Sometimes I come across a gospel story that doesn’t make sense to me. I can read it over and over again and listen to explanations, but something about it doesn’t click. Jesus often spoke in parables and veiled language to His followers. Two thousand years later, it’s easy for me to find my head spinning as I try to figure out what He was saying.
One story has left me perplexed for years. It comes from Matthew 8:
Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:18–20)
A scribe approaches Jesus and tells Him, “I will go wherever you go,” and how does Jesus respond? He doesn’t say, “Welcome, good servant,” or “Are you sure you have considered the ramifications of your decision to follow me?” He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the scribe’s statement at all. Instead, He gives this vague response: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
As many times as I have read that paragraph, I have never been able to grasp what Jesus was trying to say. Jesus did have somewhere to lay His head. He camped with His apostles, and villagers often hosted Him and His followers as they traveled. So what did He mean?
Last week, I was sitting with this passage—confused yet again—but this time I kept reading. The story following this encounter is called “Jesus Calms the Storm At Sea.”
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him.” (Matthew 8:23–27)
It was that first sentence, verse 23, that unlocked everything. I had never caught it before. “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.” The disciples obediently followed Jesus. They followed Him directly into a storm. The experience of the storm wasn’t a byproduct of their decision to follow Jesus—it was directly because of it.
Jesus gives us a sober understanding of the stakes of following Him in both passages. When Jesus told the scribe in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” He wanted the scribe to understand that following Him would lead only to Himself, nowhere else. Yes, following Christ can lead to a great adventure, but the adventure isn't the point. The point, the end goal, is that we get Jesus. When Jesus led the disciples into the storm, He wanted them to understand that even in utter darkness, even when we don't feel His presence, He is right there. He never leaves. He is always faithful.
Our current society likes to attach many other promises to Christianity. We are told that our lives will be easier if we follow Jesus. We are told that following Christ will lead to comfort and financial prosperity. Even if we don't explicitly believe these messages, they seep into our culture, and inadvertently, we begin to think that life should be easy for Christians. None of this is true. We will easily be fooled by these messages if we aren’t careful. We will then find ourselves only willing to follow Jesus if He leads us where we want to go—toward our preferred way of living. We will walk away from Him the moment the journey becomes difficult or we find ourselves in uncharted territory.
But Jesus never promised us an easy life; He promised us abundant life. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” So what is the abundant life? It’s Jesus. That’s it. Him. All of Him—nothing more, nothing less.
And so, dear sister, put yourself in the shoes of the scribe and the disciples as we encounter them in Matthew 8. There is a good chance that if you are reading this, you have a desire to follow Jesus. Are you willing to follow Him if, in the end, you only get Him? Do you have the courage to let go of your life’s expectations and let Him have complete control? Will you follow Him wherever He leads you, for better or worse?
At many moments, for me, the answer is no. In my heart of hearts, I know my commitment waivers. I have expectations for my version of the abundant life that I refuse to release so He can give me His abundant life. I'm afraid of the storm into which He may lead me, so I withhold my love from Him. I sit comfortably in my curated Christian life while He beckons me to go deeper.
Years ago, I sat with a very holy priest who told me, “Mallory, I see in you that you could be a great lady. When situations get messy and people start to fight and gossip about each other, I see you as having the ability to rise above it—to live on a different level. You could be that lady, but you are not that great lady yet.”
I am not that great lady yet because I haven’t yet chosen Jesus over everything else. But what if I did? How much more would I know Him? How much more would I love Him? How much more peace would I experience in my own life if I just gave Him a total yes. I would become that great lady. I wouldn’t necessarily be a wealthy lady, a famous lady, a successful lady, or even a popular lady. I’m not opposed to any of these things, but more than these things, I want to become a great lady. One who dared to follow Jesus wherever He led, so that in the end, I would receive Him as my prize.
So what is holding you back? If you find that you can only get so far in your faith, maybe it’s time to let go of something. Perhaps it’s time to go all in, no matter where He leads. Because in the end, He is the abundant life. It is He who leads us. He makes us great, and life with Him is all that matters.
Last year my husband and I went on a marriage retreat. During one of the sessions, the retreat leaders performed an illustration. They asked a couple to go up to the front of the room and stand back to back. One leader asked each partner to describe what they saw. The wife said she saw windows, a snack table, and an audience. The husband said he saw a white board. The leader looked at us and said, “Two people can be standing in the same place and see completely different things. It is your job to seek understanding so that you can move forward in unity.”
It was a great illustration, but I found myself with questions: What if the couple cannot come to an understanding? What if both are convinced the other is wrong? Can they still choose to be unified in action? The answer, for the most part, is yes. The couple standing back to back can still move together in unison—for example, doing a jumping jack. It is possible to have different perspectives, or even vehemently disagree, and still commit to working together.
This brings me to the biggest Supreme Court decision of my lifetime.
A little over a week ago, the Supreme Court caused an earthquake when it released the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision which overturned Roe vs. Wade. I know that you, like me, have seen the public response, heard the sound bites and seen the memes, and are processing your own strong feelings about this decision.
