My 77-year-old mother is a model of efficiency. When she has news to share with her three children, rarely will she make three phone calls. If you ask my mom, email is sufficient for most communications. She also seems to doubt that group texts actually work. But group email? That’s her game. And the most recent email she sent to my brother, sister, and me read exactly as follows:
“The doctor called. I have the virus. Quarantined for 14 days after symptoms go away. Mom.”
Unfortunately, this was not the first piece of news I had received informing me that COVID-19 hit close to home. Over the past couple of months, a steady stream of texts and phone calls has revealed to me that someone tested positive, someone else was hospitalized, someone else passed away, and so on. I live in the NYC suburbs, and I need two hands to count the number of close friends and family members who were seriously affected by this virus.
However, the email from my mother was the first piece of news that kicked my anxiety into full swing. It was the first time in my life that I had to come to terms with the possibility of losing a parent.
At the same time, my high schooler was completely ignoring his remote learning, my husband was stressed out at work, and thoughts about Walking with Purpose had been keeping me awake at night. COVID-19 cancelled all the WWP spring events and impacted Bible study sales, and as the director of marketing, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to support the ministry.
By late April it was clear to me that absolutely everything in my life was out of control. But friends, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t try to control it. If there’s one thing I learned from the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart, it's that God is in the driver’s seat.
But what to do about the constant anxiety? Yes, we can give up control and hand our struggles over to Christ, but I seem to have feelings of panic and worry that come on quite suddenly, triggered by stressful moments, no matter how much control I give up. When the Director of the CDC announced a week ago that a second and more difficult wave of COVID-19 was coming this fall, I uncorked a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc faster than you can say quarantine.
Clearly, I needed better coping techniques.
In the Walking with Purpose Bible study Keeping in Balance, there’s a lesson that talks about anxiety as a barrier to contentment. It is such a helpful lesson that Walking with Purpose sent it out as a PDF to our email list last week (you can find that PDF here). In this lesson we are asked to reflect on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What I love about WWP Bible studies is how author Lisa Brenninkmeyer makes scripture passages easy for newbies like me to understand. Lisa says the way we take a thought captive is by “replacing the worry with a truth that builds [our] trust in God.”
That right there? That is an action item I can turn to (in place of the wine).
Here’s the truth I came up with to build my trust in God: Christ is present in humanity’s compassion, and that compassion is so clearly EVERYWHERE these days!
COVID-19 has unified humanity into the most massive force of good that I think this planet has ever seen. Millions around the globe are doing whatever it takes to fight the virus. From philanthropists pledging billions to speed the development of a vaccine, to medical professionals risking their lives to save COVID-19 patients, and school children collecting canned goods for food pantries, people are overflowing with kindness, and I recognize God in them.
As I finish writing this blog post, I’m singing in my head, “...every little thing, is gonna be alright.”
PS: I’m sorry to keep you hanging about my mom. She battled the virus quite easily, actually, and pulled through quickly. Thank you for all of your prayers!
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (Walking with Purpose, July 2019), 151.
Why is it we can have total confidence and trust in God's plans with everyone else's life, but not our own? It is easy for me to recognize God's hand in your life... in your misery... in your tragic circumstance, but when the storm hits my own house, I question and doubt. I begin to wonder if my Catholic faith really is crazy and the saints are all just a bunch of nuts.
I spent my summer with the Blessed Mother. I managed to turn a 33 Day Consecration into a four-month plan, but I finally did get there and praise be to God for it. Because no sooner did I give my fiat, uncertainty and disappointment came crashing down on me, and once again, I was hurled back into that pit of doubt and despair-otherwise known as, “Seriously, Lord? THIS is for good?” And I hate this place. I really do. It makes me feel unpleasant, and worse, I become unpleasant. It's more hideous than getting a root canal at the DMV, naked.
Has this ever happened to you? Not the naked root canal at the DMV part; the other part about falling into despair when uncertainty hits. About being so confident and unafraid about everyone else's circumstances, but your own? Because it happens to me more often than I care to admit. I am, however, practicing something that helps get me out of the pit-not immediately but sooner rather than later. I meditate on the virtues of Mary.
