I have been doing this thing for years where I spend way too much time looking at myself in the mirror. I lean over the counter and get up real close, taking my face in my hands and stretching my skin back, while calling out to my husband, “Look! See? Look at how much better I look without all of those wrinkles!” He doesn’t quite see me the same way. In fact, he thinks I look creepy with my face pulled back. What does he know anyway?
The aging struggle is real, my friend. And no, you can’t give it up for Lent.
Last week, after an emotionally draining weekend, I found myself staring back at my own reflection while running on the treadmill. Usually, I am good at tearing apart what I see. A face that has gotten way too thin. (Seriously. If it gets any thinner, both eyes will be on one side of my head like a flounder.) Grey hairs sticking straight up out of my scalp. (Why straight up, Lord?) And don’t get me started on the sagging breasts. It’s terrible that I speak this way of myself. It is actually a sin and makes God so sad. I am His beautiful creation. A masterpiece. Even if I look like a flounder.
But this time something different happened. Last week, as I ran and reflected on the arena I was thrown into and how, despite years of the battle, I am still standing, my reflection told me a different story. In fact...that just might be IT in a nutshell.
I didn't see me. I saw A STORY.
A beautiful, fierce, and strong story. A life that despite tragedy and trauma still glorifies God.
Why on earth am I just seeing this now?
The Psalmist begs, “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37).
Tell me, friend. Do you turn your eyes from looking at vanities?
I have spent years ignoring this verse and focusing on every imperfection instead. Staring at everything that is wrong and failing to be grateful for so much that is right. I have been scrolling through Instagram boxes that are filled with plump faces and toned bodies, longing for my youthful, fuller face. You know, the face I had in my youth that I thought was too full. Can we say never content?
But it was while I was running and thinking about the hard places God has called me to—the hard place I am currently standing in and the uncertainty of a future I have tried to control—that the scales fell from my eyes, and I heard a question being asked of me.
What if the lines on your face that you so badly want to erase are your roadmap to heaven?
The wrinkles of worry and fear that glide across my forehead, the deep crevices of sorrow and despair that circle my mouth, the fine lines that shoot out from my eyes like rays of light: these are not signs of OLD age. These are signs of BOLD age. These tell the story of who I am, and where I have been. These are a warrior's markings, honoring the mountain tops I have rested on, the deep valleys I have completely crumbled in, and every place in between. Like the black ink on a child's bedroom wall that charts his growth, these are my growth chartings. They are quite literally my life lines. And right there on that stupid treadmill, for the first time in my life, I loved them. I was proud of them. And I was honored to wear them.
I got on the treadmill believing I had been beaten down by life and that it showed; that I was worn out by my circumstances and that it showed. But listen up. Suffering has not handed me a worn out life, but gifted me with a life well worn. And sure, I can erase them all. I can get fillers and Botox and a really good moisturizer and wipe away my life. But why? Why would I do that? Why would I take away the visible reminder of what I have endured? Why would I hide the signs of my suffering so well?
When it is my time to go home, I want every nook and cranny of my face to speak for me; to tell the beautiful story of surrender and sacrifice and hope against hope. The story of standing strong in the battle and weathering the storm because of a house built on rock. The beautiful tale of a warrior girl who met Jesus at the foot of the cross and knew there was no safer place to be.
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.
Have you ever carried a large statue of Mary, up hill, in a trash bag, in the snow? I haven’t either, but I did watch a student do this very thing a few years ago when I helped lead a college mission trip to Peru. Our trip leader told us that it wasn’t supposed to rain, let alone snow, so many of us, coming from Texas, packed nothing more than a light fleece to combat the chill of the Andes mountains.
When we arrived in Macusani, Peru (14,000 ft elevation), I immediately regretted not packing something heavier. We were teaching faith formation to young children in the village after sunset, and it was freezing. I had no idea that it would be the weather that made this mission trip so internally difficult. Every night all fourteen of us would return from teaching and huddle around the stove fire until our soup warmed up. We would eat our soup in a freezing room, and then run to our beds where the warmth of our blankets awaited.
About a week after our arrival, my mission team and I sat in the courtyard soaking up a bit of sunlight before traveling up the hill to teach our evening classes. The plan for that night was to do a quick lesson in the chapel and then head to the street for a rosary procession around the neighborhood. Since no procession is complete without a statue, we had borrowed a statue of Mary to bring for the occasion. In late afternoon the clouds rolled in, and by the time we were packing up to leave, it had started to snow. It had started to snow a lot.
