Ever since I dropped some packages off at the post office and the postal worker handed me a receipt for $6.66, and I looked at him and him at me, until finally he said, “I didn’t want to say it out loud” and I said, “Well, I am mailing religious books, so take that Satan!”...well, ever since then, things have gone incredibly awry. I will spare you all the horrible details that fell somewhere between the $600 cat surgery and the dead guinea pig, but let’s just say that I must be doing something right because someone down there is not happy.
Being a soldier of Christ Jesus is not for the faint of heart, my friends. Some days I wish I had chosen to become a soldier of anything else...like a soldier of lattes...or manicures…or sleep.
Sitting at my desk while trying to fight off all of the useless questions we like to ask God in times of suffering, questions like, “Why?” and “How long?”, I pulled up the first video for the Living in the Father’s Love Bible study, The Beauty Of A Childlike Faith. In this video, Lisa Brenninkmeyer lists three childlike qualities that God desires to see in each of us. I was most drawn to the second: Having confidence in God, trusting that only He can do what we cannot.
So, let me ask. Do you? Do you trust that He is in control? Are you confident that He has a good plan for you? When the ground is falling out from beneath your feet, do you trust that God knows what He is doing?
I’d like to think I have a firm trust in the Lord. I’d like to say that my confidence is not in myself but all in Him. But then...the cat’s ear blows up and I find the guinea pig hard as a rock and everything starts to crumble around me, and well, suddenly the obedient Christian life is not looking like such a great fit for me!
Have you ever felt this way?
Have you ever gotten to the end of your resources?
Have you ever looked at the path the Lord kept calling you to walk down and thought to yourself, “Good grief, Jesus, can I please get a new path? Or at least a scooter?”
Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you pray, how dedicated you are to being a servant of God, you are the one who continues to draw the short stick?
It is hard to have a childlike faith in the midst of the battle. Staying confident when the storms of life seem to pound and pound to no avail can feel unrealistic and impossible. And as I found myself in this place of doubt, I recognized that unless I physically move, I will remain spiritually stuck. So I took a walk down a long paved path, praying the sorrowful mysteries each step of the way. And I asked the Lord to please conform my will to His. I begged that He remove the doubt and desire to self-rely, and that I would have a firm trust in Him no matter the outcome; that I would still love Him just as much as I do on the mountain top as I do in the desert. That should He say “no” to my prayer, I would continue to say “yes” to whatever He chooses, out of love for Him.
Because here is the thing. When God chooses, He chooses from an eternal perspective. And I can’t even begin to pretend that I know how to wrap my head around that. But I have just enough faith, sprinkled with a good amount of grace, to know that this is a leap worth taking. A true and free gift from God. I am able to accept this; that He has the bigger picture. Not me. And if He does not give me what I ask for, it must be for my good. That this very cross I want to lose is actually my bridge to Heaven. And as hard as this can be to understand, I simply do. Because if this isn’t true, well then, none of it is.
As I neared the end of the path, a vision of Simon of Cyrene came to mind. Simon was the man compelled by the Romans to help carry the cross of Jesus. He was pulled from the sidelines observing, and took action by positioning himself under the cross with Jesus leading the way. I’ve heard many a reflection on this encounter—usually pointing to the theme of discipleship, stewardship, and helping others carry their burden. But, for the first time, a different image came to mind. This time it was not Jesus asking me to go out and help carry the load of another, but very specifically, He was inviting me to help carry His. How could I not step in and help Jesus carry what was meant for me? How could I not suffer under the weight of my cross when He already did? How could I not offer to share in the suffering when I am the one who caused it in the first place? This image completely changed my perspective. What looked impossible to carry only moments ago now looked like a gift. A walk that began in anxiety and doubt was now completed in confidence.
