Nothing highlights my family’s failures and shortcomings like the Christmas season. The picture-perfect greeting cards of families in matching pajamas and those carefully crafted Instagram boxes that look like ads for Anthropologie (some of which are ads for Anthropologie) are fun to look at for about two seconds. Then the doors of comparison swing wide open and envy floods in. My attitude toward my “lived-in, cozy home and blessed family life” takes a fast turn, and suddenly all I can see is the cat vomit on the stairs, the dog pee on the couch, and the empty chair at my dinner table. Throw a dash of 2020 seasoning into the pot of imperfection and you’ve just made yourself a recipe for utter disappointment.
What is it about the Christmas season that can make our families feel more broken, more dysfunctional, more imperfect than any other time of year? What is the perfect family anyway?
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are our model for the family, and, as far as I can tell, they did not have the perfect family or the perfect Christmas. Not by our standards, at least. They had no money. No extended family around to help Mary give birth. No baby shower. No matching pajamas. Mary was a pregnant teenager on a donkey with a husband who failed to make hotel reservations ahead of time. And her baby? He was born into a total mess—and I am not even talking about his line of genealogy (which, by the way, includes prostitutes and murderers)—the literal, laid in a manger with no crib for a bed mess! And don’t even get me started on the smell of the animals she gave birth next to. If I were Mary, I would have looked around at my tiny mess of a family and thought, “Really, God? This is what I get for being obedient?”
It was far from perfect. And yet, it was God’s perfect plan.
This past Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. Pay attention to that. The Holy Family; not the Perfect Family. God isn’t looking for perfect families, you know. I doubt He’s even looking at Instagram. What He desires are holy families. What makes a family holy? Families that are obedient in their poverty. Families that surrender to the will and purpose of God. Families that understand suffering is, as Bishop Barron says, “God’s point of entry,” and “it is always in that suffering that we find our mission.”
So let me ask. Did you find your mission in 2020? Because talk about suffering!
I learned something this year, something only a year like 2020 could teach me. The imperfections in my family—the sufferings that a “perfect Instagram life” seem to magnify—are what bring me to the foot of the Cross. The mess I so desperately try to pray away and cover up with matching pajamas is necessary because it is the suffering that offers me the opportunity to stand with our Blessed Mother Mary; to unite my sorrow with hers and our pain to Christ’s. And good grief, I know how that can sound horrible to someone who doesn’t know and love their Heavenly Mother and Father, but for me I’ve got to say that there is no safer, more beautiful, more perfect place to be. In all of my family’s imperfection, I discover the path that God calls me to when I meet Him at the cross. It is not the path that leads to the perfect life I want, but the path that leads to the holy life that I need. Look, 2020 kicked our butts for sure, and I am by no means making light of that. But if all we are looking at is what went wrong, we are going to miss everything that God set right. His lessons are always hidden in the most unusual and often painful details. He wastes nothing. He makes no mistakes. He knows perfectly well what He is doing.
As eager as we all are to hang up 2020 and press on ahead into better times, let us not be fooled into thinking that a new date on the calendar is going to magically change things. I am more than certain that what I suffer from and find imperfect on December 31 will still be what I suffer from and find imperfect on January 1. If the new year is where you are placing your hope right now, might I suggest you spend some pondering time with Mary and dig a little deeper. Because the new year is not what will change us. Holiness is.
And so my prayer for all of us as we approach the new year is this: we quit trying to be the perfect family and make holiness our goal. How? Pray for your family. Pray with your family. Love your family, mess and all. Because the mess is not only why Jesus was born but where He chose to be born. The mess is where we meet Jesus.
Wishing you and your family a very happy, holy, messy and imperfect new year.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. The year was 1991. I was sporting my fabulous color block blazer from Express, paired with black stirrup leggings, and authentic cowboy boots. Can you say fashionista? I was seated on the couch across from my therapist. I don’t recall the story I was sharing, but apparently, it wasn’t a happy one (I was in therapy after all), because when I finished she looked at me and said, “You say the saddest things with the biggest smile.” And then she smiled. I took that as a compliment.