Walking with Purpose reaches 50,000 women a year. Each is made uniquely in God’s image and is irreplaceably different from the other. Each is a work in progress―an imperfect woman who God is patiently leading into deeper holiness. The women who read our blogs, order our devotionals, and dive into our Bible studies are at different places in their faith journey and search for God. And much of the time, they stand in similar places and see totally different things.
The Catholic Church clearly states, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
Many committed Catholic women know the Church’s stance on abortion and disagree. My reason for writing is not to attempt to argue for the Church’s position. I am very happy to do that but not in this post. My reason for writing is to explore how women of goodwill, who have come to different conclusions regarding this matter, can still act together in Christian unity to uphold the sacredness of life in society. Can it be done? I declare that it must be done! So where do we start?
One of the more productive internet conversations concerning a post-Roe world has revolved around how the government can better support families. Some are calling for legislation requiring fathers to become financially responsible for their children during the mother’s pregnancy by paying for a portion of the medical bills and child support. I have seen others advocating for better policies around paid family leave. Still others say that if we are going to support working mothers better, the government should provide universal pre-k.
These are the beginnings of great discussions that will hopefully lead to government policy that better supports marriage and family. But the love of Christ compels us to not wait for the government’s permission. We are His hands and feet, and it is time to lean into Christ’s mission with our entire beings. We have been given an opportunity to use our money, our time, and our energy to support mothers at every stage of life, and to create local communities that make it easier for families to thrive. It is here that I believe that women with good intentions, who desire to live for God, can come together no matter how they feel about the Supreme Court’s decision.
So here are five things you can do right now that can help families in your local community:
Examine the way you speak about motherhood and family
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” Marriage and family is most spoken about in a negative manner. Not only is it discouraging to those who are trying to raise children, it convinces others that marriage and parenthood are not worth the hardship.
We are called to speak about marriage and family as the blessing that it is. Does that mean we shouldn't be honest? Of course not. But take a moment to examine how you speak about marriage and family. How can you speak with joy about these gifts and start to change the societal tone?
Invest in your own marriage and children
The Catholic Church calls the family the domestic church. “It is a community of faith, hope, and charity; it assumes singular importance in the Church, as is evident in the New Testament.” Many people, however, did not experience family the way that it should be experienced. Let it be different with your family. Take time to invest in your marriage. Work to create a family culture of love and security where each member can experience love, joy, and security while being challenged to grow in maturity.
Offer to help the families in your church and your neighborhood
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
If you do not have children or your children are out of the house, I invite you to think of a family that you might be able to help. Perhaps you could help with errands, meal planning, or babysit for a few hours a week so a mom can get a bit of space without having to pay a ton of money for childcare. Motherhood is an incredible gift. It can also be unspeakably hard. You might be able to lighten the load for a mother in your church or neighborhood.
Donate and volunteer at your local pregnancy center
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
For many women, a positive pregnancy test leaves them in despair. They aren’t married and feel they don’t have the resources to raise a child. There are many nonprofits that exist to help these women. Most need donations and volunteers. Jesus calls us to care for these women and offer them hope in their despair. Let us answer that call and give our help where it is needed.
Pray about foster care or adoption
I recently heard about a church in Florida whose congregants emptied the foster care rolls in their county. Can you even believe that? That is radical love, and it comes with a high cost. As Christians, we are called to embrace that cost if the Lord is calling us to this kind of love. Some of us are being called to step up and consider adoption or foster care. I invite you to pray about it and answer that call if it is you!
I know many of us might disagree passionately, but we are still the Church—broken and beautiful. These are only a few suggestions. Go to God and ask Him how He wants you to be His light to the world. Then, go and be that light.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258.
 Colossians 4:6
 CCC 2204
 Galatians 6:2
 James 1:27
When was the last time that you told Jesus, to His face, that He is not enough? For me, it was last week. Was it my finest moment? No. Was it a necessary moment? Yes.
Here is the story...
As we were making dinner one night, my husband asked, “Mallory, I have to go to a conference in Florida. Do you want to come with me and stay in a nice hotel for the weekend?” “Let me think about it,” I replied. “Just kidding. Florida in January with one kid instead of four? I. Am. In.”
As soon as I agreed to go, expectations began to form in my mind. A weekend trip could be a much-deserved break. I could pray, read, rest, and work out. I’d have one baby (who can’t walk), warm weather, and one very busy husband. Finally, “me” time. It’s the thing I had been longing for, and I could not wait.
The first day of the trip arrived, and as always, the actual unfolding of events was far from the dream I had spun in my mind. To begin, we landed in Florida to find the weather so cold and dreary that I barely took off my jacket the entire weekend. So much for warm weather. I was disappointed, but I refused to let the weather stop me from enjoying my break. It wasn’t until the next event occurred that I started to crumble.
We arrived at our swanky hotel only to discover that there had been a mistake. We didn’t have a room. And not only did we not have a room, but there were no more rooms available. We would have to find another place to stay. Even as I type this I realize it seems small, but it was too much for me at the time. I waited in the lobby for three hours as my husband got settled at the conference and figured out the room situation. While waiting, all I could think was that this break for which I had longed was slipping away. I was so angry I could barely talk. Seeing my silent rage, my husband suggested that I go to adoration. (This was a Catholic conference.)
