I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.
We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?
Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?
Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.
I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God—seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.
God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:
“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”
No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.
Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward, which means things can get very dark very quickly.
If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be canceled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.
In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:
“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”
We are the most depressed, anxious, lost, and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:
Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.
There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?
 Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.
This post first appeared on our blog on May 20, 2019.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:1
Before I leave the house, my husband always asks if I have my wallet. I forget it all the time, and he says it’s good to have your ID with you so you can identify yourself. He’s right—when I don’t have my wallet, I’m lost, in a sense. If someone asked, I couldn’t take proof out of my pocket and point to who I am.
The definition of beloved is “to be dearly loved” or “pleased with.” From the moment we were merely a thought in the mind of God, each of us were marked “beloved” as the very core of our identity. It’s not simply something about us—it’s our identity. There’s nothing we’ve done to earn it. There’s nothing we’ve done or that’s been done to us that can take it away. Beloved is who we are. And yet, how many of us live our lives out of that truth?
Five years ago, I was introduced to a book called Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen that changed my life. The book revolves around the idea that every day we’re surrounded by voices. The voices of society, negativity, lies we’ve believed, our peers, etc. What would it look like if we could silence the noise and listen to the voice, that at the center of our being, calls us “beloved”? While reading the book, I realized that instead of owning and living out of my belovedness, I was only owning my mistakes. My journey is far from over, but I work every day to own the truth of who I am.
The problem is, we can be our own worst enemy. Negative self-talk has plagued humanity since the beginning. Too often, all we see in our reflection are the things we’re not, rather than embracing all that we are. Anything can set it off. A bad hair day, how you reacted to a situation at work or school, accidentally snapping at your spouse or child, an interaction with a friend. We own our negative qualities far too quickly, and we allow those thoughts to control our actions and our beliefs about ourselves. Before we know it, we’re beating ourselves up without putting up a fight. If a friend said some of the things to us that we say to ourselves, she would no longer be our friend. And yet we allow our internal chatterbox to persist, often without even realizing it.
Our identity isn’t based on our accomplishments or failings, what people think about us, or how we view ourselves in the mirror. Our identity is that we are the beloved children of a relentless Father who loves us unconditionally.
I’m reminded of a stained-glass window in a chapel in which I used to spend a lot of time. The image was of Jesus holding a sheep close to his chest. This is the goal of a Christian. To be so close to the heart of the Shepherd that you hear His heartbeat and can conform your life to that rhythm. When you do this, you’ll go into each day knowing you are loved, not looking for ways to earn it. This is freedom.
I wrote the song “Belovedness” first and foremost because I needed to sing it. I needed to remind myself of these truths. When you sing truth over yourself, it releases something internally. My prayer for you when you listen to it, and what I hope you’ll pray for me, is that we see ourselves and others the way the Lord sees us. Beloved isn’t a badge to earn, a club to join, or a gift to withhold from others. It’s our identity, it’s our name, and it’s the strength we need for the journey.
You are beloved. Period. Full stop. There is nothing you’ve done, nothing that’s been done to you, nothing that’s been said to you, no lie you’ve believed, no mistake you’ve made, no sin you’ve committed, no past or future thing that can take away your identity as a beloved child of God. It’s time to silence the chatterbox and allow the truth to grow. It’s time to own our belovedness.
You've owned your fear and all your self-loathing
You've owned the voices inside of your head
You've owned the shame and reproach of your failure
It's time to own your belovedness
You've owned your past and how it's defined you
You've owned everything everybody else says
It's time to hear what your father has spoken
It's time to own your belovedness
He says, "You're mine, I smiled when I made you
I find you beautiful in every way
My love for you is fierce and unending
I'll come to find you, whatever it takes
Listen to Sarah’s song or watch the video. You can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
When I was twenty-three years old, I walked out of Mass almost in tears. “I can’t stay here,” I thought to myself. “They don’t know Jesus; they don’t know scripture; heck, they don’t even seem to know each other.” I was raised Catholic, but it wasn’t until I darkened the door of a non-denominational church that I met Jesus Christ in a way that transformed the very core of my being. For years, I held bitterness toward Catholicism, feeling like I had never learned the true gospel in Mass on Sundays. My experience in the Church, though better than many, was all I had to work with, and it wasn’t enough.
