My son turned sixteen last week which means two things: he can drive, and he suddenly cares about what he wears. While the driving part scares me, I am totally here for the shopping. However, as trips to the mall have increased so has my fashion trend awareness. Is it just me or is evil in fashion?
I was eager to scope out the new Urban Outfitters at our mall. Back in my college days, this store was fun, colorful, and affordable. As my son made a beeline for the men’s section at the back of the store, I headed for the rack filled with sweet little sundresses way too young for my post-menopausal body (hey, a girl can dream). Only I never made it to the sundresses, because what I saw stopped me dead in my tracks.
Now, before I continue, it will help to understand Urban Outfitters' philosophy. While they continue to remain fun and colorful, the store describes itself as “a lifestyle retailer dedicated to inspiring customers through a unique combination of product, creativity, and cultural understanding.” (You see where we are going now, don’t you?)
The first “lifestyle display” I encountered was the marijuana leaf merchandise. Is your teen heading to college in the fall? How about buying her a cute, happy-faced, marijuana leaf pillow? Got a fidgeting kid in school? The “leaf buddy squishy” toy might help. And don’t forget the “leaf buddy keychain,” perfect for your new driver. No worries that approximately 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have marijuana use disorder. No concern that people who use cannabis have about a 10% likelihood of becoming addicted. No big deal that the risk of developing marijuana use disorder is greater in people who start using marijuana during youth or adolescence. These cute, little pot leaf toys marketed to your children aren’t harmful; they are their buddy.
Clearly, being of sound mind is out of fashion, and the devil is wearing more than Prada.
Do you know what else is out of fashion? One Truth. Relying on the Lord. Confidence in His Word. You may be seeing evidence of this in your own parish. Heck, you may be seeing this in your family. How many of us have witnessed our children dropping religion and tradition for a newer, kinder, more accepting spirituality? I can’t be the only one raising my hand. Kids are being taught how to respond to their own inner wisdom through tarot cards, magic, ouija boards, crystals, and astrology guides—despite God’s warning against divination or seeking omens (Deuteronomy 18:9–12 and Leviticus 19:26). And I know what some of you are thinking. You think that I am overreacting. You think I need to relax. Crystals are pretty, horoscopes are fun, and these board games and card decks are all sitting on the same shelf as Monopoly and Clue. They are nothing more than benign games. But are they?
The Catechism states:
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. (CCC 2116)
When we seek to know the future or to manifest our dreams into existence, we are relying on something other than God. And this is dangerous. No matter how rock solid you think you are in your faith, once curiosity tempts you to crack that door open a little, you have just made a way for darkness to enter in. I know this can be hard to take seriously when you are innocently browsing through Anthropologie and spy that stack of beautifully designed tarot cards. I mean, it’s not like you are in a witchcraft store, right?
Right. But remember, Adam and Eve weren’t hanging out at a Wiccan festival. They were in a beautiful garden created by God. They were in paradise. This is how the enemy works. This is what the devil does. He shows up where we least expect it, and he disguises himself as light. He wears an Anthro dress and hands you that $60 volcano candle you have to have, and he promises to give you all the good things that God appears to be holding back from you. In other words, he hands you an apple and tricks you into taking a bite. If the enemy can trick us, how much more so our children?
The Bible tells us that Satan seeks to destroy us: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The spiritual realm is real, and we are not to take it lightly. I could share with you my personal experiences of spiritual warfare, temptation, and how I literally stood before the fire of hell, but honestly, do I have to? Just look around. Turn on the news. Scroll through Facebook. Get on Twitter. The world has gone mad. The darkness is everywhere.
But here is the good news. In his solemn charge to Timothy, Paul warns us:
For the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)
Why is this good news? Because we have not only been warned, but we know how it ends. We know that no matter what happens here on earth, when we reject the way of the world and choose to listen to the Lord, He will stand by us and give us the strength we need to proclaim the Word fully. He will rescue us from every evil and save us for His heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:17–18).
The battle is fierce, but so are we. Pray your rosary daily, receive Holy Communion as much as possible, put on the mind of Christ, and remain steady, my friend. God has the final Word.
Evil might be the new trend in fashion, but Jesus is Sovereign over everything and trends don’t last.
With you in the spiritual battle,
Warning: Hot Button Topic Ahead.
When loading utensils into the dishwasher, do you place them handle side down or handle side up?
Call me crazy, but I just realized why my father would load the dishwasher so that all of the utensils would be handle side down. With the handle side down, the part of the utensil that is sticking up is the part that touches the food, the person’s mouth, and needs most of the cleaning. By loading the dishwasher this way, MORE utensils can be loaded and fit into the basket! This makes each wash more efficient and effective. No longer will I empty the clean utensils only to find a dirty fork that didn’t get washed because it was stuck in the basket, or find a spoon that still has dried up cereal on it because it was hiding amongst a bunch of other spoons.
BRILLIANT! (Not me, the dishwasher.)
You may be wondering: does this really have anything to do with my spiritual life, or have I just spent 10 seconds getting a silly dishwasher planning lesson?
Hang tight, sister, I got you! It dawned on me—right there while loading dirty dishes into the dishwasher—I AM THE DIRTY FORK.
I am the dirty fork that is not placed correctly and doesn’t get fully clean. And when I don’t get cleaned, I don’t get used.
Who else feels like a dirty fork?
My life needs to be put in the right order! Just like utensils facing the right way in the dishwasher allows for efficiency and effectiveness, so does rightly ordering my life. Placing everything in its rightful place will allow me to live more effectively and efficiently, so that I’m not wasting my time on the wrong things.
How many of us wake up in the morning and automatically think of the always growing list of things that must be accomplished in the next 18 hours? How many of us soon begin to divide our list into sub-categories?
When asked, “How are you doing?”, how many of us think for a split second, If only you knew how I was really doing, you wouldn’t want to ask me how I was doing. And then actually answer aloud, “I’m fine. How are you?”
God created the sea, the stars, and land out of nothingness. He made every animal that crawls on the earth, swims in the oceans, and flies in the air. He created man and woman in His image. And then, on the seventh day, did He look at everything He had created and say, “Meh, it’s fine”?
NO! That is not what happened, my friend!
God did not create you, the only YOU that will ever grace this world, just so that you can be fine! God did not create you to check boxes, make never-ending lists, and just get through life.
“I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
We just celebrated Our Lord’s birth into this world—the One who came so we could have an abundant life. And let’s remind ourselves that Jesus did not come as a powerful ruler or majestic king that had everything all together. Rather, He arrived here as each of us does: a helpless, dependent, defenseless baby. A baby’s survival is completely dependent on his parents. If a baby had to rely fully on himself to be fed, to sleep, and to clean himself, then he would surely not thrive.
Are you thriving? Or are you striving?
Could it be that our Good Father knew that in our humanity, we would have a hard time relying on Him? In His Divine Wisdom, He gave us His Son to use as a model. Jesus was born completely and solely dependent upon His parents. Are we solely dependent on God the Father?
