Middle schoolers are not my jam. If I’m being honest, other people’s kids are not my jam. I’ve never been the mom who hosts playdates or coaches soccer. I lead Walking with Purpose small groups with ADULT women—adult women who already love Jesus and whose prefrontal cortex is completely developed. Imagine my shock when I felt very clearly called by God to lead BLAZE, the WWP ministry for girls. I ignored that still, small voice. I shook it off for years. But the voice persisted, and the message was clear. Little did I know that this calling was as much about me and my heart as it was about these girls (who I came to find out—spoiler alert—are AMAZING!).
Let’s rewind to last year when I attended a spiritual retreat. It was during this retreat that I felt strongly convicted by a root sin I never realized I was fighting: vanity. Did you know that the sin of vanity is not just being conceited or obsessed with your own looks? I had no idea! Since I don’t color my hair (yet), I take less than three minutes to apply my “going out” makeup, and have a relatively unremarkable sense of style, vanity was not on my radar.
What I learned at this retreat, though, was the root sin of vanity is basing our security on what other people think of us. I was immediately convicted. I am aware that my love language is words of affirmation, which manifests as me wanting others to see me, to appreciate me, and to affirm and praise me. I began to realize that my primary motivation for doing good in the world was not to serve God and man, but to be SEEN serving God and praised for my good deeds and good heart.
Why is this dangerous? If I’m doing good, who cares what my motivations are? Because, it’s intoxicating. If I’m basing my worth on getting that “atta boy,” no amount of praise will ever be enough. As St. Augustine says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Once I was aware of this root sin of vanity, I found the restlessness that St. Augustine speaks about everywhere! If I did something and didn’t receive recognition, I felt invisible. I caught myself bragging (even worse, I employed the “humble brag” and stealthily camouflaged my brag with modesty! Is anything worse?) and realized I was essentially soft-shoeing through life for the accolades. In this time of prayerful discernment, the realization came that I was focused more on praise and acknowledgment than on my relationship with God.
God’s timing is always perfect.
I had answered the call to lead BLAZE Masterpiece and started the program with my daughter and six of her friends. It was as I was struggling with renouncing this sin of vanity, this need for approval and affirmation, that I sat down to prepare my BLAZE lesson for the week. The title of the lesson happened to be “Audience of One.” (I see what you are doing here, God!) Every BLAZE lesson focuses on one lie from the world countered with one truth from God. This week’s lie? “I need the approval of my friends to be happy.” The truth? We are called to “live for an audience of one.”
As I spent the hour of BLAZE with these beautiful girls, my deepest desire was for them to see how worthy and beloved they are in the eyes of the Father and to live for Him and Him alone! I prayed that He would be their security. He would be their identity.
During the lesson, I could see the shift in their faces and hearts as we discussed their eagerness to “fit in.” They were gaining a new awareness that God gives them the power to live as strong, courageous world changers. The girls expressed to me that there was freedom in seeing themselves through His eyes. One of the girls shared, “If living for God brings God joy, then that means that He will put that joy back in my heart.”
This time with the girls led me to the passage, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). This was my call to action. I cannot simultaneously serve God and seek approval from the world. I must step out from under this need for praise and live for an audience of one. God gently focused my eyes back on Him. He led me to a conversion of heart —less of me, more of Him.
God is not asking me to abandon my love language. He is asking that I not place my worth in the approval of others. In Romans 5:8 St. Paul says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God shows me my worth on the cross. I am loved simply for who I am: His beloved daughter.
Like the girls in my BLAZE group, I have found freedom in the acknowledgment that God wants us to live in a state of belovedness. God spoke so gently into my heart that others' approval of me doesn't shine a spotlight on me. I shine with the light of Christ. I see this light in the girls that come every week to BLAZE. They shine so brightly, and I am simply drawn to them, captivated by them.