You see, as a Catholic, humor is a very serious thing to me. As it says in the amazing book Victorious Secret, “there is nothing more tragic than a humorless Catholic,” and I have to agree with the author. Of course, I am the author, so disagreeing would be weird. But come on. Jesus was funny. Sure, I know, He suffered a lot. A real lot. But don’t reduce Him to only tears. The man was good looking and He laughed, and you know the ladies loved Him. A camel fitting through the eye of a needle? That was funny stuff back then! Like, serious stand-up material. And don’t get me started on the kind of partier He was. After all, He turned water into good wine, not the cheap box kind. He told stories and parables and was the original Twitter with His classic one-line zingers, usually directed at the Pharisees, who I will bet you any amount of money were not funny.
I don’t know why, but I have always seen the funny in all circumstances ever since I was small. The awful singer at my grandmother’s funeral? Funny. The actual dumpster fire we drove by on our way to driving a child in crisis to the hospital? Come on now. Funny. That one time I stayed so long after Mass in such deep personal prayer that I had no idea a funeral had begun, until I opened my eyes and saw the coffin next to me? SUPER funny. (For the record, out of respect, I stayed for the entire funeral. I am certain the talk amongst family and friends at the reception was, “Who the heck was the girl wearing jeans?” Trust me: had I known I was attending a funeral, I would have dressed better. I also would have packed tissues, because it didn’t matter that I had no idea who we were burying, singing Be Not Afraid gets me every time.)
Some think that finding humor in suffering is inappropriate. And I kind of get that. After the tragedy at my children’s school, there was this certain unspoken rule in our hearts about happiness. Basically, if you felt it, you had moved on. And how on earth does anyone move on from the unimaginable? You don’t, unless you are heartless. But since when did cheerfulness mean we are heartless? When did seeing the joy mean we didn’t care? When did setting yourself apart from the screaming and crying to tell a few jokes make you insensitive?
I struggled with this for a long while. Was I missing a gene of compassion? How on earth could I go through all the stuff that I have gone through (and oh, sweet sister, have I gone through stuff) and still find life funny? Is it just a coping mechanism? Am I pushing grief down, masking my true feelings? It was my coming upon a little blurb about Saint Philip Neri in The Magnificat, that made me feel a whole lot better about my love of what’s funny, no matter how dire the circumstance: “To have a sense of humor is to be wise enough to see things in proportion. Saint Philip Neri...[won]...hearts for Christ by the quality of his joy.”
It’s not that I think that suffering is funny. I don’t. It is 100% painful and insanely hard, and I wish it didn’t slap me in the face as often as it does. But what I do know is this: Every painful thing we endure here on earth doesn’t hold a candle to the feast and the joy and the goodie bags and the cake and who knows what else the Lord has planned for us in that big ol’ party in heaven! I hope that, like Saint Philip Neri, I see things in proportion.
As we slowly emerge out of the craziest months of our lives, bracing ourselves in anticipation as we wait for the next disaster, it would be good to ask, What is the quality of my joy? How do I see things? How do I view the world? Am I so focused on the tragedy of it all that I have failed to see the joy? Am I so wrapped up in the bad news and suffering, that I have forgotten the commission to spread the good news? Because truly, it is our confidence in God and dependence on Him that allows us to live out the joy of the Gospel and bring it to others no matter how distressing the circumstances or trials of our life are. We are an Easter people, after all, and “everything stinks!” is so not our song. Alleluia is! I give you permission to shout it. No matter what you’re facing right now. It is okay to be happy. It is not a crime to spread joy.
Proverbs 15:30 tells us, “A cheerful glance brings joy to the heart; good news invigorates the bones.” And I don’t know about you, but I have witnessed some seriously weary looking bones walking around this earth lately. Hearts are heavy and burdened and terribly afraid. The world could use more cheerful glances. The world is in dire need of some good news right about now. And who better to bring it than you?
We had waited all year for this moment. Giddy with excitement and overwhelmed by the beauty of the hotel we would call “home” for the next five days, we threw our suitcases in our room and then ran down to the lobby to grab a bite to eat. Before we finished our dinner, or unpacked our carefully chosen outfits (and good grief, they were cute), we heard the news. FLOURISH 2020, the Walking With Purpose Women’s Conference that we and 700+ other women couldn’t wait for, was not going to happen.
