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Friendship is not extra. It is not optional for the Christian. It is particularly crucial to the Christian woman. Perhaps you’re already nodding. Perhaps you’re even thinking of the faces of the women who form your Walking with Purpose community, remembering how those women acted as “an elixir of life” to you (Sirach 6:16).

But what if you’re not at this point? What if you…well, don’t really have any “bosom friends”? What if you’ve expended all your relational energy with your children or at work? You feel the press of immediate needs and don’t think it would be responsible to step away. Isn’t it more likely that having friends is something you do with leftover time?

At the Last Supper with the disciples, Jesus stresses to them what was most important to Him: communion. Jesus immerses His disciples in the reality that communion with the Father and one another is the meaning of life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus expresses His unity with us as the true Vine, in whose love we are to remain. Jesus says, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15). Jesus, who is the Word of the Father, has told us—shared with us—all. He wants us not to remain on the outside of things but to know the logic of love from within, through participating in it. 

The Lord has designed you and destined you for intimate participation in love. This participation is called “communion,” and the entire Christian life has communion as its aim. You have come from a communion of love—the Trinity—and you are destined for communion—the communion of saints, the communion of the Trinity. You are not the best version of you, you are literally not yourself, alone. To be you, to be a person, is to be in communion.[1] This is why friendship is not extra but essential.

For a while, I forgot this, and I forgot who I was in a basic way. I was fully immersed in survival—moving four times in 5 years, having twins, homeschooling older children—I had no bandwidth to be concerned with anyone outside my immediate family. The intensity of my insularity was ugly but nearly invisible to me. During this time, my eldest daughter signed up for a musical theater production of The Wizard of Oz. This commitment necessitated that I volunteer for 12 hours. As I walked into the wings, I thoroughly resented the coerced volunteering, certain I was more put-out than any other mom because I had to bring three other children with me—who sat under tables in Hair and Makeup. Thirty minutes later, I was not the same woman who had started applying makeup. I was electrified. Coming home from productions at 10 p.m., I couldn’t sleep until I’d told my husband about every meaningful conversation I had with each mom, munchkin, and monkey. There was a lot to tell! On the third night of the show, I was nearly shouting at my husband: “I’m an extrovert! I can’t believe I forgot I was an extrovert!” And let me tell you, the man behind the curtain in this moment was the Lord.

He lifted the curtain of my heart revealing to me that “[Wo]man cannot live without love. [S]he remains a being that is incomprehensible for [her]self, [her] life is senseless, if love is not revealed to [her], if [s]he does not encounter love, if [s]he does not experience it and make it [her] own, if [s]he does not participate intimately in it.”[2] Woman is the one who is especially characterized by making room for another in her intimate spaces—her body, home, mind, family, and social groups. Our feminine genius disposes us to recognize and affirm the humanity, the goodness of the other. This is why the world needs women in order to be properly humanized. 

Of course, a woman can live this “genius” for people without being gregarious, but sometimes a hyperbole, like myself, makes a good illustration. One of the next things I did after rediscovering that I loved people, especially women, was to form a Well-Read Mom book club. At our first meeting, we could barely summon the courage to repeat the novel’s basic plot-points—and I was relieved when the ladies went home. Ouch. But, by our last meeting, we were disagreeing with each other over different interpretations and laughing about it. It was as if we had awakened—after being asleep—to our deepest questions. And if literature and fiction helped us awaken to our questions and desires, is it surprising that nearly the same exact women who’d formed the book club formed our first WWP Bible study group?

In making friends as a grownup, I learned that friendship expresses principles of Christ’s own affection for me. Friendship is a form of communion, where we meet Christ's own love for us. This is why friendship is not extra for the Christian. 

