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Last Sunday, my second daughter, Eliza, turned three. If you don’t already know this, it’s because you don’t live in my town. She told the whole town. And whoever may have missed the news undoubtedly heard it from her older sister, Penny, who was also shouting it from the rooftops. My three-year-old basked in the joy of her birthday all weekend. She listed off the presents she received at every chance she got, and her older sister did the same. One’s joy was the other’s as they soaked in the glory of this great celebration. As I watched them, it dawned on me that it is hard for adults to do this. It is hard for us to embrace joy, share joy, and celebrate with others. Joy takes courage. 

It is so much easier to focus on all that goes wrong in our lives and the lives of other women. All too often, when women get together, it isn’t long before the conversation turns negative and stays negative. Someone starts to share about her struggles and before long, everyone has jumped in. It has become popular to label those conversations as “real” or “raw,” and while they can be genuine, they easily devolve into unnecessary complaining. 

Please don’t misread this. We should not float along as if nothing ever goes wrong or hide a bad day by pushing our feelings under the rug. Life can be messy and difficult. We need to be able to share honestly with trusted friends for comfort and advice.

That being said, it is much more difficult and risky to focus on and share about the good things that happen to us. There is more at stake. For starters, focusing on the bad is normal. We expect things to go wrong and so when they go well, we don't know how to handle it. Vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown claims that, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience.”[1] Most of us have not been trained to live with a joyful disposition. Even if we find ourselves experiencing it, we dare not share it with others. Being positive, if we are honest, can be downright annoying. No one wants to be a Pollyanna in a Kill Bill world. 

Sharing joy is not only risky because we might annoy someone. We also risk the possibility that we will magnify another woman’s pain. If we share that we received a raise at work, will we hurt the woman who just got laid off? If we share that we are connecting with Jesus in our prayer lives, will another woman feel like she is not enough because her prayer life is dry? What if our kids are behaving, and we are genuinely enjoying our time with them? Will this news twist a knife into the heart of the mother who is struggling to have a relationship with her kids? We are keenly aware that it may seem like we are bragging, and we are all too familiar with the jealousy we have felt at the good fortune of another. With these things in mind, we keep our joy to ourselves or downplay it when we are in a group of women. This is a mistake. 

Joy is not a finite resource. God created each of us to share in His infinite joy and to celebrate when good things happen to others. For example, Elizabeth was joyful at Mary’s news that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. She was not jealous, but instead she celebrated with Mary as they glorified God together. Mary, in turn, celebrated with her the news that she was pregnant with John the Baptist against all odds. There is plenty of goodness to go around. 

So where do we start? How do we shift our focus and become courageous? How do we embrace joy in a cynical world? We start by sitting with the God who is joy. We start by allowing Him to renew our minds so that we can recognize His goodness, share His goodness, and celebrate when He reveals His goodness in the life of a friend. 

In the new Walking with Purpose devotional, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, Lisa Brenninkmeyer shares how we are to renew our minds. “We saturate our minds with what is true—and that’s found in the Bible. This is God’s love letter to us. He is not silent. He speaks to us through His Word.”[2] When we renew our minds by sitting with Him daily in His Word, He gives us the rest we need to discover the joy that He has reserved for us. He blesses us with a spirit of gratitude that enables us to be joyful for others. 

Romans 12:15 implores us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” There has been so much weeping this year. At every level of society, there is tragedy. Every morning we can wake up and be overtaken by the nastiest news cycle of our lifetime. We can look in the mirror and remember just how hard the last year has been. For honesty’s sake, we may need to do this, but where does it lead? Does it lead us into the spiral of despair, or does it lead us to our Savior who endured the very cross for the sake of the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2)? Jesus did not wallow in His suffering for the sake of seeming “real” or “raw.” He endured it, honestly, and held on to the joy, the never-ending joy, that awaited Him. He offers the same to us. He celebrates His goodness with us. We need not be afraid to feel it. We need not be afraid to share it. What is going well in your life? Are you recognizing it with humble gratitude? With whom can you share it? How can you rejoice in the joy of another? 