Determined to leave, I started researching the Catholic faith so that I would know what I was leaving. Big mistake. Over the course of six months, I discovered the hidden treasures of Catholicism. Realizing how wrong I was, I returned wholeheartedly and gave my life to Jesus and His Church. It was the best decision of my life.
At least half of my story is THE story of most millenials who were raised Catholic. Millions grew up in Catholic families and attended Mass, but their lackluster experience with what they perceived as a stale religion sent them running for the door. We were in search of greener pastures. The difference between my story and theirs is that most of them did not discover the true beauty of Catholicism. They left and have not come back.
It is these men and women, my generation, that inspired me to write Rekindled: How Jesus Christ Brought Me Back to the Catholic Church and Set My Heart on Fire, which will be released on November 6. For at least the past three generations, our everyday experience of Catholicism has done a disservice to the faith that we profess and the people who are supposed to profess it. I have watched my generation bleed out of the Church, and since I was one of them, I don’t blame them. There is a significant gap between the beauty that awaits us in the teachings of Catholicism and the daily experience of the average Catholic. This book is all that I want to say to the countless men and women who have sat with me and told me their reasons for leaving, and for all the parents that I know who mourn that their children no longer practice the faith. It’s the expression of my heart as it aches for so many of my friends to return to the Church and discover the joy and meaning for which they search, and it starts with the message, “I get it.”
In each chapter, I share honestly about my own experience growing up Catholic, which I believe is a common experience. We have all experienced bad Masses, grappled with the scandals of our clergy, and struggled with insufficient knowledge about what we believe in the first place. My hope is to provide an account that validates the pain and doubt that so many Catholics and former Catholics feel.
Here in these pages, I cover nine reasons that many Catholics have left, explaining what I experienced, what I learned, and why I stayed. This is not a book that is meant to bash the Church, although I do not sugarcoat any of the problems plaguing Catholicism today. I talk about them openly, hopefully even with a sense of humor, as I believe that every Western Catholic alive will be able to relate to the issues in at least one, if not all, of the chapters. After discussing these issues, I share what it was that led me to fall in love with being Catholic.
Hidden under the mess of it all, there are infinite reasons to embrace Jesus Christ, His Church, and His mission. I seek to bring them to light. I believe all of the reasons eventually boil down to this: Christianity is the Truth but Catholicism is the fullness of the Truth. The Church offers us a way of life that, if followed, will lead us to a life of freedom that lands us at the feet of our King, Jesus. All the history, the traditions, the prayers, and, most importantly, the sacraments lead us to the God for whom we were made. There is more here than meets the eye. While there is much work to be done, it would be a shame for those of us who were raised in the Church to miss the jewel that has been right in front of us all along.
Have you ever grappled with your experience as a Catholic? Do you have a loved one, a son, or a daughter who has left this Church that you love so much? Are you struggling with Catholicism yourself or have one foot out the door? I invite you to walk with me through each chapter. Let my story illuminate your own, strengthen your faith, and lead you even more deeply into the heart of Jesus and His broken and beautiful Church.
Preorder Rekindled for yourself or for a loved one, and rediscover this ancient, surprising beauty with me on November 6.
"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers." (Isaiah 43:18-19)
I can respond to the higher number on my scale in a few different ways. One is to joyfully say, “There’s just more of me to love!” Another is to puddle in a heap on the floor, cursing the woman at the coffee shop who introduced me to Eggnog Chai Lattes. I can look back and regret every time I celebrated the holidays with a tasty morsel. Or I can look forward, lace up my shoes, and get going with some better habits starting now.