There is still a piece of me that remains in disbelief. Then there is that other piece of me; the larger piece that looks up to the heavens, winks at God, and says, “I see what you’re doing.”
And perhaps I have driven a few close friends crazy with what appears to be my lack of concern. But on the contrary, it is actually the refusal to fall into fear and disappointment, because here is the thing: every battle, every hardship, every trial and let down that I have endured in my life has prepared me for such a time as this. I have been trained, for better or worse, to look a hard season in its face; not trying to understand “why,” but rather, to look for the lesson. The defining moment that prepared me for such battles was the day a gunman entered my children’s elementary school, killing 20 first graders and six educators, turning life upside down in an instant, and wiping the calendar clear of every single plan we had made. It was the moment I learned the most important lesson that I will never forget: Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
There was a second lesson hidden in the sorrow and chaos that I cling to equally as hard: HE WILL RESTORE. And not only will He restore, but He will restore twice as much to you (Zechariah 9:12). This, my friends, has been my experience. God is in the business of extra. He super-sizes anything we bring Him. Give Him a fish, and He will hand you a seafood buffet. Give Him a few locust-eaten years, and He will make it all up to you and then some. And if He takes something precious out of your hands, you better believe it is because He has something greater to place back in them. He has more in store. He magnifies our dreams. Some of us believe this, and some of us hurt too much to dare to. But I promise, it is the truth.
Only a week after the cancellation of Flourish, Lisa Brenninkmeyer texted me with a Holy Spirit-inspired idea: “What I’d like to do for our women is something to help their Spiritual Communion next Sunday.” Immediately interested, I continued to read: “I am working on a Bible study using next Sunday’s readings.” She went on to fully describe Defining Moments; the format of this free Bible study, her plan to hop on social media every Saturday to give us a short teaching on the Gospel, and I mean honestly...I don’t think I had even unpacked my suitcase from the trip that never happened, and she had already written a Bible study?! Unbelievable.
And yet, totally believable.
Because this is what our God of hope does.
Our God is a God of abundance, double portion, and multiplication. He took our retreat—all that hard work, all that hope, all that energy, all that prayer, and the deep, deep desire to reach the hearts of 700+ women—and do you want to know what He did? He tripled it! He far exceeded our expectations! Through Defining Moments, Walking With Purpose is not only reaching more women than a retreat ever could have, but we are reaching entire families; engaging women and men in a whole new way, helping to prepare thousands of hearts, and challenging them to deeply feast on the Word. What looked like loss, the Lord turned into a win.
Whatever it is you have had to let go of, cancel, put on the back burner, say goodbye to, and wait another year for, I want you to know, I get it. The WWP Team gets it. But we also want you to know this: God wastes nothing. Your plans, hopes, dreams, and efforts matter to Him. So much so that He weeps alongside of you as you mourn. And yet, this is not the end of the story. God is still writing, you know. What appears dead to you, God will raise back to life. What you are suffering now, He will restore.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Hey Friends! Visit www.walkingwithpurpose.com/defining-moments to download our new FREE Bible study, Defining Moments, and receive it in your inbox every Monday. Then join Lisa Brenninkmeyer LIVE on Instagram and Facebook, this Saturday at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT, as she takes us deeper into the Holy Week Mass readings.
When unwanted and unexpected circumstances hit, we are faced with the unwelcome reminder that we are far less in control than we’d like. We’re reminded of our fragility and mortality, subjects we’d rather ignore.
Philippians 4:7 (NAB) promises that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” All too often, I equate that peace with feeling in control. But that isn’t what God has promised me. He’s promised me that HE is in control, and that if I truly believe that, I can experience peace. Pastor A.W. Tozer wrote, “The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.” Our belief in God should keep us from panic, despite our circumstances. Faith, not fear, should be in the driver’s seat.