I began BLAZE with the prayer that the program would begin a transformation in the hearts of the girls in my group. I prayed that this group would help them to know and love God, and that they would base their worth in their identity as His beloved daughters. In His perfect plan, I was the one who began a transformation. Slowly, and with loads of grace.
“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) And thanks be to God for bringing these beautiful girls into my life.
Consider giving the gift of BLAZE to the girls in your life. I invite you to prayerfully discern leading a BLAZE group at your parish, school, or in your community. The WWP ministry support team is ready to answer questions and help get you started.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, BLAZE Masterpiece Leader’s Guide (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 133.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Durastanti is a ministry support representative for Walking with Purpose and BLAZE small group leader in her local community. After years in DC, London, and New York City, this city girl at heart settled down in her hometown, Severna Park, Maryland, to raise her three kids with her cutie husband! She loves Jesus and naps and Netflix (in that order). She could just burst with gratitude that each day we are given a fresh opportunity to pursue holiness.
Years ago, in the midst of a crisis, my husband and I found ourselves with a very small window of opportunity to get on the road and head toward help. I don’t recall too much of that car ride, but this I do remember: the dumpster fire. Not the dumpster fire that was our lives, but the actual dumpster fire we drove by on the side of the highway. Can you say, good one, Jesus? We still laugh about it to this day.
Women often ask me, “How can you laugh in times of suffering?” The secret?
Surrender is something I struggled with for years because it felt like I was giving up hope. But to be completely transparent, I think what held me back most was the fear of being taken out of the game. I was addicted to the chaos. The chaos of the trial itself, but also the chaos of trying to manage it. If I released control, what the heck would I do now? It would have to be all up to God, and while I know that’s the right answer, it's also a risky one. What if He didn’t show up and meet my desire? What if He dropped the ball? I’d never have the strength to keep living. Not with this kind of pain, or at least the kind of pain I could only imagine I’d feel if God held out on me.
As reasonable as my thoughts were, they were lies. How do I know? Because God, Himself, told me so.
“When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2)
God never promises us lives free of hardship, disappointment, or pain. Nor does He promise that when we surrender to Him, our prayers will be answered. What He did promise was that He would be with us in our darkest moments; that no matter how life-threatening the situation, God Himself would see to it that the trial does not consume us. He promises, “I will be with you.” But did you notice? His presence is in the circumstance. He walks with us through it, not around it. And let’s be honest. We don’t want to walk through it. We just want God to answer our prayer, because deep down we fear that what waits on the other side of surrender is worse than where we are currently standing.
We are all for looking at the dumpster fire. Just don’t make us jump in it.
But here’s the catch. God wants us to walk through it. He never offers “the way around,” but He always offers “the way through.” If you are not convinced, just meditate on the Passion. Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross while her son died on it. Neither took the shortcut, and it was love that made it all possible. Their love for the Father was so great that if doing His will meant watching her son die on a cross, so be it. It was our Lady’s example that changed me. It was standing next to her in my lowliness at the foot of my cross that I recognized what I needed to do. I needed to love and desire God’s will for my life more than I loved and desired my own.
In the small but powerful book Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness, the author writes, “In order for us to enjoy peace and calm we need to have nothing opposing our will and everything done in the way we want it. But who can expect to have such happiness except for the man whose will is entirely conformed to the will of God?”
Conformity to God’s Will is the secret to surrender. Practically speaking, what does this look like? It looks like accepting all from the hand of God without questioning. It looks like presenting your desires to God but asking that He does only as He wishes, because He knows what is best for you. It looks like obedience and trust, even when you are uncertain of how it all ends. It looks like staying close to the Blessed Mother because she has been where you are. And it looks like prayer.
“Whoever makes a habit of prayer,” says the great St. Teresa of Avila, “should think only of doing everything to conform his will to God’s. Be assured that in this conformity consists the highest perfection we can attain, and those who practice it with the greatest care will be favored by God’s greatest gift and will make the quickest progress in the interior life. Do not imagine there are other secrets. All our good consists in this.”