We were not prepared for this sort of weather so we considered canceling that night’s catechesis. I was STRONGLY on the side of canceling. No one had the proper clothing, it would be dark, we could get sick, and we could do it tomorrow. I came with as many reasons to cancel as possible, and every single one was valid. Nevertheless, our trip leader insisted we still go. He told us these children were used to adults not showing up for them, and that we were going to be different. We would show up even if it was hard.
It would be nice to say that I rose to the occasion with heroic generosity, but that was not the case. My participation was half-hearted. It was tiring being so cold for so long, and my desire to be comfortable again was strong. Begrudgingly, I layered on my thin clothing, and we started walking up the hill. It was then, looking up the dark road, that I saw her. There she was: Our Blessed Mother traveling with us, on a student’s back, in a trash bag. If she could do it, I could do it.
When we arrived at the chapel, I expected it to be empty. The kids could have stayed home, but they didn’t. Almost all of them were there, enthusiastically awaiting our arrival. We did a short lesson, decorated a procession altar, hoisted Mary on top, and headed for the street. For the next forty-five minutes, we walked through dark streets no longer lit with electricity, in a blizzard with Mary held high, reciting the rosary not once but twice. Let’s just say I was more enthusiastic about saying the first rosary than the second!
After our procession ended, we told the kids goodnight and headed back to eat. Over dinner, our trip leader, who has led many mission trips down to Peru, casually mentioned that the area of the village we had just left had been experiencing demonic activity. “Wait a minute, demonic activity?” I thought to myself. I stopped eating and let the comment sink in as repentance flooded my heart. Clearly, God had a plan that was much bigger than my desire for comfort.
With no power, the village stood in complete silence. The only sound to be heard was the sound of the rosary filling every corner of the streets. The good Lord had used our voices to reclaim His town. Thank God I was not allowed to choose comfort that night! Thank God I was not allowed to stay home! Thank God that someone stronger than I decided that we would be generous; that we would push through when it would have been ok not to. The parents of those kids would have simply told them that we had to cancel because of the weather. We would have been more comfortable for sure, but we would have missed out on what God wanted to do that night through our commitment to Him.
As I sit in the chapel today, years later, I read the verse before the gospel in the daily readings: “Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance.” The Lord multiplies our generosity and creates miracles through our perseverance. Too often, the comfort we choose is the barrier to His movement in the world. I am always asking God to use my life for His glory, but when the rubber hits the road, I choose to stay comfortable. I make excuses for why I can’t push through to see what He wants to do on the other end.
We are in the last weeks of Lent, and if you are anything like me, by now you are over it. You are tired of sacrificing, or maybe you have given up altogether, hoping next year will be better. What if instead of retreating back to comfort, we asked our Lord for the grace to push through with hearts of generosity and perseverance? What if He still wants to do something in us and through us in this season of sacrifice? Don’t give up just yet; the Lord may have a miracle waiting for you right on the other side of your comfort.
As I navigate a long suffering as a result of loving a wayward child, it is not uncommon for well-meaning friends to assure me that, “This too shall pass.”
But I have to wonder... will it?
I think we say this out of the goodness of our hearts. No one enjoys seeing a loved one suffer. It is good to offer encouragement to a weary soul. However, it is important to note that “this too shall pass” is not in Scripture. It is up there with “God won't give you more than you can handle.” While we say these things out of compassion, they are actually not biblically correct. According to Saint Paul, God absolutely gives us more than we can handle so that we stop relying on ourselves and rely on Him (1 Cor 10:13). According to every Bible…. nowhere will you find the phrase “this too shall pass.” And I don't know about you, but when I am suffering, I need to stand on Truth.
There is a verse that I cling to that could be misinterpreted as “this too shall pass,” and that's 2 Corinthians 4:17: For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Saint Paul isn't simply stating that we shouldn't worry because eventually our trouble will go away. He is declaring something far more powerful and essential to our understanding, our faith, and the role suffering plays in our lives. He is sharing, quite possibly, the very key to the door that unlocks all of that grace-the grace we need to endure our trials and tribulations. How do I know this? Well, when I feel like I am getting anxious and too much up in my own head, I dig even deeper into God's Word. Something that has helped me tremendously is to meditate on a verse by reading all of the Biblical translations. I did this with 2 Corinthians 4:17, and when I read the Common English Bible translation, light poured over my blindness and a deep peace rushed in:
Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison.
