At the close of a Religious Education meeting, we were handed a prayer card, and in unison, recited it together. It was the Prayer of Abandonment. A beautiful prayer. And by beautiful, I mean terrifying and dangerous.
“Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will….”¹
When we finished the prayer it took everything inside of me to not stand up on top of my chair and shout out for all to hear, “Really, everybody? I mean, do you really mean that? DO WITH ME WHAT YOU WILL? Or, do you have no idea what you even just prayed?”
I want to give it all over to God. I want to do His will. But not always. It's not like I enjoy carrying my burdens alone. It is not like I want to add weight to my cross. I would love nothing more than to cast all my cares (plus a few loads of laundry) on Him and move on with my day; anxiety free, iced latte in hand, and yes- make that a Venti, with coconut milk, thank you very much. And yet, there is always something that trips me up. Always something that gets me running back to the foot of the cross to pick up a few items I had laid down, because I mean... what if He doesn't take care of things in the way that I asked? If you ask me, this whole surrender thing, while great in theory, is downright scary.
In my quest to uncover the secret to surrender, I have learned some valuable things. The biggest surprise of all? Fear has nothing to do with it.
Uncovered secret #1: Surrender is not a “one and done” deal. When I had to make a difficult call that involved the well-being of my own child, I was under the false impression that if I did this one hard thing for God-surrendered it all and trusted in Him-surely, the trial with my child would end. This, sweet friends, was not, and is not, the case. Surrender is not some big gesture we make just once, wipe our hands free of, and sit back with a bag of chips; as fabulous as that might sound. But rather, it is a daily choice. We surrender right up until our very last breath.
Uncovered secret #2: Surrender is not the same as compliance. Why do so many addicts do everything right in treatment, get discharged, only to relapse hours later? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with will power, and everything to do with surrendering to HIS will. It is no coincidence that the 12-step program, which is so successful for those who work the steps, begins with admitting you are not in control and handing yourself over to a higher power.
And I suppose, in many ways, I have been nothing more than a religious addict; eager to comply with all of the rules and regulations so when I come face to face with my Maker, He can look at my life and see how well I highlighted verses in my Bible and recited my morning prayers. But this isn't what God wants from me, is it? A life of compliance disguised as surrender might get me out of trouble for a while, but it won't secure my safety. If I simply check the boxes without the buy-in, I'm not really letting go of control, and let's be honest... I'm not fooling anyone. Not even myself.
A few days ago, I found myself wrestling with the enemy's invitation to use this past week's “latest upset” as reason enough to take the reins out of the Lord's hands and put them firmly back in my own. Sure, a few trials back I was good to admit that God was in full control, but now? Now, I am not so sure. And as I struggled to understand how it can be possible to remain at peace when things are in pieces-how I could possibly surrender all to a God who appears to have bought me a season pass to the world's fastest roller coaster of events and emotions-I realized why surrendering to His will and letting go of mine was so hard. It wasn't because I was afraid. It was because I was discouraged.
Disappointments are a part of life, but allowing them to give way to discouragement is something we choose. In Charles Stanley's Life Principles Daily Bible, he writes, “You should not allow the challenges that arise to steal your enthusiasm or confidence in Him.”² I'll admit. I love this. I agree with this. But I fail at it often. And by often, I mean yesterday. Thankfully, Stanley uses Matthew 1:24 to support this life principle: “Joseph did not allow his initial disappointment to give way to discouragement. Rather, he accepted God's will, obeyed the Lord, and brought Mary home to live with him.”
As someone who so easily allows unexpected circumstances to take control of me, I find great comfort in this. I have come too far to allow disappointment to steal my joy, and I will bet you have too. As Stanley says, “You never have to be the victim of your feelings. You can choose to look to God, listen, learn, and move ahead.”³
Today, you have the power to let go and surrender from whatever it is that has you held emotionally hostage; to really buy-in and give it all to God.
Accept God's will, obey the Lord, and bring Mary into your home.
Put yourself totally in His hands.
I promise, there is no safer place to be.
¹ Prayer of Abandonment, Br. Charles of Jesus (de Foucauld)
² The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20
³ The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20
Has God ever asked something of you that feels really hard, and you look around and feel a little singled out? Do you see other people who seem to have it easier, and you wonder why He's asking so much of you and seemingly letting them get away with less?