Reluctantly, I walked into the chapel and knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Before I could even stop myself, the words spilled out of my heart: Jesus, I love You, but right now, You are not enough. Ouch. Shame immediately came over me. I’m not supposed to say that. Heck, I’m not supposed to feel that. I make a living by telling the world that Jesus is enough, and there I was, laid bare before Him over a hotel room problem. My heart is so fickle.
Through the shame, however, I heard God say, “Are you willing to hand me your idol?” I didn’t even know I had an idol, and yet, there it was before me, unable to be ignored.
It was the break.
I was so desperate for a break from the often intense responsibilities of mothering such small children that I didn’t even realize that I was starting to live for the break. I accomplished tasks at work to get a break. I loved my kids so that, in the end, I could have a break. I began to think that alone time was the answer to all of my troubles. I had been doing everything to get to a place where I could finally tend to myself and only myself. So when I finally thought that the break would be mine, I could not handle the fact that it might not happen.
That, dear friend, is idolatry. It is looking to something else to receive what only God can give. While a break in my life may be good and even necessary, it will not give me the deep heart satisfaction, the soul rest that I so desire. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus is the rest, not the break itself. So when I finally do get a moment alone, I must connect with Him, or I will enter back into my life still desperate.
And so I ask you, what are you striving for in all of your activities? Are you living for the break, the moment when you can finally get some alone time? Or are you looking to something else to finally give you the rest and satisfaction for which you long? It may be recognition, comfort, compliments, or achievement. Whatever it is, it can only serve as an avenue to God; it cannot give you what only God can.
Psalm 115:3–11 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”
The idols that we worship in our lives are dead, and Scripture tells us that we will be like them if we worship them. But God is fully alive, and it is only He who can bring us into the fullness of life. “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
Pope Benedict XVI is commonly quoted as saying, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!” The implication here is that you were made for discomfort. Why? Because you were made for God, and He is good enough to root out anything that keeps you from Him, even if it means withholding from you the very thing that you think you need.
In the end, my trip to Florida was a good trip. It was not the trip I wanted; I never really got my break. It was, however, the trip I needed. I got the opportunity to lay down an idol. I got some honest, raw time with the Lord, and that is what I needed most.
What is it that you think you need? The Lord may not be giving it to you because He wants more for you. He wants your holiness, your sainthood, and your greatness over your immediate and momentary comfort. In the end, He wants you with Him forever, and there is nothing better than that.
For five months now, I have needed to pick up a bundle of clothing from the cleaners. That’s right, almost half a year ago, I dropped off some dresses for cleaning and then forgot about them for two months. When I finally remembered, I avoided picking them up. I told myself that I was just too busy. I have too many kids to pack into the car, and the errand will have to wait.
You are probably thinking, Mallory, just go get the clothes. You are being silly. I have told myself the same thing, and I have still not remedied the situation. Why? Because I’m afraid. I don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of picking them up after leaving them there for so long. I don’t want to take the chance of hearing the words, “We gave them away,” which, by now, is a real possibility.
The cleaners are only one example of things I avoid out of fear. I could write this entire blog post about friends I didn’t call, opportunities I passed up, and chances I didn’t take. I could give you a million reasons why I didn’t do these things and convince you that I am just being smart or prudent. But in the end, all of those reasons boil down to one. Fear. Fear of what? Fear of what others will think of me, of failing, or of looking like a fool. I fear getting hurt and not being good enough. I fear many things, and when I let them rule my life, I start hiding and stop living.
Do you ever feel like you live your life from behind your fears? The more I talk to women, the more I understand that we often make our decisions according to our fears. We tell ourselves that we are using good judgment, and then we stop stepping out in big and small ways. Slowly but surely, we build lives that are predictable, setting boundaries that keep us safe but leave little room for the Holy Spirit to move. We might be comfortable, but we miss out on the abundant life that God offers to us.
Scripture reveals that an abundant life requires risk. The entire Bible is story after story of God asking someone to take a chance, that person eventually obeying God in faith, and then God performing a miracle. The Christian life is an adventure, not an afternoon coffee break, and it requires that we do some things that make us uncomfortable.
Take Moses, for example. Moses was the man to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the edge of the promised land. But before he was that guy, he was a man on the run for killing an Egyptian. If he returned to Egypt, he could be killed for his crime, a great reason to stay away. Yet, God chose Moses to set His people free.
In Exodus 3, the Lord appeared to Moses and told him that He had seen the misery of His people and had come to rescue them out of Egypt and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. The Lord said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses responded to this high call with four excuses. He had good reasons for thinking he was not able to say yes.
First, he said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Moses was not wrong to raise this objection. After all, he was not a diplomat; he had no political power. He was an outlaw.
How did God respond? He said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Who Moses thought he was didn’t matter. The fact that the God of the universe would be with him mattered much more.
Moses then brought up the second reason he was not the guy to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’” (Exodus 4:1).
Again, Moses’ reason is legitimate. He would sound like a crazy person running into Egypt saying that he heard a message from God. God’s response? He turned Moses’ staff into a snake and reminded him that He is the God of miracles (Exodus 4:2–4). There is no obstacle He can’t overcome.
