This is the time when we all start to think about what we wish we hadn’t eaten over the holidays and other ways we’d like to improve ourselves. Two currents of thought run through our minds. One stream bubbles with excitement over a new challenge. But discouragement flows in the other one, because try as we might, bad habits are hard to kick. Swimming in the discouraging stream leads to self-loathing and negative self-talk. The result? We remain stuck.
God doesn’t want us to be stuck in self-destructive habits. He has not only laid out a plan for healthy human flourishing, He’s given us what we need to live accordingly. In 2 Peter 1:4, Saint Peter writes that because of Jesus, we have “become partakers of the divine nature.” This is the opposite of being stuck with an unaided, flawed human nature. The study notes in my Bible explain that becoming partakers of the divine nature is “a strong expression to describe the transformation of human nature by divine grace.” But how does this happen? And does the Incarnation have anything to do with the transformation we are longing for?
To answer that question, I turned to Saint Athanasius and his little book, On the Incarnation. In it, he asks if it had to be God the Son who became incarnate. Could it not just as well have been God the Father? He then answers his own question, saying that it had to be God the Son, and the reason for that is found in John 1:1–3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made.”
Jesus, the Word of the Father, the Word of God, made the world—everything and everyone in it. Man was given a nature full of grace, immortality, and a paradise to live in. But we know the story. Man threw away this birthright of beauty, and death and corruption entered the world.
The result was that things became worse and worse. Man’s sin surpassed all limits. It went from bad to worse. This is the truth of what human nature is like without God, as opposed to a utopian view of the world that thinks that if we can just get the right laws, the right political party in power, the right systems, then everything is going to be good again. We are always looking for something to fix this problem of man’s capacity for evil, our insatiable appetite for devising new kinds of sins, but we want the solution to be anything but God. We see this clearly during this current cultural moment. But it’s nothing new. This has always been the case.
The solution is not to be found in human systems, institutions, politics, or policies. God has always known that we don’t hold the solution in ourselves. And in His goodness, He wasn’t content to sit back and watch us flounder. Athanasius writes, “Man, who was made in God’s image…was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone.” God wasn’t going to let His creation and His children be ruined.
What would God choose to do? We find the answer in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
God decided that the Word who had brought creation into being was to come into that very creation, take on a human body, and re-create it all. The One who made it would restore and renew it. Not from a distance, but from within.
In some sense, the Word of God has never been far from His creation, because He fills all things that are—as we see in Ephesians 1:23, “the fullness of him fills all in all.” This has always been the case. But with the Incarnation, “He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.”
He looked at the tremendous amount of suffering we endure.
He looked at His daughters, so desiring to change what was sinful in them, but falling into the same bad habits time and time again.
He looked at our dashed dreams.
He looked at the death of our loved ones.
He looked at the tension and disappointment between spouses who had committed to love each other forever.
He looked at the exhaustion of his people who are just trying so very hard and feel they will never be able to keep up.
He looked at the way disease attacks the bodies of His beloved and wreaks destruction.
He looked at children making self-destructive choices as their parents helplessly looked on.
God decided that He wasn’t going to just toss us some platitudes or good advice in the face of heartache and the corruption of the good. He was going to step down and come into the very midst of that mess and heartache. He became incarnate so that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
The message—the miracle—of the Incarnation, is that the Word of God has not only come to earth, He has come inside of you. He is with you in your suffering. You are never alone. But that’s not all. He has made you a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He is in you, just waiting for you to invite Him to recreate you, to renew you, to transform you so that you become just like Him.
Where are you placing your hope at the start of 2022? Are you counting on the gym membership, new organizational principles, or sheer grit to bring desired change? May this be the year when the reality sinks in that the hope of glory is Christ in you. “The secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come.”
With you on the journey,
 Commentary on 2 Peter 1:4 from The Great Adventure Catholic Bible (Ascension Press).
 Saint Athanasius, On The Incarnation, 17.
 Athanasius, 19.
 Athanasius, 21.
 Colossians 1:27, J.B. Phillips Translation
What are the final thoughts that usually run through your mind when you try to fall asleep? Do you review a litany of unaccomplished tasks, mentally moving them onto tomorrow’s list? Are you thinking with dread of all that’s going to be required of you tomorrow? Do you feel regret over the way you have treated certain people who matter to you?