God loves us too much to leave us where we are. He always draws us closer to Himself, and in doing so, gently reveals things that need to go or need to be gained in order for us to make that spiritual journey. This is the process of growing in spiritual maturity. It's an intensely personal process; no two journeys are alike. What God asks of one might not be what He is asking of another, and as a result, obedience can sometimes feel lonely.
But we aren't alone. St. Paul encourages us on the spiritual journey with these words:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1).
Who are the witnesses he's talking about?
Let me start by telling you who I'd like the witnesses to be. I'd like them to be every person in close proximity to me geographically. I'd like them to be every person I brush shoulders with. I'd like them to be every person whose opinion really matters to me. I'd like to be continually surrounded by people who witness to the goodness of my choices. “Way to go!” “The sacrifice is worth it!” “You inspire me!” This is what I want to hear.
But all the people here on earth that we know and love aren't the people St. Paul is referring to. The witnesses of Hebrews 12 are the saints that have gone before us. They fought the good fight, they have finished the race, they have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). They are now in heaven, looking down on us, and cheering us on. They are shouting from heaven, “It's worth it! I know that everything on earth seems all important, but once you get here, every sacrifice will be rewarded and the sufferings will pale in comparison to the joy you've got in store!”
This scripture passage challenges us to embrace our particular race. Not the race your best friend is running. Or the course God set your sister on. It isn't the one your husband is running, either. It's YOUR RACE. It's your particular spiritual journey to heaven, and God has handpicked certain surrenders, certain struggles, certain obstacles that are the exact best means for you to grow more like Him and spend eternity with Him.
Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on Him as we run towards heaven. If we turn our focus to the left or the right, checking out how our race is comparing to someone else's, we're going to trip and fall. And we're going to lose all the joy that is promised when we obey. It's said that obedience equals joy, but when we begrudgingly obey and then compare our hard lot in life to someone else's apparently easy circumstances, that joy will be ever elusive.
In John 21, Jesus had just described Peter's particular race. Jesus shared that Peter was going to be used to shepherd the early church, and that Peter would ultimately be led somewhere he didn't want to go. Then Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Follow me.”
Did Peter jump up and say, “Yes, Lord! I'm going to fix my eyes on you and run the race you have marked for me?” No. Peter gestured to John and said, “What about him, Lord?”
Jesus didn't satisfy Peter's curiosity by filling him in on what John's race was going to look like. He spoke firmly to Peter and said, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
Run YOUR race. Don't look to the left or the right. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Run YOUR race.
Will there be times you feel lonely? Yes, there will.
Will some of your surrenders be unique? Yes, they will be.
Will some of the people you love most question whether it's necessary for you to be so “sold out”? Will some even think you have taken things way too far? Yes, that will happen.
But remember when Mary Magdalene brought her precious ointment in the alabaster jar, and sacrificed it as she poured it over the feet of Jesus? Judas sneered and mocked at her sacrifice, saying it was unnecessary and worthless. But Jesus looked into her eyes and said, “No. It will be remembered.”
And the same is true of our sacrifices and surrenders. God sees them. He sees them as a sweet offering to Him. It isn't necessary that everyone around you applaud your decisions. Live for an audience of One. Live for the pleasure of the One who made you and who gives you your every breath.
May blessings pour over you as you run -
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in October 2014.
So, the question came up last night, “Can you grieve and still have hope?”
Let me backtrack here a bit, to give you the full picture. Currently, I run in two different circles: my Bible Study, which aims to lead women into a personal relationship with Christ through Scripture, and my Support Group, which aims to offer encouragement and hope to those who care for, or have tragically lost, a loved one afflicted with substance abuse disorder. This question came up at Group.
What has become crystal clear is my total inability to keep Jesus out of any discussion. To keep Jesus out of any circumstance. To keep Jesus out, period. Because I have grieved without hope; back when I did not know God's character, back when I reduced the Blessed Mother to a plastic statue, back when I believed the Gospel stories to be outdated and unrelatable, back when I did not know...truly know...my Catholic faith.
I see this a lot with cradle Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and non-Catholics. We know bits and pieces of our Catholic story but not the whole thing. Ironically, many of us wind up learning about Catholicism from our friends who have left the Church and encourage us to do the same. We misinterpret Scripture and allow the world to tell us who God is, and our hideous news feed becomes the icing on top of this lopsided cake. Then enter in the blind side: an unexpected twist in the road that takes us out at our knees, pulling us right out of hope and straight into despair; because I mean, really...if God were real, He would never have let this happen. If God were love, why would He stack one more thing upon our already burdened shoulders?