This, dear sister, is the attitude shift that could change the tone of your year and the years to come. Take courage. Take the risk, and reveal your joy.

[1] "Dr. Brené Brown on Joy: It's Terrifying," SuperSoul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey Network, (YouTube Video, March 17, 2013), 5:58.
[2] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, (Walking with Purpose, 2020), p 67.

In her book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, pediatrician Meg Meeker stresses the importance of finding your tribe. “Force yourself to pick a few good women who will go the distance with you,” she writes. “Talk with them, write them a note here or there (not an email, but a handwritten note), and tell them what they mean to you. Pick up the phone and chat, even if you can touch base for only five minutes a week. But hang on to those you select for your tribe because you will need them more as you age. And they will need you.”¹

I agree heartily with her words. But then want to add: easier said than done. Friendship might come relatively easily on the elementary school playground, but when we get older, it's decidedly more difficult to navigate. Many of us have been burned in friendship and have concluded that women don't feel very safe. They might be fine for superficial chat on the sidelines at our kids' games, or for some banter at a wine and cheese gathering, but trusting another woman with your heart? That's another matter altogether.

I think it's helpful to take a moment to look at what we are looking for in a friend. What are the qualities that we'd like to find? A well-respected Bible teacher once shared the loneliness of leadership and the fact that she had only a few truly trusted friends. She described the three circles of friendship that matter most to her. The first circle is the women who help her to love God better. The next circle is those who help her to love her husband better. The third circle is those who help her to love her children better. 

What might your three circles be? In other words, what are three areas in your life where you want to love well? Do the people you surround yourself with encourage you to grow by speaking the truth to you in love? 

When a woman falls into all three of your circles, you've discovered a treasure worth investing in. It's a red flag when a friend doesn't encourage you in any of these areas because we tend to become like the people who we spend time with. As it says in Proverbs 13:20 (RSV), “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” No matter how strong our personality or how well we know ourselves, we are always influenced by our friends.

Even Jesus gave careful thought to choosing his friends. He spent all night in prayer before selecting his twelve disciples, asking God to help him to discern whom he should surround himself with. He then chose three of the twelve (Peter, James, and John) to be the closest of all. We'd be wise to follow his example. It's hard to maintain a deep level of vulnerability, faithfulness, and support with more than three or four women. When we try to experience this level of friendship with too many women, we often feel that we aren't loving anyone well. 

Proverbs 27:17 (NAB) says, “Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another.” This is an important quality to find in friendship. Friends who just tell us what we want to hear do us a disservice. But in order to sharpen one another, we need to give one another permission to speak truth into each other's lives. We all have blind spots-it's a part of being human. But a good friend can help us look in the mirror honestly. She does this most effectively if she can see who we are at our best and then call that goodness out of us. This is different from criticizing us. It's saying, “This is who I know you are at the core, and how well you want to love. I don't think you are acting like your truest self right now. What is hurting? How is your heart? Is there any way I can help you?”

Many of us want to have a deep friend and want to be that friend to someone else, but don't know where to begin. Maybe you have moved to a new city, or have always found friendship hard to navigate, or need to hit reboot with your current friendship situation. Here are four ways to get started cultivating meaningful friendship:

  1. Set aside time in your week that will not be filled with productivity, and instead will be reserved for a face-to-face get together with someone. Don't be picky about who that person is. Just be available, and see what develops when you invest some time. The truest friends don't always seem to be “our type” at first, but once we build some memories together, we discover there is more in common than we'd previously thought. Commit to this time and guard it on your calendar.
  2. Ask good questions in order to go deeper. Most of us like to talk about ourselves. Take advantage of this and ask questions like, “What are you dreaming about right now? What is something that you've always said you'd love to do but haven't started? If you could pursue any career, what would it be? If you could eradicate one problem on earth, what would it be?” Yes, these questions are more invasive than “what's your favorite movie,” but it'll move you forward quickly in understanding the person sitting across from you.
  3. Do small acts of kindness. Bring a new friend a coffee. Drop her a handwritten note in the mail. Put a small bouquet of flowers on her doorstep to brighten her day. Let her know that you are praying for her, and then do it. 
  4. Be open-minded about age. Your closest friends don't have to be from your decade. A mix of generations can bring much needed wisdom and perspective from the one, and fun and lightness from the other.