Almost every night, most of us can think of many things we wish we could have done that are being left unfinished. We can’t always fit in a little bit more. A life well lived is made up of days when the things that are most important are done first and many good things remain undone. As Stephen R. Covey wisely wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Our big rocks are our priorities. But how do we figure out what should be the most important thing?
I don’t believe that a single one of us wants to waste his or her life. We want our lives to count. We read Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or in other words, what does it do for you if you gain the whole world but end up losing your soul? We don’t want to come to the end of our lives having pursued the wrong things.
The world is constantly communicating its priorities to you. You are to prioritize having a perfect body, having as much money as you can, having an HGTV perfect house, and making a name for yourself with your accomplishments. You should be able to present your life in such a way that it lays out beautifully on Instagram—providing a feed worth following.
But is that a life that is truly satisfying? Even if you were to gain all those things that the world says matters most, is it possible that you could lose your soul—who you truly are—in the process?
What kind of a life do you want to build?
If you want to build a life where you love well…
if you want to build a life that feels simpler…
then I’d like to invite you on a journey.
My newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities: Building a Life Well Lived, is where that journey begins.
Ordering Your Priorities lays a foundation that helps women focus on the things that matter most. Diving into the pages of Scripture, we’ll connect our modern-day challenges with the changeless truths of our faith. If we want to live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to start in the right place. We need to begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He is the one who can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well.
My prayer for you and me is that we would apply the principles contained in Ordering Your Priorities and create a life well lived. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we are pursuing here.
Join us on a journey to build a simpler life where you love well. Your transformation is just around the corner!
 Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 161.
What a start to the year. Just when we’d packed away the Christmas decorations and swept away the pine needles, chaos erupted. Some might say things have gotten worse; others would say it’s always been this messy, and we’re just seeing more evidence of what lies below the surface. Regardless of all that I see that is not right, my faith tells me that there is much that is right, and I need to build on that. I don’t know about you, but I need to have a fresh attitude as I journey through January, even if my circumstances haven’t changed much.
This has led me to delve into some reading about the virtue of joy. If you’ve spent much time in a Walking with Purpose Bible study, then you’ve already encountered the truth that joy is not found in a perfect state of affairs. Whatever it is that we think will guarantee happiness is simply the next rung on an ever-expanding ladder. We never get to a place where enough is enough, and those who keep trying to get there end up disappointed and often bitter. But even when we understand this lesson and know that perfect circumstances will never be our reality (they won’t satisfy anyway), we can still find joy to be elusive.
We’re promised in Galatians 5:22 that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, which means it’s a gift given to us—something supernaturally infused into our being. That being said, I think that for many of us it resides deep down in the soul, so deep down that it doesn’t make its way up to our faces. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens described one of his characters as a woman “who called her rigidity religion.” Sadly, there are quite a few examples of this in our day as well, but that would never have been said of Jesus.
Jesus has gone before us and gives an example of how to live joyfully in the midst of unrest and severe hardship. We read in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.” We’re encouraged to “consider him” so that we don’t “grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3). St. Catherine of Siena’s words, “All the way to heaven is heaven,” suggests that it is possible to follow His example.
What do we do when the way to heaven doesn’t feel very heavenly?
Where does joy come from, and how can we get it to bubble up so it’s our lived experience, rather than a virtue just out of reach?
And does it really matter?
What’s at stake if we lack joy?
In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson wrote about a friend who was a dean in a theological seminary. He would occasionally call a student into his office to share these words:
You have been around here for several months now, and I have had an opportunity to observe you. You get good grades, seem to take your calling to ministry seriously, work hard and have clear goals. But I don’t detect any joy. You don’t seem to have any pleasure in what you are doing. And I wonder if you should not reconsider your calling into ministry. For if a pastor is not in touch with joy, it will be difficult to teach or preach convincingly that the news is good. If you do not convey joy in your demeanor and gestures and speech, you will not be an authentic witness for Jesus Christ. Delight in what God is doing is essential in our work.
St. Teresa of Calcutta said that “joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Our authentic witness for Christ is on the line. We are what He has chosen to work with, for better or for worse. We are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). So how do we grow in the virtue of joy? I have discovered three things that are currently helping me in this regard.