Moses again contested, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).
This was Moses’ best argument. He did not have the skills to do what the Lord was asking. God replied, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:11–12).
Finally, Moses was out of excuses, and he revealed his fear: “Oh Lord, send I pray, some other person” (Exodus 4:13).
Moses had every reason to be scared. Can you imagine approaching Pharaoh’s throne and asking him to let go of the labor force that had served Egypt for over 400 years? Can you imagine having to convince the Israelites to leave everything they had ever known? Moses could have said no, and who would have blamed him? He would have avoided the risk and the hardship that came from saying yes, but he would also miss seeing God perform incredible wonders.
And so back to you and me. What scares you? Take a moment to write it down and then answer these two questions: Why are you afraid? What is your fear stopping you from doing?
Is fear keeping you from being more generous or stepping into leadership? Is it keeping you from having a much-needed conversation or apologizing to a person you have wronged? Avoiding these things may save you from an awkward or embarrassing situation. It might even keep you from pain and hardship, but it will also keep you from seeing God move in the chances you take.
For clarity’s sake, the Lord is not asking you to be reckless or run into harm’s way with disregard for wisdom and good decision-making. Instead, He asks you to be obedient to Him, even if you have to take risks to do so. He invites you to reject the spirit of fear and embrace the spirit of freedom.
Years ago, Fr. Mike Schmitz gave a sermon in which he highlighted Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. He said that Piglet was the most courageous character in the children’s story because he was afraid of everything but accomplished great things despite his fear. Courage is not fearlessness; it’s doing something even though we are afraid to do them.
So here is my challenge to you for 2022. Tell the Lord all that you are afraid of and let Him answer you with a mighty, “I will be with you,” or “I am the God of miracles.” Then, do the thing that you are afraid to do even if your voice trembles and your legs shake. Make the phone call even if it’s awkward, risk the embarrassment of putting yourself out there even if you make a fool of yourself, or step up to lead even if you don’t feel qualified. Start small and go from there. As for me, I am starting with a trip to the dry cleaners.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
A couple of weeks ago, our parish began to move toward a more open mask and attendance policy. As usual, I hadn’t read the email making this announcement and was surprised to see the tape gone, relatively full pews, and mouths—so many mouths.
Honestly, it was a bit jarring. The world as it was before COVID-19 seems so long ago that it feels unfamiliar. As happy as I am that things are starting to feel a bit more normal, I have been fumbling through what seems like a long transition to the other side of the pandemic. There are so many questions. When my children move around at church, do they make other people uncomfortable? There is a good chance that they do, which, in turn, makes me uncomfortable. And my friends who I haven’t seen, how should I reconnect with them? How do we rebuild? Do we hug? Do we wave? There are so many questions and so many ways to mess up or be insensitive that it can feel paralyzing. A year after shutting down the country to slow the spread, we face another challenge. How do we emerge well? How do we reconnect well with the people that we love?
That day, as I awkwardly sat in our first “normal-ish” Mass, our priest gave a homily that spoke to this very question. Quoting from Ecclesiastes 3, he reminded us, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He then explained that the last year was a season in which we were called out of our normal circumstances to respond to a crisis beyond our control. We buckled down and took precautions that we needed to take, and this came at a cost. We have mourned many losses. We have mourned the loss of regular schedules, coffee dates, restaurant outings, and kids in sport. We have mourned the loss of predictable futures and canceled plans. We have also mourned the loss of loved ones who were taken by the virus or died alone.
A year later, however, we are entering a new season that our priest described as one of hope. He told us to embrace hope, and then challenged us to enter into this new season with the distinct intention to reconnect with our community and rediscover the joy of sharing our life with friends.
I wonder how you are handling this new season. I wonder about the state of your friendships today. Every study that I have read on the secondary effects of the pandemic illustrates a decrease in women’s overall well-being across the board. Compared with last year, our mental health is less stable, our responsibilities have increased, and with social distancing in place as protection from the virus, so our loneliness has also increased. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic reported that a significant decrease in women’s friendships has contributed to a major increase in women’s reported loneliness.
Have you felt that? Have you seen your friendships fall to the wayside amid all your buckling down? Have you found yourself wondering if certain women were ever your friends in the first place? I bet you have. I bet there is room for healing and forgiveness in this area of your life, and the good news is that God is ready and waiting to do something new.
The topic of friendship has been at the forefront of my mind over these months as I have written Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection, a six-lesson Bible study coming later this summer. I have explored and prayed through Scripture to find out what God has to say about friendship, and it turns out that He has a lot to say. Our very salvation included a plan for Him to make Himself available for our friendship.
In John 15:15, Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
Therefore, in the eyes of God, friendship is of utmost importance. The love that Jesus has for you is completely deliberate. He chose you simply because He wanted to, simply because you are you. Your earthly friendships were meant to reflect this love. They were meant to be a source of joy in your life and a witness of God’s love to others.
Ancient philosophers understood the importance of friendship in a way that often is lost on us today. They recognized that it is one of the supreme gifts of life because it is a relationship in which the people in it choose each other for no other reason than they want to choose each other. Pastor Tim Keller said, “Friendship is the only love that is absolutely deliberate,” and St. Thomas Aquinas took it a step further, stating, “There is nothing to be prized more than true friendship.” Wow, what a statement. Do you think that’s true? Has this year shown you that your friendships may have been more important than you thought? I know for me it has.