What should be our witness to a watching world when panic encroaches? Should we respond differently because of our faith? It’s interesting that one of the things that caused early Christianity to spread like wildfire throughout the Roman empire was the way in which Christians courageously stepped into danger. When most fled the city of Caesarea because of the plague, the Christians stayed and cared for the sick and dying. The ripple effects of their compassion resulted in many conversions.
This does not mean we throw caution to the wind and act recklessly, but the knowledge that our ultimate safety rests with God, and that He has taken care of our eternity, should bring peace to our hearts. These truths should impact our anxiety levels.
In the words of Dr. Gregory Popcak, “Anxiety is meant to be a sign that we are facing imminent danger.” Are most of us facing imminent danger? What are the things we are afraid of? I would propose that most of us are scared about the wrong things. We’re scared about whether or not the job is secure, or scared that our reputation is tarnished and people don’t like or respect us, or scared that our level of comfort and health might change, or scared that our finances are going to take a turn for the worse, or scared that our children aren’t happy, or scared that our marriage is going to fail and we’ll be left alone. These are not small things. We look at the people we love and…we’re scared of divorce. Of being cheated on. Of mental illness. Of suicide. Of cancer. Of bankruptcy.
What are most people not afraid of? Eternity. Because they choose not to think about it or because they have a faulty understanding of what it is. As a result, all that matters is the here and now. This way of thinking is the true threat. The biggest threat—the biggest danger—is that the enemy might succeed in getting us to take our eyes off of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Is it possible that we are most afraid of the wrong things?
All too quickly we forget that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, RSV).
Please hear me. These verses are not saying that our suffering doesn’t matter to God—that He thinks what we are going through is no big deal. But what that verse is saying is that none of our suffering is without purpose, none of it is out of God’s control, and this life—this present suffering—is not all that there is. In the words of St. Clare of Assisi, “Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes like a shadow.” This is not the end of the line. We are just passing through. Let’s live with our eyes fixed on eternity. That’s the only way the peace that surpasses understanding can be ours.
With you on the journey,
 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1961), 2.
 Dr. Gregory Popcak, Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2018), 18.
She was up, dressed and out the door by 6am. “Bye!!” she joyfully shouted from the bottom of the staircase. My husband couldn’t believe that our 18 year old daughter, who is never out of bed before noon, was not only awake and dressed but happy about it. What got her up? Love.
My daughter was offered a job as an assistant make-up artist on a bridal photoshoot, and she was over the moon excited. Art is her gift and passion. It is where she thrives, becomes animated, and feels her most comfortable self. Art is her love, and no question about it, love is what got this girl out of bed.
I thought about this as I blow-dried my hair, mentally preparing myself for the day ahead. I wondered, what gets me out of bed in the morning?
There was a long stretch of time, which felt like forever and could possibly kill me, when I dreaded opening my eyes to see another day. My focus was on my circumstances, which were not very good, so I greeted each sunrise with fear and anxiety, worry and despair. I started sleeping in later just to avoid waking up, and going back to bed was the thing I looked forward to the most. It was a dark season of suffering that came with a cross I was unwilling to accept. Wanting the pain to just go away, I refused to love my cross.
And I know. You read that and think, who loves their cross? That’s crazy talk! You are right. It is crazy talk. But here is the thing: God is love, right? And this God who is love did some crazy things out of love for us, like taking on the whole world’s sins and willingly getting nailed to a cross. And after dying and being buried, three days later, He rose. Turns out, death could not hold Him. Why? Because love got Him up.
It’s just what love does. When my husband and I started dating, I came back from a business trip one winter night to find him standing outside of my upper east side apartment in below zero weather, holding a giant Christmas tree. He was freezing and tired, the tree was heavy, and the street was dark, but he didn’t care because he was in love. Love got him up.
When my child needed help that required the logistics and strength of a superhero, I didn’t think twice. I got in my car, and I drove in the dark, pouring rain for six hours. I never stopped once, and I prayed the entire time. Yes, I was scared, but that didn’t matter because I love my child. Love got me up.