  • Friendship reminds me that I am not alone, but that love is at the core of my identity.
  • Friendship is a mirror. Friendship reminds me of who I am. My friends refuse to see me as the sum of my weaknesses and failures. They literally tell me, “I see that you are more than that.” 
  • Friendship reminds me that I am acceptable, that I am lovable. Acceptance liberates me to face the truth about myself, the full truth about who God has made me to be.
  • Friendship reminds us that love is gratuitous and surprising. God gives us to one another and He knows what will bless us. Some friends you wouldn’t have picked for yourself are given to you as gifts. 

In the next few days, ask the Lord to show you why friendship matters so much to Him. Then, step forward in faith. Perhaps you can simply start by adding a friend-event to your calendar. Perhaps you could shift your energy from social media friendships to one or two actual, embodied friendships. Perhaps you could revisit Jodi Dauses’ encouragement to take the first step in repairing a faltering friendship. Dare to believe that Jesus desires the joy of friendship for you, that His “joy may be in you and your joy may be perfect” (John 15:11).

[1] Pope John Paul II, “General Audience November 14, 1979,” Vatican.va, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1979/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_19791114.html. (See also, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio, https://www.communio-icr.com/articles/view/concerning-the-notion-of-person-in-theology.)
[2] Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, section 10, March 4, 1979, Vatican.va, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_04031979_redemptor-hominis.html.

About the author:
Charity Hill lives in the Austin area with her husband and four children, but she really dwells with them at the intersections of theology, literature, and laundry. Charity produces her children’s literature podcast Bright Wings: Children’s Books to Make the Heart Soar. At Bright Wings, Charity ponders what makes a book worth reading and wonders how children’s literature can help save the world.

How are your friendships? In the Bible study Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection, Mallory Smyth encourages us to take inventory of the type of friend we are by asking, “Are you trustworthy? Do you keep your confidential secrets to yourself? Do you give as much as you take from your friendships? In what ways can you change behavior to grow into Christlike maturity in your friendships?”[1]

As I tell my teenagers, often we gossip, ghost, or distance ourselves from a friend because we do not have the courage to say TO her, what we are saying ABOUT her. Ouch, that’s tough to admit! But if we long for authentic friendships (and we all do!), God is calling us to get honest and keep “short accounts” with each other. 

What does this practically look like?

When I was a college student, I had the honor of attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., with my parents. One of the keynote speakers, a U.S. congressman, introduced us to what he called the “5% rule,” based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. The concept rattled me. He encouraged us, if we had a disagreement with someone, to first look intently at our part in the exchange. But here was the kicker, he invited us to initiate asking for forgiveness for our part, even if we were 5% in the wrong and the other party was 95% to blame. No matter how little we personally were at fault, and no matter how badly we had been wounded by the other party, he challenged us to take the first step toward reconciling. 

From then on, our family of six adopted this rule toward forgiveness. When a conflict, misunderstanding, or unkind words were exchanged between us, we learned how to prayerfully ask God to help us discern our “5%” and ask forgiveness for our part, no matter how small. I have carried this principle of “owning the 5%” into my marriage, parenting, and friendships. It has not been easy, but each time I ask Jesus for His sacred, humble heart to help me take the first step.  

Imagine what would happen to our marriages, interactions with family members, disagreements with coworkers, and friendships if we adopted this 5% rule! 

We would be wise to take heed of Ephesians 4:26–27: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the enemy of our souls [the devil] a foothold.” Imagine if we resolved to keep short accounts with each other and not let the day end before we reached out in reconciliation. How would this change our relationships?

Speaking the truth in love requires we see others the way Jesus sees them—as His beloved children. Reclaiming Friendship says: 

We can often get stuck playing the blame-game, but the Lord is inviting us to do the next right thing in our friendships. If we have been hurt, Jesus encourages us to forgive. If we have done the wounding, we are called to ask for forgiveness. No matter if our part is 5%, 45%, or 95%, Jesus is inviting us to take the first step. This is not natural because we long to point the finger at what others did wrong, but God is calling us to maturity. We must be brave enough to open our friendships up to healthy communication. We must lead with kindness and authenticity. When we have the courage to do this, we sharpen each other. Honesty helps us develop fruitful, virtuous friendships.[2]

Consider your current friendships. Are there small tensions that could easily be diffused by speaking the truth in love? What keeps you from looking at your part? Is there a friendship account you need to settle today? 

