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Since childhood, I’ve been inspired by an incredible woman of faith named Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth was widowed with a ten-month-old daughter when her husband was savagely speared by members of a violent Amazonian tribe. Jim had gone to Ecuador to share the gospel, but the mission ended tragically. One might have excused Elisabeth if she wallowed in self-pity or raged against God for taking her husband when he was only trying to do good. But instead of doing any of these things, Elisabeth gathered her daughter, her Bible, a snakebite kit, and tremendous courage, and moved to the very place where her husband had died. She was determined to offer a hand of forgiveness and friendship to the very people who had killed the one she loved most, and many of them came to faith in Christ as a result. 

So when Elisabeth Elliot talks about suffering, I listen.

In her book, A Path Through Suffering, she writes:

Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him, and with Himself His vision to see the glory in the surrender…

He stands ready today to supply us with His wisdom to understand what He wants to teach, and His strength to carry through, for He never allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure. His commands are always accompanied by power to obey. The Everlasting Arms are always underneath us, the everlasting love always surrounds us.[1]

But difficult circumstances don’t automatically make us saints. It isn’t the circumstances themselves that do the shaping. It’s our cooperation. When life throws us a curveball, we have a choice about how we’re going to receive it. We can choose to become bitter, to be filled with self-pity, and to dwell on our doubts. We might begin to ask questions like, “Where was God in this situation?” “Why didn’t He intervene by giving me the answer I wanted?” “Doesn’t He love me?” “Isn’t He powerful enough to do anything about it?” The choice is set before us. We can water the seeds of doubt by focusing on our circumstances. Or we can focus on the fact that somewhere in the midst of the current state of affairs is an opportunity to be transformed. 

When we are going through trials—little ones or big ones—deaths of a sort, and experiences of brokenness, it’s important to remember that Jesus understands suffering from experience. Jesus entered into what appeared to be meaningless suffering. This means He is never indifferent to what you are enduring. He sees all the little and big deaths that you experience. And He stands ready to bring new life in those places that feel desolate.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of that process of transformation: “This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased…Can I not do to you as this potter has done? Indeed, like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:1–6).

These are the verses that get me through hardship. In difficult times, I don’t want to experience what I am going through. I want to escape. But these verses stop me before I give in to bitterness or numb out. They remind me that I have a choice. I can offer myself to God as clay to a potter. I can say to Him, “In this particular set of undesired circumstances, I give you permission to shape me—to mold me—to transform me, because I want to experience a better eternity. I want to become the woman you created me to be. And if a death of sorts is required for new life to be born in me, I accept it. I say yes. I say, Jesus, I trust in You.” 

When the potter sees a bubble or a defect in the pot, he has to press the clay back onto the wheel and reshape the pot. But all the while, he is making it into something of great beauty. So here is the question: can we trust God that when He asks us to experience something that is hard, He promises to use it to mold us into vessels that are filled with His Spirit? May we never forget—He can turn brokenness into blessing and beauty. 

After enduring twenty years of imprisonment, confinement, and hard labor in the Gulag of the Soviet Union, Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. wrote a phenomenal book called He Leadeth Me. In it, he wrote, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere ‘out there’ in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were His will for me. What He wanted was for me to accept these situations as from His hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at His disposal.”[2]

Perhaps you feel hemmed in by your circumstances. You feel stuck. You wonder if things will ever change. The enemy wants you to keep your focus on all those thoughts. But the Lord invites you to raise your eyes and gain a higher perspective. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

What if the peace we so long for is on the other side of surrender?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishing, 1990), 87.
[2] Walter J. Ciszek SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Random House, 1973), 81.

Are you wrestling with a decision you need to make, and aren’t sure what you should do? Do you wish the right choice was obvious, but instead feel that each of your options look equally viable?

In James 1:8, we are warned against being double-minded. This means having two opposing views in your mind at the same time. Some people call it cognitive dissonance. What results is inconsistency, vacillation, acting one way today and a different way tomorrow, and having trouble making a decision and sticking with it. No one wants to live like that, but too many of us do. Here are some tips for decision making, and a prayer that will invite God into the process.

1. Get in touch with your deepest longings. 

Identify what drains you and what energizes you. Make a list of each. This will help you grow in awareness of what you truly desire and separate it out from others’ expectations of you. Once you’ve made your list, check that your desires, if they came to fruition, would pass the death bed test. In the end, will you consider this thing to be important? Are you choosing a project over people? Accomplishment over relationship? Also note whether or not the things you have listed reflect what God desires most for you. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy, but God wants you to pursue the holiness that will provide you with eternal, not just temporal, happiness. 