Many of us have an awareness of all the things we should be doing better. We might have determined to start an exercise routine, to eat a healthier diet, to give more time to the people who matter most to us, or to deepen our prayer lives. These are all good goals and help us to live out Ephesians 5:15: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise.”
Unfortunately, the best intentions can quickly become sources of discouragement as we encounter our weaknesses while trying to improve. In a few weeks, we might look back and see that false starts, failures, and ingrained bad habits have thwarted our efforts. We might feel disheartened when the very things we disliked in our parents have become so evident in our own lives. We may wonder if we’ll ever change.
The prophet Isaiah challenges us to stop looking backward. God is doing something new! The inspiration we feel to change in positive ways comes from Him. It’s evidence that He is at work within us. “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work” (Philippians 2:13). No matter how much life might feel like a wilderness or a wasteland, God can transform it.
How does this transformation happen? Does it come from striving? Does it depend on our perfection? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The inner change happens in us as we gaze on the glory of the Lord. It takes place as we contemplate Christ. As we sit in His presence and meditate on His holiness, we are soaking up His love. We are beholding His glory and, in the process, we begin to reflect it.
This is our hope. This is what makes us different. God wants each one of us to continuously grow more like Him, but doesn’t expect us to do it alone. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). He is going to do something new in our life this year! What God can transform!
“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Praying for Christ’s richest blessings on you,
This post originally appeared on the blog in January 2013.
My mother recognized the power and influence that women were going to have in my life. Instead of leaving that influence to chance, seeing who I might naturally be drawn to who may or may not have pointed me toward God, she took charge. Throughout middle school and high school, she found women who she believed would have a positive spiritual impact on my life. She asked them if they would be willing to mentor me.
Carolyn Searway, Tenley Ireland, and Laurel Lufholm (two of these women are no longer living) all had a part in shaping who I am today. They drew from their experience, had me read certain books that we’d discuss, baked cookies with me, prayed with me and for me, held me accountable…they changed my life. Carolyn taught me what to look for in a husband—challenging me to think long term even when I was in high school. Tenley taught me how to have daily quiet time and the importance of it. It was Tenley who challenged me to choose something that I wanted to be an expert in—something I was going to be passionate about and take to the next level. I debated making my one thing the theater, but I chose the Bible instead. She introduced me to the idea of living your life according to priorities and giving God first place. Laurel taught me that it isn’t so important that we be charismatic when we talk about Christ—it’s far more important that we be faithful in the hidden places.
My mom didn’t wait to see if this was what I wanted to do. Quite honestly, I didn’t. But one thing I could not deny, these women cared about me. I knew they were busy and were offering me what was precious: their time. They kept showing up, and I kept showing up, and without even realizing it, I was learning life principles that I still go back to today. I wonder how often they wondered if what they were doing was worth it. Perhaps they did. But they didn’t give up. They made a mark on my soul.
There comes a point when kids naturally want some independence from their mothers. When my mom saw that coming, she chose someone to step in; she chose who she wanted speaking into my life. This is something you can arrange for your children, but what I really want you to think about is being that person.
You may feel ill-equipped. But I promise you, God has given you everything you need. In the words of St. Paul, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
My friends, this next generation is ours to raise. All of us. We all are needed. Godmothers, aunts, stepmothers, grandmothers, sisters, coaches. The words they listen to matter. The words we speak matter. So we choose to speak life—about this generation and to this generation. We look in their faces and tell them there is hope. We tell them that they are beautiful and beloved. We tell them they are needed, and they have an important place here in our hearts and here in the world. We encourage them to love well and extravagantly, to sacrifice for others, to be kind, to search for truth, and to persevere. We do all we can so they can stand on our shoulders—so they can reach higher. Don’t underestimate the power of your words, written and spoken. But not just the words spoken to them; also the words spoken about them.
The next generation is listening, and more importantly, they are watching. Young women are looking at our lives for evidence that Christ really makes a difference. They are asking the perennial questions that we need to wrestle with, too.