Even if we played a part in the rupture of a friendship, redemption is always possible. Jesus always speaks the truth in love to us. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance and reminds us that He will finish the good work that He started in us. To follow Him fully is to increasingly become better at relationships, to become a better friend.[3]

Let’s have enough courage to have hard conversations with those we love and be humble enough to admit our own personal barriers to friendship. Let’s keep short accounts with one another. Before our head hits the pillow this evening, let’s seek forgiveness from those we may have hurt, even for the most minor infractions. Let’s look to the words of St. Francis of Assisi to guide us: “Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and can be of service to him. And blessed is he who loves his brother as well when he is afar off as when he is by his side, and who would say nothing behind his back he might not, in love, say before his face.” [4]

Totus Tuus,
Jodi 

P.S. Want to dive into Reclaiming Friendship? We’ve got two digital options for you: e-Book (iPad/tablets/smartphones) and Amazon Kindle. Perfect to take on your upcoming vacation or day trip to the park. 

[1] Mallory Smyth, Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection (Walking with Purpose, 2021), 49.
[2] Smyth, Reclaiming Friendship, 48-49.
[3] Smyth, Reclaiming Friendship, 50.
[4] Francis of Assisi in His Own Words: The Essential Writings, Translated by Jon M. Sweeney (Paraclete Press, 2018).

I was at the playground with my seven-year old son the other day, watching him play and (thank goodness) burn off some energy so I could read a few chapters of a book. Suddenly, he came running up to me grinning ear to ear. “Mommy,” he said, “I made a new friend! His name is Evan and he likes Minecraft just like I do!” He scampered off to go swing and talk about all the “Minecrafty” things with his new friend. It made me smile because this is so like him. He’s the kid who will make a new friend no matter where we go. He is vulnerable, honest, and genuinely wants to get to know the other person. It’s a joy to watch. 

As I sat on the bench, eager to go back to my book, a thought crossed my mind. Kids have no preconceived notions when they interact with other kids. They have a simplicity and a sincerity in the way they approach new situations and people—something that many of us, myself included, have lost.

We tend to spend time with people who validate our beliefs. And it seems that the longer we are committed Christians, the fewer non-Christian friends we have. Enjoying a solid faith community of friends is essential, but what is the consequence of this in terms of the need for us to share our faith with others? Faith is “caught” more than “taught,” and that requires starting with the strong foundation of a relationship.

Jesus has chosen to depend on Christians to carry forth His mission of salvation, to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”[1] “Through baptism and the Eucharist, he gives us his own divine life; through the teaching of the Church he fills us with his truth; and he is counting on us not to hoard these treasures, nor let them go to waste.”[2] We simply cannot do this if we remain comfortable in our Christian bubbles. It requires a degree of vulnerability and trust in the Lord as we seek to reach out to those around us and share the treasure we have received. 

Sisters, this may require a certain level of discomfort. In order to reach others for Christ, we have to earn the right to be heard, and that often takes time through building relationships, listening well, and being authentic. Being uncomfortable for the sake of another is something that every Christian encounters sooner or later in their faith journey. As Dorothy Day once said: “An act of love, a voluntary taking on oneself of some of the pain of the world, increases the courage and love and hope of all.” 

This doesn’t (necessarily) mean you need to walk up to a stranger at a playground and ask them about Jesus (kudos to you if you have ever done this—I haven’t!). But you can step out of your bubble in your daily life as a parent, grandparent, student, professional, volunteer, or neighbor. 