You see, our sufferings are not something to wish away but something to embrace. Why? Because they are necessary! In suffering them well, we gain eternal glory. In this short time of distress (which I know hardly feels short), the result will be God's richest blessing upon us... forever. So, that thing you are struggling with? That circumstance that has had you on your knees for years? Those millions of tears shed for the one that you love? Every single painful thing is meant to be endured for everlasting life. I know this isn't easy, but I promise you... your present trouble is preparing you for a glory that is incomparable and immeasurable. Rather than praying for it to pass, thank God for entrusting you with it instead. It is your golden ticket. Your “admit one.” Your Disney Fast Pass. Don't lose it.
Saint Louis De Montfort writes, “It is no small matter to lose or gain the Kingdom of God.” And I know that the only way to the Kingdom is by way of the cross. If “this too shall pass” implies a desire that my suffering be removed here on earth, dare I say... no, thank you. My suffering is preparing me for glory. It will all pass soon enough; in that I am confident. But I've got Jesus on my heart and my eyes on that eternal stockpile of grace. As De Montfort encourages and reminds me, “At the hour of death, what shall we not wish to have done, to have suffered, and renounced for the sake of Heaven?”
With confidence in the hope of good things to come,
What does it mean to live the good life? How can I be happy? What choices will get me there? How we answer these questions has everything to do with the voices we choose to listen to. A life is formed through many small, seemingly insignificant decisions. Bit by bit, we become the result of choices that we all too often make without much reflection.
As summer ends, many of us are feeling that our schedules have heated up. We're jumping back in to life with varied degrees of readiness and are determined to start well. Our focus turns to our calendars, and it's tempting to assume that as long as we are checking off everything on the agenda, we're nailing it. But how are our hearts doing in the midst of the increase in activity? Are we riding the rollercoaster of appointments and check-lists without making sure our minds and hearts are in the right place?
How our day unfolds and feels has less to do with our circumstances and activities than our mindset. While we can't control which events we'll encounter, we can always decide what our attitude will be. Will we filter everything that happens through a lens of gratitude? Will we be kind to ourselves by seeing ourselves through God's eyes? Will we look at suffering as something that always has purpose?
More and more, I am convinced that getting our attitude in the right place has everything to do with how we start each day.
St. Josemaria Escriva coined a phrase that I think is so compelling: the heroic minute. He writes,
The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation; a supernatural reflection and…up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God's help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.¹
I realize that reading the word mortification probably makes you want to run for the hills. Who wants to start the day with something that sounds unpleasant? But stay with me for a minute. How do you feel when you get up and are behind the eight ball before things have even begun? Your first movements are rushed, requests come at you and require your attention, and all you can think is that you have got to clear your head and get some coffee. It's starting the day reacting instead of responding. It's feeling under siege and not knowing exactly why. It's also entirely avoidable.
Giving God the first minutes of your day will pay dividends later. I promise you He will multiply your time. You'll get more done and have a peaceful heart while doing it.
But it's not just a matter of hauling your body out of bed. Resetting your mind is the critical step if you want your day to be the best it possibly can. Which begs the questions:
Which mindset will best equip me to face the day with inner strength and gratitude?
How do I gain that mindset?
St. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We renew our minds by looking at things from God's perspective. This is something we need to do every day. Otherwise our thoughts and emotions will be in the driver's seat, and the ride will be anything but smooth. The best mindset is God's, and we gain it by listening to Him. While few people hear His audible voice, we all can hear His voice speaking through Scripture.
As you head into this new season, I pray that you will make Scripture reading a high priority in your life. Doing this in the context of authentic community makes it even more transformative. The Walking with Purpose Bible studies are formatted to make it easy to read the Bible each day. Instead of opening up to a random verse, you're guided to relevant passages and questions for reflection that help you apply what you've read. The readings give your mind something to chew on for the day. If you actually apply what you read, you will make significant progress in the spiritual life. What I've written relates to the problems, heartaches, and searching that I've experienced over the years. As I've traveled and spoken to thousands of women, I've had the privilege of listening to them unburdening their hearts. I've found that our struggles are universal. We are not alone. My writing aims to touch the heart, strengthen the will, and enlighten the mind. The goal is transformation- that what we read would impact how we live.