A sure sign we are relying more on ourselves than we are on God is when we feel overwhelming exhaustion—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. We may feel as though we are just on the outside of our lives looking in, that we are checking out or numbing out rather than being an active participant—when we are that upside down fork and we are striving instead of thriving.
I don’t want to numb out or check out from my life! I want to live effectively, as a wife, mother, sister, and friend. Effective living means I’m utilizing my time well. Effective living means creating a rightly ordered day. Rightly ordering my day means first seeking the Kingdom of God. FIRST. Jesus gave us these words in Matthew 6:33 as a guide, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” In the previous verses, Jesus tells us what “all these things” are: food, drink, clothing, our body. Jesus continues, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:34).
Do you see what He did there? He rightly ordered our to do lists for us.
Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God, and everything else—our things to do, our families, our worries, our future—will fall into its rightful place. Everything else AFTER the Kingdom of God is a bonus.
If you, like me, are the dirty fork desperately needing to be placed handle side down in the dishwasher, and you are unsure where to start, then I want you to read this next sentence carefully:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
And then read it again.
The first step to rightly ordering your life and shedding ungodly self-reliance is to read the truth of who God is and have faith that this truth pertains to you. You are not left out of the salvation equation! God did not forget to add you in! And if even one ounce of you doubts this everlasting love of our Father, then open your Bible and read Psalm 139 or Isaiah 43:1–5 over and over again.
When we believe who we are and who we belong to, we can hand over our to-do list to Him, and allow Him to rightly order our day. Seek Him first, sister. I do not want to let one more day go by and not experience life how the Lord intended me to live it. I don’t want to be a dirty fork, and I don’t want you to be either.
Let’s ring in this new year with clean forks and a rightly ordered to-do list:
Our newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities, is an immensely practical study that helps us rightly order our lives. Let’s begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well.
I just walked from my bedroom, down the stairs, and into my living room to begin writing this blog post, and do you know what I did the entire time? I scrolled through Instagram while walking. Have you ever done that? Or have you ever started scrolling on your phone only to realize that forty-five minutes have passed, your eyes are dry, and your heart is empty? There is no question that the opportunity to scroll over the world through our phones invites addiction and that addiction has real-world effects.
Don’t worry. This blog post isn't about the dangers of social media. Instead, I want to explore a phrase that enters my mind almost every time I finish scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. It’s a phrase that I think reveals where we have landed in our society, and it comes from the book of Job.
If you are not familiar with the book of Job, it is a sad story with a critical lesson. Job is a man who is faithful to God and to whom God is faithful. God blesses Job with a fruitful family (ten children), immense prosperity (thousands of livestock), and status (greater than anyone in the east). At the beginning of the book, Satan approaches God and claims that Job is only righteous and blameless because God has blessed him, but he wouldn't be if God removed those blessings. God gives Satan permission to run roughshod over Job’s life. Job loses everything: his family dies, his livestock dies, and he is struck with severe boils all over his body.
In chapter 38, Job gets the opportunity to approach God with his grievances. His whole life was ruined without any wrongdoing on his part. He has legitimate questions for God about all that had happened to him, and so one would expect God to be compassionate toward Job. Instead, the first words out of God’s mouth are, “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). God questions Job for the next four chapters, asking questions like:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
Throughout all the intense questioning, God reveals His unfathomable glory, and Job realizes that his perspective is wrong. Job spends time with God, and in doing so, gains God’s wisdom. Job responds by saying,
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2-6)
Every single time I close my social media accounts, I think of God’s words to Job: who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? We have become men and women who are full of words with minimal knowledge—myself included. These words indict our society as we busy ourselves with silly things that have no eternal value. They also indict us personally as we no longer take the time to seek God’s unchanging truth or view our present circumstances from His perspective.
In my own life, I tend to look at my circumstances, someone else’s sufferings, or the news and find endless, seemingly legitimate grievances against God. How can there be so much dysfunction, tragedy, and heartache in the world? How does God not show up when a friend or I so desperately need Him? How does He not simply fix families, or grant fertility, or bless financially, or comfort aching hearts, or stop the evil of oppressive governments around the world? From my view, it seems pretty easy, and yet most of the time, my opinion lacks His wisdom. I forget what 1 Corinthians tells me, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” If I fail to seek God’s wisdom, I’m more likely to misunderstand my circumstances and make bigger messes in my life.
So what exactly is wisdom? It goes deeper than knowing information or having brilliant intellect. Wisdom is seeing the world from God’s perspective and then applying that perspective to our lives. Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, established the heavens by understanding.” When we seek wisdom, we seek to know God’s mind and act according to His unchanging truth. We then respond to situations from an eternal perspective. We begin to look at our hopes, dreams, and sufferings from God’s point of view instead of our own.
The result? We live with less anxiety because we no longer see each success or failure in life as a make-or-break scenario but rather as one more step toward eternity. We live with more hope and less fear, because we know that God is not surprised by tragedy and turmoil. We are nicer to ourselves, because we know that the Lord sees our imperfections and still walks with us to make us holy. We are kinder to others, because we recognize that God loves them more than we ever will and works in their hearts just as He is working in ours. We are also not swayed by popular fads or ideologies, because we know that the spirit of the age is passing but God stays the same.
And so I ask you, where do you land? Are you a woman who is genuinely seeking God’s wisdom, or do you consume information without thought and allow that information to form your understanding of the world? Ladies, in a world that buzzes along a technological surface and exalts human wisdom through popular ideas and one-sentence conclusions, we are called to go deeper. We must seek God’s wisdom, or we will crumble at the first sign of trouble in our lives or unpopularity in our communities. This is hard because the invitation to turn off our brains and consume is only one click away at all times.
Don’t give in. Bring your questions to the Lord; spend time with Him searching out His ways, and He will give you His wisdom. Don’t know where to start? Pick any one of our Bible studies, dive in, and listen. He will speak.
Proverbs 8:10–11 says of wisdom, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
Wisdom is God’s treasure, and He offers it to you. Seek it with all your heart and He will give you His understanding.
You know the conversation gets good when the person on the other end of the phone leads with, “I love Jesus, but what I really struggle with in the Catholic Church is…”
We all struggle with our faith. Whether it be with a long personal suffering, a devastating betrayal from our church leaders, or a hard teaching to accept, at one point or another, we will scratch our heads and wonder what on earth have I signed up for? And while it is good to wrestle with and question matters of faith, we have to be careful to whom we bring such questions, because often, it is here in this place of doubt that the enemy senses an unsteady soul. And then we are presented with a choice: Do I jump ship, and settle for earthly consolations because this faith is too difficult to understand and live out; and if I am being honest...it’s totally impractical and irrelevant and besides I am super tired? Or, will I choose to be spiritually grounded and unmovable; like a peg driven into a firm place (Isaiah 22:23), will I remain steadfast no matter the size of the waves or the length of the trials?
I think the reason why so many of us are disappointed, questioning our Church, and completely over our suffering is because we have a shallow understanding of Christ. We want to believe that we are all in for Jesus, but when pushed to the edge of endurance, our thoughts and actions tell a different story, don’t they? Oh, we have faith...to a point. But when the rules feel too rigid and the tests too long, even the most holy among us can begin to wonder, what’s the point?