Surrender is not giving up, it is giving over. But that doesn’t mean your desire will go away. The longings of a woman’s heart run deep, and that is okay. In these moments when I am caught unexpectedly by grief over an unanswered prayer, I allow the tears to come, finding comfort in knowing that my God is right next to me as I pass through the river. The grief will not consume me. His grace does.
 Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 33.
 Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 29.
My resolve to stick to my new year’s resolutions is so strong first thing in the morning. I’m like Wonder Woman with all her gear on, ready to take on the world. But as hours on the clock keep ticking, my self-control decreases. At 7 am, I recall that wine used to taste like cough syrup to me, but by 7 pm, I’m convinced a cold glass of chardonnay is the reward I deserve for my day’s work. I hate it when I break the promises I’ve made to myself to both be better and do better. I want my grit and resolve to be enough, but I have found that if I want to become a saint, I need something more.
Can you relate? Remember your determination and commitment to change at the start of the new year? Is it beginning to wane a bit? If that’s where you are today, you are not alone. But I encourage you, don’t give up. Don’t settle for a word of the year if what God is really calling you to is intentional growth in holiness.
In our desire to be all that we can be for Christ, we sometimes forget all the resources at our disposal. We set out to do things in our own strength, find it’s not enough, so lower the bar. We justify mediocrity when God is calling us to heroic virtue. Because after all, it’s never too hard to find someone far more messed up than we are. And isn’t the point to be authentic?
Ummm… Authenticity isn’t actually the goal. It’s a means to an end. It’s the first step toward admitting that we need help. But God doesn’t want us to stop there. He wants us to get up, reach out for His aid, and get moving.
You were not meant to figure out the Christian life all by yourself. God’s message is not “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” He wants to be invited into the struggle. When we do this, everything changes. Far from leaving us with unrealistic expectations, God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3). God has placed His own Spirit within us to give us power (Acts 1:8), make us holy (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and recreate and renew us (Titus 3:5).
One of the greatest weapons we have at our disposal in the battle for holiness is the rosary. Are you longing for an outpouring of God’s grace? Could you use a fresh jolt of the Holy Spirit’s power? Then I challenge you to download the Walking with Purpose Meditations for the Sorrowful Mysteries and pray them regularly. These are the prayers I wrote and prayed with you all on our Rosary Call for Personal Holiness, and you can pray along with the video recording as well. I invite you to join the Blessed Mother and boldly go before the throne of grace, asking the Holy Spirit to transform you from within.
When God’s children ask Him for help to grow more like Jesus, God always answers. St. Paul wrote that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Prayer is the key to unlocking that promise. It’s the game changer—the thing that takes our good resolve and grit and infuses them with supernatural grace. It’s what we need if we want to change.
With you on the journey,
This is the time when we all start to think about what we wish we hadn’t eaten over the holidays and other ways we’d like to improve ourselves. Two currents of thought run through our minds. One stream bubbles with excitement over a new challenge. But discouragement flows in the other one, because try as we might, bad habits are hard to kick. Swimming in the discouraging stream leads to self-loathing and negative self-talk. The result? We remain stuck.
God doesn’t want us to be stuck in self-destructive habits. He has not only laid out a plan for healthy human flourishing, He’s given us what we need to live accordingly. In 2 Peter 1:4, Saint Peter writes that because of Jesus, we have “become partakers of the divine nature.” This is the opposite of being stuck with an unaided, flawed human nature. The study notes in my Bible explain that becoming partakers of the divine nature is “a strong expression to describe the transformation of human nature by divine grace.” But how does this happen? And does the Incarnation have anything to do with the transformation we are longing for?
To answer that question, I turned to Saint Athanasius and his little book, On the Incarnation. In it, he asks if it had to be God the Son who became incarnate. Could it not just as well have been God the Father? He then answers his own question, saying that it had to be God the Son, and the reason for that is found in John 1:1–3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made.”