Everyone asks, “Who am I?”
Is your identity rooted in Christ, or in your achievements, possessions or reputation?
Everyone wants to know, “How can I find real love?”
Do they see selfless, other-focused, forgiving love in your life?
We all ask, “What does it mean to be happy and live a good life?”
Does your loved one see Christ in you, resulting in joy?
People are asking, “How can I find lasting peace?”
What is seen more in your life: peace or worry?
I know that we are all on our own journeys. None of us is perfect. But if we are serious about passing the faith to the next generation, then we’re going to have to take a serious look at our personal witnesses. Do young people want in on the quality of our lives?
This next generation is ours to raise.
So we will not let go. We will not give up.
We will not allow the flame of faith to be blown out—not on our watch.
P.S. This month we’re inviting the WWP community to send messages of gratitude and encouragement to the faithful women who have prepared the way for Christ in our lives—women like Carolyn, Tenley, and Laurel. Join us as we build up our sisters in Christ and pay it forward to the next generation at the same time. Learn more here.
She scrolled through the list on her phone -- at least fifty names -- one name after the other, along with a description of how far she had gone with each. Most of them she'd slept with on the first date. Longing desperately for love, she wondered if she would ever find it. With confusion in her eyes, she asked why they never came back for a second date.
I can't get her question out of my head. This is not because I don't know how to answer it; it's because this precious young woman is not an anomaly in the millennial generation. The level of lostness, confusion, sexual experimentation, lack of purpose, and anxiety among young women has reached a crescendo that I find deeply concerning. They cannot answer the most important questions: Why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? I am talking about our daughters. Our granddaughters. Our nieces. Our loved ones.
St. Paul spoke prophetically about our times in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman...haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it…Among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (emphasis added)
By the millions, young women scroll through their social media feeds, listening to anybody, but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth. This isn't just true of them; this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously,and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion-either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children's tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order-even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.¹
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable. It is time for us to stop wringing our hands, and go after the hearts of the next generation. How do we do this?
First, we pray. This is not a second-rate action item to be used only after we've tried everything else first. The biggest block to God reaching the hearts of our children is stubbornness and pride. Yes, the cultural myth that faith and science are contradictory has, unfortunately, been taught to and embraced by many of our children. Yes, the difficulty of reconciling a good God and the suffering and evil in the world can create a barrier. Yes, many of them have been convinced that faith in God is just a crutch. All these things get in the way of our children finding God. But if a heart is proud and stubborn, it doesn't matter how much proof is presented. The heart will still resist. And the only one who can get into the heart and soften it is the Holy Spirit. So praying for this softening is critical and the first step.
Second, we cling to hope while taking action. I realize our children are leaving the Church in droves. But how many of them are setting off on this path, hoping for misery? That would be zero percent. They are all searching for authentic happiness, and we know that true, transcendent happiness is found in Christ. It is possible to be fulfilled, satisfied, and clear about who you are and why you are here. There are answers to their deepest questions. But it's critical that we meet them where they are, help them to explore the questions they care about, and give them space to journey at their own pace. You may be wondering exactly how to do that. I have spent the past two years noodling on this very topic with a sense of urgency and passion that I haven't experienced in a long time, and things are starting to become much clearer to me. This is why we are throwing open the doors to all women (ages 18+) for Flourish 2020, our first-ever women's conference on March 13-15, 2020.
We are creating a curated experience that encounters women on their search for happiness, and leads them to the only One who will satisfy. Please join us. Please bring your daughters. I am writing this content for them. I know it isn't easy to work out the costs and logistics for a women's conference, especially if it isn't in your neck of the woods. I know it's hard to talk your daughter into coming to something that sounds religious, but getting yourself and your loved one to this conference is going to be worth the effort. Instead of a birthday or Christmas gift, ask your daughter to give you the gift of her presence with you for the weekend. I promise you, God will meet her there. And He will meet you, too. The deepest desires of your daughter's heart are likely your desires as well. God alone will quench the thirst.