But what if you can't start your day this way? No worries. Just look for the first pocket of quiet in your schedule. It always comes, but we usually don't notice because we've fill it with mindless scrolling through our social media feeds or checking our email. What might change if instead of grabbing your phone, you did a short Bible study? It'll just take fifteen minutes, but the impact of that choice will be felt throughout the day.
Much of what I've written speaks of God's unconditional love for you, and everything I've written should be filtered through that perspective. When God asks us to get moving, or change a bad habit, or do something that feels out of our comfort zone, it is always because He wants what is best for us. He is not a cosmic kill joy. He is a good Father who wants His children to flourish.
May what you read travel from your mind to your heart, going beyond information to transformation. May you meet Jesus in the pages of His Word, and may your trust in Him grow. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen,” (Jude 24-25).
With you on the journey,
¹ St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way (NY: Doubleday, 1982), 33.
“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” James 1:17
The landscape of our mind will determine the quality of our day. If our mindset is one of gratitude, contentment will follow. In the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld. One attitude or the other becomes a way of life.” This requires a refusal to fall into the pit of self-pity.
Self-pity causes our focus to turn inwards, and things get very dark, very quickly. When we allow a litany of our woes to run through our minds, self-defeating thoughts begin to build up and cloud our ability to see anything good. Lies like “things will never change” start to make sense, and we head down the path to despair.
The antidote is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Even the most miserable circumstances contain an opportunity for growth. We can thank God for this. I have found that this is critical when I feel stuck in a situation I hate. Instead of asking God, “Why is this happening to me?” I ask Him, “What are you trying to teach me?”
I have begun asking God this question in the midst of chaos, and then telling Him that I want to learn every single bit of the lesson this time around so that I don't have to return to the same set of miserable circumstances to try to learn better later. This is one of the reasons why giving in to escapisms gets in the way of our maturity, and does not ultimately result in happiness.
If those hard circumstances return, it's tempting to assume that the original lesson must never have been learned and to become discouraged as a result. But this isn't necessarily the case. If you did learn the lesson- if the trial resulted in spiritual growth and maturity- then coming up against those same circumstances again means that God is doing a deeper healing. It's the peeling of an onion; the growth is going to be more profound.
Every good and perfect gift in your life comes from God. That gift may come in packaging that you don't like, but if you are willing to open it up anyway, the lessons you will learn will be life-changing. It will be the difference maker between you becoming an immature and superficial person or a person of depth, wisdom and maturity.
What are you trying to teach me right now? Help me to learn everything you have for me in my current circumstances. Amen.
This post is for all the people out there who are not eating popsicles or frolicking on the beach this summer.
To narrow it further…
It's for you, my friend, you who are in the middle of a storm of circumstances that make you want to run away.
It's for you, my friend, you who want to scream with frustration, but recognize you need to hold it together.
It's for you, my friend, you who are having a hard time reconciling who you know God to be and how He feels to you right now.
It's for you, my friend, you who feel so alone and so certain that no one understands what you are going through.
It's for you, my friend, you who feel it's all up to you, and think you just might go under if you don't get some relief.
God sees you. He sees that despite all that is weighing on you and overwhelming you, you are remaining faithful and are staying put. He doesn't look at this as a paltry effort. In fact, He, more than anyone, knows what this is costing you.
God is holding you. Your circumstances feel crushing. He is underneath you, holding you up. I know you can't see Him, but I promise you, He is there.
Two things in particular make suffering through a crisis especially hard. One is not knowing why we are having to go through this. If we had an answer to the question of why, there is very little we could not endure. But we usually don't know, which means trust and faith are required. They are needed most when they are the hardest to hold on to.
The second thing that makes a crisis especially miserable is the fact that we so often don't know what to do. If we just had clear instructions, even if we didn't want to do what was required, we could at least force ourselves to move forward. But so often, when our lives are in a free fall, we aren't sure what we can grab hold of. We desperately want someone to tell us exactly how to keep going, yet the uniqueness of our situations prevents that from happening.
I don't presume to know what your crisis entails, but I want to share a few truths that have been lifelines to me when my life feels chaotic and my circumstances are knocking the wind out of me. I pray they are of help to you. They don't answer the question of why, but perhaps they give you some steps to take when you aren't sure where to go and the waves keep crashing over you.
