We moved our daughter into her freshman dorm last week, and the operation went surprisingly smooth if you were to ask me. If you ask my husband, he would say otherwise. Perhaps you heard him after he carried four gigantic bins up nine flights of stairs in 95-degree weather. He was the angry father repeatedly threatening a heart attack, exclaiming, “If I die, I want you to sue the school!”
He didn’t die.
In his defense, things like stairs become tricky when you reach your fifties. Right around floor five, my own heartbeat spiked, and I vowed to be reunited with the treadmill when I returned home. Despite the heat and exhaustion, I never felt anger or desire to sue the school. It’s not because I am holier or in better shape than my husband. It’s because I knew things could be worse, because things have been worse.
Being told that “things could be worse” while suffering is annoying and not helpful. I prefer the biblical way of saying “things could be worse,” which can be found in Hebrews 12:4 : “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Remembering what Jesus endured while we are in pain does not disregard our suffering; it gives us perspective, and perspective changes everything. Easier said than done.
Why is keeping our eyes on Jesus so difficult when faced with an obstacle?
The human tendency is to focus on our circumstances, to keep our gaze inward and downward. Not the best posture to run the race set before us, is it? The world grows very small, and our vision fatally narrows when we do this. If we remain looking down, how will we see the finish line? If our focus is on ourselves, how will we see that great crowd of witnesses over us? The bottom line? When we lose sight of the finish line, there is no good reason to keep running. Why keep fighting if there's no prize at the end of the fight?
And yet, we know that there is a prize, and better than a prize, a promise. As Saint Paul exhorts, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Now, I don’t know about you, but I want a share in all the holiness, so starting right now, I need to prepare for the race. And let me just say, it’s going to take more than buying a new pair of Adidas sneakers and a Lululemon sports bra to get into shape. It’s time to get serious, strip down, and start running.
But where to begin? Using Saint Paul’s exhortation in Hebrews 12:1–4 as a guide, I have narrowed my training down to four questions.
What weighs me down?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
Saint Paul is clear. The cheering section of the stadium is packed with the saints who have run and finished the race, but that’s not enough. We also need to lose whatever sins and distractions cling to us so closely. In other words, we must lay down those things we refuse to let go of. Is it an inordinate affection and concern for your body? Are you consumed with your children’s suffering and desire for their happiness? Are you harboring jealousy, envy, or resentment? Do you covet your friend's marriage, regret your past, or strive to control your circumstances? Ask the Lord to reveal to you what is pulling you down, making life heavier and more complicated than it needs to be.
Where is my focus?
“Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)
Jesus is the finish line, and we are to fix our eyes on Him. He is the mark we run to and the prize we run for. If we take our eyes off Him for one second, we risk running off course. Like a ballerina performing a pirouette, she finds a spot to block and never takes her eyes off it. Is Jesus your blocking point or something else? Are you looking at your friend’s race and wondering why she got the scenic route? Are you staring at your suffering, convinced that nobody’s life stinks like yours? Ask the Lord for the strength and faith to keep your eyes on Him.
What’s the point?
“…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
We endure the hard things here on earth for the same reason Jesus did: for the joy that awaits us on the other side. Jesus has already shown us that this is possible! The shame, pain, and suffering were worth it in the end. He sits on the throne! Have you lost sight of where you are going? Ask the Lord to keep the joy on the other side of the cross before your eyes.
Is Jesus worth it?
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3–4)
It is good to meditate on the life of Jesus. All the caffeine in the world won’t give you the energy to persevere. Recalling what Jesus did for you will. Have you considered what Jesus endured? Ask the Lord for the grace of endurance and thank Him daily for His sacrifice.
With my daughter gone, many friends have reached out, checking in on my heart. And I must say, while I miss her presence here with me, it doesn't compare to the joy of watching her spread her wings as she flies into a new chapter. Undoubtedly, there will be bumps and bruises along the way and quite possibly a few flights of stairs. But I have something brighter in view under the sorrow of saying goodbye, which makes it all worth it. If she can run forward, then so can I.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 277.
