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.
I stood in line and fiddled with the scarf wrapped tightly around my nose and mouth, when the TIME magazine cover, “THE AGE OF ANXIETY,” caught my eye. It was the first morning our governor was requiring Marylanders to wear masks in public areas, and the air in our local grocery store was thick with fear. I picked up the yellow magazine and skimmed the articles.
"Fear Can Fuel You"
"Are The Kids Alright?"
"Extra School Stress For Girls”
“A Family of Worrywarts, Coping in an Age of Anxiety”
As I turned the pages, my stomach dropped. Although many of the articles were informative and compelling, they did not tell the full truth of what has taken me decades to personally learn: When it comes to our struggle with anxiety, we always have a choice. Many of us do not get a say in the traumatic circumstances or childhood wounds that sparked our anxiety, but we do get to choose how we will respond.
What God has taught me is that anxiety does not originate in our design; it is birthed in our minds from negative experiences and fed by our brain habits. Anxiety is fueled by worry, often in our subconscious. Anxiety is a SYMPTOM of a deep worry or soul wound. It is a warning flare that our mind has adopted a toxic and untrue thought about our core identity. If we are wise, we will be women who pay attention to our anxieties and see them as signals for soul “work,” instead of trying to numb them.
Author Jennie Allen writes, “The greatest spiritual battle of our generation is being fought between our ears.” Perhaps your toxic thoughts sound something like this:
“I am a terrible mother.”
“The danger of toxic thinking,” says Allen, “is it produces an alternate reality, one in which distorted reasoning actually seems to make sense.”
Our first step in battling anxiety is to become aware of the negative garbage our brain is telling our body. We then have to disrupt those thoughts and anchor them to a new thought that combats the toxic lie we believe about ourselves. The Walking with Purpose Bible study Fearless and Free has helped me identify what unhealthy thoughts swirl in my head and how to arm my mind with healthy truths from Scripture.
When I purposefully disrupt my negative thinking and anchor my mind to God’s Word, I am making a choice to teach my brain and body that my anxious thoughts do not define me. Who defines me? My creator God does. And who does God say I am?
I am chosen and loved. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
I am not ruled by fear. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I am secure in Him. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Our oldest daughter, Lilli, has a talent for basketball. A few years ago Lil was unstoppable because she could blow by her defender by dribbling with her right hand and driving to the basket for a layup. But that all changed mid-season when Lilli fractured her right arm. Because I coached her team, she still had to attend practices with her arm in a big cast. I remember her asking me, “What am I gonna do, just watch?” To her surprise, I handed her the ball and said, “Heck no. You can still practice, you will just have to do everything with your left hand.”
The first few weeks were really frustrating for Lilli. She was weak on her left side. She dribbled off her foot and found it very awkward learning how to shoot properly with her left arm. Driving to the left side of the court was foreign for her. But she worked at it. Every time Lilli made a decision to step onto the court and use her left hand, her CONFIDENCE in her left hand grew.
After her cast came off, Lilli was a completely different player because she had created a new habit. She is now unstoppable on both sides of the court. Out of tragedy, Lilli turned her handicap into her greatest strength. She had no choice over her broken arm, but she did get to decide how she would respond. Instead of being sidelined from the setback, she gained confidence in building new muscles.
Choosing to disrupt our anxiety and replace it with healthier habits takes that same type of perseverance. It takes patience and being gentle with ourselves, but it’s so worth it. Each time we make a choice to disrupt our destructive thoughts and anchor our mind to the truth in Scripture about who God says we are, we can grow in confidence that anxiety does not have the last say. God always does.
Learn more about the WWP Bible study Fearless and Free here. You can also read more from Jodi on her blog, The Irreplaceable Mother which encourages women to serve first and best where they matter most.
 Jennie Allen, Get Out Of Your Head (Colorado Springs: Waterbook, 2020), pg 10.
 Jennie Allen, Get Out Of Your Head (Colorado Springs: Waterbook, 2020), pg 24.