1. Do the next right thing.
You have not been given a strategic plan that addresses every possible obstacle. I get that. I know it would be helpful if you had one. God is keeping you very close at the moment, and only shining a light on the next step. So just do one thing at a time. Just keep asking yourself, “What's the next ‘right thing' to do?” No matter how small the task, if we do it for God, it infuses the day with purpose. When we are in the middle of a crisis, it's not a time to tackle big projects or challenges. But we can do small things and infuse them with tremendous love.
As the Blessed Mother said at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5). Do whatever Jesus tells you. The way he does this is by helping us to identify the next right thing that our duty in life requires. We ask the Lord, “What is the next right thing that you would like me to do?” It might be unloading the dishwasher or calling a friend to apologize. The next step is to do that next thing for God's glory, not our own. And this changes everything.
If the next right thing feels insignificant, say to the Lord, “I am going to fold this load of laundry for your glory. I entrust the results to you.” Suddenly, this simple activity has become an opportunity for you to encounter God. He is present there with you, delighting in the fact that you are doing the next right thing with a good attitude.
If the next right thing is something that feels overwhelming, say to the Lord, “I am going to step out and do what feels difficult for your glory. I entrust the results to you.” If it goes well, the glory goes to God. If it doesn't go well, the results of it rest with God. Neither the success nor the failure rests on you.
2. Make no changes.
When we are in a crisis, our desire for relief can cause us to question all sorts of previous decisions. We have thoughts like these:
“Why should I keep praying? It doesn't seem to be making much of a difference.”
“Why did I volunteer to help in that way? Forget it. All I can do is take care of myself.”
“Why am I working this wretched job? I can't take it anymore. I'm quitting.”
“Why did I marry this person? I have got to get out of this. I'm leaving.”
When these are our thoughts, we are playing right into the enemy's trap. He is literally jumping up and down with glee and whispering into our ears, “Do it. Get out of it. Quit. You've had enough.”
Here's my advice (which I actually got from St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Discernment of Spirits): DON'T MAKE ANY CHANGES. Stay steady at the wheel. Just get through this chaotic storm. When things calm down, that's when you can re-evaluate your decisions. But not right now.
3. Amp up your spiritual disciplines.
I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but this is critical. We have to fight back. If we lay down like we're already dead, the enemy will be emboldened and mess with us more. If you do more spiritually (just a little bit more- nothing crazy), he will flee. He is a coward. He is weak, and a defeated foe. Get up and fight back. If you previously prayed ten minutes a day, pray fifteen. If you normally go to Mass once a week, go an additional time. If you feel like frowning at everyone you meet, smile instead.
4. Practice gratitude.
Even if it's not what you are feeling, write down what you are grateful for. Do this every day of the crisis. Fill an entire page with gratitude each morning. Type it if your hand gets sore. If you run out of big stuff, thank God for the warm water in your shower. Thank Him for the fact that you don't have malaria. Unless you do. Then come up with something else. The point is, keep thinking until you find things you have that you would be sad if you did not.
God may feel cruel to you right now. I promise you- He is not cruel or capricious. He is a tender and kind Father. He is holding you, and what is crushing you is pressing you closer to His chest. This too shall pass. THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Consolation will come. This will not last forever. “The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are underneath you.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
With you in the storm,
Has God ever asked something of you that feels really hard, and you look around and feel a little singled out? Do you see other people who seem to have it easier, and you wonder why He's asking so much of you and seemingly letting them get away with less?
God loves us too much to leave us where we are. He always draws us closer to Himself, and in doing so, gently reveals things that need to go or need to be gained in order for us to make that spiritual journey. This is the process of growing in spiritual maturity. It's an intensely personal process; no two journeys are alike. What God asks of one might not be what He is asking of another, and as a result, obedience can sometimes feel lonely.
But we aren't alone. St. Paul encourages us on the spiritual journey with these words:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1).
Who are the witnesses he's talking about?
Let me start by telling you who I'd like the witnesses to be. I'd like them to be every person in close proximity to me geographically. I'd like them to be every person I brush shoulders with. I'd like them to be every person whose opinion really matters to me. I'd like to be continually surrounded by people who witness to the goodness of my choices. “Way to go!” “The sacrifice is worth it!” “You inspire me!” This is what I want to hear.