When I began to write this study, I thought that friendship was a "nice" topic to explore because we have so many experiences with other women, and most of them are not good or godly. While women’s friendships can be an incredible gift, all too often, jealousy, gossip, and competition make friendship feel like it’s not worth the investment. We bring so many of our insecurities and baggage into our friendships. We have wounds and scars that go back as far as our childhood run-in with the mean girl at recess. The effects of COVID-19, however, have revealed the importance of friendship in a new way. Yes, friendship is a good topic to explore, but it’s more than that. It is a necessary part of our well-being. It is a gift from God, and He wants us to reclaim that gift, placing Him at the center of these relationships for the sake of His glory.
In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord challenged His people to face forward. He said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
This is as true now as it was then. The Lord is moving as you emerge from this year-long pandemic. He will use this new season to reclaim what was lost for His purpose and your joy.
As you figure out how to emerge from a season marked by loneliness, don’t forget your friendships. Remember that the Lord is moving.
If you don't receive our emails, be sure to sign up to receive them to be the first to know when Reclaiming Friendship is in our store. In the meantime, plan to grab a group of women later this summer, and let God reclaim your friendships in this new season.
 Katerina Lim, “Women Report Higher Levels of Loneliness During Pandemic,” woqw.com, March 9, 2021, https://wqow.com/2021/03/09/women-report-higher-levels-of-loneliness-during-the-pandemic/.
 Tim Keller, “Friendship,” YouTube video, 38:05, October 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc4VIQrXdE.
 Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On Kingship to the King of Cyrus,” book 1, chapter 11, paragraph 77.
At six o'clock this morning, I rolled out of bed and sleepily made my way to the coffee maker. I poured my coffee, as I do every day, and settled into my favorite chair. It was prayer time—my favorite time of day. As usual, I began to fall back asleep in the middle of my prayer. Instead of dreaming, however, my mind began to mull over a million tiny grievances that others have committed against me. I am not talking about deep-seated anger or long-harbored grudges, but rather, small annoyances that come from the dirty cup left out by my husband or the imperfectly worded text from a friend. It's these offenses that leave me thinking, "Doesn't he know that I like to wake up to a clean kitchen?" Or, "Doesn't she know that a quick phone call would have solved this problem?" By the end of my prayer time, before anyone else in my house is even awake, I am trying to work my way out of a bad mood. So much for holiness. I guess I'll try again tomorrow.
Can you relate? It's not that you are always mad or even seeking to hold an action against someone; it's just that you often think that someone else could have been more considerate or accommodating to your needs. If they had just tweaked their words or actions by the smallest degree, they would have met your expectations, and all would have been well. But they didn't, and now you are going through life experiencing low-grade grumpiness because of all the people who didn't meet your secret expectations and desires perfectly.
Dear sister, if this is you, there is no judgment. It is clearly me, too. We live in a culture that teaches us to be easily offended. Now, please don't misread this. I am not talking about the issues of justice and equity that ignite a passion in us all. That is not what this post is about. I am talking about small offenses. Most of us go from day to day slightly offended by the family member who said the wrong thing, the friend who forgot to call, the coworker that didn't communicate properly, and the rude coffee shop barista.
Why is it that every imperfect interaction has the power to pick and prod at our confidence and flare up our entitlement? Genesis 11 reveals to us the root of this problem. The people of the ancient world came together and said in Genesis 11:4, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered all over the earth." The Lord then saw the city and the tower. He got angry, confused their language, and scattered the people across the earth.
Where did the people go wrong? They came together and said, "Let us make a name for ourselves." In their effort to seek out the greatness of their own names, they turned their gaze away from God and His glory. They bought the lie that humanity is the center of the universe, and it is our glory that should be sought at all costs. They failed to see that it was God who gave them their place in life, and they turned their heads away from Him to focus on themselves. Their desires and expectations became the main focus. Romans 1:25 explains it this way: "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator."
Part of our problem is that we have the choice to make God the center of our universe (the truth) or make ourselves the center of the universe (the lie). When we place ourselves in the center, everything and everyone becomes subject to our preferences. When they are not met, it makes sense that we would be offended because we see our own preferences as the most important.
Luckily, in the very next chapter of Genesis, God shows us a better way to live. In Genesis 12, God revealed Himself and His plan to a young man named Abram. God told Abram, "I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2).
Did you catch the difference? In Genesis 11, the people were out to make their own names great. In Genesis 12, God told Abram that He would make his name great. Abram received God's blessing, and he recognized that God is the center of the story, deserving of all the glory. Abram was part of the story, but he wasn’t the center. It is the same with us. We are part of God’s story—not the center of our own.
Who is the center of your universe, the star of your life? Many of us acknowledge God with our lips, but then live as though it is still all about us at the end of the day. It is not. It never was. Every single thing, even our own good, is ultimately about Him and His glory.