I encourage you to ask yourself these questions as you consider how Jesus has called you to be salt and light to the world: 

  • How much time do I spend with non-Christians?
  • How many friends do I have that do not share my faith?
  • Would others say I am a good listener?
  • Am I the same person with my Christian friends as with my non-Christian friends? 
  • Have I ever felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak to someone I wouldn’t normally talk to?
  • Do I pray for non-Christians by name?
  • Would a complete stranger be able to tell I am a Christian after observing me for a few minutes?
  • Am I confident enough in my faith to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me?[3] 

If the Holy Spirit tugs at your heart after reading one of these, take it to prayer. Ask Jesus how He wants you to bring others to Him. And remember that He will “fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

[1] Matthew 5:13, 14
[2] John Bartunek, The Better Part (Circle Press, 2007), 92-93.
[3] 1 Peter 3:15

I will be honest, the last couple of weeks have been hard. And would you believe it has nothing to do with Covid, pandemic restrictions, or even vaccinations? This was a different kind of hard. This hard was fueled by swirling negative self-talk and comparisons with other women in which I always ended up short. Old wounds were uncovered in my heart, and with those old wounds came powerful feelings of not being good enough, of feeling less than, of feeling ugly. I was emotionally leveled. 

And all of this happened to bubble up to the surface during a week in which I was planning the ending celebration of my women’s group’s 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph, my youngest was preparing to graduate from kindergarten, my husband was working longer hours on a big project, and my older children were in need of me to help them study for their finals, not to mention being the point person for all of the drop-offs and pick-ups for the various activities that they were now back to. My daily responsibilities were not going to stop just because my emotions and old wounds were getting the better of me. 

I’m not proud to admit that my go-to response has always been to push through the day, do what was needed of me and/or what was required of me and then crawl into bed, pull the covers up, let those negative thoughts wash over me, and succumb to them. I tend to isolate, withdraw, and not allow anyone into my hurt...including God. My seven years of Bible study through Walking with Purpose has strengthened my relationship with Christ, and I know that the enemy is cunning, “prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). At that point, however, I was not strong enough to resist the attack. My rational brain was throwing red flags up everywhere, telling me that this was exactly what the enemy—the “father of lies'' (John 8:44)—does, this is his game plan, this is where he wants me—isolated, alone, despairing, and questioning my worth. My defenses were weak this time around. I stayed right where I was and I believed every lie. This ultimately led to heightened anxiety and rising levels of anger and frustration. My behavior toward those I love most (hint: my husband and children), therefore, was less than stellar, and not my finest moment.

But what the enemy did not count on this time around was that in these past seven  years of WWP, the Lord had been intentionally placing women in my life who He knew I needed alongside me on my journey. Don’t you just love God?? The Lord had been cultivating these authentic friendships in my life in order to grow the fruits of healing and unconditional love. It was these fierce women who picked me up when I was too weak to fight this battle alone, who picked up their own shields of faith to place in front of me and defend me from the arrows of the enemy. These women called me out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of community in Christ. 

This journey that we are on, sisters, we were never meant to be on alone. From the beginning, the Lord meant for us to be in relationship. We were each made in the image and likeness of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the three persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion with each other, so too are we called to be. Mary DeTurris Poust writes in her book, Walking Together, “We see in the three personas of the Trinity an openness. The Father, Son and Spirit are generous with one another and in constant connection...the three personas are distinct and separate from each other, never in danger of overtaking one another or suppressing one another. There is a harmony there [emphasis added].”[1]  When our friendships are rooted in God, there is a true desire for the other to flourish. There is no judgment or comparison between each other. There is building up, not tearing down. 

We can see examples of holy friendships throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Ruth displays fierce loyalty and faithfulness as she refuses to leave Naomi, and instead accompanies her to Naomi’s family’s home—a place where the culture, language, and traditions were unknown to Ruth. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth tells Naomi (Ruth 1:16). And Naomi reciprocates these feelings as she urges Ruth toward a marriage with a kind and loving man, telling her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you” (Ruth 3:1). These women desired true happiness for one another. 