Do those longings pass those two tests? Then look at the decision you face in light of those desires. Which decision leads you closer to those longings becoming your reality?

2. Follow the traffic signal.

Picture a traffic signal with three circles: green, yellow, and red. Now imagine that the red circle is the Word of God. Does the red light come on when you think of making a certain decision? Has the Word of God actually already given you an answer? Don’t move forward if God has already said no in Scripture. No red light? Continue to the next circle.

The yellow circle is godly advice. The key word is godly. As you discuss the decision you face with loved ones, pay attention to the life choices being made by the person you are talking to. Is this person pursuing God? Does this person understand God’s desire that you be holy? Don’t just talk to people who tell you what you want to hear. Seek the advice of people who are spiritually mature and love you enough to speak truthfully. Their yellow light might tell you to slow down. But if they give you a go ahead, move onto the next circle.

The green circle is the feeling in your gut. Over-thinking and over-analysis can be paralyzing. Our fear of failure can prevent us from taking necessary risks. Ask God to help you discern the difference between nervousness (which often accompanies a good decision) and true unrest in your spirit, which is your own life-earned wisdom letting you know you are moving in the wrong direction. Imagine yourself having made the decision. Walk around for a day imagining that was the direction you went. How does it feel? 

3. Learn from St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We want to make all our decisions prayerfully. We’re crazy to charge ahead without consulting the One who hung the stars, sees the long-term view with total clarity, and loves us like no other. St. Ignatius of Loyola talks about the importance of praying for confirmation once you’ve made a decision. This prayer takes place before the action of the decision. St. Ignatius also discourages making decisions when you are in a period of spiritual desolation. When everything around you feels hopeless and dark, this is not a good time for change. When that’s your reality, St. Ignatius advises that you make no new decisions. That you wait. The desolation will pass, and clarity will return.

To help you invite God into your decision making, I wrote the Litany of Decision Making. I hope it gives words to the thoughts and feelings swimming in your heart and mind, and carries you down the road to clarity and peace.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

Never change. 

I can’t tell you how many friends wrote that in my high school yearbook. Never change. Could you imagine if I never changed? Since 1988? I don’t know about you, but if I never changed, there’s a good chance I’d be dead. Or still wearing shoulder pads. 

In the past week, I have had multiple close friends comment on a change they see in me. A good change. A deep soul change. Praise the Lord for friends who aren’t afraid to call out spiritual progress. All too often we don’t recognize our own transformation unless someone points it out. But this change? This is one that I am, and continue to become, acutely aware of. 

The people I am closest to don’t just see the change, they understand it. As for those who don’t know me as well, I am not so sure they understand. To protect us all from repeating conversations I was never present for (remember Sirach 19:7–9), let’s just say that the people are wondering, Where did Laura go? And not just where, but why?

It’s a fair question. Let me explain.

When COVID hit hard and the world shut down, I was already suffering my own personal pandemic. What felt like an endless doggie paddle through the raging waters of mental illness and addiction, I was already exhausted by years of treading in place before we were forced to shelter in place. I know I am not alone. I know that many of us were in the midst of fighting our own battles, only to be told to stand still. Put it on hold. Stop paddling. Stay where you are. 

The problem with not paddling? You drown.

As I watched everything close its doors—doors to things that we had worked so hard to open—the church closing was the final straw. And please do not mistake this post for a debate on whether this response from the church was right or wrong. I do not have the emotional bandwidth for that discussion, and more importantly, to veer off the point here would be unfortunate. This is not about right or wrong, safe or unsafe. This is about my total reliance on God and my need for the sacraments. The Eucharist is my strength, my sanity, my food, my oxygen, my therapy, my everything. It is what keeps me afloat when sinking to the bottom looks like a far better option. And so, when the church doors closed, I did what I knew I needed to do to keep my head above water. To be a good wife and mother. To continue to bear my share of hardship for the gospel (2 Timothy 2:3). I found a church with open doors. 

That’s where I went. And that’s where I have stayed. 

Because, when I walked through those doors, what I found was not only the most beautiful, reverent Mass, but also a holy presence that stilled my soul and silenced the storm in my mind. At a time when the world was spinning out of fear, chaos, and confusion, the Traditional Latin Mass offered a peace and security that transcended all understanding (Philippians 4:7). So caught up in its beauty, I found that participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was not so much about me anymore but about Him. When we read that God works all things for good (Romans 8:28), this right here would be a most appropriate example. What aimed to take me down by keeping me from the sacraments, the Lord has used for me to experience them even greater; to experience Him deeper. No longer treading in my desperation, I found myself swimming in His grace.

And it has come with a cost.

