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My dear friend, author Sarah Swafford, is guest blogging for us today! Please read and enjoy Sarah’s post about cultivating interior stillness. —Lisa

Do you ever run into Scripture passages that touch your heart, but also make you pause to think, “But what does that actually mean?” I have always loved the verse Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” As a wife of sixteen years, mother of five children, speaker, author, and also a recovering firstborn perfectionistic people-pleaser control freak (you may know the type), let’s just say that I have always been a bit of a “doer” and a go-getter. I love all my roles in life, and I also love my prayer time and quiet and reading and learning. Navigating daily life (the big and small battles) can at times be exhausting as I try to balance and maintain peace in my own heart and in my family…and tend to the countless responsibilities and tasks that are inevitable each day. 

Recently, I felt compelled to dig into the above verse and pray through this gravitational pull I had to the word “still.” If you break open the book of Exodus, and in particular chapter 14, you will see that this verse is spoken by Moses to the Israelites right before the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. Their backs were up against the sea and Pharaoh's army was charging. Can you imagine the sheer panic the Israelites must have felt in that moment?! Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like life is coming down on you and you’re scrambling to “get it all done,” to protect, to guide, to reign in your emotions, to find the strength to do battle against the attacks that come at you from a million different directions? I know I do sometimes. 

“The Lord will fight for you…” Yes, that is what I want! “Please Lord, step in and go to battle for me! I am exhausted and scared and overwhelmed and…and…and…” Not only does the Lord desire to fight for you, He also longs for you to ask for His help. It is not a form of weakness, but a deep realization that we can’t do it all, and we can’t do it without Him. Just like the Israelites with their backs up against the sea with a charging army, they knew they needed a miracle. And the Lord showed up for them, and all they needed to do was be still.

You may be thinking, “Okay, Sarah, right, like I can just ‘be still’ and all the tasks, chores, emotional angst, etc., will just disappear.” I know I used to think like that, that being “still” was just a little too far out of reach for my life. But as I read the book of Exodus and prayed on these verses, I started to realize that I was looking at it merely as a matter of physical stillness—to just stand around and wait for the Lord to show up and help me get it all done or figure it all out. 

Through prayer, I started to realize that this verse really points (for you, me, and the Israelites) to an interior stillness, something that generally doesn’t come about overnight. If I put myself in the story, as an Israelite with my family watching Pharaoh's army charge, I’m sure I would panic and try to take matters into my own hands; but there would also be a realization that I have just watched the Lord deliver us from our enemies through a series of plagues and a host of other supernatural phenomena. As with the Israelites, so also with us: God is worthy of our trust. I have seen Him fight my battles. 

So how do we cultivate this interior stillness? To be able to stand with our backs against the sea and trust; to not panic, to not flail around in our lives and try to take matters into our own hands? That’s not an easy task. I don’t have all the answers, but I know we can turn to the Scriptures and saints for a wealth of wisdom, and they would point us to the power of daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord. I say “daily,” but what I really mean is hourly—in the moment—in the present moment where we encounter our struggles; this is the place of battle, when we need to turn to the Lord in trust. 

It is helpful to recall the ways He has battled for us in the past because this can give us confidence that He can and will do so again. Each time we do this, we slowly develop a habit of surrendering to Him again and again, cultivating a deep awareness of our need for God. By returning to Him over and over again in the small things every day, we develop the instinct to turn to Him when the big things come our way—like when Pharaoh's army is charging and there is nowhere to go. 

Is it easy to trust, to turn to God in every need, and cultivate interior stillness? No, but the alternative will always be chaos, self-reliance, panic, and fear, and that is no way to live. He wants to fight for you. He has already laid His life down for you. I promise you—He is trustworthy. We need only be still. 

Need more inspiration to move toward daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord? Check out the Walking with Purpose 365-day devotional, Be Still. And while you’re here, be sure to sign up to get our weekly blog delivered to your inbox!

Sarah Swafford is the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries. She speaks internationally to people of all ages on a variety of topics such as: emotional virtue, dating and relationships, modesty of intentions, and interior confidence. She shares her message at school assemblies, retreats, rallies, and conferences around the world and is the author of Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships. 