I so get it.
But here is the other thing I so get: God never promised that life will be easy or we will only be given so much. In the Gospel of John, He promises that we will have trouble. And the statement that we love to throw out in times of suffering? You know the one. “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Fun fact, folks...that phrase is not in Scripture! As Proverbs 31 Founder, Lysa Terkuerst, points out in her book, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, “Nowhere in the Bible will you read that God will not give you more than you can handle. God does say He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that He always provides a way out (1 Cor 10:13) but that's not the same as God not giving us more than we can handle. He sometimes will allow more and more and more.”¹
Saint Paul's words in 2 Cor 1:8-9 confirms this hard to swallow truth.
“...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”
God absolutely gives us more than we can handle...beyond our strength...because He wants us to rely on Him. God does not expect us to handle it all on our own; He asks that we hand it all over. If you do not believe you can have hope while grieving, meditate on the Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. The Annunciation cannot bring Mary the joy of carrying the Son of God without the grief of letting go of a life she had planned. The Presentation cannot offer Mary the joy of dedicating her Firstborn to the Lord without grieving the news that her son will be rejected and both will suffer greatly. Joy and Sorrow. Hope and Grief. Our Lady perfectly models how they can live side by side. But to be able to do this, you need to be like Mary; you need to accept whatever God has given you to carry and believe that what He says is true.
Herein lies the obstacle for so many of us: how do we accept something we do not understand from someone we truly don't know? It is the not knowing Jesus that ultimately trips us up. It is our lack of intimacy with Christ that directs our misplaced hope. We have all of these expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, our marriages, our future, and when those expectations we hold tight to do not line up with God's plan, we stay stuck in the need to understand what God is doing; to understand how this plan, which is often endless and painful, could actually be good. I have been stuck in this place myself, sweet friend. Stayed there too long, and it is a recipe for an extinguished faith.
Coincidentally, only hours before sitting in Group and faced with the question, “Can we grieve and still have hope?”, we had just chosen our Parish's Walking with Purpose Bible study for the fall: Grounded in Hope. The course description is as follows: “In a world where levels of despair, addiction, and suicide are rising, we need more than clichés or positive thinking. Grounded in Hope will help you encounter Jesus in such a powerful, comforting, and stabilizing way that He can become your lifeline.”²
If you are in the midst of a suffering causing you to lose hope, maybe the question is not so much, “Can you grieve and still have hope?” but rather…“What has become your lifeline?”
Praying we always stay tethered to the Anchor that grounds us in hope.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lysa Teurkerst, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, 2018, p.111,112
² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope, Walking With Purpose 2019
We sat in the last pew at the back of the Church. Knees to the ground, beads in our hands. This was her idea. “I know this sounds crazy, but would you meet me before Mass tomorrow and pray the Rosary? Will you let me pray for you?” And when we completed our meditation, she looked directly into my eyes, and begged, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”
We have all been there, haven't we? When life's disappointments reach the point of just too much. When God's plan for good is impossible to comprehend, and we doubt there is a finish line. And what happens when we begin the fall into despair is one of two things. We either choose to take the easy route we write up ourselves; the road that avoids difficult decisions and giant leaps of faith. Or, we quit the race altogether. As soon as we recognize, “hey, wait a minute, Lord...following you is no longer fun,” we stop running. We exchange our hope in Jesus for a false sense of hope in ourselves.
Being grounded in anything but hope has led me into the lie that my suffering is pointless. Being grounded in anything but Jesus has led me into the lie that I am too weak for the race that God has mapped out for me. When hope is absent from my heart, fear claims the space that is reserved for God. And when I give in to fear, I rely on my own strength. This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Because apart from Him, I can do nothing. I am not the Savior, no matter how hard I try to be. I also can't cook. So following my own recipe is bound to disappoint on so many levels.
But God can cook, and His recipes are good. (And I hear He saves the good wine for the end, so don't quit too soon.) Especially the recipes for hope we find in Hebrews. The entire book of Hebrews is based on this central truth; that God reigns Supreme, and it is by His strength and grace that we can persevere. These are the ingredients I should be reaching for, rather than grasping at useless things around me. Things like complaining versus praying. White knuckling instead of surrendering. Comparing instead of thanking.