Imagine going from a leader in your parish to nobody knowing who the heck you are. Imagine that one day you are co-coordinating your church’s most vibrant ministry, and the next, you are settling quietly in the back pew, hidden by your veil. And then, imagine how the enemy delights in playing with your mind when word gets back to you that the people are talking. The people are wondering, Where did she go? Does she think that she is holier than thou? Now, I am not going to lie. I would love to be holier than you. In fact, I desire to be as holy as I possibly can be! And you should too. But that’s not why you do not see me anymore. In fact, it was never about you.

I went to where I was unknown by others so as to be convinced that I am known by God. 

And this is the spiritual journey, is it not? A sign of maturing faith. Nobody grows by staying the same. Yes, I have embarked on a new stretch of pavement, but make no mistake, the road I travel is the same, for its destination is eternal glory. If you crave a deeper faith—and you should—don't plan on staying comfortable. Jesus didn't command you to pick up your electric blanket and follow the crowd to Starbucks. He asks that you pick up your cross and follow Him. Not everyone will understand why you do what you do. And that is okay. Since when did being a believer require that everything makes sense? At the center of our faith is total Mystery. If you ask me, understanding is overrated. Blind obedience is where it’s at.

The Lord has been doing a new thing in my life. He has been making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19). And I am utterly amazed by His faithfulness. True, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), but praise God, I do. So do not be afraid, my friend, when the Lord calls you to something new. If He closes a door on you, rest assured, He will open another. You just need a little more courage than fear to walk on through.


Bible Study

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Kristy. I need some help with this decision and would really appreciate it if you could just tell me what to do. I want to do the right thing, and I don’t know what that is. So, can you please show me?” 

*Looks expectantly toward the sky for a lightning bolt with a sign.* 

Gosh, if only it was that easy, right? I can’t tell you how many times that’s exactly how it goes in my prayer life, and I walk away frustrated (or laughing at myself in my naivete). But hey, the lightning bolt thing could happen one day—you never know. 

Making decisions has always been something I struggle with. From little things like which movie to watch (I could give you three totally valid reasons for and against each choice) to bigger things like if I should start writing that book that I feel called to write (or perhaps I should wait a few years until my kids are older). Can you even imagine how the really big decisions go for me? Praise God that He gifted my husband with heroic patience!

How about you? Do you struggle with making decisions? More specifically, do you struggle with hearing God’s voice and discerning His will for your life? 

If this is you, welcome—and pull up a chair. I have come to learn a few things about hearing God’s voice and making decisions, and friend to friend, I want to share them with you. 

For starters, I’ve realized that life isn’t a relay race of decisions that we have to make, with each choice shaping and determining the next lap. I used to think of God providing the coaching at each lap when I asked for it, inviting Him in only when I needed His direction. It was more about the outcome and less about the journey. I’ve since learned that life is less like a frantic relay race and more of a slow walk with the Lord, who is with us each and every step of the way—in the big and small things. 

In John 10:27, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What does His voice sound like? It’s not a lightning bolt or crack of thunder (at least not in my experience). His voice often speaks through Scripture, which is literally the Word of God.[1] The more time we spend in Scripture, the more we know His voice and can recognize it when He does call us. This requires a conscious decision to slow down and spend time in prayer and reading Scripture. It sounds so simple, yet it’s true. You will be able to better discern God’s will for your life if you spend more time in Scripture—there is no shortcut here.  

The next thing I’ve realized about making decisions and discerning God’s will is summed up perfectly by both Robert Frost and Joan of Arc. (I couldn't decide which quote I liked better, so I’m giving you both.) 

“The best way out is always through.”[2]  —Robert Frost

“Act, and God will act. Work, and He will work.”[3]  —St. Joan of Arc

They are both on to something. Something that, quite frankly, sounds terrifying to me. We just have to take a step, even if it turns out that it was the wrong step. 

How can the wrong decision be good? A priest friend once gave me some wise advice when I asked how he makes big decisions that impact an entire parish community on a daily basis. He said, “Once I’ve come to a decision through prayer, I ask the Lord to bless it and pray it’s the right one. If it’s the wrong decision, I ask Him to stop my plans. And if He doesn’t…then I ask Him to help me learn from it.” 

What a humble, yet confident way of approaching decision-making! Humble in the way he admits God is in charge of the outcome either way—he knows he’s not big enough to thwart God’s plan. And confident in the way he knows his role and responsibility to the people he was sent to serve, and God will use whatever his decision is for good. Following this model has truly enabled me to feel peace about decisions that I make. 

When we make our decisions with this type of humble confidence, we allow the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives. Choices that used to bring stress and worry become opportunities for joy as we cooperate with the Lord and allow Him an active role in our lives. It enables us to grow in trust and experience the depth of love that God has for us. 

