sense of satisfaction results. We remain under the umbrella of God’s eternal protection, and this brings us an abiding joy, uncoupled from our circumstances.

#2: There is joy in managing expectations
One of the biggest barriers to joy is unmet expectations. Things don’t go as we hoped, and discouragement sets in. But what if the expectations were problematic to begin with? I have found that when I’m disappointed, it’s good to examine my expectations by asking myself the following questions:

What expectation did I have that’s not been met?
Was that expectation based on a promise of God that I can find in Scripture?
What should I do to change the expectation?
What can I learn from this that will affect my expectations in the future?

#3: There is joy in Jesus
Jesus is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). He is joy itself. If we really believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist (John 6:51), if we really believe the He is present in the body of believers (Ephesians 1:22-23), if we really believe that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there (Matthew 18:20), then we need to really pause and consider what we are missing if we are not gathering for worship. We need Him. If you haven’t been able to go to Mass since the pandemic began (I know this varies from diocese to diocese), then you are going to feel that absence. He is not absent, but one of the primary ways He infuses us with joy is something that, for many, has been out of reach. 

So let’s cling to Jesus in whatever way we can, trusting Him to fulfill His promises. This is the path where joy is found.

Grace and peace,
Lisa

[1] Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (New York: Heritage, 1939), 198.
[2] Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 191.

“I used to believe that prayer changes things. But now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.” - St. Teresa of Calcutta

Raised in a faith-filled home that affirmed the power of prayer, I also grew up in a family of eight  whole-heartedly believing that the Lord had empowered me to be self-reliant. After all, hadn't He knitted me into the bossy, older sister and consummate planner whose family nickname was “Mrs. Take Charge”? I was confident the path was mine to direct, and any roadblocks on the journey were my responsibility. I felt that the Lord was leaving it to me to figure it out, shake it off and get on with it. And so I did through college, career and marriage; keeping God at arm's length as I plotted our path.  

Our journey veered off-course dramatically when our second child, Will, was born. He came into the world with an extreme leg length discrepancy and offset right foot. We questioned what this would mean for his life. Would he ride a bike? Run the bases in Little League? Even walk on his own? So I mapped it all out to God very simply-heal his leg. And I prayed. And prayed. Multiple experts told us that other than casting and bracing, there was nothing we could do for 5 years; we'll watch and see, they said, to monitor his growth and analyze what could be done surgically.  So I soldiered on, waiting for Him to answer me and bring the miracle.

For seven years, Will wore a heavy brace 24/7, and underwent physical therapy 3 times per week.  At every hospital scan, I prayed while waiting to see how much the leg length difference had grown, and through decisions to be made as to when to subject him to the arduous surgery and the painful recovery required. And I made my plans; I prayed that the Lord would take this decision from us by growing Will's leg.

When Will turned seven, a sequence of surgeries and ongoing physical therapy were offered.  This radical treatment included the insertion of metal rods and screws that we needed to adjust daily to pull the bones apart. My GPS wasn't syncing with my plans, but my prayers had changed.

Along Will's recovery, my prayers for miraculous healing for his bone evolved into prayers for the Lord's strength. I asked for His strength to comfort Will, to encourage a loving father who couldn't bear the painful exercises, to soften the heart of an older brother often overlooked during those difficult years, and to reach out those who stayed away because they found it so hard to witness. I realized that I had turned over my map to the One who had written the plan long ago.

After two more surgeries, the miracles of God's design came into focus. As we read in Isaiah, His ways are so much greater than anything I could have imagined or asked for.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

God's miracle was found in our family's providential move before Will's birth to a sleepy little town a 45 minute drive from one of only three hospitals in the U.S. that offer the radical orthopedic procedure needed. God's miracle was the gift of a pediatric physical therapist who lovingly and diligently worked with William multiple times a week for over 8 years; a seemingly guardian angel on earth. God's miracle was the community who fed us, made Will laugh, and just showed up. God's miracle was the science research that created a way to grow bone 3 inches so a child born with a mangled leg could grow up to play tennis on his high school varsity team.

The greatest answer to the prayers I did not ask is our son's unwavering trust in the Lord and his unwavering faith. Not once did Will ask why he had been born with this condition or refuse to do what was needed-not one day.  I asked Will if he'd ever felt abandoned by God for all he'd been through. He pondered a minute, then responded, “Mom, you took care of me, Dad took care of you, and God took care of all of us.” He carries this faith to this day as a college student, through campus ministry and ongoing volunteer commitments that allow him to share his incredible gift to call out and walk alongside those who suffer. While I would love to take credit for this incredible faith, I cannot. I confess that it is a gift I never considered asking for; I was too busy trying to navigate the journey on my own.

I am most certainly a work in progress; I constantly wrestle with my desire to map the route for  God when the path winds off-road or becomes overgrown with brambles. But when I am at my weakest, I reflect back on all the ways the Lord has responded to my petitions. I am strengthened through prayers of surrender and buoyed by the sisters in Christ I have since found at WWP.  

Through my WWP parish program, I found direction in the Lord's Word, insights in our lessons, encouragement from daily prayer, and welcome from a group who didn't judge me for trying to “take charge” of God. And now, working for WWP, I am honored to work alongside a dedicated team who demonstrate daily their beautiful faith and commitment to help Catholic women and girls across the U.S. to open their hearts to Christ.

For those of you still struggling with your own road map, please know that I am praying for you. And for those of you who now rest in the joy of having crossed the finish line, I pray that you will share the miracles now illuminated.

With love in Christ,

Laurie

 

Laurie Baschwitz is the Director of Participant Experience at WWP; leading our expansion, customer support and regional area coordinators to support our parish programs and independent studies for adult women, young adult women and middle school girls.  She resides in Westchester County, New York with her husband and two sons.

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