So how do we hold onto hope? Hope do we turn hope into more than a pretty word we like to paint on wood panels and frame over the fireplace? How do we remain steadfast when life is unsteady? How do we hold onto hope as an anchor, when we'd rather throw the anchor at the back of someone's head?
Here is what I do.
When I start to spiral into despair, I start listing all of the times I lost hope, doubted God's plan...and then He showed up. And when I say “showed up” please don't mistake this for “then I got my way.” My most fruitful seasons are the necessary hardships that dragged on way longer than I had wanted, and didn't end the way I told God they needed to end. These are the seasons that shaped me and strengthened me more than I ever imagined possible.
RUN TO MARY
Mary stood at the foot of the cross, not because she felt no pain or sorrow, but because she believed that the promises of Christ would be fulfilled. I made a vow to start every morning praying the rosary. Oh, how we could linger over many cups of coffee as I share with you the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother in my life when I needed it most.
There is no greater joy for me than when given the opportunity to point a despairing soul in the direction of hope. As painful as life has been, when I can sit across from a friend and assure her she is not alone and she will make it to the finish line, I can say with total confidence that it has all been worth it. Sometimes the best way to have hope, is to be hope.
If you are weary from running your race, I want you to know: I GET IT. I know how you feel. No hope is quite possibly the most painful thing I have ever felt. But I can also share this: no hope is a lie. Remember, we are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life (Hebrews 10: 39). And if you were here with me now, I would grab your hand, and I would take you to the last pew in the back of my Church, and I would pray with and for you. On our knees. Every bead. And with tears in my eyes, I would look into yours and I would beg, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”
Ground yourself in Him and run with me.
Your Sister in Christ,
If you are looking for additional encouragement to run your race, you might want to read Grounded In Hope, our newest study coming out in February. Click here to purchase Grounded in Hope.
My youngest child was just four years old when we moved from California to Connecticut. The main reason for this major uprooting? To be closer to family. My sister, just a few towns away now, suggested she take my four kids to a movie so that I could unpack the eight million boxes I was staring at. I jumped at the offer and gathered the kids and ushered them out into the driveway. But as I buckled my youngest into the car seat and kissed him goodbye, a thought hit me.I never told him where they were going! And as my sister started up the engine and began to back out, I called out, “Luke? Do you even know where Aunt Kathy is taking you?” And with a trust and peace that truly transcends all understanding, he looked at me, smiled, shrugged his cute little shoulders, and said, “nope.” And I laughed, as they drove away.
I still think about this moment, eight years later. My precious one? He knew me so well, and was so certain of my love for him, that there was no need to question why I was putting him in another car, strapping him down, and sending him off without giving him the details. He trusted me so much, believed in me so much, that concern or worry about what the plan for him was, was a non-issue. He willingly accepted that he was not in charge, but that because I had proved my love to him over and over again already, he had nothing to fear. So long as he was in my hands, he was in good hands.
This is the beauty of a childlike faith.
And good grief, I want it.
And because God knows I want it, he is doing all that he can to teach me it. Which depending on the day you ask, I may or may not boast of His faithfulness and goodness, because asking God to bless you with a childlike faith is basically asking Him to strap you into a stranger's car and have them take off, without telling you where you are going. It is a prayer of surrender. And we all know how easy it is to surrender, don't we?
Ugh. Why is surrender so difficult? Seriously. Think about that question. Because most people find surrender incredibly hard. I sure do. Surrendering goes against everything my earthly self automatically desires. Things like full control, and knowing the future, and some sort of guarantee in writing - or quite possibly blood - that everything and everyone will be okay. Surrendering means emptying my soul of all those feelings I tend to cling to and rely on as truth, of accepting the “supporting actor role” of my life because I understand that I am not the hero of my story, but rather, God is.
Did you hear that?You are not the hero of your story.
Does that last line make you angry to read? I gotta admit, it is a little scary to publish. But I am feeling feisty today, so I am going with it. And more than feisty...I 100% believe in this. You see, I have heard and read the “girl power encouragement” that is floating around out there, and while most of it is wonderful, some of it makes me incredibly uncomfortable, as I think of all the young women who are embracing these statements as truth: You are the hero of your story. You are in control of your life. Because, I swear on my love of chips and salsa, sweet friends, this is simply not true.