And it’s funny, because in my head I struggle with love. I grasp onto the thought that God’s love for me is based on something I did to deserve it. I dwell on all of my past sins, convinced that it was something I did or did not do that has caused present sorrow. And so I pray those rosaries and recite those novenas and coordinate that program, all the while wondering, “Is this enough to be worthy of His love?” In his book Unbound, author Neal Lozano writes, “In our pride and self delusion we often believe that God loves us and forgives us because of something we did, that we somehow deserve the mercy of God. This deception leaves us in a very vulnerable place. We have been set up for the fall. The results? Every time we fail, we face the whisper of the accuser: “Does God love me?” (1)
Recently, in the midst of confessing my sins, the priest asked me, “When your children were born, what did they need to do for you to love them?” I laughed because the answer is obviously nothing. He pushed deeper and asked, “But why?” As grace poured down, my laughter turned into tears as I whispered, “Because they are mine.”
It was when that dark season led me to surrender that I was able to understand the depth of my sin and the meaning of God’s sacrifice. How can one love their cross? Because it was the suffering that led me to the reality of God’s love. And so I wake up early again. 5:00 AM. No matter the present trial, no matter the long suffering, no matter how tired or afraid. I get up. Not to pray all those rosaries, recite those novenas, and get to work on ministry. But simply to be with my Love. To sit with coffee in the presence of the One who loves me so much that while still a sinner, He died for me. To abide in the One who calls me His own.
What gets me up? Love.
It’s the answer to everything, really.
(1) Neal Lozano, Unbound: A Practical Guide To Deliverance (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2003), p. 74.
Are you worried about how everyone is going to get along this Christmas? Is there a pit in your stomach because you are dreading the interpersonal dynamics that are about to engulf your family? Does it seem like your family members revert back to childhood roles and behaviors when they get together? Is the cloistered life sounding pretty good to you right now? If this is how you are feeling, you are not alone.
Your family is a mess? Jesus’ family was dysfunctional, too. Just take a look at His family tree. Matthew 1:1-16 lays out His genealogy, and in it we find a liar, a cheat, a woman who slept with her father-in-law, a prostitute, a refugee, an adulterer, and a murderer. I’m not making this up. It’s all in there. These are some messed up people, my friends. God’s Word is meant for flawed families with real baggage and problems.
Could it be that God chose this particular family line for Jesus in order to teach us how He can redeem even the most broken families? What was amazing about the Holy Family is that they allowed God to write a new narrative with their lives, despite what had happened before. Instead of continuing in the same old patterns, they chose to sacrificially love in the hard places. They didn’t shrink back when love became costly. They leaned in. As a result, the pain and wounds weren’t transmitted—they were redeemed.
It’s been said that friends are the family you choose. In the words of Beth Moore:
We form most friendships out of personal preferences, but we’re not automatically the better for it…Many of us have distanced ourselves from extended family because we’ve replaced them with people we prefer. Though some elements of the transition are justified and godly, others are selfish. Let’s face it. Family is more trouble than friendship, and the fear that we might share similarities with some of our members also carries an indictment too strong to face on a regular basis. For one thing, we can drop friends more easily when the relationship becomes inconvenient. Here’s the rub and maybe the help: God chose our family even if we didn’t. Even the challenges they pose can be effective motivation to seek His throne, His help, and His healing (AKA deal with our stuff). 
Jesus has factored the dysfunction of your family into His plan for your good. All the garbage, the aggravating habits, the opposing political views, the childhood hurts, the unkind words, the unspoken judgments, the laziness of one and the workaholic nature of the other, the mental illness (yes, even that)… God can use all of it to benefit you and yours. It’s through the rub of our closest relationships that God chisels our hearts to better resemble His.
While friendships we can choose and discard at will may be easier, easy does not always equal good. Very often, good = hard. Nowhere is this truer than with families.
What might change if in addition to issuing gifts to our family this Christmas, we issued a challenge? What if we challenged one another to press in when we want to disengage from each other? What if we challenged each other to stay and love in the hard places, to have honest conversations, to face our demons, and to hold each other during the process? What if we committed to each other that home would be a safe place to let it all unravel… to follow the thread of tears and hurts… inviting the Lord to heal and redeem us each step of the way?