Do you know there are ten virtues of Mary? According to the teachings of Saint Louis De Montfort, the ten virtues of Mary are: constant mental prayer, ardent charity, profound humility, universal mortification, blind obedience, divine wisdom, surpassing purity, angelic sweetness, lively faith and heroic patience. Now don't get overwhelmed by this. There is no way any of us can be perfect at all ten virtues all of the time, or quite possibly, ever. Why? Because we were not chosen to be the Mother of God. But, with a brand new consecration to Mary under my belt and the desire to emulate her, I figured if I pick one virtue a month to intentionally focus on, it had to work better in times of trial and tribulation than what I was currently doing (which was yelling at the dog and wondering why on earth my husband has to breathe so darn loud).
I have chosen to work on blind obedience; to fully trust in God's plan for my life and the lives of my loved ones, even when-especially when-I do not understand His ways at all. Even when strapping the dining room table to my back and jumping off of a bridge feels like a safer option. When the ground drops out from beneath you and nothing you planned for or expected appears to be anywhere on God's radar, blind obedience looks as attractive as a 1980's bridesmaid gown. So before I allow myself to spiral into a total abyss of despair and depression, I fly to Mary. I sit with her at the Annunciation. I reflect on her life, which quite frankly was a series of unplanned, difficult to understand events, and I stay in that place with my Mother. I sit with her in that moment when all was changed by her “yes.” Often when uncertainty strikes, we throw aside our “yes” and run miles ahead into the land of “what if?” We let go of God and grasp onto things that give us a false sense of security. But not Mary. Mary loved God enough to trust that all that was required of her was the next one step, not the next hundred miles. She could be blindly obedient because she loved Him more than she loved her plan. What a treasure chest of grace we have in Our Blessed Mother, who took the leap so that we could, too.
On a dog walk with a friend that was filled with both of our projecting and fear over the ones that we love, I finally said it out loud: faith is a leap! It just is. And when we hit these obstacles that aim to knock us off course and throw us into worry, we have to choose this leap. We must embrace this uncertain, unplanned thing in our life and give God our yes, whether we understand it or not, and then... we need to leap... off of our plans and into His. I am not implying that any of this is easy, but boy do I allow my wild imagination and lack of patience to complicate what really is so simple. Leap, or don't leap. Trust, or don't trust. Love, or don't love. The choice is ours.
If you are in the midst of a trial that is uncertain and you feel your doubt increasing, I encourage you to meditate on these ten virtues. Get to know Mary, who knows better than anyone else what it is like to trust that God's uncertain plan is good. Give yourself to Him entirely through her, and do not worry about the future. Will this require you take a leap of the worst kind? Yeah, probably. But as C.S. Lewis says, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole-self-all your wishes and precautions-to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.”
Praying we all take that leap,
This post is for all the people out there who are not eating popsicles or frolicking on the beach this summer.
To narrow it further…
It's for you, my friend, you who are in the middle of a storm of circumstances that make you want to run away.
It's for you, my friend, you who want to scream with frustration, but recognize you need to hold it together.
It's for you, my friend, you who are having a hard time reconciling who you know God to be and how He feels to you right now.
It's for you, my friend, you who feel so alone and so certain that no one understands what you are going through.
It's for you, my friend, you who feel it's all up to you, and think you just might go under if you don't get some relief.
God sees you. He sees that despite all that is weighing on you and overwhelming you, you are remaining faithful and are staying put. He doesn't look at this as a paltry effort. In fact, He, more than anyone, knows what this is costing you.
God is holding you. Your circumstances feel crushing. He is underneath you, holding you up. I know you can't see Him, but I promise you, He is there.
Two things in particular make suffering through a crisis especially hard. One is not knowing why we are having to go through this. If we had an answer to the question of why, there is very little we could not endure. But we usually don't know, which means trust and faith are required. They are needed most when they are the hardest to hold on to.
The second thing that makes a crisis especially miserable is the fact that we so often don't know what to do. If we just had clear instructions, even if we didn't want to do what was required, we could at least force ourselves to move forward. But so often, when our lives are in a free fall, we aren't sure what we can grab hold of. We desperately want someone to tell us exactly how to keep going, yet the uniqueness of our situations prevents that from happening.
I don't presume to know what your crisis entails, but I want to share a few truths that have been lifelines to me when my life feels chaotic and my circumstances are knocking the wind out of me. I pray they are of help to you. They don't answer the question of why, but perhaps they give you some steps to take when you aren't sure where to go and the waves keep crashing over you.
1. Do the next right thing.
You have not been given a strategic plan that addresses every possible obstacle. I get that. I know it would be helpful if you had one. God is keeping you very close at the moment, and only shining a light on the next step. So just do one thing at a time. Just keep asking yourself, “What's the next ‘right thing' to do?” No matter how small the task, if we do it for God, it infuses the day with purpose. When we are in the middle of a crisis, it's not a time to tackle big projects or challenges. But we can do small things and infuse them with tremendous love.