If your confidence in yourself is stronger than your confidence in God, ask yourself: What path of obedience is God calling me to that I am afraid of? Then offer up your need to understand. Say, “Here you go, Jesus. Here is my heart. It is weak and it is imperfect, and sometimes, it is as hard as my dead guinea pig. But here ya’ go, it is all yours.” Make no mistake. This is not giving up hope. This is saying, “I love you so much that I am willing to say “yes” to whatever you choose because you choose from an eternal perspective, and you always choose what is good.” This is how we become like children. This is how we remain confident when the storms of life rock the boat. This is how, compelled by love, we get off the sidelines and take action, positioning ourselves under the cross and walking the path of obedience with Jesus leading the way.
“May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
I've noticed something interesting about what gets me on and what gets me off of social media. Boredom gets me on, and I can lose track of time as I scroll mindlessly. What gets me off is discontentment. I see something or someone that makes me feel badly, less than, or inadequate, so I turn it off. I think I could be spending my time a little better than this.
I'm reminded by Theodore Roosevelt that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I'm tired of allowing my happiness to be robbed by something so preventable. Are you? We all know that everything presented on social media is the curated and filtered version. So why do we get caught in the trap of comparing “my worst with her best?” Because who really knows what's behind that perfect picture on Facebook? My cover photo shows my family happily smiling on my daughter's wedding day. What it doesn't show is my worries that the reception is going to not turn out as planned, my sadness over my daughter moving so far away, my deep desire to turn back the clock and re-do every moment that I missed because I was too busy. Photos don't show the whole story.
Underlying our discontent is the sense that there is something better out there, and the belief that if we had it, we'd be happier. But if you look back on your life, isn't it true that as soon as you get that one thing you've been dreaming of, a new desire takes its place? The appetite for more is never satisfied.
There is a different way to live. God created you as a one-of-a-kind, creative, difference-making masterpiece. Yes you. You are not the exception to the rule. Don't equate that description with success in your career, breathtaking Instagram feeds, or accolades. Being a world-changer simply means that you take seriously the call to run YOUR race without looking to the left or right and comparing yourself to others. It means trusting God that you are exactly where you are meant to be, and being faithful right there.
You are a part of a grand narrative, and if you do not take your place in God's story, the world will miss out on the unique gifts you bring to the table. The writer of Hebrews doesn't want you to miss the specific course that God has mapped out for you, so he describes the race that you are to run:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1-2
The book of Hebrews was written to people who felt beaten down and discouraged. They feel ready to give up, and are asking the question, “If God loves me so much, why is following Him so insanely hard?” My guess would be that they were probably looking to the left and the right, and wondering why life is easier for other people.
So the author seeks to change their perspective on their circumstances. They are asked to picture a race within an arena, with a track for the athletes to compete on, and spectators to witness it all.
The word race comes from the Greek word “Agon” (ag-one'). We get the word agony from this root word, and the word race could also be translated conflict, struggle or fight. What the author of Hebrews wants us to get is that life is a race- and the race is one of agonizing struggle. It isn't a short sprint- it's a marathon.
We need patience, endurance, and the willingness to persevere in order to run this race. We need to throw off comparison, because it hinders us like nobody's business. I love what N.T. Wright has to say about the race:
This race is a long haul, and you need patience. There are always some runners who really prefer a short sprint; some of them, faced with a ten-mile run, will go far too fast at the start and then be exhausted after two or three miles. Sadly, many of us will know Christians like that too: keen and eager in their early days, they run out of steam by the time they reach mature adulthood…Give me the person, any day, who starts a bit more slowly but who is still there, patiently running the next mile and the next and the next, all those years later.
I think it's great news that this race isn't only for sprinters! There is an honored place for plodders- for those who are steady at the wheel when the race is exciting, and when it's boring, and when it's sucking the breath out of you. This is the woman who is less concerned about her personal passions, gifts, and platform than she is about the fact that in the Christian life, someone has to be willing to take out the garbage. If you are one of those women, and if you feel that most of what you do goes unseen and uncelebrated, I salute you. Give me someone like you any day over charisma, sparkle and shine.
This woman's Facebook feed might look insignificant, but don't let that fool you. She's is too busy running her race to photograph it all beautifully.