For years my daughter begged for braces. No denying, her teeth are all sorts of crazy, but the cost of braces is even crazier. Finally giving in, we met with the orthodontist where it was explained that in order for Annie to obtain her dream smile, she would need to do two things. 1. Wear braces. 2. Wear the Herbst Appliance. What is the Herbst Appliance you ask? Well, imagine every piece of metal and hardware in the entire world, and then put it all in my fifteen-year-old's mouth. Because there is so much metal involved, the doctor suggested Annie do braces first, then once removed, put on the Herbst. He said, “You can do both at once if you are in a rush to get this done. It will be uncomfortable and take weeks to get used to. But you will get your perfect smile faster. It's up to you.”
Given the option - fast results or patiently waiting it out - take a shot at what my teenager chose…
Yesterday, the Herbst went on, on top of the braces. By the time this blog post is published, I am not confident that anyone within a five-foot radius of Annie will still be alive. She is not happy, folks. And do you want to know the worst part of all of this is? It's not Annie's mood that's the problem. It's not even the cost. It is me. It's my reaction to her reaction. As she went on and on about her looks and appearance, with zero gratitude for the privilege of dental care and a mother who had to sell her kidney to afford it, I unlovingly stood in her bedroom doorway reminding her, “This is what you wanted. So, you can be patient and get used to it, and quit being so vain….or tomorrow we can go and get it taken out of your mouth.”
It is ironic, isn't it? We grumble about children today; how they wait for nothing and only know instant gratification, and I have to wonder... am I any different? Sure, maybe my teenager doesn't have patience with this process… but guess what? Neither do I. As quick as she was to choose the shortest road to the fastest results, I am just as quick to pull the stupid metal out of her mouth with my own teeth simply to put an end to her vanity-filled complaints. Let's face it. Waiting is hard, and there is a reason why patience is a virtue and none of this comes easy. And honestly? This isn't even about my straightening my daughter's teeth. It's about straightening priorities. And all of this takes time.
I am just going to say it. I am lacking the patience for my children to encounter Jesus Christ because deep down I fear that they never will. I am afraid that God will show up hours too late, like my sister on Thanksgiving who signs up to bring the appetizer and arrives as we are serving dessert. And so I preach, and I throw Scripture at them, and I stand in their bedroom doorway in utter frustration, because for some unknown reason I have decided that I am their Savior and turning their hearts towards Christ is something that can only be accomplished by my hand.
Welcome to my ugly.
I am not proud of it, but here is the thing: I can do something about it.
If your lack of patience for a loved one's journey to the Lord tends to stomp on newly planted seeds, here are three things you can do:
Praying today that our patience with His plan grows deeper roots than the weeds of fear and control. And I really pray that Annie doesn't need to get on an airplane anytime soon, because honestly...that girl will never make it through the metal detector.
In patience and love,
Dear reader: We have updated one of our favorite blog posts, originally published this time last year. We hope it provides you with a sense of peace and contentment with your place in His plan.
“May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
I've noticed something interesting about what gets me on and what gets me off of social media. Boredom gets me on, and I can lose track of time as I scroll mindlessly. What gets me off is discontentment. I see something or someone that makes me feel badly, less than, or inadequate, so I turn it off. I think I could be spending my time a little better than this.
I'm reminded by Theodore Roosevelt that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I'm tired of allowing my happiness to be robbed by something so preventable. Are you? We all know that everything presented on social media is the curated and filtered version. So why do we get caught in the trap of comparing “my worst with her best?” Because who really knows what's behind that perfect picture on Facebook? My cover photo shows my family happily smiling on my daughter's wedding day. What it doesn't show is my worries that the reception is going to not turn out as planned, my sadness over my daughter moving so far away, my deep desire to turn back the clock and re-do every moment that I missed because I was too busy. Photos don't show the whole story.
Underlying our discontent is the sense that there is something better out there, and the belief that if we had it, we'd be happier. But if you look back on your life, isn't it true that as soon as you get that one thing you've been dreaming of, a new desire takes its place? The appetite for more is never satisfied.