Jesus, the Word of the Father, the Word of God, made the world—everything and everyone in it. Man was given a nature full of grace, immortality, and a paradise to live in. But we know the story. Man threw away this birthright of beauty, and death and corruption entered the world.
The result was that things became worse and worse. Man’s sin surpassed all limits. It went from bad to worse. This is the truth of what human nature is like without God, as opposed to a utopian view of the world that thinks that if we can just get the right laws, the right political party in power, the right systems, then everything is going to be good again. We are always looking for something to fix this problem of man’s capacity for evil, our insatiable appetite for devising new kinds of sins, but we want the solution to be anything but God. We see this clearly during this current cultural moment. But it’s nothing new. This has always been the case.
The solution is not to be found in human systems, institutions, politics, or policies. God has always known that we don’t hold the solution in ourselves. And in His goodness, He wasn’t content to sit back and watch us flounder. Athanasius writes, “Man, who was made in God’s image…was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone.” God wasn’t going to let His creation and His children be ruined.
What would God choose to do? We find the answer in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
God decided that the Word who had brought creation into being was to come into that very creation, take on a human body, and re-create it all. The One who made it would restore and renew it. Not from a distance, but from within.
In some sense, the Word of God has never been far from His creation, because He fills all things that are—as we see in Ephesians 1:23, “the fullness of him fills all in all.” This has always been the case. But with the Incarnation, “He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.”
He looked at the tremendous amount of suffering we endure.
He looked at His daughters, so desiring to change what was sinful in them, but falling into the same bad habits time and time again.
He looked at our dashed dreams.
He looked at the death of our loved ones.
He looked at the tension and disappointment between spouses who had committed to love each other forever.
He looked at the exhaustion of his people who are just trying so very hard and feel they will never be able to keep up.
He looked at the way disease attacks the bodies of His beloved and wreaks destruction.
He looked at children making self-destructive choices as their parents helplessly looked on.
God decided that He wasn’t going to just toss us some platitudes or good advice in the face of heartache and the corruption of the good. He was going to step down and come into the very midst of that mess and heartache. He became incarnate so that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
The message—the miracle—of the Incarnation, is that the Word of God has not only come to earth, He has come inside of you. He is with you in your suffering. You are never alone. But that’s not all. He has made you a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He is in you, just waiting for you to invite Him to recreate you, to renew you, to transform you so that you become just like Him.
Where are you placing your hope at the start of 2022? Are you counting on the gym membership, new organizational principles, or sheer grit to bring desired change? May this be the year when the reality sinks in that the hope of glory is Christ in you. “The secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come.”
With you on the journey,
 Commentary on 2 Peter 1:4 from The Great Adventure Catholic Bible (Ascension Press).
 Saint Athanasius, On The Incarnation, 17.
 Athanasius, 19.
 Athanasius, 21.
 Colossians 1:27, J.B. Phillips Translation
The best way to spend the final week before Christmas is making a solo 1,370 mile drive with two dogs in the backseat. At least this is what I told myself when I set out to create an unforgettable Christmas experience for my family. I didn’t factor in the relationship my puppy wanted to develop with the dog staying across the hall at the hotel. She “talked” to our neighbor all night long, which contributed to a delightful sleeping experience along the way.
The thing is, I can justify almost any complication of an event if I am certain that making “it” happen will bring guaranteed delight to my kids. And everyone knows that puppies make Christmas extra magical. The way I have approached the holiday season (if I’m honest, it’s the way I approach my life) is to figure out what is possible. Can I somehow make it happen through grit, hard work, and perseverance? Then the juice is worth the squeeze! Until it isn’t.
I don’t know how you are approaching these final days before Christmas, but I would guess that most of you are starting to feel a little panicky over the things you have left to do, and as a result, you’ve got a creeping sense that you are going to be disappointed by the end result. Which just might be motivating you to run even faster and try even harder. At least that’s the way I have lived for decades.