For years, I wondered this. Why get up before dawn every morning to seek Jesus in silent prayer only to discover that His plan is to break my spirit before lunch? Why volunteer at my parish, write books, or speak at retreats sharing the joy of the Gospel if I am just going to continue to be tested? Why all the rosaries, why all the tears, why all the mortifications if nothing ever changes? And better yet, what if it changes for the worse? Again, I ask...what’s the point?
“The point” was unexpectedly discovered and shared by actor John Voight in an interview with Tucker Carlson. “I was in a lot of trouble,” he confessed, “...and I was really suffering for many reasons...and I found myself on the floor saying, ‘It’s so difficult. It’s so difficult.’ I said it out loud. And I heard in my ear, ‘It's supposed to be difficult.’” It was an audible voice; one of wisdom, kindness, and clarity, and it spoke into Voight’s ear what he will never forget and what forever changed him: It’s supposed to be difficult.
It was on a silent retreat, in the worst accommodations you could ever imagine, that I made the decision to embrace the difficult by surrendering my whole heart to Jesus. And I mean all of it. As in, take what is most precious to you, carry it up a mountain, strap it to wood, and sacrifice it to the Lord kind of surrender. I had been withholding this piece of my heart for years, too afraid to give it to God out of fear of losing it forever. But after years of being tossed about, trying to pray the difficult away, I realized that until I embraced the difficult, I would forever miss the point. And do you know what happened when I offered God what I love most? Do you know what happened when I embraced the test with unwavering confidence in my Lord? I learned to live at God’s pace. I grew in holiness. I began to cultivate a worthy heart. I experienced a holy joy. Not because the trial was over. Not because things got easier. But because I chose obedience in the midst of the difficult.
“Count it all joy” looks great painted on shiplap or printed on a cute mug, but if we stop at the joy we miss the point. The full verse from the Letter of James reads, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Drop down a few more verses and we are assured that “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). I read this, and it all sounds very clear; difficult to obey, perhaps, but not to understand. There is a point to the tests. They steady our soul, detach us from the world, keep us from getting tossed about, earn us the crown. And so I can’t help but wonder. Could it be that we are standing on shaky spiritual ground not because our God is too demanding or the Church outdated, but rather, because we are holding God to promises He never made?
It would be wise to get to know this God better, lest we become victims of deception. Practically speaking, what does this look like? How do we become steadfast?
Whatever trial you are facing, please know that God is not out to break your spirit. I speak this with authority as I know all too well the risk of surrender. The cross you carry is the same cross that Christ carried; not meant to crush your heart, but to widen it. So stand firm and claim God’s promises. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to embrace the difficult, not remove it. There is a point, my friend, and you can count it all joy. You can even go ahead and paint that on shiplap if you want. I won’t judge. And when you find yourself on the ground asking “what’s the point?” remember this: a faith tortured by questions and still believes is far greater than the faith that never questions at all.
“Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.” (James 5:7)
With love and prayers for you,
At any point during the day, there is an alert mechanism that goes off in my brain when my house becomes too quiet for too long. It’s like a “mom radar” notifying me of an imminent disaster, and unfortunately, it’s usually correct. In our house, prolonged silence is usually the prelude to an inevitable sticky/bloody/flooded/broken mess just around the corner.
As the mom of five (virtual or home-schooling) children, age preschool to high school, I crave silence daily. I look forward to the quiet cup of coffee in the morning, the afternoon lull where I can sit down and breathe, or the evenings with my husband when we can relax and chat or watch a movie. These quiet moments are necessary, and I have learned to carve out these times in my day for my own spiritual and emotional well-being (Keeping in Balance was life-changing for me in this area). These times of silence are “golden,” as they say.
But silence is only golden until it’s not.
While creating silence can be a good thing, there are times when it can be harmful. Sometimes we choose to be silent out of fear or anger. Fear and anger can be powerful motivators with devastating effects.
Sometimes we need to say something and we don’t.
That time I could have spoken up in defense of justice or life for those who need an advocate? I silenced a voice in my head that was longing to speak up because I was afraid of what people would think of me. That could have been a moment the Holy Spirit wanted to use me to reach someone’s heart. When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.
Sometimes we need to deal with something and we don’t.
That hurtful memory from my past that I never addressed? I silenced my pain by ignoring it and hoping it would go away. My instinct to bury or sweep it under a rug only delays and magnifies the inevitable pain. As Fr. Richard Rohr says: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
Sometimes we need to hear something from God and we don’t listen.
Those times in my day when I turn to my phone or a glass of wine to escape from the stress of the day? I silence the call from God to place all my worries on him because He cares for me  by being lazy and zoning out. Those are missed opportunities to turn to God and allow His voice to penetrate my heart and mind with truth.
Rest assured, sister, this is not how God has called us to handle these situations. He wants us to live fearless and free as his beloved daughters. Walking with Purpose has an entire Bible study devoted to this truth: Fearless and Free. Through this study, we learn to recognize His voice (and therefore our true identity), wrestle with the lies and truths in our minds by taking every thought captive to Christ, and finally reclaim ground and move forward.
It’s also important to remember that we are not big enough to hinder God’s plans. He writes straight with crooked lines. All. The. Time. So if you’re like me and catch yourself silencing something that you shouldn’t, it’s never too late to open up and let God back in. To begin, we have to start by listening to the right voices. Do you recognize the Father’s voice in your life? His is the one that speaks hope, life, and direction into our lives.
P.S. Mark your calendars to join Mallory Smyth and me for live, weekly Lenten discussions of Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study on Facebook and Instagram (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST / 5 PM PST starting February 18).
 Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Excerpts From Yevtushenko Statement,” New York Times, Originally published in print on February 8, 1974. https://www.nytimes.com/1974/02/18/archives/excerpts-from-yevtushenko-statement.html.
 Fr. Richard Rohr, “Transforming Pain,” Center for Action and Contemplation, October 17, 2018. https://cac.org/transforming-pain-2018-10-17/.
 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.”
Note: This blog post was originally given as a talk at the 2019 WWP Leader’s Gathering. It’s longer than a typical post, so I beg your patience as I ask for more time than usual in the reading. We are also including an audio link to the talk in case you’d rather listen than read.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman…haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” 2 Timothy 3:2-5
I consider these verses a sad and disturbing commentary on the days we are living in. Which begs the question, how did we get here? What has brought us to this point where it seems most people are willing to listen to anybody but never arrive at a knowledge of the truth? Why, even among Church-goers, do we see so many examples of people with “the form of religion” but who don’t live like it makes any difference—who, in essence, deny the power of it? Why are children increasingly disobedient to parents, ungrateful, and unholy? Why do we see more lovers of pleasure than lovers of God? Does it feel like things have gotten worse…that things have suddenly spun out of control?
If you feel that the present moment is spinning by so fast, you are not alone. We are in the midst of an explosion of information and data growth never before seen. The volumes of data are exploding, and more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race.
Inventor Buckminster Fuller is the man who created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve.” His research has found that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today, human knowledge is doubling every 12 months. According to IBM, the build-out of the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. So no wonder we feel that things are spinning so fast that we can’t keep up.