Lastly, remember that there is no one who will satisfy our hearts the way that Jesus does. There is no friend more loyal or steadfast than Him. 

Grateful for the One who never leaves our side and always speaks truth & love,
Lisa

 

¹ Meg Meeker, M.D., The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers (New York: Ballantine Books, 2010), 28.

Walking with Purpose

“How can you all have so much joy when you are going through something so painful?” That's the question the new face at my support group asked last night. Followed by, “I want what you all have!”

As I have mentioned before, this group I attend is not faith-based. Of course, if I were to personally give witness to where I have found such joy, all fingers would point towards God. And yet, there is more to it than faith.

It's also about community.

I have always known that God did not create us to be alone. Genesis 2:18 clearly lays this out for us: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” But this isn't just about man finding woman. This is about man not having to go it alone.

And we do this, don't we? We try to go it alone. Be it out of shame of our circumstance or fear of rejection, how many of us choose isolation over connection? How many of us stop reaching out, strap on our masks, and white knuckle through the day, relying on our own strength? Maybe this sounds familiar to you. And if so, I ask. How's it working for you?

You see, I have recognized an undeniable truth. When I am connected to community I thrive. I become inspired and animated. Notice, I did not say, “when life is smooth sailing, I thrive.” My life circumstance is not what controls me. Only Jesus controls me. And when I immerse myself in community; be it a coffee date with a friend, a Wednesday morning at WWP Bible Study, attendance at weekly Mass, or going to my support group, loneliness loses its grip, making way for joy. The truth of “me too” wipes out the lie of “no one understands”, and like a Gospel miracle, I am healed. No doubt, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. No question that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is there. (Matthew 18:20)  And in the most beautiful way, this overwhelms me.

If you read this and feel sorrow because you do not have a community to run to, I am here to say...you do. Walking with Purpose is not about selling Bible studies and throwing pretty pictures up on a website. Walking with Purpose is about handing out life vests and anchors to women struggling to keep their eyes above the waves. Women who are swimming into a storm believing they have to go it alone. We are about sisterhood and support and encouraging one another.  If you do not have a parish program near you, please reach out to us. Let us help to connect you someway, somehow. And no. I am not working on commission nor was asked to say this. This, sweet sisters, is so ridiculously heavy on my heart, because my Walking with Purpose family is what gave me the strength to walk into that other support group. In her Netflix special, Call to Courage, researcher and storyteller Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” I learned how to be vulnerable from my WWP community. And I do not exaggerate when I say, it has saved me.

When searching for Scripture verses that best describe community to me, my eyes fell upon Hebrews 10:24-25, and a smile spread across my face, and truth be told, it is still there. “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Something about we should not stay away grabs me. It is how I feel about my support group. It is how I feel about Walking with Purpose. It is how I feel about a certain friend who calls me in the middle of the day to shout, “I know you are writing and I hate to interrupt but I have to talk to you about the Holy Spirit!” When you encounter people who allow you to be vulnerable and encourage you to be the best you can be, how can you stay away? And when you find friends with a common thread, who weep when you weep and rejoice when you rejoice, how on earth can you not be encouraging?

How can there be joy in the midst of so much pain? Because “two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Praying the Holy Spirit fills us with the desire to step out into community, to supply us with Sisters who are eager to love us and lift us should we fall. Grant, I pray, all our shame of not being worthy be destroyed, as we courageously step into our place, advancing the Kingdom of God.

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