There is a different way to live. God created you as a one-of-a-kind, creative, difference-making masterpiece. Yes you. You are not the exception to the rule. Don't equate that description with success in your career, breathtaking Instagram feeds, or accolades. Being a world-changer simply means that you take seriously the call to run YOUR race without looking to the left or right and comparing yourself to others. It means trusting God that you are exactly where you are meant to be, and being faithful right there.
You are a part of a grand narrative, and if you do not take your place in God's story, the world will miss out on the unique gifts you bring to the table. The writer of Hebrews doesn't want you to miss the specific course that God has mapped out for you, so he describes the race that you are to run:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1-2
The book of Hebrews was written to people who felt beaten down and discouraged. They feel ready to give up, and are asking the question, “If God loves me so much, why is following Him so insanely hard?” My guess would be that they were probably looking to the left and the right, and wondering why life is easier for other people.
So the author seeks to change their perspective on their circumstances. They are asked to picture a race within an arena, with a track for the athletes to compete on, and spectators to witness it all.
The word race comes from the Greek word “Agon” (ag-one'). We get the word agony from this root word, and the word race could also be translated conflict, struggle or fight. What the author of Hebrews wants us to get is that life is a race- and the race is one of agonizing struggle. It isn't a short sprint- it's a marathon.
We need patience, endurance, and the willingness to persevere in order to run this race. We need to throw off comparison, because it hinders us like nobody's business. I love what N.T. Wright has to say about the race:
This race is a long haul, and you need patience. There are always some runners who really prefer a short sprint; some of them, faced with a ten-mile run, will go far too fast at the start and then be exhausted after two or three miles. Sadly, many of us will know Christians like that too: keen and eager in their early days, they run out of steam by the time they reach mature adulthood…Give me the person, any day, who starts a bit more slowly but who is still there, patiently running the next mile and the next and the next, all those years later.
I think it's great news that this race isn't only for sprinters! There is an honored place for plodders- for those who are steady at the wheel when the race is exciting, and when it's boring, and when it's sucking the breath out of you. This is the woman who is less concerned about her personal passions, gifts, and platform than she is about the fact that in the Christian life, someone has to be willing to take out the garbage. If you are one of those women, and if you feel that most of what you do goes unseen and uncelebrated, I salute you. Give me someone like you any day over charisma, sparkle and shine.
This woman's Facebook feed might look insignificant, but don't let that fool you. She's is too busy running her race to photograph it all beautifully.
Last Monday was the feast day of a woman who ran her race beautifully- St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of Walking with Purpose. Instead of comparing herself to others, she trusted that God had her exactly where she was meant to be. She flourished in that place, despite its limitations and suffering. May you cultivate a content heart like hers, trusting God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Waiting for suffering to end and relief to come would be so much easier if we knew the end date. If someone delivered the message, “You just have to hold on for x more days, and then your prayers are going to be answered,” most of us would muster up the courage and grit to wait it out faithfully. But that's rarely what waiting endlessly looks like.
Waiting endlessly is more like a dense cloud where we lack clarity and hope feels slippery and hard to grasp. Numbing out becomes incredibly tempting because what we really want to do is scream, “I just can't stand this.” Taking matters into our own hands becomes equally tempting, and dependence on God feels risky. We're told to trust Him in the storm, and that can be easier said than done. Actually, it's always easier said than done.
I'm coming through a season of waiting endlessly that I pray I don't need to repeat. Never have I felt less in control and never have I been more desperate to fix things and speed up the process of healing. There were so many moments when I wanted to give up-when it took everything I had to hold on to a shred of hope, believing against all evidence that God was present in that very moment and He was at work.
The perspective of these circumstances caused me to look at a passage in Exodus 24 with totally new eyes. Prior to these verses, Moses had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God had brought them to Mount Sinai where He was about to give them the Ten Commandments, which were to help them learn how to live as beloved children instead of as slaves.
In preparation for this monumental shift, Moses and a band of key leaders were taken aside by God. On the side of the mountain, “they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness…they beheld God.” (Ex. 24:10,11). This had to have been the most mind-blowing spiritual experience. You would think it would have been seared in their memories forever. How could they ever question whether or not God was real? They had seen Him.