But all things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He has got this. And this is His advice to us, found in Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” That is what I intend to do right now. I invite you to slow down and look at history—to explore how we got here and how we should move forward.
Back in the 17th century, a philosopher named Blaise Pascal wrote, “Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine [of original sin], and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.” Sin. A most unpopular word today. In fact, we live in a culture that says sin doesn’t exist. The philosophy of postmodernism says that absolute truth does not exist; as a result, nor can a definitive definition of right and wrong. This makes any discussion of sin not only tricky, it sounds archaic and judgmental. “Who am I to judge,” the motto of the current age, makes it difficult to move beyond superficial conversation. But tolerance is often simply a mask for intellectual laziness. It’s easier to say, “You do you, boo,” than to engage in thought-provoking discussion and respectful argument.
Any discussion of sin seems harsh and degrading to a culture that hails self-esteem as one of its core values. Most people believe that humans are intrinsically good, and that given the right social conditions, we will make the right choices. When things go wrong, we blame poverty, or dysfunctional childhoods, or sexism, or racism. I am not saying that those societal problems are not incredibly damaging and that they do not significantly contribute to what goes wrong in our world. But it’s a “utopian view” of man that leaves all the blame there and assigns none to personal responsibility and choice.
Where does this utopian view come from? It has its roots in two intellectual movements: the Enlightenment and Romanticism. These philosophies or ideologies spread throughout Europe during the 1700s. The intellectuals of the Enlightenment movement rejected traditional religious views and embraced reason, skepticism, and individualism. Romanticism reacted to the belief that reason was the chief means for discovering truth and instead focused on poetry, feelings, emotions, and nature. Both of these intellectual movements rejected traditional religion.
In their rejection of the traditional understanding of sin, they still needed to explain where all the problems came from. They pointed to products of the environment as the cause: poverty, ignorance, and bad social conditions. Given the right conditions, they believed that an ideal society could be created. The influence of the Enlightenment and Romanticism movements gained traction and had tremendous impact on the 20th century. The interplay between the two intellectual movements could be said to make up that period of history’s worldview. It’s called the Modern World View or “modernism.”
This was the century of Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian ethnic cleansing. A century that had dawned with so much hope in terms of what man could do—how much progress he could make—ended up being the bloodiest in history. As G.K. Chesterton said, the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by the centuries of recorded human history.
When we deny that man has a sin nature and that it’s sin that’s at the root of our troubles, we don’t end up with a better society. We end up with tyranny. This is what was proven in the 20th century. Why? Because with God out of the picture, there is no accountability for the leader, no higher authority. This means that they can try to make a perfect society, by doing whatever it takes. In their mind, the end justifies the means. In the words of Adolf Hitler, “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”
What became of sin? How did sixteen centuries of understanding human nature and society in a certain way become so thoroughly replaced by a utopian view? The Enlightenment ideals deeply impressed one particular man in the mid-eighteenth century who went on to have profound influence in the centuries to come. We have all seen the effects of a persuasive writer who is able to name what people are currently feeling but are unable to express. When someone nails it, communicates well what we’ve all been feeling, powerful trends are born. This is what happened when a French philosopher and writer named Rousseau burst onto the intellectual scene.
If we were to look back at the history of philosophy, we would find that from the time of Aristotle, philosophers have taught that people are by nature social, and that they come to their greatest fulfillment in the context of family, church, state, and society. Organized institutions. But Rousseau believed the opposite. He saw society as artificial and detrimental. He was convinced that it was only by moving away from social institutions that man could become his truest and best self. That it was society’s artificial rules that was the problem.
Why did this hit such a resonating note with the people of that day? Rousseau lived during the time of the French aristocracy of the 1700s. This was a time of excess; France before the revolution. He saw it for what it was: artificial, pompous, and self-indulgent. It was a world of excess, while the people around the aristocracy suffered and starved. Rousseau, although born to privilege, fled this world, and dressed in simple and shabby clothes. All that is fine and well.
But he didn’t stop there—he went on to explore the concept of freedom. He believed that individuals needed to be free to discover their own identity, to create themselves, to figure out who they were, apart from society’s conventions. While he considered society (family, church, local community) to be problematic, he did not see the same problem with the state. In fact, he saw the state as a liberator. His famous words, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” became a rallying cry for people who believed that they could appeal to the future—to what they could create—if only the current chains were thrown off. This gave birth to the modern concept of revolution.
What this meant was that all sorts of atrocities could be justified if they were occurring because the perfect society was being created. The deal was this: you give me absolute power, and I will give you the ideal society. You might wonder why people didn’t question this—why people didn’t know that absolute power always corrupts. It’s because when you don’t believe that man has a sin nature, then you believe man is naturally good. This produces a certain blindness to what can happen down the road.
Rousseau's writings gave birth to the French Revolution. Robespierre, the architect of the French Reign of Terror, imprisoned 300,000 nobles, priests, and people who disagreed with the new world order. 17,000 citizens were killed within the year. Robespierre, influenced by the philosophy of Rousseau, knew that building a perfect society always meant killing the people who were getting in the way—those who were holding on to the old way of doing things.
We see this same belief system at play in Marxism. Marxist philosophy has inspired countless attempts to create utopian existences around the world. Because Marx denied the existence of God, he also did away with any absolute standard of good and evil. As a result, societies created based on his philosophy have not been founded on moral principles or measures of justice that go beyond man (this is called natural law—something we would do well to understand), and have no limit on bloodthirsty cruelty.
We find these same ideas at the root of fascism. There was no philosopher more loved by 20th century fascists than Nietzsche. Nietzsche denounced sin, considering it something invented by a wretched band of ascetic priests. He saw the moral life—kindness, humility, self-sacrifice, obedience—to be not just a buzzkill but a pathology. He believed that it would be possible for a race of ubermensch (super men) to be created. He believed this would be possible when any man with superior potential completely mastered himself, threw off “Christian herd morality,” and created his own values. No doubt, Nietzsche was not envisioning what the Nazis came up with. He wanted a “Caesar with the soul of Christ.” Nevertheless, Nietzsche became the Nazi’s inspiration. Ideas have consequences.
What effects of this utopian view do we see in the United States today? We see this influence any time society puts all hope for change in politics. We see this influence when we think that external laws will solve problems of human behavior that are actually rooted in the heart. Yes, public policy matters, but if we think that a perfect society will be made when politics are the way we like them, we are displaying a utopian view and ignoring the inherent problem of sin.
The utopian view has also impacted modern psychology. It is undeniable that the work of Sigmund Freud has had a tremendous impact on western culture. He considered words like sin, soul, and conscience to be old fashioned, and instead used words like “instincts” and “drives.” Freud reduced the sense of personal moral responsibility and muddied the water in terms of what could be considered evil. Following Freud’s theory, we can always say, “I can’t help it. I’m in the grip of unconscious forces that I can’t control.”
Behaviorism, a psychological approach built on Freud’s foundation, proposed that human flaws aren’t the result of moral choices but are simply learned responses. This school of thought teaches that those learned responses can be unlearned, and people can be “reprogrammed” by being placed in a different environment. Fixing what is outside a person can then reprogram them to be happy and adjusted, living harmoniously in society.