Sarah is a contributor to Chosen, Ascension Press’ confirmation program, and YDisciple’s True Beauty; she has also contributed videos for www.womenmadenew.com. Sarah is a proud team member of Chastity Project and speaks at Steubenville conferences in the United States and Canada.

Sarah also works on special projects for Catholic identity at her alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she resides with her wonderful husband, Dr. Andrew Swafford, and their children: Thomas, Fulton, Cate, Kolbe, and John Paul. You can find more information about Sarah and Emotional Virtue Ministries at www.emotionalvirtue.com

I will be honest, the last couple of weeks have been hard. And would you believe it has nothing to do with Covid, pandemic restrictions, or even vaccinations? This was a different kind of hard. This hard was fueled by swirling negative self-talk and comparisons with other women in which I always ended up short. Old wounds were uncovered in my heart, and with those old wounds came powerful feelings of not being good enough, of feeling less than, of feeling ugly. I was emotionally leveled. 

And all of this happened to bubble up to the surface during a week in which I was planning the ending celebration of my women’s group’s 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph, my youngest was preparing to graduate from kindergarten, my husband was working longer hours on a big project, and my older children were in need of me to help them study for their finals, not to mention being the point person for all of the drop-offs and pick-ups for the various activities that they were now back to. My daily responsibilities were not going to stop just because my emotions and old wounds were getting the better of me. 

I’m not proud to admit that my go-to response has always been to push through the day, do what was needed of me and/or what was required of me and then crawl into bed, pull the covers up, let those negative thoughts wash over me, and succumb to them. I tend to isolate, withdraw, and not allow anyone into my hurt...including God. My seven years of Bible study through Walking with Purpose has strengthened my relationship with Christ, and I know that the enemy is cunning, “prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). At that point, however, I was not strong enough to resist the attack. My rational brain was throwing red flags up everywhere, telling me that this was exactly what the enemy—the “father of lies'' (John 8:44)—does, this is his game plan, this is where he wants me—isolated, alone, despairing, and questioning my worth. My defenses were weak this time around. I stayed right where I was and I believed every lie. This ultimately led to heightened anxiety and rising levels of anger and frustration. My behavior toward those I love most (hint: my husband and children), therefore, was less than stellar, and not my finest moment.

But what the enemy did not count on this time around was that in these past seven  years of WWP, the Lord had been intentionally placing women in my life who He knew I needed alongside me on my journey. Don’t you just love God?? The Lord had been cultivating these authentic friendships in my life in order to grow the fruits of healing and unconditional love. It was these fierce women who picked me up when I was too weak to fight this battle alone, who picked up their own shields of faith to place in front of me and defend me from the arrows of the enemy. These women called me out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of community in Christ. 

This journey that we are on, sisters, we were never meant to be on alone. From the beginning, the Lord meant for us to be in relationship. We were each made in the image and likeness of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the three persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion with each other, so too are we called to be. Mary DeTurris Poust writes in her book, Walking Together, “We see in the three personas of the Trinity an openness. The Father, Son and Spirit are generous with one another and in constant connection...the three personas are distinct and separate from each other, never in danger of overtaking one another or suppressing one another. There is a harmony there [emphasis added].”[1]  When our friendships are rooted in God, there is a true desire for the other to flourish. There is no judgment or comparison between each other. There is building up, not tearing down. 

We can see examples of holy friendships throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Ruth displays fierce loyalty and faithfulness as she refuses to leave Naomi, and instead accompanies her to Naomi’s family’s home—a place where the culture, language, and traditions were unknown to Ruth. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth tells Naomi (Ruth 1:16). And Naomi reciprocates these feelings as she urges Ruth toward a marriage with a kind and loving man, telling her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you” (Ruth 3:1). These women desired true happiness for one another. 

The greatest examples we have of holy friendships are those between Jesus and His chosen disciples. He called each one to follow Him, seeing special gifts unique to each person. Knowing these men and women would be called for a greater mission after His death, He helped them along their paths toward holiness. He inspired virtue and called out lies and prejudices. He declared truth into their hearts and modeled trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus knew that His disciples would need each other. He sent them out during His ministry two by two (Luke 10:1). And just as He reminds them “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), so too does He remind us that when we ground our friendships in Him, He will be there too. 