Then God called Moses to come closer, leaving the leaders behind, beckoning him further up the mountain. Moses delegated his authority to his brother Aaron and Hur, and obeyed God. These two men had been critical support to Moses during a battle the Israelites faced with the Amalekites. During that battle, Moses, Aaron and Hur climbed to the top of a hill. As long as Moses' hands were raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, the Amalekites were stronger. We read in Exodus 17:12 that Moses' hands grew tired, so Aaron and Hur took a rock and put it under him. At the same time, they supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so his hands remained steady. And the Israelites won the battle. These were faithful friends.
Picking up again in Exodus 24, “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:17-18)
Picture what this must have been like-how terrifying it had to have been for Moses to enter into a cloud that looked like a devouring fire, all by himself. What was that experience like? Was it purifying? Overwhelming? How would it feel to have God reveal to you the new marching orders on how everyone was to live, to receive the Ten Commandments, in the middle of a dense cloud of God's presence?
This passage makes me think of a journey my heroic husband has been on, one I have been secretly calling his SELAH. SELAH is a word found in the Bible that's hard to define. Some scholars say it indicates a change in rhythm, a pause, a moment to stop and reflect. I like that definition and think it's an apt description of times in our lives when we have something of a “before and after” moment. We stop and reflect, we are changed, and then journey forward, stronger and healthier.
It began with his prayer asking God to grow him in humility and closeness to Him. He prayed this quietly, and without fuss, with no idea what was just around the corner. A short time later, stress in his life increased and peaked, catapulting him into a season that certainly felt like and appeared to be a devouring fire. Was the suffering an answer to his prayer for greater spiritual growth? I don't know. Perhaps. But it lasted, in its intensity, exactly forty days. For forty days, to the day, we had no idea what things would look like on the other side. We wondered if we would get there. His suffering was acute and isolating. The days and nights were filled with unrelenting waves of anxiety. Debilitating fear made his heart and mind pound constantly. A dark night of the soul filled him with spiritual doubts and that made everything even harder. The combination of very little sleep, no diagnosis, and no clear end date was overwhelming. While there is no question that his agony was the greater, it was also incredibly hard to stand by his side -unable to fix things or bring relief. When we deeply love someone, watching him or her suffer is its own form of anguish.
The thought occurred to me that as Moses walked through something that must have been frightening, he hoped that the vision the leaders had received of God would help them stay faithful in his absence. As he stood in the firestorm, being refined as a leader, preparing to lead his people to a life of true freedom, He was counting on Aaron and Hur to stay faithful and to keep everyone's focus on God. He needed them to wait well-to not lose hope-to not give in to the temptation to take matters into their own hands. God was at work, even if they couldn't see evidence of it through the dense cloud. They just needed to hold steady.
Maybe they could have done it for six days. Most of us can endure anything if it just lasts a week. But forty days? That's a long time. It proved too much. Aaron and Hur forgot the vision of God, caved in to the people's complaints, and created and worshipped a golden calf instead. They took matters into their own hands because after such a long wait, it felt like God was not going to come through.
How long are we willing to wait?
My friends, God always shows up. And not just at some remote time far in the future. He is at work now-right in this very moment that feels hopeless- in this current set of circumstances that seems without end. During the endless waiting, our job is to remember. When has He come through for you in the past? Dwell on this. Remember that our God is unchanging and He will rescue again.
Hold steady and rebuke the lie that says, “It's all up to me.” The truth is, we have an all-powerful Rescuer who never leaves our side. Reject the lie that says, “Things will never change.” The darkest hour is the hour before dawn. Wait faithfully. The light will come.
The very thing that we think will destroy us can be what strengthens and heals us. Suffering brings all sorts of long-buried things to the surface. Sometimes it's the only way God can get to those deep places in our hearts to set us free.
The psalmist wrote, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) I pray you would not lose heart, and would remain steadfast as the storm rages. God is in the waiting. He is at work. You will see His goodness unfold.
With love and prayers,
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
To the mamas out there in the trenches…
To those who are spending this Advent waiting for a miracle…
This is for you.