As the Blessed Mother said at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5). Do whatever Jesus tells you. The way he does this is by helping us to identify the next right thing that our duty in life requires. We ask the Lord, “What is the next right thing that you would like me to do?” It might be unloading the dishwasher or calling a friend to apologize. The next step is to do that next thing for God's glory, not our own. And this changes everything.
If the next right thing feels insignificant, say to the Lord, “I am going to fold this load of laundry for your glory. I entrust the results to you.” Suddenly, this simple activity has become an opportunity for you to encounter God. He is present there with you, delighting in the fact that you are doing the next right thing with a good attitude.
If the next right thing is something that feels overwhelming, say to the Lord, “I am going to step out and do what feels difficult for your glory. I entrust the results to you.” If it goes well, the glory goes to God. If it doesn't go well, the results of it rest with God. Neither the success nor the failure rests on you.
2. Make no changes.
When we are in a crisis, our desire for relief can cause us to question all sorts of previous decisions. We have thoughts like these:
“Why should I keep praying? It doesn't seem to be making much of a difference.”
“Why did I volunteer to help in that way? Forget it. All I can do is take care of myself.”
“Why am I working this wretched job? I can't take it anymore. I'm quitting.”
“Why did I marry this person? I have got to get out of this. I'm leaving.”
When these are our thoughts, we are playing right into the enemy's trap. He is literally jumping up and down with glee and whispering into our ears, “Do it. Get out of it. Quit. You've had enough.”
Here's my advice (which I actually got from St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Discernment of Spirits): DON'T MAKE ANY CHANGES. Stay steady at the wheel. Just get through this chaotic storm. When things calm down, that's when you can re-evaluate your decisions. But not right now.
3. Amp up your spiritual disciplines.
I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but this is critical. We have to fight back. If we lay down like we're already dead, the enemy will be emboldened and mess with us more. If you do more spiritually (just a little bit more- nothing crazy), he will flee. He is a coward. He is weak, and a defeated foe. Get up and fight back. If you previously prayed ten minutes a day, pray fifteen. If you normally go to Mass once a week, go an additional time. If you feel like frowning at everyone you meet, smile instead.
4. Practice gratitude.
Even if it's not what you are feeling, write down what you are grateful for. Do this every day of the crisis. Fill an entire page with gratitude each morning. Type it if your hand gets sore. If you run out of big stuff, thank God for the warm water in your shower. Thank Him for the fact that you don't have malaria. Unless you do. Then come up with something else. The point is, keep thinking until you find things you have that you would be sad if you did not.
God may feel cruel to you right now. I promise you- He is not cruel or capricious. He is a tender and kind Father. He is holding you, and what is crushing you is pressing you closer to His chest. This too shall pass. THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Consolation will come. This will not last forever. “The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are underneath you.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
With you in the storm,
In the spring of 2018, my parish wrapped up its first full year of Walking with Purpose. Women's hearts were full, leaders were engaged, and our parish clergy and staff were supportive; but more than anything, participants were excited to share their experiences with others.
This newfound enthusiasm is exactly what makes Walking with Purpose parish programs so special. You may have heard comments just like these:
Finally, this is exactly what I've been waiting for, but better!
I love that it incorporates scripture, as well as our Church's history and teachings all in one!
I love my small group!
It's true that Walking with Purpose fulfills a longing for many of us. We want to share what we've found, which is fantastic! This is evangelization at its finest, and the Holy Spirit at work in our Church.
There are a few challenges as we seek to share abundantly what we've found, but hold tight! Walking with Purpose Bible studies allow us to meet the needs of many women in one place at one time without draining our leadership teams. This is an opportunity for us to admit that we cannot (and should not) do it all. We must hold our Walking with Purpose programs loosely.
As my parish approached its second year, we had the following to look forward to:
My dreams as we approached our second year included:
I committed these dreams to prayer, and remembered them during daily jogs with my sidekicks, Annie and Rosie (Yellow and Black Labrador Retrievers, respectively) while praying the Rosary. I'm not great at sitting still, so with fresh air and some movement, I found myself face to face with the image of our Savior through the eyes of our Blessed Mother.
The prayers on these jogs allowed for the Holy Spirit to lay out a plan which became a tremendous support to our parish program. Key ideas came to fruition:
First, we looked at all of our Opening Your Heart small group leaders as one group so that our daytime and evening Opening Your Heart small group leaders could support one another. This group received a one page leaders' guide for each week's lesson.