Are you seeking harmony in your relationships? Are the friendships you have right now ones that keep you on the path of virtue and in the pursuit of holiness? Sister, are you spending time with others who edify you, who call out your gifts, and encourage you to be a better version of yourself? If not, spend time in prayer, asking for the Lord to lead you to these women. And if you are lucky enough to have these women already in your life, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and then invite these blessed friends back to community and fellowship with you. 

[1] DeTurris Poust, Mary. (2010). Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, pp. 21-22.

“Act, and God will act.” St. Joan of Arc

Spoiler alert, I am no Joan of Arc. I wouldn’t know the first thing about battling the English army in the 15th century. I’m not so sure Joan did either, actually. What I do know is that Joan, a young peasant girl in rural France, heard the voices of three saints and was instructed by them to save her country. She led the French army into battle—at 16 years old. Among many other admirable traits, it’s her humility and confidence that draw me to her. She was confident and trusted in the Lord’s will and His provision over her, that He would come through for her. She was humble enough to know that her actions, her victories were not her own but the Lord’s.

Certainly for women, in this time and culture, confidence can so easily be misconstrued as arrogance, pretension, or self-importance. The definition of confidence is full trust and belief in the powers or reliability of a person or thing.[1] Increasingly, our culture is teaching women—particularly young women—to place their full trust in things like their appearance, their weight, their photos on social media, and how many Instagram followers they have. Social media pictures are usually, if not always, filtered. “Followers” do not mean friends. And our beauty, as Proverbs tells us, “is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30). When we place our full trust in things of this world, we will never be satisfied. “The world and its desires pass away.” (1 John 2:17) As Christians, we are called to have confidence and place our full trust and belief in the powers of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is the Lord, is blessed.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

To be humble, like Jesus, is to be open and receptive to what the Lord wills for us, knowing that all things come from Him and should ultimately point back to Him. Conversely, ungodly pride points only to ourselves. The trendy, oft-used statement in our culture, “You do you,” expresses not a humble nature, but rather an individual, self-serving one: “It’s all about what’s good for me.” Humility, instead, changes our perspective from one of navel-gazing and self-preservation to one of serving others as Christ did. “He came to serve, not to be served.” (Mark 10:45) Humble confidence, therefore, is trusting fully in our Lord and His promises, thus cooperating with the work the Lord does in and through us, and then pointing all the glory back to God.

Who more than Mary, our Blessed Mother, embodies humility and confidence in the Lord’s will? There is no greater example for women than our Blessed Mother. Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes in Discovering Our Dignity that Mary “led by example, showing total confidence [emphasis added] in God when she said, ‘Let it be done to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38).”[2] Mary declared she was a lowly handmaiden who had been blessed by our Lord when she visited her cousin Elizabeth after the Angel Gabriel departed. “Mary had a true understanding of who she was. She didn’t doubt her dignity or worth in God’s eyes. This is genuine humility, because humility [emphasis added] is seeing ourselves as God sees us.”[3]

I believe that both St. Joan of Arc and the Blessed Mother knew that on their worst days, as well as on their best days, they needed the Lord. And they both were confident that He would show up for them. Can we say the same? How can we grow in humble confidence and emulate them?

The easiest way, dear sister, is to spend time in prayer and in Scripture. When we read Scripture we are spending time with the Lord. Just as when we spend time with a friend we learn more about her, so will time spent in Scripture teach us about the character of God, His trustworthiness, and His tender love for each of us.

Other valuable ways to grow in the virtues of humility and confidence in the Lord include:

St. Joan of Arc knew there was an army of men that stood against her. Our Blessed Mother bore witness to those who stood against her Son and endured the actions taken to stop Him. Let us stand tall in the knowledge, sister, that we also face a battle; we also face an army against us in the world today. Take heart, we are not alone. Alongside warrior women such as the Blessed Mother and St. Joan of Arc, let us grow in humble confidence. Let us ask Our Lord to fill our hearts with the grace of humility and the confidence to see ourselves through His eyes. Let us display full trust that the Lord will show up for us. And then, let us stand together.

[1] “Confidence,” Dictionary.com, 2021, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/confidence (24 May 2021).
[2] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Discovering Our Dignity: A Study of Women of the Bible (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 216.
[3] Ibid., 298.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace,
Lisa

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

If you had told me when I was younger that I would be involved in women’s ministry as an adult, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed at you. I would have said, “No way. Girls are mean and unpredictable, and can’t be trusted—I’d rather just be around my guy friends.”  