We all dread the phone call that comes unexpectedly and causes life to feel like one big “before and after.” There's the bad news that sideswipes us and no one is at fault, and then there's the news that makes it very easy to point a finger. So many emotions can explode in those moments- fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment, worry, anger, resentment.
As a mother, there is nothing worse than a call that involves your child. From the moment our children are placed in our arms, we make an inner vow to do all in our power to protect them and give them the best that we've got. The more years I live and the more broken hearts I encounter, the more certain I am that we all are giving mothering the best that we've got. Is it perfect? Far from it. But for the most part, we are doing the best we can with what we know and are able to do in the moment. But this doesn't mean that outcomes are guaranteed. Each child comes with his or her own journey ahead, and while we play a significant role in it, it isn't all up to us. The grand majority of it is up to them and the choices they will make with the great gifts of freedom and life that God has given.
With seven children, I've gotten my fair share of those phone calls. Each time, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach has taken hold. My breath shortened and my hands felt clammy. I listened, and prayed that it wasn't true. And then I began walking the unpleasant road of picking through rumors, truth, lies and some shattered hopes and dreams. Was the various news I received the end of the world? Absolutely not. But did my heart feel devastated? Yes. Each time.
Someone asked me if I would be worried about Walking with Purpose if my “worst case scenarios” regarding my kids came true and became known. Without a moment's hesitation, I said, “Absolutely not.” The reason I responded in this way has everything to do with the way that I define success and failure. I think it's worth sharing, because I think there are a lot of moms out there who are dealing with their own set of disappointments that involve their families, and there's a lot of hiding going on. This hiding doesn't help anyone or anything, and is actually the devil's playground. He loves the shadows. So many mothers feel like failures, and I believe they are using the wrong measure to determine how well they are doing in this critical area of life.
We live in a world that tells us the success of our children is measured by the outward appearance. Physical beauty, athletic ability, academic accolades and a charismatic personality are all sought after and considered the highest prize. As long as outward appearance looks good, all too often mothers are willing to hide-or more tragically, ignore-sins and deficits of their child's character. We don't want our children to suffer, but perhaps just as much, we don't want their reputations to suffer. In our world, reputation, what people think of us, is everything. As a result, we step in the way of natural consequences that God wants to use to teach our children deep, lasting lessons. We make excuses, cast blame, and bail them out so that their spirits aren't crushed. And in doing so, we warp their understanding of choices and consequences. We leave them ill-equipped for a world that will not continue to soften the blows or buffer them from discomfort. The result? They will never grow up.
Why do we do this? Because we are caught up in the very things the world values. We are mixed up with it all ourselves. We gain an extra ten pounds and feel less valuable. We measure our worth against what we accomplish. Striving and hustling to be considered good enough, we focus on the tip of the iceberg and ignore the enormity of what lies beneath.
God leans into this mess and reminds us, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) He cares about what's going on underneath the water. The tip of that iceberg may look great and earn us a lot of applause, but God is disinterested in those bells and whistles. He looks beneath, and measures our success by how we love. First and foremost, He cares about how we love Him. The first and greatest commandment is this: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
One of the ways that we love Him is by raising the children He has placed in our care. Raising children today is a battleground. We no longer live in a society that backs us up when we teach our kids what is most important. Leading our children to love and serve the Lord is incredibly hard in a culture that says truth is relative, everything in life revolves around them and their happiness, and that actions don't have consequences. The older our children get, the more we recognize what a battle it is. It's hard, and so many of us are weary.
Those of us who have determined to let the shoe fall, to let consequences be felt, often feel so alone on that path. We want to give up. We want to give in. We desperately want everything to just get comfortable again, even while we recognize that discomfort is exactly what our kids likely need in order to learn. Many of us are facing really serious battles with long term consequences, and too many of these warrior mamas feel like failures because their kids are seemingly not learning these lessons.
I believe that even when we recognize the battle for what it is, too many of us are fighting with the wrong weapons, and we're getting discouraged about the wrong things.
