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.
My son’s friends are all starting to sport mullet haircuts, and my daughter thinks low-rise jeans are the coolest things. Are you cringing along with me? What is happening with fashion lately, and why does it feel like we’re entering the twilight zone?
We are told these fashion styles are new and exciting, but those of us who have been around for more than 30 years know these trends have been around before.
Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 says it best: “Nothing is new under the sun! Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages that preceded us.”
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes goes deeper than passing fads. It speaks to the meaning of life, spoken from the perspective of one who has seen the effects of a life seeking all different kinds of things. The author of Ecclesiastes highlights where people tend to spend their time and energy—primarily pursuing money, pleasure, and wisdom—and the bottom line? “Vanity of vanities…all things are vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 12:8)
The Hebrew word for vanity, hevel, means futility, a chasing after wind, a grasping after shadows.
For centuries people have sought money, pleasure, and wisdom. In many ways, we are not unlike the generations that have come before us—even if the way we experience these things looks different. In essence, they are not new. Generations pass and the lessons learned by our ancestors are often forgotten by future generations. Whatever we have accumulated during our time on this earth will eventually fade away. Yes, even the low-rise jeans will leave one day (praise the Lord).
However, if there’s more to this life than what we see (2 Corinthians 4:18), and our lives matter to God (Isaiah 44:2), then everything we do matters to Him (Colossians 3:17).
And the difference between a life that is meaningless and a life that is meaningful?
Surprise, it’s you! More specifically, it’s what you choose to do with the one life you’ve been given.
You are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
You are able to do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
You are able to offer encouragement to those who are afflicted, because you have received encouragement from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).
We have been given this time on earth to glorify God and bring others to Him. Everything else is vanity.
Sisters, we are uniquely equipped to tell the coming generations about the goodness, truth, and beauty of God. It’s our privilege to be His witnesses and ambassadors. We can share how God has worked in our own lives and in the life of our universal Catholic Church, with 2000 years of tradition and a history that extends even beyond that. Using the fleeting things of this world (money, pleasure, and wisdom) for His glory and to bring others to Him is precisely how we flip the switch from meaningless lives to lives rich in meaning.
Let us not be women who chase after the wind or grasp for shadows. Let us be women who stand firm and hold out our hands to offer the good news to a generation that desperately needs it (much more than low-rise jeans).
Everything else is vanity.
For years my daughter begged for braces. No denying, her teeth are all sorts of crazy, but the cost of braces is even crazier. Finally giving in, we met with the orthodontist where it was explained that in order for Annie to obtain her dream smile, she would need to do two things. 1. Wear braces. 2. Wear the Herbst Appliance. What is the Herbst Appliance you ask? Well, imagine every piece of metal and hardware in the entire world, and then put it all in my fifteen-year-old's mouth. Because there is so much metal involved, the doctor suggested Annie do braces first, then once removed, put on the Herbst. He said, “You can do both at once if you are in a rush to get this done. It will be uncomfortable and take weeks to get used to. But you will get your perfect smile faster. It's up to you.”
Given the option - fast results or patiently waiting it out - take a shot at what my teenager chose…
Yesterday, the Herbst went on, on top of the braces. By the time this blog post is published, I am not confident that anyone within a five-foot radius of Annie will still be alive. She is not happy, folks. And do you want to know the worst part of all of this is? It's not Annie's mood that's the problem. It's not even the cost. It is me. It's my reaction to her reaction. As she went on and on about her looks and appearance, with zero gratitude for the privilege of dental care and a mother who had to sell her kidney to afford it, I unlovingly stood in her bedroom doorway reminding her, “This is what you wanted. So, you can be patient and get used to it, and quit being so vain….or tomorrow we can go and get it taken out of your mouth.”
It is ironic, isn't it? We grumble about children today; how they wait for nothing and only know instant gratification, and I have to wonder... am I any different? Sure, maybe my teenager doesn't have patience with this process… but guess what? Neither do I. As quick as she was to choose the shortest road to the fastest results, I am just as quick to pull the stupid metal out of her mouth with my own teeth simply to put an end to her vanity-filled complaints. Let's face it. Waiting is hard, and there is a reason why patience is a virtue and none of this comes easy. And honestly? This isn't even about my straightening my daughter's teeth. It's about straightening priorities. And all of this takes time.
I am just going to say it. I am lacking the patience for my children to encounter Jesus Christ because deep down I fear that they never will. I am afraid that God will show up hours too late, like my sister on Thanksgiving who signs up to bring the appetizer and arrives as we are serving dessert. And so I preach, and I throw Scripture at them, and I stand in their bedroom doorway in utter frustration, because for some unknown reason I have decided that I am their Savior and turning their hearts towards Christ is something that can only be accomplished by my hand.
Welcome to my ugly.
I am not proud of it, but here is the thing: I can do something about it.
If your lack of patience for a loved one's journey to the Lord tends to stomp on newly planted seeds, here are three things you can do:
Praying today that our patience with His plan grows deeper roots than the weeds of fear and control. And I really pray that Annie doesn't need to get on an airplane anytime soon, because honestly...that girl will never make it through the metal detector.
In patience and love,
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