Now, as an adult, I could try to laugh off the silliness of that comment and the ignorance of  “my youth.” But the truth is, I bet many of us have felt, or still feel, the same way. The wounds of rejection, gossip, and betrayal from women in our lives can be deep and long-lasting. I challenge you to find a woman today who hasn't been hurt by (or hurt) another woman in some way. 

Often, the wounds of our hearts can hinder us from being who we are truly meant to be. They can cause us to close ourselves off to new relationships for fear of being hurt again. This is what the devil wants. He wants us quietly suffering, immobilized, and feeling like we are all alone. He knows that when women know who they are and where they are meant to be, they are a formidable force. 

Since encountering Walking with Purpose, I’ve had a profound shift in my feelings about the value of female friendships. I have come to realize that deep and meaningful connections with other women are something that we, as women, really need in order to thrive. 

For me, this shift came from experiencing firsthand what it looks like to be in authentic friendship and community with other women through Walking with Purpose. I have seen women encourage someone experiencing the loss of a parent [1], work alongside each other to serve families in need [2], offer to babysit so that a young couple could get some desperately needed time away [3], use their gifts and talents to create beautiful spaces and places for women to meet [4], and weep when an unexpected tragedy occurred and rejoice when a fervent prayer request was answered [5]. These are just a few of the many examples I could share with you from the last ten years of my involvement with Walking with Purpose.

There is something powerful that happens when women come together in an intentional community and encourage one another to live out their lives authentically: women thrive. We thrive because we are given a chance to be heard, to belong, and to be loved. And the result? Confident women with an unshakeable sense of peace and a knowledge of who they are to their core. I’ve seen this happen beautifully through the wisdom and community of authentic friendships in Christ, and I am so grateful for it. 

Maybe you haven’t experienced this kind of friendship yet. Maybe you are praying for this right now. Maybe you are struggling with wounds from gossip or betrayal that are years old but still feel fresh. Maybe you have no idea where God is calling you at this moment, and you are just trying to make it through the day. Trust me, I can relate. I can also tell you that discovering the peace and unshakeable confidence mentioned above will only fully come through knowing Jesus Christ and His Church. And that is what Walking with Purpose is all about. We know what it looks like to be broken women in need of a Savior—because that is who we are too.

Take some time in prayer today and ask God to heal the wounds you may have from past rejection, gossip, or betrayal. Ask Him to remove any obstacles you are holding on to, preventing you from living your life to the fullest in Him. This might not be a one-time process, sisters. But trust me that He wants to heal your wounds, He wants you to have authentic friendships, and He wants you to be fully who you are meant to be—starting now. 

[1] Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
[2] We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)
[3] Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
[4] Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4: 9-10)
[5] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

 

Every summer when I was a kid, we’d all pile into the back of the station wagon to make the two-day, endless, no end in sight, drive to Hilton Head Island. There were no seat belts. There was no technology. There were no snacks (because back in the day there was no kitchen in the car, and we were sturdy enough to survive without a snack every 20 minutes). We learned how to entertain ourselves by leafing through books, looking out of car windows, and searching for the alphabet on highway signs and license plates. And every 10 minutes or so we inevitably asked, “Are we almost there yet?”

Life sort of feels like that right about now. I swear, the 5k Fun Run I didn’t want to sign up for, and planned to walk anyway, has turned into a marathon that I am forced to sprint and comes with no finish line. Good grief, is it just me, or did the race officially just get too long? The uncertainty of the future mixed with the fear of “what is to come” is brewing stronger than that third pot of coffee we shouldn’t have made. And yet, here we all are, reaching for another cup, wondering why we can’t shake the queasiness and involuntary twitching.

Has your zeal to emerge stronger finally given way to weariness?
Has your hope been buried somewhere beneath that pile of canceled plans?
Has that positive outlook you put on like a champ taken its last breath, along with your dream of everything going back to normal this fall?

And I am not sure what it was that finally broke me. Maybe the hurricane and loss of power and water? Or was it the announcement that my kids would be attending school for only two days a week? Or perhaps the laptop that decided right now would be the perfect time to have a nervous breakdown? (Or was that me?) Whatever it was, something was added to the pile of disappointment and fear, and I finally threw my hands up to the Lord and demanded to know, “Are we almost there yet?”