I still really don’t want to make the wrong decisions in my life. And you know what, God knows that about me. And He knows your doubts and fears about discerning things in your life, too. So, if He allows me (or you) to make the wrong decision, you can bet it’s because He wants to teach me (or you) something because He loves us. 

My spiritual director was advising me in this area lately, and she said, “Kristy, we almost never get certainty from the Lord. But we can often have clarity. And most of the time, that’s all we need.” 

Praying the Holy Spirit will give you clarity in your decision-making, and that you may step out in humble confidence, trusting that the Lord is with you—no matter the outcome. 

P.S. Here is an easy decision: check out the Walking with Purpose YouTube series, Truth with Handles: The Conversation, where I chat with fellow WWP bloggers Mallory Smyth and Laura Phelps about issues that matter to Catholic women today. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to the WWP YouTube channel and turn on notifications so you don’t miss a single episode.

[1] https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/32/
[2] https://www.poetryverse.com/robert-frost-poems/a-servant-to-servants
[3] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/holiness-of-st-joan-of-arc-5569

Now that you have that piece of '90s ear candy stuck in your head...what DO you want? What are you longing for? What precious desire of your heart has not been met yet? That’s a sacred space, I know (unlike the space song lyrics from 30 years ago take up in our heads), but I want you to think about it. For me, it’s many things: I long for the conversion of family members, healing in broken relationships, and jobs for loved ones who are struggling right now, just to name a few. Maybe your desires look different, but we’re all longing for something. And desires in our hearts like these are good

But have you ever been desperate for something? None of us likes to think of ourselves as desperate women, but when we hold our deepest desires so tightly that we cannot hand them over to the Lord and His timing, we become desperate. (And frankly, His timing never seems quick enough, does it? Don’t you wish God worked on Amazon’s delivery schedule sometimes?) 

The line between longing and desperation has one word written on it: fear. Fr. Mike Schmitz says that “desperation is desire that’s driven by fear.”[1] We don’t like to admit when we’re afraid, do we? Remember that unmet desire of your heart—are you afraid it won’t come true? Are you afraid that it might not happen the way you want it to? Have you considered doing—or done—whatever it takes to get what you want?

When we cross the line to desperation and allow fear to take over, we have also lost hope, which can be a scary place to be. When we hold our deepest desire too close, we become like Gollum from Lord of the Rings—he became so obsessed with the ring, which he called “My Precious,” that it changed who he was and how he acted. He was obsessed, desperate, and in the end, miserable. Are you holding something so tightly you can’t let go? What is your “precious”?

God wants us to live in freedom. In order for this to be our experience, we must actively give our desires to the Lord. This means letting go of control (sometimes over and over again) and placing them in God's ever-loving and providential hands. Practically speaking, this looks like trusting in Him, rather than an outcome. It takes a conscious shifting of our gaze from our hands to Him. 

Many times, the reason we don’t give God our longings is because we don’t trust him. Do you trust God to handle your heart's desires? If you’re like me, this can be especially difficult because people and experiences in our lives have caused us to withhold trust from others—even God. Maybe you feel like God has let you down in the past, so why would you trust Him now? Or perhaps you trust that God will take care of other people’s problems, but not yours—yours are just too big. 

I’m here to tell you that God is not indifferent to your story. He is not indifferent to your heart’s desires, your longings, or your fears. He knows what is best for you, what is right for you, and His plan for you is tied up in a beautiful bow that is YOUR story—your particular life that He wants to be involved in and through. Will you allow Him in? 

Let these following verses sink into your heart, sister:

For I know full well the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for your misfortune, plans that will offer you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come forth and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, you will find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will allow you to discover me, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:11–14)

Gaze upon the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or store in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of far greater value than they? Can any of you through worrying add a single moment to your span of life?...Your heavenly Father knows what you need. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. (Matthew 6:26–27, 32–33)

These verses point to a God who loves you, who is trustworthy, and is for you. But He will never force His way into your heart and your life. He waits to be invited in. Do you “see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1)? He waits with open arms for his daughters to turn to Him with their deepest longings in confident trust. 

God knows where lack of trust will lead us and the bondage that inevitably results. St. Ignatius of Loyola described sin as the “unwillingness to trust that what God wants for me is only my deepest happiness.” He is for us, and He wants to protect us from the fallout that results when we try to take matters into our own hands.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). May our trust increase, and may we experience the deep happiness that we were created for.

P.S. If you are struggling to trust the Lord with your heart’s desires, meditate on the Litany of Trust.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4pWWCf6aMM

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)

 

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