Second, we created a video conference meeting time for all of our Opening Your Heart leaders. We used the leaders' guide to go through the main points of the lesson and discuss any ways that we might make the week special. Most importantly, we prayed for each other and the women in our groups. This was especially important for our evening leaders because this was their only leadership team meeting. Two of my favorite parts of the video conference meeting were that we could be in our own homes and we could record the meeting for those who needed to listen later.
Third, our daytime Opening Your Heart leaders were excited to experience the study planned for our returning participants. Even though they would not lead that study, they completed Touching The Divine as their personal study, which we all discussed at our daytime leadership team meetings.
Finally, we wanted to communicate our schedule and Connect Coffees clearly despite offering two studies at one time. To do this, we created a one-page document with the Opening Your Heart and Touching The Divine schedules side-by-side. We did the same with our invitations to Connect Coffees. We created an attractive one-page invitation with a brief summary of both studies' talks. These were emailed, texted and handed to potential guests. We began to talk and pray about our Connect Coffees a couple of weeks in advance. We promoted them as “easy evangelization” while reminding women that when God places a friend or neighbor on our hearts, we must respond. We began to share simple evangelization tools with everyone in our program. This included prayer and obediently responding to God's prompting by asking the friend more than once (that's the hard part).
I have a dream for each of our parish programs and my dream is a big one! I'm not afraid anymore of asking for big dreams when I know that God has placed them on my heart. So here it is:
Let's all offer Opening Your Heart in our parish programs every time we meet.
Our God is not a God of limits or boundaries. He is a God of miracles and overcoming obstacles. Let's just do it! Yes, you! Place an option for Opening Your Heart on your registration forms alongside each and every one of your study offerings. I promise God will work out the details. I love Lisa's “I Declare” over a fear of the future from 2 Timothy 1:7 --
I declare that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
Let's counter our fears with truth in God's word and offer our parish program up to our Father. Sisters, breathe in the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians, “Let us be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” May God bless you abundantly for placing your trust in the arms of our Savior and incorporating the details for welcoming new women into your parish program through Opening Your Heart.
P.S. Walking with Purpose has turned many of these ideas into leader tools and training videos which are now available in the WWP Leadership Portal! If you don't yet have access to the online Leadership Tools, register for access today.
Based in Kansas, Emily Thengvall is a Walking with Purpose Regional Area Coordinator (RAC), supporting WWP parish program coordinators at 33 parishes in the midwestern and southwestern US.
Some nights, it is the pale blue glow visible in the gap under the bedroom door that gives him away.
On those nights, I stand in the dark hallway, press my forehead against the closed door, and speak into it. “Jack, turn your phone off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your phone again.”
“My phone isn't on!”
Other nights, it is different but the same. The sound of eager young fingers tapping away on a computer keyboard. On those nights I tell the door, “Turn your laptop off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your laptop again.”
“My laptop isn't on!”
My husband and I have tried different tactics to correct our son Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors. We've taken the phone away on many occasions… until Jack convinces us that he needs the phone for school (“Coach is gonna text about practice!”), and we reluctantly hand it back.
We've also installed an app on our wifi that cuts off internet access at night. This limits Jack's technology time... until he convinces us that he needs to sync his laptop with the school server, or offers another similar excuse, and we back off to give him the access he claims he needs.
Of course, the worst of the bad behaviors -- the heartbreakingly bad one -- is the lying.
If you read my January blog post or this one from March, you know that I am currently experiencing the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study Opening Your Heart in a parish-based program. (Shout out to my girls at Holy Name of Mary in Croton, NY!) Each week we meet to review another lesson from Opening Your Heart, and each week it amazes me how applicable the lessons are to my life.
A few weeks ago, my group gathered to watch the Connect Coffee video that goes along with Opening Your Heart Lesson 18, “Reaching Your Child's Heart.” When I watch these videos it's as if author Lisa Brenninkmeyer is speaking just to me, which is awesome, and others in my group have said the same. (Although there was one part of the video I didn't watch because the most delicious toddler accompanied his mom that day, and when an 18-month-old is clutching your legs and grinning up at you, he just cannot be ignored!)
The good news is that the pages in the study guide reinforce what I may have missed in the video, and Lesson 18 made me rethink everything.