#1: There is joy in obedience
The equation “joy = obedience” is one I was taught as a young child, and I am so grateful for it. There’s so much that we cannot control, but we can always choose how we respond to our circumstances. While we don’t know what God thinks about every subject, there is a tremendous amount that we do know in terms of how He wants us to react and behave. When we live in such a way that we can end our day knowing we did all we could to obey God, a deep sense of satisfaction results. We remain under the umbrella of God’s eternal protection, and this brings us an abiding joy, uncoupled from our circumstances.
#2: There is joy in managing expectations
One of the biggest barriers to joy is unmet expectations. Things don’t go as we hoped, and discouragement sets in. But what if the expectations were problematic to begin with? I have found that when I’m disappointed, it’s good to examine my expectations by asking myself the following questions:
What expectation did I have that’s not been met?
Was that expectation based on a promise of God that I can find in Scripture?
What should I do to change the expectation?
What can I learn from this that will affect my expectations in the future?
#3: There is joy in Jesus
Jesus is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). He is joy itself. If we really believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist (John 6:51), if we really believe the He is present in the body of believers (Ephesians 1:22-23), if we really believe that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there (Matthew 18:20), then we need to really pause and consider what we are missing if we are not gathering for worship. We need Him. If you haven’t been able to go to Mass since the pandemic began (I know this varies from diocese to diocese), then you are going to feel that absence. He is not absent, but one of the primary ways He infuses us with joy is something that, for many, has been out of reach.
So let’s cling to Jesus in whatever way we can, trusting Him to fulfill His promises. This is the path where joy is found.
Grace and peace,
 Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (New York: Heritage, 1939), 198.
 Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 191.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” Isaiah 42:3
I sat down to write an inspirational reflection on resolutions for the new year. But within five minutes, my seven-year-old's head got slammed by a door (his sister needed PRIVACY), the one-year-old wanted to sit on my lap as I typed, the sixteen-year-old's basketball carpool left without him, and the timer started going off telling me dinner needed to be taken out of the oven. This lovely collection of events made me decide that my New Year's resolution is simply to keep my head above water.
How are you feeling as you head into this new year? Are you tired? Are you in greater need of encouragement than of someone raising the bar and encouraging you to try to reach it? If that's how you're feeling, I want to remind you of the gentleness of the Savior we love and serve. Centuries before Jesus's birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke prophetic words about the Rescuer who was going to come to save us all. “A bruised reed he will not break,” wrote Isaiah, “and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” If your heart feels bruised, if your life feels like a “faintly burning wick,” then this promise is for you.
So many of us have an image of God as one who sets a high standard and gets disappointed and perhaps angry when we don't meet it. Is this really who God is? I don't believe so. God knows our limitations. He is very familiar with our weaknesses. While people in our lives may have unrealistic expectations of us, God sees the whole picture and the degree to which we are trying. And when we're weary, He comes to us with arms of comfort, eyes of understanding, and lips that speak encouragement. When we are weakest, He asks that we rest in His lap and lay our head on His strong shoulder. He doesn't want to see us broken; He came to restore us.
This is the heart of the gospel. God saw the chasm that sin created between us. He knew that no matter how hard we tried, we'd never be able to achieve the perfection required to be in His presence. Instead of telling us to jump higher or try harder, He stooped down, and said, “I'll do for you what you can't do for yourself.” Jesus, who had never sinned, allowed all the sins ever committed to be placed on His shoulders. He paid the price of sin so that we wouldn't have to.
Jesus's sacrifice cleared the way so we could have a personal relationship with God. This is a privilege offered to everyone, but enjoyed by relatively few people. Do you know about Jesus, or do you know Him, personally? I don't ask this question as a rebuke, but rather as an invitation. He's inviting you to draw closer.
Once we know Jesus personally, we never need to be lonely again. We no longer have to worry about being perceived as too emotional when we pour out our hearts. We don't have to worry that our private concerns will be gossiped about if we share them with Him. He is the most intimate, true friend, connecting with us—body, soul, and spirit.
Because of Jesus, we can let go of the “try hard life.” We can rest in His all-sufficiency. We can ask the Holy Spirit to run through us like sap in a tree, nourishing us and doing in and through us what we can't do for ourselves. Now that I think about it, that sounds like the best New Year's resolution of all.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God…be glory…now and forever!” Jude 1:24
Happy New Year!