The true battle isn't what we see with our eyes. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The battle is in the spiritual realm. Only one kind of weapon can meet the battle in the air. It's described in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
The weapons of the world are reputation, money, influence, power and a shiny outward appearance. They can take us only so far. And from the Lord's perspective, all they are affecting is that tip of the iceberg, evident to all. But the weapons that have impact below the surface are far, far, more powerful than the worldly weapons.
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). This is an offensive spiritual weapon. Prayer is tremendously powerful because it literally moves the hand of God and calls down angels to battle on our behalf. The Eucharist has been used in physical battle, and the rosary's power has been seen for hundreds of years.
It's what's going on under the water that makes all the difference and is the true measure of success. And that's where we employ the weapons discussed in 2 Corinthians 10. The spiritual battle is a hidden battle-done in the quiet of our homes and adoration chapels. It's waged on our knees and literally pushes back the darkness.
If we copy the world and use its weapons, we are guaranteeing a lack of power. This is because those weapons have nothing to do with the release of the Holy Spirit. If we seem to win a battle by using the world's weapons, from God's perspective, we have lost. The reverse is also true. If we seem to lose a battle but we have relied on the Lord, trusting in Him and the weapons of prayer and God's word, we have won. We have WON, regardless of what it looks like to the rest of the world. This means that what others might say is a failure can actually be an enormous victory.
Join me, precious mamas, on your knees. Engage in this spiritual battle with heartfelt, fervent prayers. Let's storm heaven as we plead on behalf of this next generation. Do the hard things. Let the hammer fall and the consequences be felt. Don't stand between God and the lessons He is trying to teach your child. And over all these things, put on love. Tough love is real love. And isn't this what God is teaching us during Advent? The gift of love is always costly, but always redemptive.
Some days, everything just seems a little bit out of kilter. My three-year-old, Charlotte, had one of those days this week. We just COULD NOT GET IT RIGHT. The pink cereal bowl seemed like a good choice until the milk and cereal were in it, and then it became an offensive object because it wasn't purple. Her Frozen dress up outfit was utterly unpleasing because it didn't have fairy wings. Any suggestion that she simply needed a nap (el pronto) was met with Charlotte lying prone on the floor in a state of complete resignation to the unfairness of her life. No matter where she looked, something was getting in the way of her peace and joy.
What's getting in the way of your peace and joy? Have you been a little weary about the state of things in your life? Maybe it's the state of the world, or the state of your family, or the state of your heart that has got you down. You can see so clearly how things are supposed to be, yet everywhere you turn there's more evidence that reality is falling short of the ideal.
It's so easy to feel disheartened. We feel out of control. When it doesn't matter how much harder we work or what we say-when the matter is clearly out of our hands-it's pretty tempting to respond in anger or to just give up. Our hopes have been dashed and we can't see how things are going to get better.
Saint Peter addressed these feelings with these words:
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
This passage is loaded with truth. First of all, we're told to not be surprised at these circumstances. This is a call out for us to adjust our expectations. When we step out and follow Christ, our lives do not get easier. Yes, we are given strength, hope, salvation, comfort and a myriad of other essential gifts, but we are never promised a life free from conflict. Heaven is NOT here. If we expect life on earth to feel like heaven, we are going to be perpetually disappointed.
We're then told to rejoice when we are suffering for Jesus' sake. This is not to say that all the suffering we experience is the result of following Christ. Sometimes we're in a mess as a result of our poor decisions, and as a result, we are suffering.
We may think we're suffering for Christ's sake because we stood up for Him and spoke out. This brings us to tricky territory. Yes, we are to be faithful and are not to compromise our beliefs. But it can be a poor decision on our part to speak at times when it would prudent to remain silent. It can be a poor decision to speak with such pointed conviction that our words wound instead of leading people to truth.
It's worth asking ourselves why we are being picked on for our faith. Sometimes it's due to being surrounded by people who are far from God. But much of the time, it's due to the way in which we have represented God to a world that doesn't know Him.