But I am trying to make a change, and although I still justified the drive with the dogs, I can see some glimmers of transformation. Instead of asking myself, “Is this possible? Can I somehow make this happen?” I am asking myself, “What’s the simplest option here?” I am growing in my appreciation for the simple, and it’s not just because I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book. It’s the result of realizing that nothing satisfies me like a quiet and still heart. I’ve learned that in order to encounter the Lord, everything in my life needs to slow down. It’s not about getting everything done and then giving myself permission to stop. I need to set a goal of doing less, so I can create space for Him.
When there’s a little space, I have the chance to ponder what I’m going to offer Jesus as a gift for His birthday. Typically, I offer Him a nicely decorated house, bulging Christmas stockings, loads of food, and Christmas presents spilling over the floor in front of the tree. But when I stop to think about it, none of these things are for Him. They are for my family. And while I know Jesus feels loved when I love well, I am kidding myself when I ignore the fact that any thoughts of Him are pretty far away when I’m doing all of that prep.
What gifts were given to Jesus when He came to earth and was born in a manger? It was simply the gift of people’s presence. In the midst of the mess of the stable, the noises of the animals, and the emotions that accompany things when they don’t go according to plan, Mary and Joseph let the rest of the world fade away and just welcomed their baby. Their hands were empty, which meant there was room for Him.
Instead of patting myself on the back when I can present Jesus with a picture-perfect Christmas, I have come to see the value in offering Him a calmed and quieted soul (Psalm 131:1). Instead of feeling like I need to come with all my to-do’s wrapped up in my hands, I’ve learned that the gift He likes best is my empty hands, upturned in humble worship.
Padre Pio has been ministering to me these months with these words,
Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply. Do not complicate matters unnecessarily. How do you live simply? You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty…Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service. There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.
There is still time to do what matters most this Christmas season. I’m not talking about the gifts, the cookies, the decorations, or the parties. What matters most is finding a pocket of calm, emptying your hands, and upturning them to offer thanks. A humble thank you to the God of the universe because He stepped into our mess as Emmanuel, God with us. Take a deep breath, my friends. Your peaceful presence is more important than the perfect present. That’s what is remembered most.
So offer Jesus your empty, upturned hands this Christmas. There’s no better gift.
With you on the journey,
Do you want your life to change?
This was the question that Dynamic Catholic Founder, Matthew Kelly, posed to a packed church parish hall ten years ago. I can’t speak for the other attendees’ responses at the retreat that day, but I can share mine. It was a solid yes.
The solution Kelly offered wasn’t anything that I was expecting and certainly didn’t align with the solutions the world offers. He didn’t tell me to go to therapy, practice mindfulness, walk in the grass barefoot, or lose weight. (Which, for the record, are not bad things. In fact, I’ve done them all.) He simply suggested, “If you want your life to change, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.” He followed up with, “Some of you will, and some of you won’t.”
As for me? I did.
And he was right.
My life radically and profoundly changed because of the Mass.
But please do not mistake “changed” for “eliminated trial and tribulation.” My active participation in the holy sacrifice does not serve as a magic pill that makes troubles melt away. (If it did, the churches would be filled.) Dare I say, some troubles have seemingly gotten worse. The “change” goes deeper than external and current circumstances. It is an ongoing stretching and pulling of the heart. An interior transformation. It is hard to explain the mystery of it all, but I have narrowed my own experience of how the Mass has changed my life down to three significant, yet super simple points that might help you to better understand; and, if you so desire, can apply to your own life.