This post originally appeared on our blog on January 1, 2014.
Nothing highlights my family’s failures and shortcomings like the Christmas season. The picture-perfect greeting cards of families in matching pajamas and those carefully crafted Instagram boxes that look like ads for Anthropologie (some of which are ads for Anthropologie) are fun to look at for about two seconds. Then the doors of comparison swing wide open and envy floods in. My attitude toward my “lived-in, cozy home and blessed family life” takes a fast turn, and suddenly all I can see is the cat vomit on the stairs, the dog pee on the couch, and the empty chair at my dinner table. Throw a dash of 2020 seasoning into the pot of imperfection and you’ve just made yourself a recipe for utter disappointment.
What is it about the Christmas season that can make our families feel more broken, more dysfunctional, more imperfect than any other time of year? What is the perfect family anyway?
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are our model for the family, and, as far as I can tell, they did not have the perfect family or the perfect Christmas. Not by our standards, at least. They had no money. No extended family around to help Mary give birth. No baby shower. No matching pajamas. Mary was a pregnant teenager on a donkey with a husband who failed to make hotel reservations ahead of time. And her baby? He was born into a total mess—and I am not even talking about his line of genealogy (which, by the way, includes prostitutes and murderers)—the literal, laid in a manger with no crib for a bed mess! And don’t even get me started on the smell of the animals she gave birth next to. If I were Mary, I would have looked around at my tiny mess of a family and thought, “Really, God? This is what I get for being obedient?”
It was far from perfect. And yet, it was God’s perfect plan.
This past Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. Pay attention to that. The Holy Family; not the Perfect Family. God isn’t looking for perfect families, you know. I doubt He’s even looking at Instagram. What He desires are holy families. What makes a family holy? Families that are obedient in their poverty. Families that surrender to the will and purpose of God. Families that understand suffering is, as Bishop Barron says, “God’s point of entry,” and “it is always in that suffering that we find our mission.”
So let me ask. Did you find your mission in 2020? Because talk about suffering!
I learned something this year, something only a year like 2020 could teach me. The imperfections in my family—the sufferings that a “perfect Instagram life” seem to magnify—are what bring me to the foot of the Cross. The mess I so desperately try to pray away and cover up with matching pajamas is necessary because it is the suffering that offers me the opportunity to stand with our Blessed Mother Mary; to unite my sorrow with hers and our pain to Christ’s. And good grief, I know how that can sound horrible to someone who doesn’t know and love their Heavenly Mother and Father, but for me I’ve got to say that there is no safer, more beautiful, more perfect place to be. In all of my family’s imperfection, I discover the path that God calls me to when I meet Him at the cross. It is not the path that leads to the perfect life I want, but the path that leads to the holy life that I need. Look, 2020 kicked our butts for sure, and I am by no means making light of that. But if all we are looking at is what went wrong, we are going to miss everything that God set right. His lessons are always hidden in the most unusual and often painful details. He wastes nothing. He makes no mistakes. He knows perfectly well what He is doing.
As eager as we all are to hang up 2020 and press on ahead into better times, let us not be fooled into thinking that a new date on the calendar is going to magically change things. I am more than certain that what I suffer from and find imperfect on December 31 will still be what I suffer from and find imperfect on January 1. If the new year is where you are placing your hope right now, might I suggest you spend some pondering time with Mary and dig a little deeper. Because the new year is not what will change us. Holiness is.
And so my prayer for all of us as we approach the new year is this: we quit trying to be the perfect family and make holiness our goal. How? Pray for your family. Pray with your family. Love your family, mess and all. Because the mess is not only why Jesus was born but where He chose to be born. The mess is where we meet Jesus.
Wishing you and your family a very happy, holy, messy and imperfect new year.
Last month I managed to do something right. On most days in December, I was able to balance the business of Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking and celebrating with a peaceful mindset focused on His coming. I’ll admit I sometimes didn’t balance the two evenly, and there were days when party prep and presents kept my eyes off the real prize. But I did give more of my attention to Him than I had during past Christmas seasons. I am a work in progress!