There would be a welcomed change in the state of our spirits and tone of our relationships if we moved out of the center and let go of our expectations. We would experience a fresh freedom if we stopped tending to our own greatness and reminded ourselves through unceasing prayer and radical generosity that God’s preference matters most. He will do what He wants with our hearts and our lives if we will only step aside, let go of offense, and join in with the saints and angels, whose unceasing focus is on the One who is worthy of all.
P.S. I loved leading our live discussions through Beholding His Glory and Beholding Your King on social media last summer and fall because both Bible studies focus on God as the center of history. Join Kristy Malik and me on Instagram and Facebook this Lent as we lead a live discussion on the Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST starting February 18). Our focus will be on God as the center of our hearts and how He leads us to healing and wholeness.
We had waited all year for this moment. Giddy with excitement and overwhelmed by the beauty of the hotel we would call “home” for the next five days, we threw our suitcases in our room and then ran down to the lobby to grab a bite to eat. Before we finished our dinner, or unpacked our carefully chosen outfits (and good grief, they were cute), we heard the news. FLOURISH 2020, the Walking With Purpose Women’s Conference that we and 700+ other women couldn’t wait for, was not going to happen.
There is still a piece of me that remains in disbelief. Then there is that other piece of me; the larger piece that looks up to the heavens, winks at God, and says, “I see what you’re doing.”
And perhaps I have driven a few close friends crazy with what appears to be my lack of concern. But on the contrary, it is actually the refusal to fall into fear and disappointment, because here is the thing: every battle, every hardship, every trial and let down that I have endured in my life has prepared me for such a time as this. I have been trained, for better or worse, to look a hard season in its face; not trying to understand “why,” but rather, to look for the lesson. The defining moment that prepared me for such battles was the day a gunman entered my children’s elementary school, killing 20 first graders and six educators, turning life upside down in an instant, and wiping the calendar clear of every single plan we had made. It was the moment I learned the most important lesson that I will never forget: Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
There was a second lesson hidden in the sorrow and chaos that I cling to equally as hard: HE WILL RESTORE. And not only will He restore, but He will restore twice as much to you (Zechariah 9:12). This, my friends, has been my experience. God is in the business of extra. He super-sizes anything we bring Him. Give Him a fish, and He will hand you a seafood buffet. Give Him a few locust-eaten years, and He will make it all up to you and then some. And if He takes something precious out of your hands, you better believe it is because He has something greater to place back in them. He has more in store. He magnifies our dreams. Some of us believe this, and some of us hurt too much to dare to. But I promise, it is the truth.
Only a week after the cancellation of Flourish, Lisa Brenninkmeyer texted me with a Holy Spirit-inspired idea: “What I’d like to do for our women is something to help their Spiritual Communion next Sunday.” Immediately interested, I continued to read: “I am working on a Bible study using next Sunday’s readings.” She went on to fully describe Defining Moments; the format of this free Bible study, her plan to hop on social media every Saturday to give us a short teaching on the Gospel, and I mean honestly...I don’t think I had even unpacked my suitcase from the trip that never happened, and she had already written a Bible study?! Unbelievable.
And yet, totally believable.
Because this is what our God of hope does.
Our God is a God of abundance, double portion, and multiplication. He took our retreat—all that hard work, all that hope, all that energy, all that prayer, and the deep, deep desire to reach the hearts of 700+ women—and do you want to know what He did? He tripled it! He far exceeded our expectations! Through Defining Moments, Walking With Purpose is not only reaching more women than a retreat ever could have, but we are reaching entire families; engaging women and men in a whole new way, helping to prepare thousands of hearts, and challenging them to deeply feast on the Word. What looked like loss, the Lord turned into a win.
Whatever it is you have had to let go of, cancel, put on the back burner, say goodbye to, and wait another year for, I want you to know, I get it. The WWP Team gets it. But we also want you to know this: God wastes nothing. Your plans, hopes, dreams, and efforts matter to Him. So much so that He weeps alongside of you as you mourn. And yet, this is not the end of the story. God is still writing, you know. What appears dead to you, God will raise back to life. What you are suffering now, He will restore.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Hey Friends! Visit www.walkingwithpurpose.com/defining-moments to download our new FREE Bible study, Defining Moments, and receive it in your inbox every Monday. Then join Lisa Brenninkmeyer LIVE on Instagram and Facebook, this Saturday at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT, as she takes us deeper into the Holy Week Mass readings.
The kids piled into the minivan, and as we pulled out onto the street, my fourth grade son suddenly remembered his one homework assignment: bring poster board to class. So I did what all good mothers do. After dropping three kids off at school, with a baby on my hip, I put my own plans aside, raced to the store, purchased some poster board, and brought it to his teacher. Feeling like a hero, I was surprised to be greeted with anything less than praise and gratitude for rescuing my son from the serious wound of humiliation directly caused by his not having poster board. Instead, in front of the class, I was greeted with, “Oh, I am sorry Mrs. Phelps. I can’t accept that from you. It was not your homework assignment. It was your son’s.”
You would think after being called out in front of 20 fourth-graders, I would have learned my lesson. But as a young mom who believed that saving my children from all discomfort was a reflection of my love, I continued to jump to the rescue, no matter the cost. Forgot your backpack? I am on my way! Left your lunch on the kitchen table? I’ll bring it right over! Math assignment on the your bedroom floor? Give me ten minutes...I can swing by the school!