The greatest examples we have of holy friendships are those between Jesus and His chosen disciples. He called each one to follow Him, seeing special gifts unique to each person. Knowing these men and women would be called for a greater mission after His death, He helped them along their paths toward holiness. He inspired virtue and called out lies and prejudices. He declared truth into their hearts and modeled trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus knew that His disciples would need each other. He sent them out during His ministry two by two (Luke 10:1). And just as He reminds them “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), so too does He remind us that when we ground our friendships in Him, He will be there too. 

Are you seeking harmony in your relationships? Are the friendships you have right now ones that keep you on the path of virtue and in the pursuit of holiness? Sister, are you spending time with others who edify you, who call out your gifts, and encourage you to be a better version of yourself? If not, spend time in prayer, asking for the Lord to lead you to these women. And if you are lucky enough to have these women already in your life, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and then invite these blessed friends back to community and fellowship with you. 

[1] DeTurris Poust, Mary. (2010). Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, pp. 21-22.

Do you long to find your people? Does the thought of belonging to a tight-knit group of loyal friends sound just amazing but you don’t know where to begin? 

I was recently at an after-school pool party with a group of new friends. They had all been close for some time, and I was a new addition to the mix. Their private jokes, easy laughter, and closeness to each other’s children had often caused me to want in. At the same time, I was aware that true belonging takes time. But on this day, at the pool, someone outside our party had said something rude to me and these new friends sprang to my defense. The truth is the comment wasn’t that big of a deal. I was ready to brush it off. But watching a group of women rally around me, try to shield me from careless words, and get ready to rumble for my sake felt really good. Surprisingly good. It made me realize that this is one of the things we like about friendship—a strength in numbers, a knowledge that you aren’t alone, and a sense that your people will defend you to the outside world. Once you feel on the inside of a group of women, most of us will do anything to stay there. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, King Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one…For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” We’ll make a lot of sacrifices, even sacrifice who we want to be, if it means we can avoid being alone. We need friends.

But are all friendships good ones? Not necessarily. They may be good in the sense that we belong or feel protected; we know we are unconditionally accepted and aren’t judged. Friends may be fabulous at lifting us up when we fall. These things are good and desirable, but unless a friend is leading you toward a good, virtuous life, then no matter how great it seems, it doesn’t classify as a good friendship.

Why can I make that claim? Because we become like our friends, slowly but surely. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” When pivotal life circumstances hit, the people closest to you will greatly influence how you are going to respond. Are you going to become bitter? Are you going to embrace suffering as a way for you to grow? Are you going to lean into God or become distant from Him? Are you going to turn to Him, or will you seek to escape through alcohol, Netflix, scrolling through your feed…anything to distract you from what you feel? Which choice you make will often be determined by the people around you and the perspective they offer.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about the difference between companionship and friendship. He writes of true friendship being a type of love where two people see the same truth or at least care about the same truth. He writes, “The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance, can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.”[1] This leaves room for honest dialogue and sharing at a deeper level. It keeps us from living superficially and leads us to life-giving conversation.

I would like to suggest that an important question to think about in terms of our choice of friends is what we believe will make us happy. Others are “what matters most in life,” “why are we here,” and “what place does God play in these pursuits.” All these questions relate to our overall direction in life. Our answers to those questions impact the direction we are turned in. When we try to figure life out, do we turn upward to God, or do we turn inward to try to figure things out ourselves? Friends who point us to God help us wrestle with life’s big questions in the best of ways.

After unpacking the importance of friends pursuing truth together, C.S. Lewis goes on to say:

That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something.

Maybe our problem is that our expectations for friendship have been too low. Could it be that there’s a level of friendship that we will experience only through being a part of a group of women that is pursuing the good life according to God’s plan?

This is where the Walking with Purpose community comes in. 

If you are looking for your people,
if you want to ask the deeper questions and be sharpened and helped by women around you,
if you are looking for a place where no one’s going to judge you,
if you want to be able to talk about your faith and who you are without editing your conversation, then I want to encourage you to come back to community.

