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So here we are, 60 days into the New Year, and I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution.

I can’t pinpoint the exact day it happened. It wasn’t as if I resolved to give up junk food, and then tore through a bag of Doritos while binge-watching Jane the Virgin one particular evening. 

As well, I can’t fault the resolution itself. Inspired as it was by Scripture, it had to be a solid resolution, right?

Love your neighbor as yourself.

In early January I made physical and mental lists of the names of people to love; people to whom I thought I needed to show more kindness and attention. My husband, my parents in Connecticut, my brother and sister-in-law in California, the pregnant woman next door, the friend whose fiftieth birthday party I missed...the list went on. And on.

The list was lengthy, and somehow, right after making it, I forgot about nearly everyone on it as I plowed through the first two months of 2020 trying to meet all my deadlines at work along with daily duties as my kids’ personal chef, chauffeur and laundress.

While I was disappointed in myself for neglecting my list, it was also clear that my expectations were a little high. Why in the world did I expect I could pour myself into so many others simultaneously while barely keeping my own life together?

Hoping to find an answer to this question in the Walking with Purpose Bible study, Keeping In Balance, I re-visited the page on the topic of Balancing Expectations titled, “My Expectations of Myself.” [1] On this page author Lisa Brenninkmeyer directs us to write down the expectations we have of ourselves; then circle the ones that matter to God. And that’s when I had an “aha” moment—there was not a lot that needed circling on my list.

Truth be told, I wanted to squeeze quality time with dozens of people into my schedule so that I could stop feeling guilty and start feeling like I accomplished things. And I don’t think that feeling victorious after checking names off a list mattered much to God.

The dinner in Manhattan that I’d been trying so hard to set up with that friend whose birthday I missed wasn’t for her. It was for me, so I could stop feeling bad about missing her birthday.

I had missed the mark, but last Saturday, I was given a second chance at the Sisters of Life Feminine Genius Brunch in Pearl River, New York. If you know me as the picky, junk food-binging, vegetarian that I am, you won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t partake of the brunch. But I did drink lots of coffee, and I made new friends among the ladies seated at my table. And we all got to hear Sister Virginia Joy deliver an inspiring talk on The Beauty of the Feminine Heart. 

Sister said something that has stayed with me—spoken with more eloquence than how I’m about to retell it here, but it was something like this:

Let God’s grace touch others through you.

Sister Virginia Joy gave examples of women who did this, and those women weren’t moving mountains or launching nonprofits or feeding armies. One woman simply reached out on a crowded train and helped a stranger with her crying baby. 

That, my friends, is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

I think I’ve got it figured out now. I think the kind of love we’re talking about doesn’t live on a to-do list. It is spontaneous, joyful and unselfish. It is simply letting God’s grace flow through us to others.

Peace,

Jen Gilbart

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 46. 

Walking with Purpose blogger bio

 

I once worked for a magazine written for career-minded women. In every glossy issue, we offered tips and articles to help our readers find balance in their busy lives: Four Ways to get Hubby to Help… Finding a Caregiver who Cares... Dinners You Can Make in Minutes! We offered solutions to help our target audience keep all the balls in the air and jump through hula hoops while walking a tightrope. (Yes, like a circus clown—only in high heels instead of shiny red clown shoes.)

This fall I began the Walking with Purpose Bible Study Keeping in Balance. In its pages I expected to find helpful tips and tricks just like that magazine offered. Three passages from Scripture to evoke calm and promote sleep! Jesus said “no” sometimes; you can too! Instead, the first two lessons took me on a deep dive into authenticity. Like a scuba diver looking for treasure on the deep ocean floor.

To live authentically is to live the life we were created for—truthfully and purposefully; raw and real. But how many of us do that? When your Facebook friend shares pictures of her new dining room set or the red roses that were delivered to her workplace “just because,” is your friend showing her authentic, #nofilter self or the carefully-curated parts of her life?

I really shouldn’t judge. While I don’t post on social media, I’m guilty of doing plenty of things for the sake of appearances. Take my volunteer work. I served on the board of my son’s travel baseball league and didn’t even enjoy it (I was made treasurer—a role I am terribly unequipped for)! So then what did I do? I volunteered to be treasurer of my kids’ school PTA. I didn’t enjoy that either. But the two experiences provided admirable bullet points to spiff up my LinkedIn profile. My PTA work even earned me an engraved piece of lucite. (No clue where that award is now, BTW.)

But sisters, here’s the thing; there’s more to an authenticity deep-dive than exploring how authentic you are to others. Being authentic with ourselves and with God is equally important. 

Here are some questions for us to think about: when you experience conflict or are hurt emotionally, how do you react? Do you express your feelings in a healthy way, or do you ignore or “stuff” them away? I’ll admit that I’m a stuffer. That’s what us major-conflict-avoiders do—we put on a mask and push our emotions way down deep. 

There’s a quote in Lesson 2 of Keeping In Balance from Peter Scazzaro’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, that underscores the problem with burying or ignoring our feelings:

...To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well...When we deny our pain, losses and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.¹

This, my friends, is not what God wants. He wants us to be the authentic women He created us to be!

While I may not be totally authentic with myself or with those around me, I think I’m authentic with God. My prayers to Him are honest, unpolished, and at times, border-line puerile, but I learned in Opening Your Heart that not only is it OK to talk to God as a child might, it’s a good thing (and I blogged about that here).

Back to the magazine where I used to work: I now know it didn’t truly help women keep their lives in balance. It simply provided coping strategies for living life in a challenging way.

So, let’s remember that it’s OK for our lives to be imperfect. We don’t need to wear a mask or hide our struggles from others or from God, who really does like the messy versions of ourselves anyway.

But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Blessings,
Jen Gilbart

Catholic Bible Study

¹  Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 20.

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