So here we are at the start of a new year, and once again I feel compelled to make a New Year’s resolution. Doing so might be a waste of time since I’ve never stuck to any resolutions I’ve made in the past, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Putting God first every day of the year (not just during Advent-Christmas) would make for a great resolution, right? But, I am a full-time employee of Walking with Purpose, and the act of working for a ministry of Jesus Christ keeps Him front-and-center daily. More than that, He and I are in cahoots here in my home office. I pray each day for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my work, and He certainly responds.
I already know He’s Priority Number One.
Which brings me to Priority Number Two, and my resolution for 2020. I got the idea from Matthew 22:37-40:
[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Christ says the second most important thing is to put others next, in the #2 spot to God. Not ourselves. Thinking about this, I realize that there are people in my life who really should be elevated to that #2 spot. People who, sadly, I sometimes ignore. My aging parents and my husband come to mind.
But then, the self-centered part of me that worries about my sanity takes over my thought process. Really? It says. You’re going to give more of yourself to your parents, even though it is always you who visits them and not the other way around? They are the retired ones, after all. How in the world are you going to fit more two-hour-long road trips into your packed schedule?
That selfish voice also has a problem giving my husband second-to-God status. You both work full-time yet it is always you doing the laundry and cooking meals. When’s the last time he made you dinner? Why do you eat Doritos while he and the kids enjoy the steak dinner you prepared for them?
(Side note: I’m a vegetarian, and the rest of the household are big-time carnivores. However, the time it takes to make two dinners each day is time I just don’t have.)
The WWP Bible study Keeping in Balance has a lesson all about putting people “next.” In it, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reveals the key to actually making it happen. She writes:
“The principle of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ works only if you treat yourself well. Do you habitually neglect yourself, forsaking prayer, rest, good nutrition, exercise, and healthy emotional boundaries?...Do you agree that this is a necessary first step in order to love others well?” 
You can’t effectively love others if you don’t love and care for yourself first. Which I think means I need to stop eating Doritos for dinner.
It looks like I might have two resolutions for the new year: Providing more TLC to my “neighbors,” and to myself. I’m going to try like heck to stick to this because of something else Lisa writes in Keeping in Balance:
“At the end of our lives, God isn’t going to ask about all that we have accomplished. He will look at how we’ve loved. This is the true measure of significance.” 
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 32.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 33.
Writing the last post of 2019 feels like an enormous responsibility. There are so many directions to take this. Do I talk about our resolutions? Share my word of the year? Maybe focus on the Solemnity of Mary that’s just around the corner? And I know I should just pick the most important one out of all of these, but that’s the problem. It all feels important. I can talk all day long about each of these topics. Which makes what happened to me on Christmas Eve all the more remarkable.
I lost my voice.
Being silent is not one of my spiritual gifts. You might recall back in October, I went kicking and screaming to a three-day silent retreat. How’d that turn out, you ask? Ironically, when it comes to describing the silent retreat, I am speechless. All I can say is that God speaks loud in the silence. And thanks to the quiet, my life was radically changed.
Speaking of silence, it is no coincidence that as the year comes to an end, I have found myself drawn more and more to Saint Joseph, a man of no words. It was on the silent retreat that I was introduced to him in a whole new way when a Sister described the familiar scene of Mary and Joseph and no room at the inn. “Here she was,” she said, “pregnant, while on a donkey, and Joseph cannot find her a place to stay.” She continued with four words that I will never forget: “How stressful for Joseph.”
I was certain she was going to say how stressful for Mary.
But she didn’t.
It wasn’t just about Mary.
It was also about Joseph.
An incredible revelation for any woman in a relationship, don’t you think?
Leave it to a humble woman like Mary to lead me to this truth.
2019 was the year I consecrated myself to Mary. She’s my go-to girl. We are tight, me and mama Mary. But lately, Joseph keeps getting thrown in my face. And I am intrigued by it all; by the fact that despite being a righteous man, he stood by Mary. That he said yes to being the foster father to the Son of God. By his faithfulness, trust, obedience, devotion, spiritual leadership, and fortitude. But mostly? By his silence. I think it was his silence that allowed him to surrender and be all of these things. Wanting so badly to silently surrender, I decided that 2020 must be the year I consecrate myself to Joseph. For a girl who loves nothing more than the sound of her own voice, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a guy like him in my back pocket. Immediately upon this resolution, I felt that sort of thrill and excitement that one gets after a first date that goes really well, and began talking incessantly about Joseph. I talked about him to my husband. I talked about him to my girlfriend. I even talked about him to the dogs. Seriously, anyone who could sit long enough and appear to be listening, I spoke to. I could not stop speaking of Joseph.