This is where you’re going to grow in your faith, and you’re going to discover a depth of friendship you didn’t know was possible. You’ll experience edifying, authentic conversation in a place where the masks are dropped. You’ll be strengthened, you’ll be refreshed, you’ll be encouraged to stay on the path to the good life that God has for you. You weren’t meant to journey alone. We are here for you. The door is open. Will you take the next step?

With you in the pursuit of the deeper, good life-
Lisa

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 84.

 

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.[1]

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,”[2] and St. Thomas Aquinas took it a step further, stating, “There is nothing to be prized more than true friendship.”[3] 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.

Love,
Mallory

[1] 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/.
[2]  Tim Keller, “Friendship,” YouTube video, 38:05, October 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc4VIQrXdE.
[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On Kingship to the King of Cyrus,” book 1, chapter 11, paragraph 77.

If you had told me when I was younger that I would be involved in women’s ministry as an adult, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed at you. I would have said, “No way. Girls are mean and unpredictable, and can’t be trusted—I’d rather just be around my guy friends.”  

Now, as an adult, I could try to laugh off the silliness of that comment and the ignorance of  “my youth.” But the truth is, I bet many of us have felt, or still feel, the same way. The wounds of rejection, gossip, and betrayal from women in our lives can be deep and long-lasting. I challenge you to find a woman today who hasn't been hurt by (or hurt) another woman in some way. 

Often, the wounds of our hearts can hinder us from being who we are truly meant to be. They can cause us to close ourselves off to new relationships for fear of being hurt again. This is what the devil wants. He wants us quietly suffering, immobilized, and feeling like we are all alone. He knows that when women know who they are and where they are meant to be, they are a formidable force. 

Since encountering Walking with Purpose, I’ve had a profound shift in my feelings about the value of female friendships. I have come to realize that deep and meaningful connections with other women are something that we, as women, really need in order to thrive. 

For me, this shift came from experiencing firsthand what it looks like to be in authentic friendship and community with other women through Walking with Purpose. I have seen women encourage someone experiencing the loss of a parent [1], work alongside each other to serve families in need [2], offer to babysit so that a young couple could get some desperately needed time away [3], use their gifts and talents to create beautiful spaces and places for women to meet [4], and weep when an unexpected tragedy occurred and rejoice when a fervent prayer request was answered [5]. These are just a few of the many examples I could share with you from the last ten years of my involvement with Walking with Purpose.

There is something powerful that happens when women come together in an intentional community and encourage one another to live out their lives authentically: women thrive. We thrive because we are given a chance to be heard, to belong, and to be loved. And the result? Confident women with an unshakeable sense of peace and a knowledge of who they are to their core. I’ve seen this happen beautifully through the wisdom and community of authentic friendships in Christ, and I am so grateful for it. 

Maybe you haven’t experienced this kind of friendship yet. Maybe you are praying for this right now. Maybe you are struggling with wounds from gossip or betrayal that are years old but still feel fresh. Maybe you have no idea where God is calling you at this moment, and you are just trying to make it through the day. Trust me, I can relate. I can also tell you that discovering the peace and unshakeable confidence mentioned above will only fully come through knowing Jesus Christ and His Church. And that is what Walking with Purpose is all about. We know what it looks like to be broken women in need of a Savior—because that is who we are too.

Take some time in prayer today and ask God to heal the wounds you may have from past rejection, gossip, or betrayal. Ask Him to remove any obstacles you are holding on to, preventing you from living your life to the fullest in Him. This might not be a one-time process, sisters. But trust me that He wants to heal your wounds, He wants you to have authentic friendships, and He wants you to be fully who you are meant to be—starting now. 

[1] Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
[2] We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)
[3] Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
[4] Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4: 9-10)
[5] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

 

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.