In Laura Story's book, When God Doesn't Fix It, she asks us to think about the characters in the stories in the Bible.“Their stories aren't in the Bible because these characters are heroes. Their stories are in the Bible because God is the hero of their stories.”  She asks us to really think about it, pointing us to Daniel being saved from the lions, and to Noah who was saved from the flood. Were Daniel and Noah the heroes? Or was it God, the Great I AM who swooped on in and did the saving? Every story you read in the Bible points to one hero, and that hero is never us. It is God. This life we are living? This story of ours? It is God's story. And we are not called to control it or re-write it. But we are called to be a part of it. And it starts with surrender.
If you are like me; if you struggle with understanding your place in God's story, and the idea of surrendering with a childlike faith, might I suggest we do a few things together. Why together? Because I like your company, that's why. And...we can hold one another accountable. Plus, we don't even like to go into a public bathroom without bringing a friend along, so why should growing deeper in our faith be any different? But as I was saying...here are three things we can do together to develop a childlike faith:
I think we need to start by praying for bravery.
In the Walking with Purpose six-week study, Living In The Father's Love (LIFL), author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reminds us that “Living a life that says 'yes' to God and His purposes requires bravery.” And so let's pray for that. Let's ask for the courage to not be the dead fish that goes with the flow, but to be the strong, brave fish, that swims against the tide. Any decision we make out of fear is the wrong decision. So let's pray to be brave...Daniel and the Lion kind of brave...and let's see how our hero comes through and saves us. Because He always does. He always will.
The second thing we need to do?
I think we ought to read HIS story, to understand our place in it.
Remember...my son trusted me to buckle him up and send him on his way with zero idea of where he was going, because he knew me so well. How well do we know our Father? How certain are you of His love for you? Sure, we can all recite “God is Love,” but what does this really mean to you? Honestly. Do you believe that God the Father adores you? That He will go the long haul for you? That there is nothing you have done, or will do that will ever change how He feels about you? That He has a unique and divine purpose for your life? That you are beautiful, worthy, and forgiven? Do you believe this?
Because I think these are the real questions that women who are struggling ask. In Chapter 2 of Living in the Father's Love, Lisa assures us that, “The more we are rooted in a deep understanding of just how crazy God is about each one of His Daughters, the better we will be able to wrestle through these questions.”  This is such an important chapter with an honest-to-goodness life changing teaching. Lisa walks us through the beautiful truths of God, who He is, and how very much He is for us. Sweet friends, we will never, ever trust God if we are unable to list His faithful characteristics and promises. I highly encourage you to go back to this section, which challenges us to seek God's motive in relationship with each of us, to literally list the characteristics of love and God as found in 1 John 4:16, to make a conscious effort to reject any lies or half-truths that might be keeping us from trusting God with a childlike sincerity.  This chapter is so good I just scheduled an appointment at my local tattoo parlor to have it written in permanent ink on my entire left leg.
And the third thing?
We need to get to know our WWP Patron Saint a little bit better. Or a lot better, even.
There is no better example of embracing a life of surrender and childlike faith, than sweet Saint Therese, whose Feast Day is October 1; I am giving you permission to go buy yourself a dozen red roses and an 8 inch chocolate cake on that day to celebrate. In Chapter 1 of LIFL, appropriately titled, The Beauty of a Childlike Faith, Lisa directs us to the words of this amazing young woman, in an effort to accept that we are not in charge.
“I desire neither suffering nor death, yet I love both; but it is love alone which attracts me. Now it is the abandonment alone that guides me. I have no other compass. My heart is full of the will of Jesus.”
Oh, how I pray we can all say these words along with Saint Therese, and mean them….my heart is full of the will of Jesus. Because this? This, sweet friends, is the answer to all those doubts and fears that keep us awake at night. This is the answer to what is my purpose, and does God really love me? This right here is the answer to every single obstacle that stands in the way of our unclenching our fists and dropping our arms and resting peacefully in the center of God's will.
May we have no other compass, as we surrender to our guide - bravely taking our place in HIS story as we come to know and live in the Father's love.
Saint Therese, pray for us.
With faith in the hero of our story,
PS: You don't have a copy of the WWP six week study Living In The Father's Love? That's okay! Just click here to purchase! And while you are at it, why not enjoy our LIFL playlist while reading more about our Patron Saint here!
Laura Story, When God Doesn't Fix It (Thomas Nelson, 2005), 186
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015), 33
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015)
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015), 26
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015) d'Elbee, I Believe In Love, 86-7.