1. Start every day with God’s Word. Do you realize that when you reach for your phone before you get out of bed you have just given every voice in your feed permission to shape your heart and steer where you stare? What we allow to daily enter our minds has the power to bring us peace or unrest. Life or death. Scott Hahn said, “If we do not fill our mind with prayer, it will fill itself with anxieties, worries, temptations, resentments, and unwelcome memories.” And maybe you are thinking, I do pray every morning. I do not have to physically go to a church to pray. And you are correct. Sort of. Because…
2. The Mass is an invincible weapon. We are in a daily battle. In the Book of Revelation, we read how “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Revelation 12:9). And “when the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child...then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring” (Revelation 12:13, 17). Sweet friends, I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are the offspring. We have an accuser who accuses us “day and night” (Revelation 12:10). I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a terrifying and losing battle!
However, Ephesians 6:13 offers a plan: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” How much armor are you wearing? Because I want to wear the full armor. I want the armor of personal prayer, but I also want the armor of the holy sacrifice of the Mass! The Eucharist! Christ present on the altar in flesh and blood! I cannot rely on my own strength, and so I need to literally consume the strength of Christ. Where do we find this strength? In the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens us in charity, preserves us from future mortal sins, and unites us more closely to Christ. And speaking of being united with Christ…
3. The Mass rightly orders our worship. Here’s the truth we don’t want to hear: we are all addicts. Everyone is addicted to something. As the saying goes, “Addiction is giving up everything for one thing. Recovery is giving up one thing for everything.” Jesus is everything, and yet so many worldly addictions compete with Him. What is the one thing that you drop everything (Jesus) for? On the days I skip time with Jesus present at the daily Mass, it is my addiction to self-reliance that has taken God’s place. The moment I start to look at everything piled on my plate and start to imagine all of the things that I will accomplish with that extra hour is the moment I give up everything that Jesus wants to give me. Truly, it’s the work of the enemy. Because there is nothing on my to-do list—not even those things I can do for my children—that will ever be more important than hearing the Mass. I know…every parent reading this thinks I have lost my mind. But hear me out. Our children, no matter their age, are watching us. They see what matters to us and what does not. In his book, Parents of the Saints, author Patrick O’Hearn writes that “these devout parents show us that there is no greater gift a parent can pass on to their sons and daughters than the Holy Eucharist. Other gifts will never satisfy or last—toys will be abandoned, clothes will be outgrown, cars will break down, and sports teams will disappoint, but the Holy Eucharist is the gift that never stops giving and always satisfies.”
Some of you will read this and feel inspired to attend daily Mass. Others will find my suggestion highly inconvenient and logistically unrealistic. Others will think how strict and outdated the rules of the Catholic Church are that, in today’s busy day and age, church attendance is even a requirement. “But the true state of the case is that the law of the Church is so strict because Christ is present in the Mass.” Of course, we know that God is everywhere. “But it is in the Holy Mass alone that He offers Himself to His Father as the Lamb that was slain. How can we forego that sweet and solemn action?”
This Advent, I made a vow to give up my worship of self-reliance and to get back to “the works I did at first” (Revelation 2:5). Namely, worshiping God at daily Holy Mass. And in just one short week, the fruits and rewards are undeniable. The bottom line is that wherever this lands on your heart, I want you to know this: Ten years ago, I wanted my life to change, and it did...because of the Mass.
Do you want your life to change?
If so, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.
Some of you will and some of you won’t.
I pray that you all will.
 Scott Hahn, Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots (2009), p.91.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p.352, 1394, 1395, 1396
 Patrick O’Hearn, Parents of the Saints:The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints (Tan Books, 2020), p.30-31.
 Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
 Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
What are the final thoughts that usually run through your mind when you try to fall asleep? Do you review a litany of unaccomplished tasks, mentally moving them onto tomorrow’s list? Are you thinking with dread of all that’s going to be required of you tomorrow? Do you feel regret over the way you have treated certain people who matter to you?
Almost every night, most of us can think of many things we wish we could have done that are being left unfinished. We can’t always fit in a little bit more. A life well lived is made up of days when the things that are most important are done first and many good things remain undone. As Stephen R. Covey wisely wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Our big rocks are our priorities. But how do we figure out what should be the most important thing?