This utopian thinking has also had a tremendous impact on education. In the past, the focus of education was on pursuing truth and training moral character. But if you are looking at human nature as something that simply reacts to stimulus, if our flaws are caused not by moral corruption inside of us but by learned responses, then we can blame all sorts of situations and people outside of us for our personal choices.
Our education system has been deeply impacted by behaviorism. In the words of the founder of behaviorism, J.B. Watson, “Give me the baby…and the possibility of shaping in any direction is almost endless.” We have given our education system our babies, and they have been shaping them in a certain direction. There was a time when our education system was focused on pursuing truth and training moral character, but when your culture is a postmodern one that does not believe in absolute truth, that academic “pursuit of truth” often results in dissonance and disequilibrium and confusion. Our teachers are actually being trained to this end.
A friend of mine just got her Master’s degree in education from a very well-respected Catholic university. In one of her classes, she asked her professor if he could explain how to best teach the subject matter by teaching the students to pursue truth, beauty, and goodness. She was quickly corrected by the professor. “As teachers, we do not take on the role of the expert in the room,” he said. Now I don’t know about you, but I find that concerning. The teacher is not the expert in the room on the subject matter to be studied?! “Each child,” she was told, “is the expert of his or her own experience. The student is not a vessel to be filled with wisdom, knowledge, or information by the teacher. The student is not like a lump of clay to be molded and formed by the teacher—especially not morally.” So what is the teacher’s job? “The teacher’s role in the classroom is to ensure equity of experience, to facilitate a classroom, never ‘manage,’ and to make sure every lesson culminates in a call to social justice. The purpose of good education is to bring attention to injustice in the world and prepare a generation to combat that injustice to create a more just and equitable society.”
Have you heard of the game Taboo? It’s a game where you are given a word, and you have to get your teammates to guess what the word is. The tricky thing is that you are given five words that you aren’t allowed to use, and they are the words that would make it most clear—the words that would be most helpful. Watching a person try to describe something without the needed words can be quite funny. But it isn’t so funny when you are trying to do that in real life and you’re trying to answer the significant questions that people are wrestling with. Most children don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about moral choices—sin, repentance, responsibility, right, and wrong. We have taken the key words that would help us make sense of what is wrong with the world out of our vocabulary. That’s one of the reasons we run into trouble. We are trying to explain life with some of the most critical concepts “not allowed.”
Do we not see this resulting confusion in our children and grandchildren? They cannot answer the most important questions: why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? The majority of our schools, in their determination to be tolerant and politically correct, are doing more to confuse our children than instruct them.
And what are we doing with our confused children? We are entertaining them. We are logging more hours at sports practices and games than in meaningful conversation. We are making sure they have well-rounded experiences but aren’t so sure what we should do about their character. We are putting screens in their hands whenever they are bored or need a break. How are we raising our children? Like parents or like cruise directors? And the result of giving so much—and we are giving a lot—isn’t gratitude. It’s entitlement.
We see this issue of entitlement in our criminal justice system as well. We could already see this in the early 1900s. Clarence Darrow (you’ll know his name from his defense of Darwinism in the Scopes trial) gave a speech to the prisoners in Chicago’s Cook County Jail. This is what he said:
There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood…I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.
We point to poverty, racism, mental illness, and dysfunction in childhood as the true cause of crimes. And they play a significant part. But when are we allowed to call a heinous crime sin—a choice made to do evil?
I say this carefully and pray you do not take my words out of context, but we have got to stop giving psychological labels to sin. Do psychology and mental health counseling have their place? Yes. Definitely. But counseling that ignores the doctrine of original sin can do someone more of a disservice than help.
I wrote the Bible study Fearless and Free: Experiencing Healing and Wholeness in Christ because I know and believe our hearts and our mental health matter. Not so that we can be victims. Not so that we stop with the diagnosis. Not so that we have new excuses. I wrote Fearless and Free so we could be healed and then step out as warriors.
Instead of looking outside ourselves for the solution, saying things like, “If only he would change, my life would come together,” or “If only my parents hadn’t divorced, I would be different,” or “If only we had more money, or less stress, or better health, then everything would be good,” we need to take personal responsibility for our lives. Yes, there are things out of our control and outside of ourselves that are not ideal. Yes, many of us, as a result, have some significant things to work through. But let’s own our own part in things and get down to the business of working through our stories. Enough of being embarrassed about seeking professional help from a mental health profession. There is too much at stake for you to be stuck. We need you healthy. But get help that takes man’s sin nature into account or you will end up more confused than healed.
In 2 Timothy 3:7, St. Paul prophesied that a day would come when weak women will be captured and “burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” This isn’t just true of weak women, this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously, and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion—either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children’s tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order—even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable.
I know of no other response right now than to go to our knees. To repent—both of our individual sin and the collective sin of our nation. To repent of the ways in which we have failed the next generation. Someone once said, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” That person was Hitler.
I believe that far too often we have entrusted our children’s minds and hearts to the wrong people. It is time to bring them back home. It is time to pray. Not to talk about prayer, but to pray, because prayer moves the hand of God, and with God, all things are possible. All things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He is still in control of our spinning world. This is where our hope lies.
May we not forget God’s words to us in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We started with Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” There’s a tragic addendum to that verse. The verse ends with the words, “But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
May our story be different. May we take the road less traveled and point the way to it. May we confess the times we have left that path and blaze a new trail for the future.
P.S. Let's pray together! Please join Lisa along with Father John Riccardo, executive director of ACTS XXIX, and Michelle Benzinger, host of the Abiding Together podcast, as we collectively pray the rosary for our nation. Register now for this Rosary Call (on Zoom) to pray with us on November 3, 2020, at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.
 Bernard Marr, “Big Data: 20 Mind-Boggling Facts Everyone Must Read.” Forbes.com, September 30, 2015.
 David Russell Schilling, “Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours.” Industrytap.com, April 19th, 2013.
 Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 148.
 Measured by the total number of deaths from violence throughout the century.
 Charles W. Colson, “The Enduring Revolution: Templeton Address Delivered by Chuck Colson at the University of Chicago, September 2, 1993.” Cardus.ca, September 1, 1993.
 Clarence Darrow, Attorney for the Damned (NY: Simon & Shuster, 1957), 3-4.
 Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
“Beauty will save the world.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
What do you think of when you hear the word beauty? My mind first goes to breathtaking sunsets, softly falling snow, a blue sky reflected on a still lake. When I move beyond nature and think of beauty in people, it isn't exterior beauty that comes to mind, but what emanates from the soul. That's what truly takes my breath away.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? One way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us. But nothing beats the beauty of a life well-lived. This is especially true of someone who is able to find beauty, meaning and hope while suffering. When we see this, we lean in. We wonder how it is possible. When a person of faith faces adversity with grace and grit, a watching world wonders if perhaps their beliefs are true.
While beauty can be found in the ashes, that's not the only place we find it. There is something incredibly attractive about a woman who knows who she is and what she is here for.