“Behavior is simply what alerts you to your child's need for correction. But don't make the mistake that so many parents make and allow your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. If you can reach the heart, the behavior will take care of itself.”¹
Changing Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors wasn't working because his heart wasn't changing.
This concept is rooted in Scripture. Lesson 18 goes on to say this:
“A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the same hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees? In Matthew 15, Jesus denounces the Pharisees who honored Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him. Jesus censures them as people who wash the outside of the cup while the inside is still unclean.”²
It became clear that I needed to spend some time inside that teenage boy's bedroom (not just talking to the door), and I needed to figure out how to wash the inside of that 15-year-old cup.
Jack and I sat down. I told him how hurtful his dishonesty was, and before I could get to the “lying is a sin” part of the talk, he interrupted.
“If you'll stop trying to control my life, I'll stop lying.”
I was certain there was truth in that statement. If Jack was given free reign with technology and internet access, he wouldn't have much to lie about.
However, it was not a deal I could make. It was, I think, a deal with the devil.
The wifi in our house still shuts off at night, prohibiting internet access. And Jack is still trying to find ways around it. Apparently we are the “only” parents who restrict access to their kids' cell phones and internet. And I think Jack might hate us for it.
Did the "inside of the cup" get washed? Not yet. That's a place I can't go; that's a process I can't force. My husband and I don't have the power to change Jack's heart, but we are fiercely protecting it. And when He's invited in, God can go deep in the heart, to the "inside of the cup." I pray that will happen.
In Lesson 18 of Opening Your Heart, Lisa includes a “Monthly Prayer List for Our Children” and one of the talented WWP designers turned it into this beautiful free printable. (Download the file, print it two-sided, and cut off the extra paper to make the perfect bookmark.) For anyone who has children or grandchildren, this list of twelve prayers is something you'll want to save and turn to. Often.
¹ Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 219
² Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 220
There's a lot to be said for playing it safe. It's predictable, comfortable, and doesn't cause ripple effects. It gives us the impression that we aren't hurting anyone. We're neither hot, nor cold-we're coasting in neutral. But playing it safe can also leave us stuck in situations that are stifling for our souls and deadening to our hearts.
Most of us can point to something that happened to us-something hurtful- that caused us to vow to do all we could to never let it happen again. Perhaps it occurred in childhood. Maybe it was in the context of marriage. It could have been an unhealthy relationship with a friend or a family member.
When something really damaging happens to our hearts, we automatically want to protect ourselves. We are determined to learn from our mistakes, so we vow to do things differently in the future. We might vow never to make waves… or never to need someone again…or to never cry…or to keep the vulnerable parts of who we are hidden. We vow to play it safe.
The vows are as varied as the myriad relationships in which we have been involved. But all these vows have one thing in common; they are based on our fear of what will happen if control is lost. We make vows, convinced that we have created a hedge of protection around us. What we don't realize is that the vows only offer a false sense of security. We don't recognize that we've replaced trust in God with trust in our coping mechanisms. Without meaning to, we move away from freedom and love, and towards slavery and fear.
God is beckoning us to step out, and to trust Him in the scary places. God is calling us to move forward. Perhaps it's a hard conversation He wants you to have. He may be inviting you to stop trying to control someone in your life, and instead to trust Him to intervene. Maybe it's finally working up the courage to say out loud, “I am drinking to numb the pain and I don't know how to stop.” It could be that He's asking you to admit that you are experiencing despair, and that you need professional help. It's a stepping out into the unknown, and even as He extends His hand, our pretend places of safety look preferable to the free fall of trust.
Someone asked me once what scared me about the free fall that takes place when I step out and trust God. She asked if I was more afraid of where I was going to land, or what it would feel like during the process.
The truth is, both parts are scary. I don't like what it feels like to not be in control. Hard conversations make me sick to my stomach. I like to know what's around the corner and I like to be prepared for it. Stepping out and trusting God means that we can end up in some places that don't feel as predictable as before. But those places feel real. They feel honest. They feel authentic.
And that's where God meets us. When we quit pretending, when we stop burying the things that need attention, He stands right in front of us, cups our face in His hands and whispers, “You are so brave.”