I don’t believe that a single one of us wants to waste his or her life. We want our lives to count. We read Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or in other words, what does it do for you if you gain the whole world but end up losing your soul? We don’t want to come to the end of our lives having pursued the wrong things.
The world is constantly communicating its priorities to you. You are to prioritize having a perfect body, having as much money as you can, having an HGTV perfect house, and making a name for yourself with your accomplishments. You should be able to present your life in such a way that it lays out beautifully on Instagram—providing a feed worth following.
But is that a life that is truly satisfying? Even if you were to gain all those things that the world says matters most, is it possible that you could lose your soul—who you truly are—in the process?
What kind of a life do you want to build?
If you want to build a life where you love well…
if you want to build a life that feels simpler…
then I’d like to invite you on a journey.
My newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities: Building a Life Well Lived, is where that journey begins.
Ordering Your Priorities lays a foundation that helps women focus on the things that matter most. Diving into the pages of Scripture, we’ll connect our modern-day challenges with the changeless truths of our faith. If we want to live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to start in the right place. We need to begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He is the one who can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well.
My prayer for you and me is that we would apply the principles contained in Ordering Your Priorities and create a life well lived. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we are pursuing here.
Join us on a journey to build a simpler life where you love well. Your transformation is just around the corner!
 Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 161.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Life has kicked into gear around here. No more sipping iced tea on the porch. Summer is over, and September calls for organization and productivity. It can feel like a shock to the system after months of an easier pace. Do you have so many balls in the air that you are afraid one is going to drop? Are you hustling through your day, yet in the evening, doubt that you have done enough?
We live at a time in history that is more productive and efficient than ever before, yet so many of us are walking around (rushing around) accompanied by a strong sense that we fall short of who and what we are supposed to be. If this describes your life, how long has it been like this? Weeks? Months? Years?
We can so easily fall into the habit of just existing. Of measuring the value of our lives by our productivity, by whether or not we get the job done, by how far we climb up the ladder. But none of those things can give us joy. I was talking to someone about this pace the other day. She said it sounded to her like I was treading water while trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air, which sounds pretty much impossible. That description wasn't news to me. It didn't feel particularly insightful, just observant. But then she went on to say something that really stopped me in my tracks. “I think that at the same time, you are kicking your heart away from you. Not because you think your heart doesn't matter. You just don't have time to stop and take care of it.”
I haven't been able to get her words out of my head. I know that, above all else, I need to guard my heart. I believe wholeheartedly that everything I do flows from my heart. The heart is the essence of who I am, not what I do. It's where joy is found.
Joy does not reside in a life that is all about checking the boxes, even if the boxes are for really good things like spiritual growth, service, and loving your family. When most of what we do is preceded by “I should” or “I must,” then there's a pretty good chance that we are lacking in the joy department. But this is a tricky thing. God asks us to obey Him, and so a ton of things get put on our “I must” list. People around us need to be actively loved, and that makes the “I should” list a million miles long.
I'm committed to wrestling through this paradox. I want to continue to be sold out for Christ. I want to love people tangibly, and I want to obey God completely. But I want to figure out how to do those things in a way that doesn't feel like one enormous should. Not just because it doesn't feel good—it's because the motivation isn't right. And when we operate for too long simply because we must and we should, we become robotic and a little bit dead inside. I want to avoid this at all costs, and I'm sure you do, too.
I want to fight for joy, because “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). If I don't have joy, I'm weak—prone to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. I believe “the joy of the Lord” comes from knowing we are God's beloved daughters and living out of that reality. As a loving father, God wants us to experience getting lost in pure delight. He wants us to be replenished. He wants the blinders off our eyes so that we can see all that we have to be grateful for. He wants us to take time to rest. In fact, He's commanded that we rest (Exodus 20:8). He knows us completely—we are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). He wants us to take the time to figure out what truly brings us joy. Not what numbs us, distracts us, or just keeps us busy.