Our world is disarmed by genuine transparency. People know how to spot a hypocrite. This means that the way we live is critical. Who we are is intricately tied to what we do. We can't separate the two. The choices we make are forming who we are. Our actions, our choices, are not disconnected from the person we are becoming. In the words of author Brittany Rust, “The definition of who you are belongs to the Creator of the Universe and it is left to you to decide who to become.”
Have you ever said, “I'm a good person deep down, despite what I did last weekend”?
There is a serious disconnect in a statement like that. Why? Because in large measure, you are what you do. If I were to tell you that I'm a good soccer player despite the fact that I never make a goal and don't know how to dribble the ball, you would say, “I'm sorry, but you're actually not a good soccer player. Your desire, your good intentions, don't translate into that actually being who you are.”
So once you determine who you are at the core- a beloved, precious, chosen, daughter of God, you then need to decide, “What kind of a person do I want to be?” When we feel lost-like we can't figure out who we are-it's often because we have never answered the question, “Who do I want to be?”
At the end of your life, how do you want people to remember you? What kind of a person do you want people to say you were? I challenge you to write your answer down. Not a treatise-just five things that you want to be true about you, things that for you would make you feel that you were a person who had lived life well. Then use your mind to start making the choices that are consistent with those goals. Some of those choices will be really hard because you will have to suffer in the short term in order to get what you want in the long term. But as you consistently make those choices, you will start to know yourself and be known as the kind of person who is…whoever you have chosen to be.
Your current actions and choices are forming who you are-right now. You are becoming a certain kind of persona-and this plays out especially in the little things.
I've heard it said that there's no treading water in the spiritual life-you are either moving forward or going backwards. Each and every action is reinforcing a habit and all the habits together are forming who you are becoming-what kind of a person you truly are.
As Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” When your true self is a beloved, chosen, forgiven daughter of God, you have an irresistible beauty to share with the world. I pray that we would bring beauty, goodness and truth to a world aching for all three, whether it realizes it or not. In doing so, we will be pointing them to Christ.
As I walked to my favorite coffee shop in downtown St. Augustine to write this post, I nestled into a fitting mental posture by reciting the word, “warrior,” over and over again. As I did, all sorts of quintessential, warrior-esque images popped into my mind's eye. I thought of Merida from Brave and Katniss from The Hunger Games and I imagined myself in my fiercest, “I'm a strong independent woman” karate pose. You know what I'm talking about? Like the kind of warrior self-image in which you're donning head-to-toe black leather with a Cat Woman-like mask and an unstoppable look on your face which declares to the world that you are ready to take on anything and everything? If you've never imagined yourself like this, give it a try. I promise, you will instantly feel like the courageous warrior that you are.
Let me begin by saying, I love this image of women as warriors. I grew up hearing, “You are a princess because you are a daughter of the King.” This is fine and sweet and fluffy and wonderful, but it just doesn't satisfy. I want to be more than a princess. I want to be a warrior.
Search “warrior” in the dictionary and you will discover this definition: “a person engaged or experienced in warfare; a person engaged in some struggle or conflict.” (1)
So a warrior doesn't just get to run around in leather pants with a bow and arrow in hand? No. A warrior is in battle. That's right, presently, in battle. This is what makes her a warrior. This is what sets her apart. She is a fighter.
And this is why, while we may be at the end of Fearless and Free in this final stage titled, “The Warrior,” we are nowhere near done. The true warrior is in a perpetual embrace with “The Wakening” and “The Wrestling.” She may be fierce, but as such, she must be prepared to be continuously engaged in some struggle or conflict.
I love this because the empowerment that comes with a warrior status is not diminished by struggle and conflict, it is defined by struggle and conflict. You cannot be a warrior without living in a present battle. This means, being a warrior does not mean you are perfect. Being a warrior means you are ready and willing to fight through brokenness.
This truth found in Fearless and Free is so important because it is real. We cannot reach the end of this study, pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate our newfound warrior status. Instead, as we end this study, we must throw on our armor (or leather pants), embrace our beloved identity and bravely step into the battle set before us. The mess won't disappear just because we now know it exists and how to deal with it. The enemy won't stop trying to take us down. We won't stop feeling broken. But now, we know how to rise strong. Now, we know how to fight back. Now, we are mature and equipped women of God.
Here's the difference: now that we are warriors, what the enemy intended to use for our destruction, the Lord will be able to use for our healing. (2) Now that we are aware of the enemy's tactics and know how to respond, “God will reshape the very thing the enemy intends to use to take [us] down into something that brings [us] growth and blessing.” (3) But, this transformation and healing won't come without some pain.
True warriors are injured in battle all of the time. True warriors recognize their weaknesses. They are humble and recognize that brokenness is okay. Warriors face triggers daily and the wrestling is ferocious.
But ladies, be encouraged in this truth that you are more than a princess. You are a warrior. Jesus died on the cross to save you and He is fighting with you and for you and before you.
Rest in the promise that despite the inevitability of future trials, the Lord will use every ounce of pain for your greater good. He has the ability to transform brokenness into blessing. He can make you whole.
So, believe that you are a warrior. Believe that you are strong. And, prepare yourself for battle. Never lose sight of the wakening and the wrestling because they comprise your identity as a beloved warrior. I pray that as you go forth, you would cling to truths and toss aside lies. Remember that, “after Good Friday, we have Easter,” and more than anything, wait in confident expectation for God's promises. He will fulfill them when you least expect Him to. I implore you - just keep fighting. (4)
In love and peace,
PS: Join me on Instagram Live this Thursday, June 21st at 10 AM EST! A willingness to dive into what it means to be a warrior is required. Leather pants and coffee are optional but highly encouraged. See you there! Oh and don't forget to send in any thoughts, questions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(2) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Fearless and Free (Walking with Purpose, 2018), 110.
(3) Fearless and Free, 137.
(4) Fearless and Free, 137.
I was feeling pretty good about life, until I scrolled through my Instagram account and saw it. The pie. This perfectly, baked cherry pie. And not only was it a beautiful and delicious looking pie, but taken out of it was the perfect little bite. This glorious, gourmet, cherry pie was plated on a perfectly worn piece of vintage china, with a single silver fork, gracefully placed on the edge of the plate. And as if that were not enough, this entire plate and pie was photographed on a rustic, distressed, and absolutely fabulous, farm table.
Now, some people might scroll right past that pie. Because I mean, honestly? Who cares? Big deal. You made yourself a pie and took a picture of it. Congratulations. Whatever. But not me. You want to know the bag of crazy that popped into my mind when I saw that beautiful pie?