But all the people here on earth that we know and love aren't the people St. Paul is referring to. The witnesses of Hebrews 12 are the saints that have gone before us. They fought the good fight, they have finished the race, they have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). They are now in heaven, looking down on us, and cheering us on. They are shouting from heaven, “It's worth it! I know that everything on earth seems all important, but once you get here, every sacrifice will be rewarded and the sufferings will pale in comparison to the joy you've got in store!”
This scripture passage challenges us to embrace our particular race. Not the race your best friend is running. Or the course God set your sister on. It isn't the one your husband is running, either. It's YOUR RACE. It's your particular spiritual journey to heaven, and God has handpicked certain surrenders, certain struggles, certain obstacles that are the exact best means for you to grow more like Him and spend eternity with Him.
Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on Him as we run towards heaven. If we turn our focus to the left or the right, checking out how our race is comparing to someone else's, we're going to trip and fall. And we're going to lose all the joy that is promised when we obey. It's said that obedience equals joy, but when we begrudgingly obey and then compare our hard lot in life to someone else's apparently easy circumstances, that joy will be ever elusive.
In John 21, Jesus had just described Peter's particular race. Jesus shared that Peter was going to be used to shepherd the early church, and that Peter would ultimately be led somewhere he didn't want to go. Then Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Follow me.”
Did Peter jump up and say, “Yes, Lord! I'm going to fix my eyes on you and run the race you have marked for me?” No. Peter gestured to John and said, “What about him, Lord?”
Jesus didn't satisfy Peter's curiosity by filling him in on what John's race was going to look like. He spoke firmly to Peter and said, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
Run YOUR race. Don't look to the left or the right. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Run YOUR race.
Will there be times you feel lonely? Yes, there will.
Will some of your surrenders be unique? Yes, they will be.
Will some of the people you love most question whether it's necessary for you to be so “sold out”? Will some even think you have taken things way too far? Yes, that will happen.
But remember when Mary Magdalene brought her precious ointment in the alabaster jar, and sacrificed it as she poured it over the feet of Jesus? Judas sneered and mocked at her sacrifice, saying it was unnecessary and worthless. But Jesus looked into her eyes and said, “No. It will be remembered.”
And the same is true of our sacrifices and surrenders. God sees them. He sees them as a sweet offering to Him. It isn't necessary that everyone around you applaud your decisions. Live for an audience of One. Live for the pleasure of the One who made you and who gives you your every breath.
May blessings pour over you as you run -
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in October 2014.
For someone who likes words and lots of them, editing a book can be hard work. After pouring over each sentence and getting to the point where you love them all, no author wants to hear that she has to cut hundreds of words. But that is exactly what a writer is told and tends to be reluctant to do. When I was in the midst of that very process, I received great advice from an editor. Surprisingly, it applies to Holy Week. She said, “You have to kill your precious.” To the writer, every word seems golden. But unless you “kill your precious” and get rid of the parts that are unnecessary, the finished work won't be as concise or impactful.
Holy Week offers us opportunities to kill lots of precious. It's the home stretch, the last incline of the journey of Lent. It might be tempting to just switch gears and start focusing on Easter Sunday, but if we skip over these key days in the Church calendar, we'll miss out. The spirit of sacrifice is hard for us pleasure-seeking people, but a few more days of focused effort can make the celebration of the resurrection that much sweeter.
We all have those sins that we like to justify. The ones that we hide and don't think matter much. I struggle in this way too. It makes me think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and the way he called the ring that he coveted “his precious.” This was something he had possessed that wasn't actually good for him, but he longed for it nevertheless.
What is it that you reach for when you are longing for security or comfort or an escape? Maybe it's attention from someone who doesn't belong to you. Perhaps it's too much wine. Maybe it's shopping and spending money you don't have. It can be porn, or Netflix, or eating food to try to fill a void in the heart...anything that distracts or diverts. Maybe it's your ego that needs to die a death. Instead of a hearty dose of accomplishments and accolades, you are actually needing to grow in humility. Even as I write this, it all sounds quite horrible to me. I suppose it does to us all, which is exactly why we reach for these things. They feel so good in the short-term.
God is asking us to “kill our precious,” not because he is out to spoil our fun, but because He knows that's the very thing that is holding us back from the life that is truly life. He is asking us to have a long-term perspective. He wants my eye not just on the reward of Easter Sunday but on the ultimate reward of being in His presence in heaven. Which do I want more, short-term gain or long-term glory?