We all have this desire to know the future, don’t we? That urge to pick up the veil and take a peek. And at the root of this desire? Fear. We want to know how much longer, when will this end, and what will become of us, as if we would be satisfied with the answer; as if knowing the date were the true remedy for the peace our hearts lack. These are the weeds, sprouted from seeds of fear, that thrive and grow in our cluttered minds. If only we were as good at keeping our life-giving thoughts as alive as we were these! And yet, all hope is not lost. 

Two weeks ago I began leading a group of over 50 women in Marian Consecration; 33 days of seeking to know Jesus and offering Him our hearts, by way of Mary. Our Lady was most obedient to the will of God without any certainty. She never asked, “How long, Lord?” She never demanded to see more than one step ahead. Mary is our perfect model for such a time as this, offering us three practical and prayerful ways to handle the fear of uncertainty and temper our need to know what comes next. 

1. Trust the Word of God

This young maiden at the Annunciation agrees to an unimaginable invitation, without certainty or details of the future. The ardent desire of Mary’s heart to do the will of God trumped the desire for more information and put her fear to rest. How do we know she was afraid? Because the angel commanded her, “Do not be afraid.” But it isn’t enough for us to be told “do not be afraid,” is it? In fact, for some of us today, being told to quit being so scared can feel insensitive and unhelpful. This is why what Father Peter Cameron observes about Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation is so important: “Why were the angel’s words to be trusted? Because when Gabriel said to Mary, ‘Do not be afraid’ (Luke 1:30), she stopped being afraid. The Word of God transfigured her. What the angel announced to her corresponded with the deepest longings of her humanity.”[1]

We, too, can be transfigured by the Word of God. 

2. Resist the Urge to Go Back to Egypt

When the journey started to feel too long for the Israelites and complaining got the best of them, they looked back to what they had left behind. And I get it. When there’s no end in sight, you forget that God has a plan and you just want to go back to how things used to be—even if they weren’t that good. With each new obstacle, and report of another cancellation, it is tempting to respond with frustration, anger, and doubt. This is why I turn to Mary. From the moment she gave her fiat, it was one obstacle after the next. Leave your hometown, give birth in a stable, flee to Egypt...I mean, seriously! Had the Scriptures read that Mary jumped off that donkey and ran back home crying to her mother, we’d all be like, “I get you, girl.” But she didn’t. Because of her trust in God’s Word, Mary’s response was always one of heart-pondering.[2] She did not run backward, but remained in place, pondering God’s will in that moment.

We, too, can be at peace in the moment by developing a posture of heart-pondering prayer.

3. Keep an Upward Perspective

Because of her pondering, Mary lived beyond the right here, right now. Her constant disposition was one of faith, and her heart was set firmly on the goal of life: Heaven. When fraught with fear, this is too easily forgotten. If our focus is more on the race than it is on the prize, we will drop dead from exhaustion. This race requires perseverance, not perseFEARance. We must put on our blinders, turn off the world, and keep looking upward.

We, too, being created for heaven, can live in a gesture of looking upward.

Are we almost there yet? That is not for us to know. But God gives us a Mother to wait with; a Mother who teaches us in this moment to trust the Word of God, keep a heart-pondering attitude, and to go beyond our present circumstances as we keep looking upward. 

When uncertainty disturbs your peace, remember these three things. When fear grips your heart, behold your Mother.

[1] Father Peter John Cameron, O.P.,  Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, ST. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010), p. 43
[2]  Luke 2:19, 51

Bible Study

 

“I trust in you, O LORD…My times are in your hands.” (Psalm 31:14-15)

These words were written by King David at a time when he was experiencing deep distress. Earlier in Psalm 31 he wrote, “My strength fails because of my misery” (Psalm 31:10). His circumstances were not what he wanted. He was bone-weary. Yet somehow, he was able to trust God.

I wonder how you are doing right now, if you are weary, too. What circumstances are you facing that makes it difficult for you to trust that “your times” are in God’s capable hands? Are you struggling to be content with what “your times” presently hold?