¹ Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
I had stopped feeling joy. That was the first sign for me that something needed to change- that something was wrong and that I didn't know how to fix it. Things were happening in my life that should have been getting me excited, that should have been touching my heart, that should have sent me reaching for my camera or my journal or someone's hand- to squeeze it and to say, “this is it”- but instead, I just felt kind of numb and very, very tired. I was starting to not care about any of it. That detachment terrified me.
These were some of my journal entries those days:
“I don't feel I'm doing anything well, which means perfect. I wish I had more time to give in almost every area of my life.”
“The weight of the work is pressing on my chest. It is just too much work and not enough hours.”
“How do I fall asleep at night? By listing every single thing I've accomplished that day. It's as if I am giving myself permission to rest.”
I wonder where you are at today. Where are you at in terms of joy, freedom and contentment?
I look around, and I know I am not alone in what I've been feeling. So many of us have been placing our hope in all sorts of things that have frankly not delivered.
We were raised being told that we can be anyone we want to be, that there is nothing out of reach, that we can have it all. So we've been trying. Really, really hard. We're trying to live out that promise where we can have a solid marriage, raise good kids, pursue our passions, and push through the glass ceiling. We've not just been promised that we can do it, we've been told that when we get there, it'll all be worth it. Is it? I'm not so sure.
This reality made me feel really scared that I was missing my life. In the midst of the whirlwind, I determined that somehow, I was going to find it again. And once I found it, I was going to live it.
After a couple of years of deep soul work, I have found that there is another way. There is a different path. There is some new territory that's a little uncharted, but at the same time is an adventure that can bring the change that we are after.
Fearless and Free, an eleven-week Bible study on the book of Ephesians, is the result of that journey. It contains my most personal writing, and offering it to you feels a bit like handing you my heart. I don't like to feel that vulnerable and exposed, to be honest. But I believe it is time for us to face our brokenness and need for inner healing, and I know that it can be scary to peel back the layers around our hearts. So I offer you my brokenness, my honesty, and the truth that I have found to be life-giving and transforming. I offer you my hand on this journey, with the steady assurance that you are not alone.
Fearless and Free leads us on a three-part excursion: the Wakening, the Wrestling and the Warrior.
In the Wakening, we'll wake up to the reality of who we are in Christ. Our true identity has been stolen and messed with, and we need to get it back in order to walk in freedom. Once we have it clear in our heads, we need to live out of that reality.
In the Wrestling, we'll learn to “Be renewed in the Spirit of our minds and clothe ourselves with the new self” (Eph. 4:23-24). This is talking about a totally different mindset. A completely different way to think and deal with our emotions. It's the part of the journey where we learn to recognize our Father's voice. We'll become strengthened from within, as we learn to wield the tools and weapons that have been at our disposal all along.
In the Warrior, we are going to recognize that we are in a battle. It's a battle for our hearts. It's a war on our freedom. And by God's grace- that unearned, unmerited favor and strength- we are going to take back what the enemy has stolen from us.
We are going to allow our loving Father access to our hearts.
We're going to experience healing, and joy, and the high of being fully alive.
No more numbing.
No more hustling for our worth.
No more proving.
We are going to awaken to something totally new, different and free.
Will you join me?
P.S. With an emphasis on healing and wholeness, Fearless and Free is the most personal and transformative study that Walking with Purpose has offered so far. A Leader's Guide is included, to help leaders run group study effectively. Start your journey and share it with a friend here!
This is an updated version of a post that appeared on the WWP website in 2018.