It’s what we do. Convinced that without our help something tragic will happen to them, we love out of fear and we help to control; all the while thinking we are just doing our job.
But it is not our job.
It is God’s job.
And last time I checked, he wasn’t looking to retire.
In the secular world, we call this enabling. It is excusing, justifying, ignoring, denying, or smoothing over a behavior. Not because we support or condone it, but because we are so incredibly anxious and affected by it; not because we approve of our loved ones choices, but because we can not bear to see them walk through the consequences. I tell you this, sweet friend, with authority, as I am a recovering professional enabler. I tried so hard to keep my own child from having to deal with that one big crisis that I managed to prolong the problems by keeping him and my family living in a constant state of smaller crises. At best, a distorted attempt to solve problems, I never did succeed at removing his suffering, but sadly, only postponed it.
How many of us are wasting our time and energy trying to prevent our loved ones from suffering? And how many of us, if we are being honest, aren’t stepping in to clean up their mess because of their potential pain, but rather, because of our own? Let’s face it. It hurts to watch a loved one hurt. It is so much easier to just do for them what we know we can do so that unpleasant conflict is avoided, hard consequences are erased, and can we move on with life.
I have sat in enough circles to finally understand that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. As a firm believer in therapy that is rooted deeply in faith, I’d like to take this a step further and say that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the God it belongs to.
This thought was confirmed yesterday as my Walking With Purpose small group discussed healthy boundaries and relationships in the Keeping In Balance study. Galatians 6:2 teaches that we ought to bear one another’s burdens. But verse 5 commands us to bear our own load. This is some game-changing truth to chew on. Lisa Brenninkmeyer further explains:
Loads are made up of things we’re all expected to do for ourselves. We are to help one another with burdens, but be responsible for our own loads. When do we get into trouble? When we find ourselves carrying others’ loads or refusing to compassionately help others carry their burdens.¹
Raise your hand right now if you are carrying someone else’s load, and ask yourself...why? What am I afraid will happen to my loved one if I hand this load back over to him/her? What am I afraid will happen to me if I do not carry if for him/her?
Handing over a load that we have been trying to carry and control, all in the name of love, is no small matter. It is painfully hard. But you know what’s even harder? Never letting it go. Not because it will exhaust the one who is doing the carrying, but because of the message it sends to the one who was meant to carry it in the first place. The message that, “You aren’t able to carry this. You are not strong enough. God might not show up, so I must step in.”
I shared my exhaustion in confession. I told the priest that I felt like I have been handed a giant clay cistern full of water and holes. Each hole is one of my children, and every time I get one hole covered up, another hole starts spouting. “I feel like it is my responsibility to keep every hole covered...like it is my job to spackle everything...keeping everything smooth...everything at peace.” And the priest, in love, corrected me: “You are not the spackler.”
Not only are we not the spacklers, but in attempting to be so, we add unnecessary stress to our lives. The fact is, no life is without suffering, our pain has purpose, and we gain nothing but an anxious heart when we believe otherwise. The love we have for others is not measured in how much our hands carry, but rather, in how much we place in the hands of God.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping In Balance (Walking With Purpose, October 2018) p.66
For someone who likes words and lots of them, editing a book can be hard work. After pouring over each sentence and getting to the point where you love them all, no author wants to hear that she has to cut hundreds of words. But that is exactly what a writer is told and tends to be reluctant to do. When I was in the midst of that very process, I received great advice from an editor. Surprisingly, it applies to Holy Week. She said, “You have to kill your precious.” To the writer, every word seems golden. But unless you “kill your precious” and get rid of the parts that are unnecessary, the finished work won't be as concise or impactful.
Holy Week offers us opportunities to kill lots of precious. It's the home stretch, the last incline of the journey of Lent. It might be tempting to just switch gears and start focusing on Easter Sunday, but if we skip over these key days in the Church calendar, we'll miss out. The spirit of sacrifice is hard for us pleasure-seeking people, but a few more days of focused effort can make the celebration of the resurrection that much sweeter.
We all have those sins that we like to justify. The ones that we hide and don't think matter much. I struggle in this way too. It makes me think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and the way he called the ring that he coveted “his precious.” This was something he had possessed that wasn't actually good for him, but he longed for it nevertheless.
What is it that you reach for when you are longing for security or comfort or an escape? Maybe it's attention from someone who doesn't belong to you. Perhaps it's too much wine. Maybe it's shopping and spending money you don't have. It can be porn, or Netflix, or eating food to try to fill a void in the heart...anything that distracts or diverts. Maybe it's your ego that needs to die a death. Instead of a hearty dose of accomplishments and accolades, you are actually needing to grow in humility. Even as I write this, it all sounds quite horrible to me. I suppose it does to us all, which is exactly why we reach for these things. They feel so good in the short-term.
God is asking us to “kill our precious,” not because he is out to spoil our fun, but because He knows that's the very thing that is holding us back from the life that is truly life. He is asking us to have a long-term perspective. He wants my eye not just on the reward of Easter Sunday but on the ultimate reward of being in His presence in heaven. Which do I want more, short-term gain or long-term glory?