Today is the feast day of a woman who ran her race beautifully- St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of Walking with PurposeTM. Instead of comparing herself to others, she trusted that God had her exactly where she was meant to be. She flourished in that place, despite its limitations and suffering. May you cultivate a content heart like hers, trusting God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
I don't know about you, but the fact that today is Ash Wednesday makes me wonder where January went. I'm still finding stray Christmas ornaments in weird places around my house.
But regardless of the fact that I feel like Advent has barely ended, it's time to gear up and figure out what I'm sacrificing for Lent.
What came to my mind wasn't a need to stop eating caramel corn from the Jersey Shore or vanilla lattes from Starbucks (to which I say, thank you, Jesus). But two things that are standing in the way of my spiritual freedom surfaced in my heart. I believe wholeheartedly in this truth: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Jesus takes it really seriously when something is standing in the way of the freedom He gave everything to purchase for me. He's telling me that these things NEED TO GO, not just during the season of Lent, but for good.
Here they are:
Oh joy. I just look at those two things and see the uphill climb involved in breaking the hold of old habits and side stepping well-worn ruts in the road. Striving-trying my hardest- has been my go-to way of behaving. The thought of not doing it makes me worry that I won't accomplish anything at all. Comparing myself to others has caused me to run my race faster as I've always enjoyed a little healthy competition. But when it becomes an unhealthy distraction, and actually leads to discontentment? Not good. That's a form a bondage that Jesus doesn't want to see in my life.
Striving goes beyond working hard. It's white-knuckling and ignoring the inkling that maybe it's ok for things not to be perfect. It's looking at what I need to get done and being intolerant of the thought of not finishing well. Writer and research professor Brené Brown describes the dig deep button as “a secret level of pushing through when we're exhausted and overwhelmed and when there's too much to do and too little time for self-care.” This unhealthy pressing forward has been my norm for far too long.
Comparing myself to others is looking in someone else's garden and thinking they have it better or easier. It's thinking their spiritual gifts are better than mine. It's thinking my obstacles are higher, my limitations are greater, and their teeth are whiter. Whatever. Once I'm on a roll, all sorts of things can make the list.
There's very little point in saying I want to be free of these things if I'm not willing to actually do something about it. So these are some of the ways I'm going to work on this during Lent:
I'm going to stop trying so hard.
Even as I write that, I get nervous. Because isn't trying hard what gets me where I need to go? My kids are going to read this and think I'll never make them dinner again.
Here's the deal- sometimes we need to over correct in order to get back to a place of balance. So when I feel like I'm really trying hard and am hitting the dig deep button, I'm going to stop. I'm going to ask God if it's ok if I just let Him run with the task for a bit. Trying hard is going to be a signal to me that I need to assess what's really going on. I'll probably make dinner anyway, but I might take a fifteen-minute break to refresh myself and let the meal be late.
My anthem for Lent is going to be It Is Well by Bethel Music.
I'm going to sing this song every day, from my heart. When life feels out of control and less than what I'd hoped for, I'm going to sing, “It is well with my soul.”
Because it is.
Because the most important things are being taken care of by God.
Because it isn't up to me.
Because He is in charge.
Because not one thing, not one pain, not one inconvenience, not one obstacle intersects my life without God having measured me Him against the hardship. And if the suffering has been allowed, that means He concluded that apart from Him, I can do nothing, but with Him, this can be endured and overcome.
While the road up looks pretty steep, I know that it isn't up to me to break these chains. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, St. Paul reminds us, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This is deep soul work, and this is where the Holy Spirit reaches in and heals. Oh come, Holy Spirit.
And I'm going to close my eyes and listen for the memory of my Minnesotan grandmother's voice. If she was still here, I think she might say, “Lisa girl, there is a different way to live. Back when I was raising our family, we didn't experience the pressure and pace that you do. Keep searching for that freedom. Relax a little. Let go.”
So I'm going to listen to her advice-to relax, let go and breathe. Would you like to join me? Listen to these wise words in the following video. Their mature, seasoned voices encourage us to continue to seek freedom in a world full of demands and impossibly high standards.