Is it possible to be content when your finances go up and down? Does a family crisis negate the possibility of contentment? Can you be content when you aren’t achieving very much? Does contentment depend on whether you are married or single? Can you be content regardless of how schools will operate this fall? Does your contentment depend on whether or not the pandemic continues to rage? Is it tied to your health, wealth, comfort, or safety?

Trust in God and contentment go hand in hand. When I think it’s all up to me, I feel I need to hustle. I’m discontent if any of my circumstances are not what I had been working for. But when I recognize my littleness and see that I am not the ruler of the universe and am actually in the palm of God’s hand, I can rest. When I rest, I realize that God has not failed me. I am still standing. He is sustaining me. I am able to pray, “You are my rock and my fortress…into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:3, 5).

Because God is who He says He is, and does what He says He’ll do, “even now, there is hope” (Ezra 10:2). This is a truth you can count on—there is always reason to hope. God was not surprised this morning by what popped up in your news feed. He isn’t wringing His hands as He looks down from heaven at the chaos below. God isn’t playing around with your life, dispassionately seeing what you are made of. He is utterly in control, completely interested in the details of your life, and timelessly working in the future so that even the worst things today can be redeemed down the road. 

God loves you with a level of purity that you can’t even fathom. In a time when you might wonder which news, data, and people you can trust, God remains “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is unchanging, unfailing, and unflinching in His commitment to father you faithfully.

Allow yourself to become little—like a child. Let the pressure roll off. Picture yourself in the palm of God’s hands, because that is where you are. Remember what those hands have done. They are the same hands that stretched out the heavens (Isaiah 45:12), told the sea it could go no further (Job 38:11), and healed with a touch (Matthew 8:3).

Psalm 31:15 says, “My times are in your hand.” This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t hold the whole world in His hands. But it’s undoubtedly sweeter when you see that this is a truth meant for you, personally. Jesus loves you and gave Himself up for you, and your life is in the hands of the one whose hands were nailed to the cross for your sake. May you embrace this truth and allow this reality to be the source of your hope, strength, and security. 

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16)

When unwanted and unexpected circumstances hit, we are faced with the unwelcome reminder that we are far less in control than we’d like. We’re reminded of our fragility and mortality, subjects we’d rather ignore.

Philippians 4:7 (NAB) promises that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” All too often, I equate that peace with feeling in control. But that isn’t what God has promised me. He’s promised me that HE is in control, and that if I truly believe that, I can experience peace. Pastor A.W. Tozer wrote, “The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.”[1] Our belief in God should keep us from panic, despite our circumstances. Faith, not fear, should be in the driver’s seat.

What should be our witness to a watching world when panic encroaches? Should we respond differently because of our faith? It’s interesting that one of the things that caused early Christianity to spread like wildfire throughout the Roman empire was the way in which Christians courageously stepped into danger. When most fled the city of Caesarea because of the plague, the Christians stayed and cared for the sick and dying. The ripple effects of their compassion resulted in many conversions. 

This does not mean we throw caution to the wind and act recklessly, but the knowledge that our ultimate safety rests with God, and that He has taken care of our eternity, should bring peace to our hearts. These truths should impact our anxiety levels. 

In the words of Dr. Gregory Popcak, “Anxiety is meant to be a sign that we are facing imminent danger.”[2] Are most of us facing imminent danger? What are the things we are afraid of? I would propose that most of us are scared about the wrong things. We’re scared about whether or not the job is secure, or scared that our reputation is tarnished and people don’t like or respect us, or scared that our level of comfort and health might change, or scared that our finances are going to take a turn for the worse, or scared that our children aren’t happy, or scared that our marriage is going to fail and we’ll be left alone. These are not small things. We look at the people we love and…we’re scared of divorce. Of being cheated on. Of mental illness. Of suicide. Of cancer. Of bankruptcy. 

What are most people not afraid of? Eternity. Because they choose not to think about it or because they have a faulty understanding of what it is. As a result, all that matters is the here and now. This way of thinking is the true threat. The biggest threat—the biggest danger—is that the enemy might succeed in getting us to take our eyes off of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Is it possible that we are most afraid of the wrong things?

All too quickly we forget that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, RSV).