How on earth did she have the time to bake that? Why did she bake it? Obviously, she must be having a party or a group of friends over. Or one of her fabulous arts and crafts gatherings. I'll bet she is sitting in her perfect house right now laughing with friends and being all hospitable and crap. Her hair probably looks good, too. Good grief, she has people over now? In the middle of the day? How is her house clean enough for that? And that china plate...I know she got it at a thrift shop. Who the heck even has the time to go thrifting? And where does all of her money come from anyway? She has 19 kids and she doesn't even work! I guess she sits around baking and entertaining and thrifting...nice...while I sit in my mess of a rented home, microwaving some sort of loser dinner for my family who probably hates me, and serving it on a paper plate because all of our chipped china plates are sitting in the sink. And where are all of those kids while she is baking and entertaining? Oh no...great..I know...they probably helped bake the darn thing! In fact, I'll bet as a family, they grew and picked the cherries that went into that pie! I'll bet this was some sort of homeschooling lesson, where they measured and counted and turned pie baking into an educational experience. Probably prayed over the ingredients and had them blessed. And why don't I have a farm table? I think I need a farm table. Seriously. I think I would be so much happier if I just found the right farm table. I hate myself. I really do. I mean look at me. I'm wearing my 13 year olds leggings and my 11 year old's dirty sweatshirt. I look like a homeless woman. I really do. If I sat outside on the corner you would totally give me money. That's how homeless I look right now. And what really gets me is what woman can sit down and eat a pie on a Tuesday afternoon without hating herself? Right? I mean come on, it's gotta be loaded with gluten. And sugar. So much sugar. And she's so skinny! So unfair. She's skinny eating pie with friends in her clean home while I sit at my messy desk in my homeless attire. You know how fat I would get if I did nothing but make and eat pie? She probably doesn't even eat it. She's probably one of those women who invite other women to come over and eat, and she sits and watches. She wants everyone to be fatter than her. Nice. Ugh. I really am a mess. Why can't I just get myself together? The house is a mess, my desk is a mess, I am not even good at my job, and who knows what my kids are up to. I need help. Serious help. And I need a farm table. I really need a farm table. What's wrong with me? I hate that stupid pie.
Ah, the wonderful, encouraging world of social media! Isn't it great?
Ok, so here is the thing. Other than the fact that this woman had a few minutes and the desire to photograph a pie, every other thought that ran through my head was most likely false. (expect for the thrifting. I stand by the thrifting, because honestly, she thrifts too much.) But we do this, don't we? We see an image and our minds create a story around it. We see, and we desire. And this is good. A great picture ought to tell a story, it ought to stir emotion. But there is a problem with this today. Because we are bombarded by images, and we have the hideous ability to see what everyone is doing, eating, drinking, wearing, and enjoying, at every given moment of our every single day. And most of the images we see? Guess what? They are filtered. They are staged. They are untrue. They are the one perfect shot out of 500 others you did not see, and most likely, never will.
But it is hard to not use filters, because they really do make us look so much better. The first time I used a filter on my face, and saw the even, smooth skin, and bright eyes, I was sold! And don't get me started on the animal filters...because honestly, I am at my most beautiful when I look and sound like a deer. Who knew? So strange, but I gotta admit, so true. So much so, that I have already requested that when I die, if possible, I'd like to be laid out in the coffin, looking like that deer. Let's just confess. We all love filters.
But here is an interesting thing. You know what it means to use a filter? I do. Not because I am smart, but because I looked it up. To use a filter means to “remove what is unwanted.” When I read that, I was really struck by it, and not in a good way. Something about the word remove….something about the word unwanted. Because how many years of my life have I devoted to trying to remove those things about me, that I do not want; those things about me, that I think make me less attractive? Less desirable? Those things in my life that might point to the fact that I am kind of a hot mess and not the perfect woman I'd like you to think that I am? And the answer? Too many. From the nose job when I was just 17, to drastic weight loss in college, to the frantic house cleaning maniac I turn into moments before company arrives. I have been on a nearly life-long quest of seeking out the illusion of perfection. Changing my image to fit whatever crowd I was currently in, transforming myself into the woman I thought a man would be attracted to. And let's be honest ladies, we not only like to be perfect for the men, but even more so, for other women. Right? We are the most competitive species that I know, and we love a good game of comparison, so long as we win. So all of this filtering we do, it really isn't about enhancing the beauty that is already there, is it? No. It is about removing the unwanted, to give the illusion that everything is so much better than it actually is.
And I think we do this because we want everyone to believe that we are better than just okay. I think we remove, and sift, and filter things out, so that people cannot see what is really go on inside of our homes, inside of our families, inside of our marriages, inside of our hearts, inside of our heads. And I get it...not everyone needs to see the inside of your kitchen junk drawer, or what your linen closet looks like, and not everyone should be trusted with the truth of how weary you feel, how lost your child is, how your marriage feels lacking in an incredibly lonely and painful way. But we do need to recognize that filters don't work in real life, and in real relationship because filters don't encourage the basic things we need to thrive, like truth, authenticity, and honesty. And we really need to acknowledge, at some point, that life is not perfect, we are not perfect, and that our pain is valid and real and okay and should be addressed, because sticking a deer's ears and nose on it will not make it go away. It is a temporary fix. It is not made to last. And I don't know about you, but no matter how loud the world gets, and convinces me that nothing lasts forever, and love is a feeling, I disagree. I disagree because I want authentic, lasting relationships, and I want to choose to love because I desire the greatest good for others, not just myself. But if I can't get real with myself, how will I ever learn to get real with others?
It's hard to get real, isn't it? I think we have just pretended for so long, that it feels wrong to drop our masks, and widen the camera lens, and show the whole picture. But here is the thing. There will never be a filter we can use that will keep our true selves from the One who sees all, knows all, and created all. And I often wonder what God thinks, when he sees us pouring over false images, doubting who we are, buying into lies, comparing our lives to others, trying to remake ourselves to look like someone else. I think about how sad He must feel when we pick apart our faces, our bodies, our marriages, our lives, desperately trying to cover up the imperfections, remove the unwanted. And oh, how exhausted we are. How painfully tired we are from all of this performing. And it is when I do this that I can hear His voice. I can see Him reaching out to us, and I can hear Him saying, “Oh, sweet daughter, just stop. Please stop and listen. I made you. Do you hear Me? You are my beautiful creation. And you have been made perfect in my image. Not the images you see on instagram. MY image. There is no bit of you that is unwanted. I knit you Myself, and I do not make mistakes. Stop undoing the threads. It is killing you. You are exhausted. I did not make you to feel this way. Take off the filter, and just be you. Only I can purify you, only I can refine you. Let me. Let my light pass through you. Quit shutting me out. Put down the filter of this world, and take up MY filter. Look at yourself through My eyes. My heart. See yourself how I see you, how I love you, how very much I want you. Just as you are. Every piece of you. Wanted.“
And then I hear Him say, “By the way, she bought that pie from the store and the rest of her house was a mess, and you don't need a farm table, and you want to see homeless? Because I can show you homeless...so please... just shut up.” Only God probably doesn't say shut up. I do. I should probably filter that.
I don't know. I just think we live a half-filled life when we spend it trying to make it look like something it isn't. Because honestly? Who are we fooling? God sees you, and He wants you. Every bit of the you He created. He doesn't want you looking like a deer and He doesn't care how perfect your life looks on your Instagram feed. He sees so much more than you are willing to show, and He wants it all. You are wanted as you are. Unfiltered. Unstaged. Wanted. Look at that image. Post that. And believe it.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
Today is the second day of school. We crushed day one. Knocked it out of the ball park.