I know this isn’t easy and that most of us would rather numb out or distance ourselves from the dysfunction. But perhaps a better choice would be to encourage each other to go to counseling—calling out any shame under the surface and firmly rejecting it. Maybe things would change if instead of shutting down or being distracted, we said, “Tell me more.” What watershed moment might come if we had the courage to ask for or offer forgiveness?
There is no perfect family here on earth. We all have flaws galore, no matter how well we can pull it together when the neighbors come by. Jesus doesn’t ask us to come to Him when we’re cleaned up. He asks us to invite Him into the mess. Isn’t this the message of the manger? That’s where He first showed up, to the manure, animals, smells, and discomfort. Invite Him into your home and family this Christmas. I promise you—He will come.
Praying for you and yours,
 Beth Moore, Stepping Up: a Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent (Nashville, TN: Lifeway Publishing, 2007), 155.
As a Catholic newbie, I think the biggest mistake I make is trying to figure out God. I sometimes can't help asking myself (and Him) why things happen the way they do.
To be fair to myself, it is human nature to ask, to wonder, to want to learn. Even though my pastor reminds us on Sundays of “the mysteries of faith” (chanted in his delightfully off-key voice), the mystery-solver in me just can't seem to let some things go. And by some things I mean the bad things; especially the bad things that happen to good people.
I've been thinking a lot about Sue, a woman in my parish who has four children, and who has the worst illness I think I've ever heard of. Sue has ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is very rare, affecting fewer than 20,000 people a year. It is a devastating disease in the way that it attacks the body, and there is no cure.
I haven't seen her since she was diagnosed in December. I've been thinking about her a lot recently, though, and wondering if she thinks the way I do. Is she asking God why-why she must suffer so horribly? Sue is Catholic, and I wonder if her faith is being tested or if it's what gets her through it all.
Sometimes I picture myself in Sue's situation, and I test my faith in an imaginary way. If I told you that I could be 100% buoyed by my relationship with Christ and the promise of eternal life while fighting a terminal illness, I'd be lying.
Over the summer, I ran into a friend at a party who gave me a quick update on Sue, which birthed in me an almost manic need to write Sue a letter. I thought constantly about the letter I wanted to write and agonized for weeks about the words I'd choose. Clearly, phrases like “you'll beat this… you're strong... you have the best doctors” wouldn't work at all, and standard get-well-soon sentiments just don't apply when you're fighting a losing battle with ALS.
Could I find the right words in the Bible? I seriously considered googling “Scripture verses for sick people.” Then I decided one night as I lay sleepless, deep in thought about Sue, that Lisa Brenninkmeyer (founder of Walking with Purpose) would have the right words for my letter.
The next morning I turned to the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart (authored by Lisa), and specifically to Lesson 15, which is about the role of suffering in our lives. I expected to be able to pluck Lisa's favorite Bible verse related to suffering right out of Lesson 15, and scrawl it onto a notecard for Sue.
In her wisdom, Lisa writes in the introduction to Lesson 15:
“I don't know about you, but when I am in the vise grip of suffering, I don't really want to hear someone whose life looks a heck of a lot easier than mine quoting Romans 8:28: 'We know that all things work for good for those who love God…'”¹
Fair point. I read on.
“When we encounter suffering, nothing robs us of peace like expectations.”²
We expect to understand God, Lisa says, and when we don't, confusion shreds our faith. We expect God's definition of happiness to be the same as ours, but when things go wrong, we wonder if He cares. And we expect to see evidence of God when we need him, but often, he remains invisible.
Opening Your Heart Lesson 15 is five days of learning, Bible study, and reflection. After taking in this lesson a second time, and clearing my heart and mind of all those expectations, I came out of it with a tremendous sense of peace. And I wrote a card to Sue and put it in the mail.
I should tell you that I didn't find words for Sue in Lesson 15, but I found peace and comfort for my heart, and a clear mind to come up with the right words all on my own.
I told Sue she was an amazing mother, that her four kids were terrific (which they really are), and that I was praying for her.
PS: After I finished writing this blog, a well-known truth from Scripture landed in my email in-box. I find it so comforting and feel compelled to include it here:
It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (July 2018), 173.
² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (July 2018), 174.
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,
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.