He is a God of love. All too often, our words have been biting and judgmental, and we are reaping the results. I'm not just speaking of the way we interact with our culture. I'm talking about how we act within our own families, too. By no means am I saying that we are to compromise. That is the coward's way out. I'm encouraging all of us (myself included) to speak prayerfully-ask God what we are to say, and how we are to say it, being in continuous communication with Him,
Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington D.C., wrote the following words of encouragement to those of us who are longing for the world to be in a better state:
Do not be dismayed. These are unpleasant times, but not unexpected. For our part, we must not be fascinated, enamored, or discouraged. Simply and clearly draw back from this confusion and see it for what it is: ungodly, confused, worldly and devoid of the Spirit. Have nothing to do with it.
But that's not the end of the story. God's glory is going to be revealed. One day, His truth will be seen clearly. There will come a time when all the wrongs will be made right, when betrayal will be replaced by fidelity, when love will win over hatred. In the meantime, we are going to experience the dichotomy between what is and what will be. Continue to ask God for guidance.
“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Is there someone in your life who you long to see experiencing the more that a relationship with Christ brings? Do you find you lack the right words to articulate just how much your faith means to you, and wish that you could communicate it in a way that really has impact?
One of our main focuses this year at Walking with Purpose has been encouraging everyone to take seriously the call from Christ to “see to it that no one misses the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). We've encouraged you all to prayerfully consider who you can invite to WWP in the fall. We've worked hard to bring you a top notch new Bible study, Opening Your Heart, which will both challenge the veteran and lay a solid spiritual foundation for the beginner, allowing you to grow right alongside the woman you invited.
When we step out of our comfort zone and invite someone to join us on our spiritual journey, lives are changed. We are able to experience the rush of being used by God and there is, quite simply, nothing like it. That being said, I think there's a real opportunity for us to do some wordless preaching this summer, and it might have the greatest impact of all.
I recently came across the writings of a Romanian pastor named Josef Tson. He considers suffering well to be the greatest way of preaching. Suffering well shows others that God is real.
When I read something like that, I have to pause. I can think of a lot of ways that I would prefer to preach than to suffer, and suddenly the thought of explaining why my faith matters to me sounds like the more appealing option. But at the same time, I know that suffering inevitably crosses my path no matter how often I try to avoid it. The thought that it can have an impact on the people I love-the ones who are watching to see if my faith makes a difference, the ones who aren't asking me to give them a theological explanation of anything, but who are looking for hope and peace- that makes me want to hear more of what he had to say.
Pastor Tson was arrested and imprisoned several times for his faith. While being interrogated by six officials, he said the following:
What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe He wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do and you will not go one inch further-because you are only an instrument of my Lord.
During an earlier interrogation, an official threatened to kill him. Pastor Tson replied with these words:
You should know your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Now here is how it works, sirs: You know that my sermons are on tape all over the country. When you shoot me or crush me, whichever way you choose, [you] only sprinkle my sermons with my blood. Everybody who has a tape of one of my sermons will pick it up and say, “I had better listen again. This man died for what he preached.” Sir, my sermons will speak 10 times louder after you kill me and because you kill me. In fact, I will conquer this country for God because you killed me. Go on and do it.
After he said this, Pastor Tson was sent home. He later heard that a different official was interrogating another pastor and told him, “We know that Mr. Tson would love to be a martyr, but we are not that foolish to fulfill his wish.”
There is something incredibly powerful about a person who loves Jesus enough to suffer with grace and without fear. A life lived on a platform of suffering is challenging, and there are certainly days when it feels unbearable. But one thing it most definitely is not, is meaningless.
Even the smallest bit of suffering can be replete with meaning when it causes us to preach without words. A woman who suffers graciously leaves people utterly dumbfounded. Everyone expects her to fall apart, to be bitter, to give up. But when she stares down fear, people begin to wonder if her God is real. They wonder if she's drawing from a difference source of strength than what they are accessing. They sense that there's something more in her life, something more than what they are experiencing.