Bible Study

Six years ago, I heard Lisa Brenninkmeyer preach on Loving People To Christ.  Since that day, I have gone back to view the video of this talk at least ten times. And there is one line that always gets me. It's the kind of line you hear that cracks you up and has you elbowing your girlfriend next to you, because it is not only funny, but sadly...it is true.

In the spirit of evangelization and reaching the farthest woman out there, Lisa shared that whenever she gives a shout out and says, “I want everybody to come back here next year with a friend”, we kind of go, “Oh, well, they're all here, so I'm good! Done. Check.” Does this sound familiar? Because it does to me. In fact, I just reviewed my Parish's annual Walking With Purpose Program Survey, and I kid you not, but in answer to the question, “Did you invite women to join you on Connect Coffee days”, someone responded, “No. All of my friends are already there.”  See why we laugh?

And I am not picking on any woman who responded this way. I am not laughing at someone out there. I am laughing at me. Because I could've written that response myself.

I am going on my sixth year in Walking with Purpose, having served in a variety of roles, and I will honestly share that the year I simply participated, I got oh so comfortable. I figured I had reached out enough. I had been a Coordinator and a small group leader. I had even worked for National as a Regional Area Coordinator. It was clearly time I got some well-deserved rest, and let some other laborer hit the fields and bring forth the harvest. Now, make no mistake, God is all for our rest and refreshment, and when it comes to ministry work, we especially need it. But rest and complacency are not the same thing. The truth is, if we want to contribute to the building up of God's Kingdom, I am pretty sure we need to cross feeling comfortable off of our lists.

How did I know I was too comfortable? It wasn't because I started showing up at Bible Study in my pajamas (as tempting as it was).  It was because I stopped reaching outside of my circle.

“We get comfortable in our holy huddle”, Lisa says, referring to these circles. ”We turn inward. The circle gets smaller and smaller and what we become are spiritual consumers looking for the next thing to feed us and keep us going and the focus stays right here.”

Let's be honest. We want to be the one that God sends out, so long as He doesn't send us outside of our comfort zone. We come up with all sorts of reasons why God shouldn't send us:  we don't know enough; we are not the right woman; we can just live it out right where we are with the small circle of friends that we have and that is good enough. But ladies, God is not calling us to comfort. He is calling us to go and gather every single one of His precious daughters, and by the power of His spirit, to lead them to Him so that He can break open their hearts just as He has done to our own. We are called to freely give away what we ourselves have been given, and the only way we can do that is if we broaden our circles.

Is this scary? Yes. Is evangelization going to be a battle? Absolutely. But the biggest battle we are facing is one that is hidden. “The war is against our selfish hearts”, says Lisa. And I nod my head in agreement to the beat of my own selfish heart, because really, do I practice as I preach? Do I reach out so that I feel the stretch? Hebrews 12:15 instructs us to “see to it that nobody misses the grace of God.” Notice, the Scripture verse does not say, “see to it that nobody within your small circle misses the grace of God.” Nobody refers to everybody.

Did you ever consider that your story might be what saves another woman? Did you ever consider that there is someone in your neighborhood, at your school, in your grocery store, at the gym, at your Bible Study, that is in desperate need of your specific story? You will never know the difference your story can make in someone's life if you sit in the same chair and tell it to the same person, year after year. As Lisa says, “We all agree in the power of His presence, but we sometimes underestimate the power of ours.”

This year I have decided to leave the comfort of my Walking with Purpose seat at my table, and step back into the role of Coordinator. Perhaps God is calling you to step out of your comfortable seat as well? Widening our circles, and reaching beyond who we know, is both responsibility and gift. We can still keep our comfy circles. Building His Kingdom can be both. As a wise woman told me, “We need to embrace the power of ‘and.'” We can love our like-minded friends who know us so well, and reach out beyond our comfort zone to the woman whose face is familiar but whose name we don't know. Matthew 10:8 says, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”

This is the charge. This is God's command. It's time to get uncomfortable and start drawing bigger circles.

 

View Loving People to Christ video.

Bible Study

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