Until, I lost my voice.
I will be honest. Losing your voice is never a good thing, but on Christmas Eve? This was so not convenient. I couldn’t help but think how, once again, God’s timing was all wrong. I’d like to say I went in haste to prayer, but went in hesitation is more like it. Quite frankly, I was a little annoyed with God. This time of year is hard enough already. Now, with no voice, how on earth was I to complain to others about how hard it was going to be? Eventually, I made my way to my Bible, and opened up to Saint Luke’s account of the nativity story. Then Scripture did as Scripture does when I shut up long enough to allow it to speak.
“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child.” Luke 2:5
While they were there.
These four words shot into my heart and instantly changed everything.
Being in Bethlehem does not sound like perfect timing for Mary to go into labor.
Not for us, at least.
But for God, it is and it was.
If this was the way for the story to go down, the way for our King to be born, it had to be the right timing, and because we already how this story ends, we know that that this has to be true. What looks like bad timing to us is always perfect timing for God. And how do we refer to this most incredible event? We call it a silent night.
This Christmas, as I sat speechless in front of a fire, I thought about that silent night; of the quiet surrender of both Mary and Joseph that changed the world forever. And how for a man of no words, no one has spoken more loudly in my ear the message God has been sending me all year long:
BE SILENT. God will take care of everything.
As it is written in my Advent devotional, “Zechariah received the great grace of imposed silence.”(1) This Christmas, I believe that I did, too. Next to my furry pink bathrobe, I have to admit, silence has been the greatest gift of all.
Through the intercession of Saint Joseph, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a silent New Year.
(1) Sister Faustina, O.C.D., The Living Gospel Daily Devotions for Advent 2019, Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, reflection for Thursday, December 19, 2019.
I think so many of us are working overtime to hold it all together for ourselves and our families. We desperately want to be enough, and wonder if we are. All the while, we have our own needs to tend to, and all too often, they are put on the back burner.
My newest Bible study, Grounded in Hope, comes out in January, and I've written this study for the women I know who are ready to let go of the “try hard” life and figure out how to run this marathon with grit and grace. These are the women who want to know Christ in a deeper way and are ready to grow. It's based on the book of Hebrews which contains some of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. It was a privilege to write it for you.
Hebrews contains some of the most beautiful passages you'll find in Scripture. It will comfort you and challenge you. Every word of it has a treasure to mine, and those who are willing to make the effort will be richly rewarded.
Never have I been more convinced of the importance of women being grounded in hope. There is much in the world that discourages us, but frankly, there are just as many things within our families that wreck our hearts. Most of us are doing the best we can to love, serve, and take care of the people close to us, but heartache and despair still steal in through a crack in the door. I don't know about you, but I can get pretty tired from the effort to hold things together.
Hebrews reminds us that it isn't all up to us. Yes, we have our part to play, but ultimately, God has got a grip on those things that feel out of control. I know this, you know this, but this study of Hebrews will give us a bigger view of God that will help us believe it. Hope springs up when we see that all the threads are being woven together by the master artist. We are not disintegrating. We are being built.
We need to be grounded in truth as well. Our postmodern culture works like carbon monoxide; we don't notice that we're breathing it in, yet it's slowly but surely killing us.
We all look at life through a certain lens. This is our “worldview”- the lens through which we see the world. It's the set of assumptions that we hold, consciously or subconsciously. Depending on the glasses that we are wearing, we're going to have a very distinct way of approaching the big questions of life. Currently, one of the most pervasive worldviews is postmodernism. Because this is such a popular worldview right now, seeing life through this lens is appealing, acceptable, and won't cause you to stand out.
What are the distinctives of the postmodern worldview? These are some of its main aspects:
An alternative lens is the Christian worldview. The same issues and questions come into play, but the answers are very different. The Christian perspective says:
Here's the problem. Just because a certain worldview is the most pervasive way at looking at things today - just because these lenses look good to the general public- doesn't mean that we are seeing things as they really are. And if we get it wrong on these main issues, we get the whole thing wrong. We get what matters most, wrong.