He cheers when we take that first, scary step. He knows that's the hardest step to take. God is calling out to our hearts, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine!” (Isaiah 43:1) He grabs hold of our hands, and does not let go for one second. His strength is infused into us, and we find that we can take another step, and then the next. Every single moment of the free fall, He is going before us, “turning the darkness into light… and making the rough places smooth.” (Is. 42:16) He coaxes us forward and promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Is. 43:2)
Ask the One who loves you to give you just a little more courage than fear. God is calling you to have faith in Him. All you need to take the first step. You don't need to have it all scripted out. You don't need to have the whole plan in place. You just need a little more courage than fear, and the knowledge of where the free fall ends. Oh my sweet friends…it doesn't end with you in a heap on the floor. It ends with you cradled in His arms. You can rest there. And when the time is right, He'll set your feet back on the ground and say, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Is. 43:18-19)
Grateful for His mercy that never fails…
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in November 2015.
It was 11 PM and pitch dark as I crept up Signal Mountain for the first time. My best friend had warned me that the path to her new Tennessee home was lined with hairpin turns. Although I heeded this warning, I also shrugged it off due to my decent amount of experience driving up and down mountainous terrain. What I expected was not what I drove up to find.
I had never seen a road like this before. It was not filled with hairpin turns; it was filled with literal u-turns. I could not see what I was turning into. There was a line of cars behind me. My entire body was trembling.
I knew that I had to get up this mountain and, whether or not it was wise, I decided to play the blind faith game. I turned my wheel all the way and accelerated just enough to creep around this u-turn of death. I made it. Then, I drove on to find two more of these death traps.
By a sheer miracle, I finally made it to the top of the mountain alive and practically fell out of the car and into my friend's arms to reveal my anything-but-steady hand. She quickly realized that my GPS has taken me up what is known as “The W.” This was not the road with hairpin turns, but rather the route up the mountain with three u-turn-like twists which create the shape of a W.
I assumed a road like this would seem far less terrifying in the daylight and so I was eager to see it the next day (with someone else driving, of course).
The W was even more alarming when you could see the path. The turns were, in fact, so sharp that only one car could make them at a time. I could not believe what I had survived, in the dark, the night before.
Sometimes, I'm thankful God keeps us in the dark.
When I am in the dark, I feel the most out of control and I have the potential to be the most scared, but sometimes, it is simply easier to walk along the path by faith than by sight.
Recently a sweet nun was telling my Walking with Purpose, Opening Your Heart small group a story when she said this simple phrase: “If it is of God, it will happen.”
Her lack of pause led me to believe that she had no idea what a profound statement she had just made and yet, it has redirected all of my thinking. Since that evening, I have been doing all that I can to live with an, If it is of God, it will happen mentality. This, as with most good things, is much easier said than done.
But oh, how freeing it is to trust in God's sovereignty.
I want you to stop planning, to stop wishing, and allow Me to give you
The most thrilling plan existing...one you cannot imagine.
I want you to have the best. Please allow me to bring it to you.
You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things.
Keep experiencing the satisfaction that I am.
Keep listening and learning the things that I tell you.
Just wait, that's all. (1)
How simple. How beautiful. How hard.
What is God's job? To plan, to give, to create, to wow us with the plan He has for us.
What is our job? To wait.
God's job is detailed and intricate and complex while ours is simple. And yet, we make our part so much more difficult than it ought to be.
I think sometimes God keeps us in the dark for a reason. When I was making my way up the W, I had no choice but to trust. I had to keep plugging forward with no idea what was in front of me.
In life, God often asks us to keep moving forward without knowledge of what lies before us. Often when we say “yes,” we have no real idea what we are saying yes to. We can plan and hope and expect, but in the end, only time will reveal what is truly in our path. Experiencing fulfilled promises builds trust, and thankfully, our God is a God who fulfills promises.
In the words of author Eugene Peterson, “The fulfillment of God's promise depends entirely on trusting God and His way and then simply embracing Him and what He does.”
Does this mean we sit and do nothing?
No, that is not what waiting is. Waiting in faith is active. We say, “yes.” We trust that if it is of God, it will happen. We embrace what God does. We rest in His love. And we continuously press forward in the path set before us, chasing after the One who loves us.
In thanks for the sovereignty of God,
P.S.: To learn more about trust and surrender, check out Part III of the Opening Your Heart Young Adult series, Steadfast
1) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Walking with Purpose, Steadfast, 19.
Dear reader: We have updated one of our favorite blog posts, originally published this time last year. We hope it provides you with a sense of peace and contentment with your place in His plan.
“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.
Last Monday was the feast day of a woman who ran her race beautifully- St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of Walking with Purpose. 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.
To the mamas out there in the trenches…
To those who are spending this Advent waiting for a miracle…
This is for you.