What I have found very helpful is to kneel before the altar with that “precious sin” on my mind. I picture holding it in my hands. And this is what I pray: “This is the sin I am wanting to play around with. This is what looks so good to me in the short-term. But I want to be a saint more. And I want to be free.” Romans 6:16 tells us, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I wish that our desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy of our souls would just give up and leave us alone. But nothing scares him more than people who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God we get, the more the enemy will tempt us to settle for mediocrity. Let's resist him with all we've got- especially during this Holy Week.
Our lives are too short and our calling too great to play around with sin. We're in the home stretch, the final incline in the marathon of Lent. Let's finish well. Let's fling aside those sins that entangle and cling so closely. Let's ask God to kill our precious, and do all we can to stay on the path of holiness.
We sat in the last pew at the back of the Church. Knees to the ground, beads in our hands. This was her idea. “I know this sounds crazy, but would you meet me before Mass tomorrow and pray the Rosary? Will you let me pray for you?” And when we completed our meditation, she looked directly into my eyes, and begged, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”
We have all been there, haven't we? When life's disappointments reach the point of just too much. When God's plan for good is impossible to comprehend, and we doubt there is a finish line. And what happens when we begin the fall into despair is one of two things. We either choose to take the easy route we write up ourselves; the road that avoids difficult decisions and giant leaps of faith. Or, we quit the race altogether. As soon as we recognize, “hey, wait a minute, Lord...following you is no longer fun,” we stop running. We exchange our hope in Jesus for a false sense of hope in ourselves.
Being grounded in anything but hope has led me into the lie that my suffering is pointless. Being grounded in anything but Jesus has led me into the lie that I am too weak for the race that God has mapped out for me. When hope is absent from my heart, fear claims the space that is reserved for God. And when I give in to fear, I rely on my own strength. This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Because apart from Him, I can do nothing. I am not the Savior, no matter how hard I try to be. I also can't cook. So following my own recipe is bound to disappoint on so many levels.
But God can cook, and His recipes are good. (And I hear He saves the good wine for the end, so don't quit too soon.) Especially the recipes for hope we find in Hebrews. The entire book of Hebrews is based on this central truth; that God reigns Supreme, and it is by His strength and grace that we can persevere. These are the ingredients I should be reaching for, rather than grasping at useless things around me. Things like complaining versus praying. White knuckling instead of surrendering. Comparing instead of thanking.
So how do we hold onto hope? Hope do we turn hope into more than a pretty word we like to paint on wood panels and frame over the fireplace? How do we remain steadfast when life is unsteady? How do we hold onto hope as an anchor, when we'd rather throw the anchor at the back of someone's head?
Here is what I do.
When I start to spiral into despair, I start listing all of the times I lost hope, doubted God's plan...and then He showed up. And when I say “showed up” please don't mistake this for “then I got my way.” My most fruitful seasons are the necessary hardships that dragged on way longer than I had wanted, and didn't end the way I told God they needed to end. These are the seasons that shaped me and strengthened me more than I ever imagined possible.
RUN TO MARY
Mary stood at the foot of the cross, not because she felt no pain or sorrow, but because she believed that the promises of Christ would be fulfilled. I made a vow to start every morning praying the rosary. Oh, how we could linger over many cups of coffee as I share with you the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother in my life when I needed it most.
There is no greater joy for me than when given the opportunity to point a despairing soul in the direction of hope. As painful as life has been, when I can sit across from a friend and assure her she is not alone and she will make it to the finish line, I can say with total confidence that it has all been worth it. Sometimes the best way to have hope, is to be hope.
If you are weary from running your race, I want you to know: I GET IT. I know how you feel. No hope is quite possibly the most painful thing I have ever felt. But I can also share this: no hope is a lie. Remember, we are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life (Hebrews 10: 39). And if you were here with me now, I would grab your hand, and I would take you to the last pew in the back of my Church, and I would pray with and for you. On our knees. Every bead. And with tears in my eyes, I would look into yours and I would beg, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”
Ground yourself in Him and run with me.
Your Sister in Christ,
If you are looking for additional encouragement to run your race, you might want to read Grounded In Hope, our newest study coming out in February. Click here to purchase Grounded in Hope.