We need to put on the oxygen mask of God's Word to keep our head straight in the midst of total confusion. We need to know our story. When the postmodern culture tells us that “there is no grand narrative.” something in us should make us pause and say, “No. That's not right. There IS a narrative that actually makes sense out of all the crazy things that go on in our world. There IS a story - there IS an eternal plan.” And we have a key role to play in this epic tale, if we are willing.
So let's dive into this rich and dense book in the new year and see what God has to say. We will not be disappointed.
Grateful to be running beside you,
Founder and chief purpose officer
Walking with Purpose
As we walk into a new year, I pray that you feel as free as a fresh, unmarked calendar page. I pray that your relationships are healthy, authentic and satisfying. I pray that your connection to God is strong and your faith-based optimism is high. That's what the mountain top feels like, and every so often, it all comes together at the same time.
But perhaps you are heading into 2016 feeling down in the valley. Looking around, you see countless examples of what could be and what should be. The change needed may be related to your personal life. Or perhaps you are feeling a burden beyond that. Do you wrestle with the what should be of your church, your community, your culture, your country?
What is it that frustrates you so deeply that you inwardly leap off the couch when you see it on TV, thinking, “Somebody has got to do something about this?” What gets you in the gut? What fuels your passion? What situation can make you so mad you could just cry?
There's a lot out there that is wrong. Brokenness, injustice, moral decline, serious lack of balance that's destroying our families, churches struggling to remain relevant and obedient, and people increasingly isolated and disengaged. We all encounter this myriad of problems differently, and some things bother one person more than another. That's how God designed us. If we were all equally passionate about the same thing, there'd be a whole lot of good that would never get done.
The thing that is tearing me up inside currently…no, if I'm honest, it's been a lot longer than just recently…is the state of our beloved Church. I see so much goodness, an enormous amount of richness, and the healing and restoration that she offers. And I see apathy, a reluctance to do things differently, self-righteousness, and voices that are so strident and certain they are right that those who need to hear the truth are completely turned off. I get just desperate for the sleeping giant of the Catholic Church to wake up - to not settle for surviving, but to thrive and blaze new trails of renewal and salvation and hope. I sometimes think I just can't take it if I encounter one more Catholic who hasn't had the opportunity to hear the gospel of grace in a way that he or she understands.
It's at this point that my husband sits me down and reminds me that it's not my job to save the Catholic Church. In that spirit, he gave me a hilarious birthday card this year. The front of it said, “Once upon a time, a very special person was born who was destined to change the world.” Although it seemed to be overstating it rather a lot, I was quite touched by the sentiment. Then I opened it and read, “Calm down. It's not you. It's Jesus. I think he'd want you to have a happy birthday, though.”
And my husband's right. Fixing all that's broken inside and outside the Catholic Church is ultimately God's job. Total restoration comes from Him, not us. But we are invited to cooperate in the process. So where do we begin? We find the answer in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
There's a lot we can learn from this verse. When God spoke to His children about the need for forgiveness and healing of their land, He wasn't focusing on what the outsiders were doing wrong. He didn't start by saying, “Get out there and tell those sinners to get their act together and get in line.” He began with in-house family talk. His first words were addressed to the ones called by His name.
The very first thing He said we needed was humility. This means we start with ourselves. We pray and seek His face, because it's only when our eyes are on Him that we can see how far off the mark we are. We compare ourselves to others and we can look pretty good. We look in His eyes, and realize that we could be loving and obeying at a whole other level.
He then asks us to turn from our wicked ways. I'll be honest, as I wrestled through this verse, I started looking for a translation that had a little softer way of delivering the message. Wicked is such a strong word. It seemed a little gentler to talk about trying hard but sometimes falling a little bit short. And then it occurred to me. This is the problem. I look at my own sin and justify that it really isn't that bad. Then I look at others, and want God to call a spade a spade and make them change. And I don't think I'm alone in this. Collectively, this behavior does not do us any favors. In fact, it gives the Church a reputation of being hypocritical and judgmental.
But here's the hope. The ball is in our court. There is nothing stopping us from humbling ourselves, praying, seeking God's face, and turning from our wicked ways. No amount of social decline can prevent us from doing what God asks us to do. What did God promise if His people did this? Forgiveness and a healing of their land.