There is one woman who knows what it's like to live completely free from worry. The book of Genesis tells us Eve was made by God and in His image and likeness. Genesis 2:25 says, “The man and the woman were both naked, and were not ashamed.” I’m not sure about you, but just picturing my own premenopausal body (with battle stripes from bearing four large babies) stripped naked, “lounging” in a garden with my husband, sounds nothing short of a total nightmare. (The mental image is enough to give me hives.)
But as scandalous as Eve’s naked escapades seem, there’s even more to her beautiful story that amazes me. The Holy Scriptures tell us that God Himself walked in the garden with Eve and her husband. Eve was literally rubbing shoulders with her Creator. In God’s presence, she was fully exposed yet unconditionally loved. When God created Eve, her primary job was not to wash dishes, or work hard at the gym to fit into her skinny jeans (naked people don’t need these by the way and neither do women who have birthed 9-pound babies), or keep a stellar Instagram hashtag. God designed Eve to walk in total intimacy with Him and with her husband. That was her primary purpose.
Three things stand out to me about Eve in the beginning of her existence, before she was tempted to take her eyes off the God walking beside her. First, Eve was rested. Second, she was fully present with the people around her. And third, Eve was not trying to control or manipulate things that were in God’s charge.
But what happened? Eve fell into a trap of doubting God, and it started with her mind believing one destructive thought. And because Eve chose to engage those toxic lies over embracing the truth, she took a giant step toward self-reliance and a giant leap away from fully trusting God.
Genesis 3:8 describes what happens next: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God WALKING IN THE GARDEN in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife HID THEMSELVES from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (emphasis added).
One fig leaf at a time, Eve started putting up heart defenses from the very God who wanted to walk in total intimacy with her. She began covering up pieces of her body and her heart. Eve fought to take control out of God’s hands. Enter the birthplace of worry.
I’m curious, what worry are you hiding today? What is causing you anxiety? Give yourself permission to take a few quiet moments to say what is really on your heart. What is worrying you today?
That enemy that tempted Eve with the lie that God was holding out on her? He is out for you too. But God gives us what happened in Genesis 3 as game film. Father John Riccardo says the enemy runs the same play he used on Eve—over and over. Why? Because it works.
The enemy tells us God is not for us. He whispers God is not trustworthy. That it’s not worth pursuing total intimacy with Him. The enemy wants us to turn to things other than a relationship with God to find our heart’s happiness. The evil one waits until we are weary; he distracts us from being fully present with the people He has invited us to love, and convinces us to become totally consumed with things we have zero control over before he pounces with the lies.
Our spiritual enemy wants us to feel trapped in a swirl of anxiety because his goal is to distract us from full intimacy with God. Just like he distracted Eve.
This is how St. Ignatius described the way the enemy of our souls loves to derail people who are pursuing God: “It is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that a person may not go forward.”
The enemy wants us to live STUCK. But we have a choice. The enemy can whisper lies, but we get to decide if we believe them. He has no power over our minds. Because we know the truth. We know who we are. And no lie, no matter how cunning, can change our core identity.
This is why, to battle the lies of the evil one, we need to daily center our hearts and minds on God’s Holy Word. Walking with Purpose Bible studies, like Grounded in Hope, remind us who we are and why our Creator made us:
During those dark times when feelings of inadequacy rush in, when you wonder if you are unloveable, when you question your worth, remember this:
You are the daughter of the star breather (Psalm 33:6)...
He calls you His “beautiful one” (Song of Songs 2:10)...
You have a fresh start, every morning, because of His limitless mercy (Lamentations 3:23-24).
Straighten your crown, daughter of the King. Go forth in His power not your own. Rest in your true identity. You are the beloved.
Eve lived out what David declared in Psalms 91:2: “God alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.” Let’s become women who do the same.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope (Walking with Purpose, 2019 ), 211-212.