We all dread the phone call that comes unexpectedly and causes life to feel like one big “before and after.” There's the bad news that sideswipes us and no one is at fault, and then there's the news that makes it very easy to point a finger. So many emotions can explode in those moments- fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment, worry, anger, resentment.
As a mother, there is nothing worse than a call that involves your child. From the moment our children are placed in our arms, we make an inner vow to do all in our power to protect them and give them the best that we've got. The more years I live and the more broken hearts I encounter, the more certain I am that we all are giving mothering the best that we've got. Is it perfect? Far from it. But for the most part, we are doing the best we can with what we know and are able to do in the moment. But this doesn't mean that outcomes are guaranteed. Each child comes with his or her own journey ahead, and while we play a significant role in it, it isn't all up to us. The grand majority of it is up to them and the choices they will make with the great gifts of freedom and life that God has given.
With seven children, I've gotten my fair share of those phone calls. Each time, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach has taken hold. My breath shortened and my hands felt clammy. I listened, and prayed that it wasn't true. And then I began walking the unpleasant road of picking through rumors, truth, lies and some shattered hopes and dreams. Was the various news I received the end of the world? Absolutely not. But did my heart feel devastated? Yes. Each time.
Someone asked me if I would be worried about Walking with Purpose if my “worst case scenarios” regarding my kids came true and became known. Without a moment's hesitation, I said, “Absolutely not.” The reason I responded in this way has everything to do with the way that I define success and failure. I think it's worth sharing, because I think there are a lot of moms out there who are dealing with their own set of disappointments that involve their families, and there's a lot of hiding going on. This hiding doesn't help anyone or anything, and is actually the devil's playground. He loves the shadows. So many mothers feel like failures, and I believe they are using the wrong measure to determine how well they are doing in this critical area of life.
We live in a world that tells us the success of our children is measured by the outward appearance. Physical beauty, athletic ability, academic accolades and a charismatic personality are all sought after and considered the highest prize. As long as outward appearance looks good, all too often mothers are willing to hide-or more tragically, ignore-sins and deficits of their child's character. We don't want our children to suffer, but perhaps just as much, we don't want their reputations to suffer. In our world, reputation, what people think of us, is everything. As a result, we step in the way of natural consequences that God wants to use to teach our children deep, lasting lessons. We make excuses, cast blame, and bail them out so that their spirits aren't crushed. And in doing so, we warp their understanding of choices and consequences. We leave them ill-equipped for a world that will not continue to soften the blows or buffer them from discomfort. The result? They will never grow up.
Why do we do this? Because we are caught up in the very things the world values. We are mixed up with it all ourselves. We gain an extra ten pounds and feel less valuable. We measure our worth against what we accomplish. Striving and hustling to be considered good enough, we focus on the tip of the iceberg and ignore the enormity of what lies beneath.
God leans into this mess and reminds us, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) He cares about what's going on underneath the water. The tip of that iceberg may look great and earn us a lot of applause, but God is disinterested in those bells and whistles. He looks beneath, and measures our success by how we love. First and foremost, He cares about how we love Him. The first and greatest commandment is this: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
One of the ways that we love Him is by raising the children He has placed in our care. Raising children today is a battleground. We no longer live in a society that backs us up when we teach our kids what is most important. Leading our children to love and serve the Lord is incredibly hard in a culture that says truth is relative, everything in life revolves around them and their happiness, and that actions don't have consequences. The older our children get, the more we recognize what a battle it is. It's hard, and so many of us are weary.
Those of us who have determined to let the shoe fall, to let consequences be felt, often feel so alone on that path. We want to give up. We want to give in. We desperately want everything to just get comfortable again, even while we recognize that discomfort is exactly what our kids likely need in order to learn. Many of us are facing really serious battles with long term consequences, and too many of these warrior mamas feel like failures because their kids are seemingly not learning these lessons.
I believe that even when we recognize the battle for what it is, too many of us are fighting with the wrong weapons, and we're getting discouraged about the wrong things.
The true battle isn't what we see with our eyes. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The battle is in the spiritual realm. Only one kind of weapon can meet the battle in the air. It's described in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
The weapons of the world are reputation, money, influence, power and a shiny outward appearance. They can take us only so far. And from the Lord's perspective, all they are affecting is that tip of the iceberg, evident to all. But the weapons that have impact below the surface are far, far, more powerful than the worldly weapons.
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). This is an offensive spiritual weapon. Prayer is tremendously powerful because it literally moves the hand of God and calls down angels to battle on our behalf. The Eucharist has been used in physical battle, and the rosary's power has been seen for hundreds of years.