In her book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, pediatrician Meg Meeker stresses the importance of finding your tribe. “Force yourself to pick a few good women who will go the distance with you,” she writes. “Talk with them, write them a note here or there (not an email, but a handwritten note), and tell them what they mean to you. Pick up the phone and chat, even if you can touch base for only five minutes a week. But hang on to those you select for your tribe because you will need them more as you age. And they will need you.”¹
I agree heartily with her words. But then want to add: easier said than done. Friendship might come relatively easily on the elementary school playground, but when we get older, it's decidedly more difficult to navigate. Many of us have been burned in friendship and have concluded that women don't feel very safe. They might be fine for superficial chat on the sidelines at our kids' games, or for some banter at a wine and cheese gathering, but trusting another woman with your heart? That's another matter altogether.
I think it's helpful to take a moment to look at what we are looking for in a friend. What are the qualities that we'd like to find? A well-respected Bible teacher once shared the loneliness of leadership and the fact that she had only a few truly trusted friends. She described the three circles of friendship that matter most to her. The first circle is the women who help her to love God better. The next circle is those who help her to love her husband better. The third circle is those who help her to love her children better.
What might your three circles be? In other words, what are three areas in your life where you want to love well? Do the people you surround yourself with encourage you to grow by speaking the truth to you in love?
When a woman falls into all three of your circles, you've discovered a treasure worth investing in. It's a red flag when a friend doesn't encourage you in any of these areas because we tend to become like the people who we spend time with. As it says in Proverbs 13:20 (RSV), “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” No matter how strong our personality or how well we know ourselves, we are always influenced by our friends.
Even Jesus gave careful thought to choosing his friends. He spent all night in prayer before selecting his twelve disciples, asking God to help him to discern whom he should surround himself with. He then chose three of the twelve (Peter, James, and John) to be the closest of all. We'd be wise to follow his example. It's hard to maintain a deep level of vulnerability, faithfulness, and support with more than three or four women. When we try to experience this level of friendship with too many women, we often feel that we aren't loving anyone well.
Proverbs 27:17 (NAB) says, “Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another.” This is an important quality to find in friendship. Friends who just tell us what we want to hear do us a disservice. But in order to sharpen one another, we need to give one another permission to speak truth into each other's lives. We all have blind spots-it's a part of being human. But a good friend can help us look in the mirror honestly. She does this most effectively if she can see who we are at our best and then call that goodness out of us. This is different from criticizing us. It's saying, “This is who I know you are at the core, and how well you want to love. I don't think you are acting like your truest self right now. What is hurting? How is your heart? Is there any way I can help you?”
Many of us want to have a deep friend and want to be that friend to someone else, but don't know where to begin. Maybe you have moved to a new city, or have always found friendship hard to navigate, or need to hit reboot with your current friendship situation. Here are four ways to get started cultivating meaningful friendship:
- Set aside time in your week that will not be filled with productivity, and instead will be reserved for a face-to-face get together with someone. Don't be picky about who that person is. Just be available, and see what develops when you invest some time. The truest friends don't always seem to be “our type” at first, but once we build some memories together, we discover there is more in common than we'd previously thought. Commit to this time and guard it on your calendar.
- Ask good questions in order to go deeper. Most of us like to talk about ourselves. Take advantage of this and ask questions like, “What are you dreaming about right now? What is something that you've always said you'd love to do but haven't started? If you could pursue any career, what would it be? If you could eradicate one problem on earth, what would it be?” Yes, these questions are more invasive than “what's your favorite movie,” but it'll move you forward quickly in understanding the person sitting across from you.
- Do small acts of kindness. Bring a new friend a coffee. Drop her a handwritten note in the mail. Put a small bouquet of flowers on her doorstep to brighten her day. Let her know that you are praying for her, and then do it.
- Be open-minded about age. Your closest friends don't have to be from your decade. A mix of generations can bring much needed wisdom and perspective from the one, and fun and lightness from the other.
Lastly, remember that there is no one who will satisfy our hearts the way that Jesus does. There is no friend more loyal or steadfast than Him.
Grateful for the One who never leaves our side and always speaks truth & love,
¹ Meg Meeker, M.D., The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers (New York: Ballantine Books, 2010), 28.
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.