There will always be many things that simply need to get done. Laundry doesn't fold itself, and the bills need to be paid. But let's make sure that we lift up our hearts each day and give them a little tending. That we hold them up to our heavenly Father and ask Him to pour out His love and grace over them. He never withholds that request. And let's look for the little things that bring us joy, and give ourselves permission to lay down the uncompleted to do list and do something that simply breathes life into our hearts.
May we truly LIVE EVERY DAY of our lives and continue to fight for JOY.
This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on September 1, 2015.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)
Could you use some comfort? Most of us would say yes, because none of us gets through life without some suffering. One thing we all seem to have in common are circumstances in our lives that we feel like rob us of joy. We all have a cross to carry.
How about you? What circumstance or heartache is the #1 thing you wish God would relieve you of? And please don’t just scroll through that question…take a moment and think about it. Write it down. Which messy part of your life do you pray God would fix?
Now take a look at what you wrote. That is an area of your life where you are suffering. And your suffering matters. It may be hidden or it may be on public display. It may be something you’ve endured for years or it may be something that sprang up suddenly and acutely. God sees it all and cares deeply. He wants to comfort you in that area of heartache, disappointment, and pain.
But the enemy of your soul wants you to look at that heartache and conclude that you are all alone. He tempts you to think that your suffering is pointless and your circumstances are never going to change. He wants you to believe that God is either not paying attention to you because He doesn’t care, or God IS paying attention to you, but He can’t be bothered to help you.
Those lies are from the pit of hell, and in the name of Jesus, I reject those lies, and I declare these truths over you:
God will never leave you or forsake you.
All suffering has meaning and purpose.
This is not the end of your story. You are not stuck. Things will change.
God IS paying attention to you, HE CARES, and HE IS AT WORK.
And God wants you to take your unique suffering and allow it to better equip you to display an outpouring love for people in your life. That is what St. Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 1:3–5.
I remember a time years ago when God delivered this message to me loud and clear. I had just had a miscarriage, and I was sitting in a hospital room. A nurse came into my room, took hold of my hand, and drew very close to my face. “Why are you here?” she asked.
I said, “You know why I’m here.” I didn’t want to say the words. I didn’t trust my voice or my ability to hold it together.
The nurse replied, “I want you to say the words.” So I told her that I had lost my baby. “Yes, that’s right,” she nodded. “You’ve lost your baby. But you are not alone.” And then she drew closer still. Knowing nothing about me, having never met me, she said, “How do you think you are going to help other women if you have never suffered?” She squeezed my hand and left. I never saw her again.
We all have crosses to carry, but we get to decide how we carry them. 2 Corinthians 1:3–5 pitches a vision of cross-carrying that ministers to others, making every moment of suffering deeply meaningful.
It makes me think of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew 27. When the soldiers told him he needed to help carry Jesus’ cross, he didn’t do it willingly. He was forced to do it. But something must have changed in his spirit over time. Fulton Sheen writes, “Though at first reluctant because compelled, [Simon] nevertheless must have found, as Our Lord said His followers would, ‘the yoke sweet and burden light.’ Otherwise his two sons would not later have been mentioned by Paul as pillars of the Church.” Simon’s children watched how their father carried the cross, and learned from his example, every step of the way. Who is watching you? Is the way you carry your cross compelling or complaining?
The most difficult suffering to bear is that which appears meaningless. But if we determine to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God,” we’ll be strengthened to persevere. And as we receive the strength from God to take one step at a time, we’ll be a living witness of the difference that Jesus makes.
As much as we wish that our suffering would go away, if we will allow it to, it will make us more tender and help us to be a soft place for others to land.
With you on the journey-
 Fulton Sheen, The Life of Christ (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 533.
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 checklists 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. Josemaría Escrivá 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.
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. 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 15 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,
 St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way (NY: Doubleday, 1982), 33
This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on August 27, 2019.
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