I don't know what's going to cross each of our paths this summer. I'm guessing it won't all be rainbows and sunshine. Let's make a choice to receive all that comes our way-both the pleasant and the painful-with a determination to not waste an ounce of it. May we take every beautiful moment and make it an opportunity to thank God who sent it. And may we take every challenging one, and thank Him for the opportunity to shine in the darkness. People we love are watching to see what makes us different. May our words, actions, and attitudes quietly reveal that God is real, and that His grace is enough.
You know how it goes. Sometimes you reach that point where you think you cannot possibly handle one more little thing going wrong or you will lose your mind, and then that one more thing happens.
So it's been a little bit busy over here at Casa Brenninkmeyer. I love my children, every single one of them; I love sleeping in; and I love vacation. All good things. But I also become much sweeter if I get a little time to myself in the house, and we are now on week 4 of Spring Break. This is what happens when you have two different college spring breaks, a different week for the high school spring break, and then another one for the elementary school spring break. And then a break for Easter gets thrown in, and the result is EVERYTHING FEELING A LITTLE BIT OUT OF KILTER.
So that sets the stage for when my “one more thing” happened. Bailey (our double doodle) had been given an extremely ugly haircut at Petsmart, and there was no way I was going back and taking that risk again. A random stranger said that the place to get groomed in St. Augustine was the Humane Society. So without thinking for more than, oh, two seconds, I set up the appointment. In their defense, when she came home, she looked great. But then she started to scratch. And as it turned out, she had fleas. In case you're wondering, this wasn't the “one more thing.” The fact that it was one of the worst cases of fleas my vet had ever seen, the fact that the vet bill to deal with it was shockingly high, and the fact that we would need to pick the fleas off her manually for about three weeks…not even those things dampened my spirits.
The “one more thing” came when they started biting me. At this very moment, as I write this little reflection, I am gritting my teeth and doing all that I can to not scratch, because I currently have 60 (SIXTY) flea bites just from my knees down. As it turns out, it's not a very good idea to let Bailey curl up at my feet when I read/write/pay bills/whatever.
So I know I'm not supposed to scratch the bites (I grew up in Minnesota, after all, where the state bird is the mosquito), but yesterday I just couldn't bear it anymore. I decided to go have a pedicure so someone professional could scratch them/massage them and I could get some relief.
I sat at the nail salon and waited for an hour. This was incredibly irritating to me because when I'd walked in, they told me it would be twenty minutes. I thought to myself, “This is the worst. I am so over this whole thing!!!” Then I picked up a magazine and started to read.
And I was able to gain perspective. There was an article about horrific things going on in in war torn parts of the world. I read about soldiers rushing into African villages, demanding that each family give up one child to be trained as a child soldier. Can you imagine? How could you ever do it? It's unthinkable. And I'm sitting in the nail salon thinking “it's just the worst” because I am tired and itchy and am being made to wait. Well, not only that. I was also carrying some deep heartache around, and the rest of the things were just tipping me over the edge. But even so, my heartache didn't compare to what those African mothers were facing.
Perspective. What a difference it can make.
When we're frustrated or sad or weighed down with worry, our focus tends to grow more narrow. By contrast, we gain perspective when we endeavor to see things from God's point of view. He can see all the times when the things we take for granted or even complain about are things that someone else is praying for. He can see how the story will end. He can see the why behind the suffering. And although His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways…they are higher than our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), we come closer to seeing our circumstances through His eyes when we focus on His words.
This promise of Scripture helps us gain perspective:
“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” 1 Peter 5:10
His word tells us that He will restore us-He will fix and mend what is broken within us. He will establish us-He'll settle the unrest in our hearts. He'll strengthen us-He'll absorb our weakness and infuse us with His power. The suffering will not last forever. The God of all grace calls us to spend eternity with Him, and what we will receive there will be nothing but the best. So don't give up. Hang tight through the tough circumstances. Let Him hold you close through the heartache. What seemed the worst on Good Friday turned out to be God's very best. This is how He works, then, and now.
If you want a good laugh, watch this clip of comedian Tim Hawkins, That's the Worst. Give yourself a gift and buy his DVD by the same title. It's family friendly humor that helps us not take ourselves so seriously.
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