Is this what you want to see? Do you long for a new season of revival, healing and restoration in our Church? We begin with humility and we begin with prayer. To this end, I would like you to join me in seeking God's face from our knees.
Call for Revival 2016 is an opportunity to join together in prayer, asking God to bring revival and healing to our church. On January 29th at 9:30 AM, I am inviting you to a Rosary Conference Call for the intentions addressed in this post. I'll be leading the call and the prayers, and really hope you will lend your voice and your heart as we humbly seek God.
Conference Call #: 641-715-3580
Access code #: 978-013
All are welcome on the line. Together, our prayers can make a difference.
2015 is here! I love turning to a new calendar page, using fresh notebooks with no markings, and looking ahead to limitless possibilities in the coming months. But the minute that someone suggests I make a New Year's resolution, I start to feel adrift. I become increasingly aware of all the things I am barely getting done as it is. Thinking of grabbing hold of another goal makes me feel like I'll get pulled under and never be able to come up for air.
Those of you impressive people who have resolved to swear off plastic grocery bags forever, or who are going to run a half marathon, or are going to lose a bunch of weight - I applaud and admire you. I invite you to come over and organize my closets. We could have a great time chatting and I promise to make you a lovely cup of tea. But I can't join you in pursuing your new year's resolutions because just thinking about it is making me feel stressed out and inadequate.
As I write this, I'm looking out at Megunticook River in Camden, Maine. The river is currently covered by a sheet of ice but during the summer our dock is surrounded by kayaks. My parents gave our older kids kayaks for their birthdays a few years ago, and pretty much every day of the summer my dad reminded them to tie up their kayaks to the dock. “One of these days, you're going to wake up in the morning and your kayaks will be gone,” he'd warn. But tying up a kayak takes forever, so more often than not, the kayaks were just dragged onto the dock and turned upside down.
One night, a storm hit Camden as we slept. Sure enough, when we woke in the morning, one of the kayaks was missing. My dad didn't need to say a word; everyone knew that the kayak should have been tied up, and that an expensive gift had possibly been lost. The kids searched for it for days, and when it was finally found, it was dirty and banged up and hard to pull out of the weeds.
The kids didn't enjoy taking time to search for the kayak, but probably the hardest thing for them was the knowledge that they'd disappointed their grandfather. He'd sacrificed to give them such a generous gift, and they hadn't valued it enough to take care of it. The untethered kayak makes me think about my spiritual life. God's given me the incredible gift of a close relationship with Him, and He promises to guide me and strengthen me through every moment of my life. It cost Him everything to offer me that gift. How does He ask me to take care of it? The answer is found in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Remain in Christ, being as grafted to Him as a branch is to the vine, like tightly tying the kayak's rope to the dock.
To remain in Christ takes time. And we are so busy. It's just so much quicker to take the easy way out. All too often, we settle for pulling the kayak up on the dock instead of tethering ourselves to God.
We talk about God, instead of talking to Him. We get our bodies to church, but keep our hearts somewhere else. We sit down to read the Bible, but end up reading about someone else's experience of God instead. We run on fumes from time spent with God a long time ago, hoping that it'll be enough to fill us and keep us going today.
All those things can look good from the outside. When the day runs smoothly, we'll probably feel that it's good enough. A good enough relationship with God. A good enough spiritual life. The kayak will stay on the dock and be there in the morning.
Unless the storm hits. And it will. It can be in the form of an unwelcome phone call in the middle of the night. It can come in the words of one who promised to be faithful but no longer wants to keep that vow. It can come when the accumulation of disappointment or loneliness or uncertainty just gets to be too much. It can come when kids are whiny or hopes are shattered or unkind words pierce the heart. It's at those times that we need an anchor for the soul.
Christ is our hope, and He is the anchor for our souls.
The daily disciples of prayer, Bible reading, receiving the sacraments…these are the ropes that connect us to the anchor. His presence and His promises never fail. He is steadfast. Our part is to remain in Him. Remaining in Him every once in a while won't bring the change and the peace that we long for. But if we resolve to remain in Christ every day, there will be no limit to the transformation and soul rest that we can experience.
My one resolution for 2015? Remain in Christ, tethered-every day-to the Anchor of my soul.
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