It's what's going on under the water that makes all the difference and is the true measure of success. And that's where we employ the weapons discussed in 2 Corinthians 10. The spiritual battle is a hidden battle-done in the quiet of our homes and adoration chapels. It's waged on our knees and literally pushes back the darkness.
If we copy the world and use its weapons, we are guaranteeing a lack of power. This is because those weapons have nothing to do with the release of the Holy Spirit. If we seem to win a battle by using the world's weapons, from God's perspective, we have lost. The reverse is also true. If we seem to lose a battle but we have relied on the Lord, trusting in Him and the weapons of prayer and God's word, we have won. We have WON, regardless of what it looks like to the rest of the world. This means that what others might say is a failure can actually be an enormous victory.
Join me, precious mamas, on your knees. Engage in this spiritual battle with heartfelt, fervent prayers. Let's storm heaven as we plead on behalf of this next generation. Do the hard things. Let the hammer fall and the consequences be felt. Don't stand between God and the lessons He is trying to teach your child. And over all these things, put on love. Tough love is real love. And isn't this what God is teaching us during Advent? The gift of love is always costly, but always redemptive.
As we move through Advent and prepare to celebrate the arrival of our Savior, I wonder what is pulling at your heart. Is there a longing? Is there something you are wishing for? Is the biggest thing on your Christmas list impossible to wrap up in a package, but oh, if it could be delivered to you, the satisfaction would be so very sweet?
Last month, I wrote about what we can do when it's hard to hope. Perhaps at no time of year is it harder to hope than at Christmastime. The lights, decorations, and smells create something beautiful. That beauty expands our hearts, and makes us long for fulfillment. It can make us long for traditions we had in childhood. It can make us long for a return of the pure wonder we used to have. The deepest ache comes when we long for the presence of loved ones who were here in years past but are no longer with us.
These aches were placed in our hearts by our Creator to make us long for heaven. Our time on earth is not all there is. Our destiny is an eternal one, and it is only there that we will have all our longings satisfied. Our hearts are continuously being pulled towards that place where we'll experience true fulfillment. During our lifetimes, we'll get tastes and glimmers of what that heavenly bliss is going to be like, but they are only meant to point us homeward, never to totally fill and satisfy us.
When we look to people, or circumstances, or even answers to prayer to satisfy our longings, we will always be disappointed. We were made for more, and that more is not here. Yes, Jesus satisfies. Yes, His Holy Spirit fills us and makes all the difference in our lives. But there will always be a gap between what we experience on earth, and the total union with God that we were created for.
What we think of heaven will have an enormous impact on how we feel about all of this. If we think of heaven as a place where we do nothing but play harps and sing all day, we're going to try to squeeze as much satisfaction out of this life as we can. We'll have the attitude, “Let's eat and drink and be merry because tomorrow we die (and everything gets really boring after that point).”
Oh my friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. Heaven is NOT going to be boring. It's going to be the place where our emptiness is filled. Where our joy shoots through the roof to the point of ecstasy. Where all our longings will be satisfied. Everything wrong will be made right. Every tear will be wiped from our eyes. When Jesus left this earth, He went to get it all ready for us. Think about the ultimate Christmas experience. The most beautifully decorated home. Sublime smells. Foods with the perfect blend of flavor and comfort. Unwrapping the gift that you've been hoping for but were sure was out of reach. Being surrounded by those you love. All of that is just a taste of what Jesus has prepared for us.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)
The story is told of a woman who lost her only child. Holding him in her arms, she turned her face towards heaven and said, “I give you joy, my sweet child.” This is what awaits us. Pure joy. This is what is being experienced right now by our loved ones who have gone before us. This why we don't “grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
E'en for the dead I will not bind my soul to grief; Death cannot long divide. For is it not as though the rose that climbed my garden wall Has blossomed on the other side? Death does hide, But not divide; You are but on Christ's other side! You are with Christ, and Christ with me; In Christ united still are we.
This Advent season, let's turn our hearts to heaven. While we enjoy the glimmers of joy here, let's remember that our inner ache, our longings, our desires, are going to be satisfied there.
So now we wait. We still our hearts. We prepare for the coming of Jesus, the one who came into the mess of the manger, who made Himself into bread so our hunger could be satisfied, who even now is preparing a banquet for us in heaven, beyond our wildest imaginings.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
May the blessing of hope be yours this Advent season!
 L.B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderan, 1997), 450.