Please hear me. These verses are not saying that our suffering doesn’t matter to God—that He thinks what we are going through is no big deal. But what that verse is saying is that none of our suffering is without purpose, none of it is out of God’s control, and this life—this present suffering—is not all that there is. In the words of St. Clare of Assisi, “Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes like a shadow.” This is not the end of the line. We are just passing through. Let’s live with our eyes fixed on eternity. That’s the only way the peace that surpasses understanding can be ours.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1961), 2.

[2] Dr. Gregory Popcak, Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2018), 18.

Walking with Purpose

 

 

“Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” 1 Samuel 15:19

If we can't wait to tell our girlfriends about our new favorite Netflix series, you can be sure that when we taste the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, we'll want other people to experience the same. Nowhere is that desire more intense than when mothers want to pass their faith to their children. I'm often asked about good resources for this, and what to do about older kids who have stopped coming to us for advice and who probably aren't listening to us much at all. It would be so simple if the solution was found in a book or a program that I could recommend. But that's not what I've seen to be the most effective. Here's what I think is the total game changer: MAMAS WHO ARE RADICALLY OBEDIENT TO GOD.

In 1 Samuel, we find Saul, a man who stood head and shoulders above all the Israelites. God chose him as Israel's first king, but even with all his accolades, good looks, brawn, and leadership opportunities, Saul had self-esteem issues. We know this from the words of the prophet Samuel, Israel's spiritual leader. In I Sam. 15, Samuel was calling Saul out for not obeying the Lord. Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before a battle, but fear crept in, patience wore thin, and Saul took matters into his own hands and did it himself.

The first words out of Samuel's mouth when he saw Saul was this: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:17) He then went on to ask Saul why he didn't obey the voice of the Lord after being given clear instructions.

Samuel was basically saying, “Saul, even though you don't think you are adequate or amount to much, God has chosen you for a really important task. He anointed you to LEAD. He told you to obey. So what were you thinking?!”

Saul responded by saying, “I have obeyed the Lord. I went on the mission he sent me on. These are all the things I did do. Why the obsessive attention to minute details? I obeyed in the big things. Isn't that good enough?”

And Samuel's answer brought down the hammer; “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Then the news was delivered that God had rejected Saul as king. Obedience didn't just matter in the big stuff. God was concerned with the details.

So back to our kids and our desire to pass our faith to them. There are great materials and programs out there, and we are wise to expose our kids to them. But there is nothing that will have greater effect on our children than our own radical obedience- not just in the big things, but in the little day-to-day decisions that most people in our lives don't see but our children do.

Romans 12:1 says that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This is a picture of us offering everything we have on an altar to God. It's a declaration that we are willing to take our hands off our lives and let God be utterly in charge. It's giving Him the right to call the shots on the big things and the little things. It's committing to a life of prayer where we are in touch with God throughout the day so that we recognize the small ways He's asking us to obey, not just the big and obvious ones. It's committing to radical obedience where we do what He has asked ALL THE WAY, RIGHT AWAY. This is what our kids notice. This is what impacts them deeply.

Our kids are asking the question, “Is this faith thing for real? Does Jesus really make that big a difference?” And they look to our lives more than our words for the answer.

We hear that call to offer our lives as living sacrifices-to obey radically-and all too often we say, “God, I'll obey you if….”.

Make no mistake. Whatever is on the other side of that word “if” is what we want and worship most. That is what we are willing to sacrifice for. And our kids know it. They see it. We all worship something. Whether it's comfort, a career, a relationship, status… there is something that we will give anything to have and hold onto. God asks that it be HIM. He asks that our obedience not be tied to conditions.

The only way we will ever be able to obey Him in this way is if we see Him as infinitely wise and infinitely kind. We need to know Him in order to trust Him. This is why we delve into Scripture- so that we can know Him better. So that we can see evidence of His wisdom in order to trust in His plan for our lives. In order to hear of His kindness so that we remember He is utterly FOR US.

Where is God asking you to obey right now? What choice is in front of you? Who will you worship in this moment? What is holding you back?

I pray that we can follow hard after God in the big and in the small, because what our world needs is women whose trust in God translates into brave and radical obedience. Being up to date on our social media feeds, having perfectly organized homes, nailing it with deliverables at work- all of that feels great. But the simple acts of obedience CHANGE THE WORLD.

*This post first appeared on the WWP website in February 2017.

Walking with Purpose

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,

Lisa

Walking with Purpose

 

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