What I have found very helpful is to kneel before the altar with that “precious sin” on my mind. I picture holding it in my hands. And this is what I pray: “This is the sin I am wanting to play around with. This is what looks so good to me in the short-term. But I want to be a saint more. And I want to be free.” Romans 6:16 tells us, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I wish that our desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy of our souls would just give up and leave us alone. But nothing scares him more than people who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God we get, the more the enemy will tempt us to settle for mediocrity. Let's resist him with all we've got- especially during this Holy Week.
Our lives are too short and our calling too great to play around with sin. We're in the home stretch, the final incline in the marathon of Lent. Let's finish well. Let's fling aside those sins that entangle and cling so closely. Let's ask God to kill our precious, and do all we can to stay on the path of holiness.
The song “Shallow” from the A Star Is Born movie has been in my head for three weeks. If you don't believe me, ask my family. I am driving them crazy.
When I told my friend I hadn't seen the movie, her response was absolute horror. You would have thought I told her that I was leaving the Catholic Church. Or growing out my facial hair. After the Academy Awards, she kept at me, “You have to see how they performed the song! Bradley rested his head on her shoulder while they sang! They looked so in love!” I had to see what she was so taken by. And so I googled, “Academy Awards Shallow Song.”
And now, a moment of silence...because, Oh. My. Word.
When it is time for me to go home to the Lord, if His gaze on me is anything like the way Bradley Cooper looks at Lady Gaga, then take me home now, sweet Jesus! Let's just say I am a little bit obsessed with this movie, or to be more specific, with this on-screen connection. Full disclosure, I could have done without the language, but that aside, this story touched me deeply. I felt like I was right there with Gaga and Cooper, sitting in the parking lot, listening in on a personal conversation. And when the movie ended, I missed their relationship - as co-dependent and tragic as it was - because deep down, I ached for a similar connection of my own.
Who doesn't yearn for deep connection?
I watched an interview with Lady Gaga. She said she originally wrote the song as a solo, but when Cooper heard it, in a stroke of brilliance, he added his voice. “It is a conversation about a man and woman and he actually listens to her,” she said. “Women today want to be heard.”
My husband and I can be pretty poor listeners, because we both work from home, and one of us always seems to have a phone in-hand, and by one of us, I mean my husband. I find I have to repeat what I say because after I wait for his reply, he looks up blankly and apologetically says, “I am sorry. Can you say that again? I wasn't listening.” And sure. I can easily throw him under the bus, but how often do I do the same exact thing? How many times has one of my children carried on with a story that I am half-interested in, only to give a, “that's great!” when I notice they have stopped talking. Or what about that woman you run into at the grocery store who stops to talk and all you can think about is the laundry at home and the appointment you have to get to and how badly you wish she picked up on social cues and closed her mouth? Listening takes time and well, our time is valuable. We don't like to waste it on things like...people.
And if that last line sounds bad, that's because it is.
Let's just admit it. We are losing our listening skills and our relationships are suffering as a result. We want to be heard, but rarely do we have the patience to listen. It is something I am working on this Lent. Looking people in the eye and listening to what they have to say without forming an escape route, or planning in my head what I will say back while they are still speaking.
And we wonder why so many of our relationships feel disconnected.
Or maybe we don't. Some people think we are connected just fine and there is no problem. After all, with technology today, we are communicating with people at an unprecedented rate. But connection beyond screens is different and not just different but vital. In Opening Your Heart, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes,
The truth is, we are growing increasingly socially isolated while online social networks are exploding. We are seeking connection, but so many of our connections aren't satisfying. Too many of our relationships feel superficial, artificial, one step removed from the real thing. This isolation can be soul deadening.1
Why are we so in love with the song “Shallow?” Because in this performance we see everything we long for -- deep connection, face-to-face communion; someone who gazes back at us, hears what we are saying, and offers us a safe place to land. Two people who so beautifully identify and call out what the other yearns for and the exhaustion that comes from filling the void with superficial things. And sure, doesn't hurt that Bradley Cooper is just so darn easy on the eyes, and Lady Gaga's vocal talent is flat out off the charts insane. But don't be fooled into thinking that's all there is on the big screen that tugs at the heart. The hook is not the talent, it is the intimacy they invite us into; the power of deep connection, the moment when you realize that you are not invisible, your voice is heard, and you are finally seen for who you are.
You know, the shallow end of a pool is just three feet deep. How many of us are swimming in the shallow when it comes to our relationships? With our spouses? Our children? Our neighbors? Our friends? Our Church? Our God? How many of us can sing, “I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I'll never meet the ground…?” This Lent, I invite you into the deep end of faith. How? Run to Adoration, grab someone's hand and bring them to Mass, sit across from a friend who simply needs her voice to be heard, really listen to the women at your table in Bible study instead of needing to be the one who is constantly speaking. Put your phone down and look into the eyes of the person you are sharing a room with. Because that intimacy we ache for in a Hollywood story...it is available to us, right here, right now. Truth is, we were made for more than the shallow.
Your Heavenly Father is waiting in the deep end...it is time to dive in.
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