My workday begins at 9 AM, so at 8:59, I commute up the stairs to my home office, formerly known as the guest bedroom. At Walking with Purpose, employees work remotely, which is a blessing and hugely convenient for working moms like me who tend to spend their morning hours searching for their kids' lost sneakers, water bottles, and homework assignments while packing lunches, and, in my case, removing cat fur from the kids' clothes with that sticky roller thing. Once my youngest son climbs on the bus at 8:35, I have 24 minutes to pull myself together enough so that when my boss invites me to a Zoom video conference call at 9 AM, I'm ready (ish).
That scenario played itself out recently, when my boss (WWP's CEO, Julie Ricciardi) Zoomed me at 9 AM from Denver, CO. It was two hours earlier for Julie, but she had been up for hours anyway.
“I went to Mass at 6 AM,” Julie told me that morning. Knowing Julie, she had also exercised, enjoyed an extremely healthy breakfast, answered 100 emails, and maybe even solved world hunger before our 9 AM call. As we spoke, we could see each other via video connection, and I was hoping I was sitting far enough from the camera so Julie couldn't see the cat fur on my shirt.
When that Zoom call ended, I realized I was feeling something unusual-I was feeling envy. Or more exactly, an emotion somewhere between envy and longing. It was envy-longing for what Julie had. I'm not talking about her peaceful and productive mornings. I wasn't envious that she went to 6 AM Mass; I was envious that she wanted to go to 6 AM Mass.
Does that even make sense? Is there logic in that-in feeling envious of a relationship with Christ when that relationship is a thing that I am equally entitled to? No one is keeping it from me, purposefully dangling it out of reach. If it is within my reach, a fruit I can easily pick, I should feel no envy over it.
But I do wish I possessed a faith so strong that waking up before the sun in order to be present with Him in the Eucharist wasn't a chore but a blessing.
The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart was written to help women like me open their hearts to Jesus Christ. I participated in an Opening Your Heart parish program study not long ago and my heart was opened, but now that I really think about it, and now that I'm being honest with myself, perhaps it wasn't opened all the way.
That was really bothering me for a few days last week; that and the fact that envy is a sin.
But as I got caught up in the day-to-day of my hectic life and the kids' activities on Friday and Saturday, my faith envy got back-burnered.
Then Sunday came, and Father Joseph Akunazeri (a newly-ordained priest of the Archdiocese of New York) celebrated the 10:15 AM Mass at our parish. His first Mass as a priest.
Sisters, he was BEAMING; smiling from ear to ear, so full of joy and the Holy Spirit, he was practically glowing.
Me? I was envious, again. I don't know that kind of joy, I thought to myself as I sat bookended in the pew by my two sleepy children.
Suddenly, I was struck with a thought. God knows I don't want to feel envious. He wants me to do something to get rid of that useless feeling.
Joining another Walking with Purpose Bible study group would do wonders for my soul, but the closest WWP parish program is pretty far from where I live. Perhaps I should double my efforts to bring Walking with Purpose to my own parish? Problem is, that would be more of a give than a get, if you know what I mean. Maybe what I really need is a spiritual mentor...
As I was contemplating these questions (while blowing cat fur off my computer keyboard), I decided to turn to my Opening Your Heart study guide in search of answers.
Would you believe that the first page I opened to (Lesson 12, Day 4 introduction) contained these words, written by author Lisa Brenninkmeyer:
“Do you want to become a saint? I'm not talking about wanting recognition for your holiness. A saint is simply someone who has been radically transformed by Christ. She has pursued Jesus wholeheartedly, and in that pursuit has been changed for the better.”
My answer is yes! I do wish to be radically transformed. It is likely that my pursuit of Him has not been entirely wholehearted. How do I open my heart all the way? I'll continue to pray about it, and I hope you'll pray for me too.
I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.
We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?
Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?
Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.
I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God- seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.
God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:
“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”
No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.
Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward which means things can get very dark very quickly.
If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be cancelled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.
In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:
“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”
We are the most depressed, anxious, lost and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:
Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.¹
There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?
¹ Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.