I only forgot to make one lunch.
Only one kid forgot her water bottle.
I only had to make one school run to drop off a lunch.
I took absolutely no pictures of any of my children.
We did not get any new haircuts or backpacks or first day of school outfits.
Only one bus got lost.
Only one kid lost his lunch box. (thankfully not the child who insisted on the Vera Bradley lunch box, that has obviously been designed and hand crafted for the child who doesn't eat. It has room for about four grapes and two crackers. Maybe three..if you crush them.)
Only one teacher is highly questionable.
Only one kid said, "I don't like school," before heading off to bed.
Only three children brought 6,000 papers in giant envelopes home for me to sign, as opposed to the 8,000 forms I got last year, when I had four kids in grade school.
And only one kid might have already annoyed his teacher.
Oh, back to school. I really am not a fan.
The day before the first day of school, I sat on my front porch in prayer. You might have heard me shouting, "Saint Monica!!!?? Are you there??!!" Because kids, school, and all the worry that comes with it, like a stupid package deal...all of it...it is just a lot. And I figured Saint Monica, our Patron Saint of Mothers, would understand. I figured Saint Monica, who knows about kids and about worry, could help.
It can not just be me, right?
School? It is a lot.
But we make it a lot, don't we?
I mean, we start preparing our kids for college when they are still wearing pull-ups.
We start touring colleges when they barely know their way around the high school.
They practice sports 56 times a week because clearly, they are all professional athletes just waiting to happen.
We ask 17-year-olds, who barely know how to hold a conversation that isn't in texting format, "What do you want to do with your life?"
Third grade teachers look at their students on the first day of school, and say, "If you want to make it in the fourth grade...."
We ask 18-year-olds to declare majors, otherwise they will be labeled undecided. Undeclared. Might as well call them unworthy. Unimportant. Unsuccessful.
You know what it is like? It's like telling a four-year-old to get ready because Christmas is almost here, and that Santa is coming with all of their presents....in July. Then we expect them to not cry or complain when they realize how long they have to wait.
We whip them up into butter, get them thinking about everything yet to come and all of the things they will need to do, and then we sit back, pour our fourth glass of wine, and shake our heads wondering why kids today have so much anxiety.
Can I just say, I have spent nearly my entire life undecided. I basically majored in "Undeclared," with a minor in "I know absolutely nothing." Amazing that I even graduated, really.
And dare I say, as I write, I am still undecided on so many things. Especially what to make for dinner.
But there is ONE THING I am decided on.
And on this, I do not waver.
I am decided on the one thing that actually matters.
That one decision, that one declaration, that makes everything else...all those indecisions...just a little bit easier, a little more clear.
I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I know that I believed. No matter what they take from me, they can't take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all, is happening to me. I found the greatest love of all inside of me....
Just kidding. Sorry. I couldn't resist singing that.
So, for real.
That one decision?
Life changed for me the day that I decided that my identity was not in my talents, in my job, in my children's success, in my mothering, in my finances, in my home, in my body, in my baking, or in how good of a wife I am (and thank God for that).
My identity is in CHRIST and Christ alone.
No one else.
Because here is the thing. If you do not know that you belong to Christ, that you are a beloved child of God, that your worth is not in what you do, but in whose you are, then being undecided about things like school, and marriage, and career and where to sit in the cafeteria, can feel really, really, REALLY horrible. And our children?? What about them? In a time when God is unpopular and removed from everything and they are told to do whatever they want so long as they are happy, where do they stand? In a time where we spend so much of our energy making sure that they play the right sports, and get those good grades, and apply to the best schools, and get those scholarships, what about them? Have we told them why they matter? Or have we been too busy telling them what they must achieve? Have we reminded them that their worth has nothing to do with how many followers they have on social media? Do they know there is something, someONE, so much greater than what many have settled for? Do they know their true identity? Do they know whose they are?
Because I don't think that they do.
I think that they think that they belong to the world.
And friends, this breaks my heart; when I picture how hard life will be for our children, should they never come to know their true worth, and how frightening it must be for them to wake up not having any idea as to who they are. And when my mind goes there, well, that's when you'll hear me screaming for Saint Monica, to come quickly, to intercede, to put my tears to good use. Our children deserve so much better than to be defined by anything other than their names etched in the palms of God's hands.
You know, I am not the kind of parent who really cares that much about grades. I am the parent that cares more about their hearts. Maybe because my own grades were not that good, but I think more so, because I have lived much of my life with a misdirected heart. And I just see too much worry in our children's faces today; too much pain, too much comparison, too much obsession and worshiping of all the wrong things. And as I prepare to send my first born off to college this weekend, all I can pray and hope for is that the foundation I have laid down for him is solid. The seed has been planted. My whisper in his conscience will one day be louder than the screams of this world. The sports, the grades, the college years...sure, of course, they matter. But it is what has been learned under our roof that matters the most. The domestic church. This is where it all begins. And you pray that just a little bit of what you have done...not said or preached, but actually lived out strong...you pray to God that just a bit of it sticks when they are gone.
Funny. Yesterday morning I asked my 6th grader what sort of things he wanted me to pack in his school lunches, and in confidence he said, "We'll figure it out." I was hoping for something a little bit more clear...like, I don't know, a sandwich, or apples. "We'll figure it out" was not sounding like much help at all. But an hour later, kneeled before the altar, with three kids at school and one still in my basement, I stared at the crucifix, thinking that maybe, if I stare hard enough, I will hear some answers. And so I prayed...keep them all safe, Lord...they will be safe, right??....and guide them to good people, healthy relationships...please, Lord, lead them to You, You can do that right?....teach them that their identity has nothing to do with anything but You, ok?? Will you promise me, that Lord??...and I stared and stared until finally...I heard.
"We'll figure it out." He said.
But not so much a "you and me, Laura...we got this" more of a "I have got this...and when it is all revealed, you will see...it will all be figured out."
I am happy to report that everyone left this morning with a lunch, no water bottles were left behind, and we are hoping for smoother bus rides that arrive on time and that maybe that one teacher was just having a rough day. The young man in the basement, who packs up and goes on Sunday, just surfaced to say that he is bored, which only means he is ready to move on. And yes, in case you are wondering, he is undecided. And that is not a bad thing. It gives God much to work with, actually. And He is already working. And I believe that if my son were able to sit still for just long enough, without comparison to his peers, he too would hear Him say, "We'll figure it out." And as I call on Saint Monica I can't help but smile, because I am reminded that it is ok to have a child who is undeclared, so long as he has a mother who declares; who declares day and night, truth and love, over her children, who will never let go of hope, whose tears matter, who does not need to figure it all out, because He already has.
My children? I declare that they are not their grades, they are not their schools, they are not their sports, their looks, their talents or successes. I declare that they are the worthy and beautiful and good children of an Almighty God, a faithful God, a gracious God, a God that has good plans for them, a God that has it all figured out. This, I have decided, and this I declare, so in case they ever forget their identity, they will always have a mother around to remind them, to declare truth over them, when the world tries to decide truth for them.
And if they ever forget their lunches, well, I will take care of that as well.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/