Read more from Jodi on her blog, The Irreplaceable Mother, which encourages women to serve first and best where they matter most.
So, the question came up last night, “Can you grieve and still have hope?”
Let me backtrack here a bit, to give you the full picture. Currently, I run in two different circles: my Bible Study, which aims to lead women into a personal relationship with Christ through Scripture, and my Support Group, which aims to offer encouragement and hope to those who care for, or have tragically lost, a loved one afflicted with substance abuse disorder. This question came up at Group.
What has become crystal clear is my total inability to keep Jesus out of any discussion. To keep Jesus out of any circumstance. To keep Jesus out, period. Because I have grieved without hope; back when I did not know God's character, back when I reduced the Blessed Mother to a plastic statue, back when I believed the Gospel stories to be outdated and unrelatable, back when I did not know...truly know...my Catholic faith.
I see this a lot with cradle Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and non-Catholics. We know bits and pieces of our Catholic story but not the whole thing. Ironically, many of us wind up learning about Catholicism from our friends who have left the Church and encourage us to do the same. We misinterpret Scripture and allow the world to tell us who God is, and our hideous news feed becomes the icing on top of this lopsided cake. Then enter in the blind side: an unexpected twist in the road that takes us out at our knees, pulling us right out of hope and straight into despair; because I mean, really...if God were real, He would never have let this happen. If God were love, why would He stack one more thing upon our already burdened shoulders?
I so get it.
But here is the other thing I so get: God never promised that life will be easy or we will only be given so much. In the Gospel of John, He promises that we will have trouble. And the statement that we love to throw out in times of suffering? You know the one. “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Fun fact, folks...that phrase is not in Scripture! As Proverbs 31 Founder, Lysa Terkuerst, points out in her book, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, “Nowhere in the Bible will you read that God will not give you more than you can handle. God does say He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that He always provides a way out (1 Cor 10:13) but that's not the same as God not giving us more than we can handle. He sometimes will allow more and more and more.”¹
Saint Paul's words in 2 Cor 1:8-9 confirms this hard to swallow truth.
“...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”
God absolutely gives us more than we can handle...beyond our strength...because He wants us to rely on Him. God does not expect us to handle it all on our own; He asks that we hand it all over. If you do not believe you can have hope while grieving, meditate on the Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. The Annunciation cannot bring Mary the joy of carrying the Son of God without the grief of letting go of a life she had planned. The Presentation cannot offer Mary the joy of dedicating her Firstborn to the Lord without grieving the news that her son will be rejected and both will suffer greatly. Joy and Sorrow. Hope and Grief. Our Lady perfectly models how they can live side by side. But to be able to do this, you need to be like Mary; you need to accept whatever God has given you to carry and believe that what He says is true.
Herein lies the obstacle for so many of us: how do we accept something we do not understand from someone we truly don't know? It is the not knowing Jesus that ultimately trips us up. It is our lack of intimacy with Christ that directs our misplaced hope. We have all of these expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, our marriages, our future, and when those expectations we hold tight to do not line up with God's plan, we stay stuck in the need to understand what God is doing; to understand how this plan, which is often endless and painful, could actually be good. I have been stuck in this place myself, sweet friend. Stayed there too long, and it is a recipe for an extinguished faith.
Coincidentally, only hours before sitting in Group and faced with the question, “Can we grieve and still have hope?”, we had just chosen our Parish's Walking with Purpose Bible study for the fall: Grounded in Hope. The course description is as follows: “In a world where levels of despair, addiction, and suicide are rising, we need more than clichés or positive thinking. Grounded in Hope will help you encounter Jesus in such a powerful, comforting, and stabilizing way that He can become your lifeline.”²
If you are in the midst of a suffering causing you to lose hope, maybe the question is not so much, “Can you grieve and still have hope?” but rather…“What has become your lifeline?”
Praying we always stay tethered to the Anchor that grounds us in hope.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lysa Teurkerst, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, 2018, p.111,112
² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope, Walking With Purpose 2019
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