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What to do with Pope Francis

President_Barack_Obama_with_Pope_Francis_at_the_Vatican,_March_27,_2014

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you know me in person or on Facebook, you are probably aware that I am pro-life, like super pro-life.

You may not know that I am also a recent convert to Catholicism, or that one of the main reasons I was attracted to the Catholic Church was her consistent emphasis on the importance of speaking out for and protecting the weakest and most vulnerable of our human society—the unborn, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. I love the Catholic Church for many reasons, but very much so because she takes the call of Jesus to love the least of our brethren with utmost seriousness.

As an American Catholic, I have looked forward to Pope Francis’s visit, particularly his unprecedented address to the joint session of the United States Congress, which took place on the morning of Thursday, September 24. I had watched the warm reception by the first family of the Holy Father the day before, and I had listened to his words about protecting the environment. I know that in Laudato Si, Pope Francis ties the care for the environment with care and protection of the unborn, but I wanted to hear him make that explicit connection in his words to the American people.

He didn’t.

Now, this is a man who makes a lot of Americans uncomfortable. On one hand, he is met with a lot of suspicion by virtue of being the leader of the Catholic Church. He has made comments that seem hostile to American tradition, calling for limits and regulation of the free enterprise and the capitalism our country has been built upon. And he talks a lot about environmental concerns and world peace. Unsurprisingly, he has been labeled by many as a liberal.

On the other hand, Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Church’s position that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that its purpose is to create a new generation of beloved children. Prior to his visit to the United States, he has affirmed the need for protection of the unborn, and although he has emphasized the value and utmost importance of woman in the Church, he is firm on teaching that men alone are eligible for the priesthood. Unsurprisingly, he has been labeled by many as a conservative.

Pope Francis doesn’t fit. He doesn’t fit in our American political system. He is neither liberal nor conservative, Democrat or Republican.

But Jesus didn’t fit in his time either. For me, it is actually an encouraging thing that the Pope has resisted categorization, whether intentionally or not. It means I can trust even more that he is listening for the voice of the Lord to lead him and lead the Christians of the world.

As I watched his address to Congress, my heart was in my throat.

Was he going to affirm the need for our elected officials to end the slaughter of innocents in our land? Was he going to condemn the barbaric practices of dismembering children in and out of the womb and then selling their body parts?

The short answer is “no.” The Pope’s speech was beautiful and elegant, so well-written and well-delivered that I was in awe of the thought, passion, and compassion that went into it. But he didn’t mention the unborn once. He didn’t take a stand on Planned Parenthood.

And so, I was disappointed. This Pope that I love, this man whom I trust as my spiritual leader, he didn’t support my cause explicitly.

Yes, there were many instances where he mentioned things that can be interpreted as a call to protect the unborn. (The Pope spoke of “our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development” and said, “I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.”) It is undoubtedly true that protecting the unborn is part of Catholic social teaching to advocate for the least of these. But it was also so subtle that it could have been easily overlooked or ignored (as it has been by a lot of Americans).

And so, as the Holy Father leaves my beloved country and resumes his regular pontifical duties at the Vatican, I am left with questions like these: What do I do with my disappointment? What do I do with Pope Francis and his speech before Congress?

 

Disappointment. It is a real feeling. It can be devastating. To have something I have hoped for—to be supported by my spiritual father in something so close to my heart—not come to pass exactly like I wanted it has brought me disappointment. But I have to remind myself of the words of Scripture where the prophet Isaiah says that “those who trust in the Lord will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23 NIV). Such disappointment can be a case of misplaced trust. Pope Francis is not the Lord; he is a man who has dedicated himself to the Kingdom of God as a priest and a shepherd, but he is still a man, whose perspective on the world and experiences of the world are very different than the ones I bring to the table. It is natural for discomfort and disappointment to arise when expectations aren’t met, when worldviews bump into each other, and when my cultural assumptions are challenged.

So when I find myself disappointed by this person whom I respect so much, I am forced to press into the Lord and ask, “What do I do with my disappointment? What do I do with Pope Francis?”

First, I hear the Lord asking me to forgive the Holy Father for any perceived injustice towards me, or the American people, or the unborn citizens of our country. From watching Francis interact with others and from hearing him speak before, I know that he is full of compassion and boldness and good will and love for Christ, His Church, and all the people of the world. So I know his intent was well placed. I can give him the benefit of the doubt. I can ask the Lord to help me move past the pain and discomfort that this disappointment has caused me and truly forgive him for any perceived injustice.

Second, I hear the Lord saying, “Listen to him.” Have you seen the meme that says, “Many people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”? It’s a quote from Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Well, I am guilty as charged. Far too often, I search the statements and stories and arguments of the people in my life primarily so that I may bring forward my own ideas and opinions by picking apart what they have said. This is not charitable or loving. It is self-seeking and arrogant, even when my motivation is to help others see the truth that I have discovered. This is not to say that I shouldn’t engage in serious discussion about challenging concepts or difficult truths. Rather, I have to orient myself first to listen, second to learn and think, and third to respond with thoughtful feedback and experience.

Had Pope Francis echoed my sentiments and convictions in his speech to Congress, I have to confess that I would have posted as many memes as possible showing others how right I have been and how important my agenda is. I may not have been in a place to listen or to engage in thoughtful dialogue.

As I wrote in a previous post, the Christian family on earth desperately needs to learn the art of conversation. We are so quick to judge our brothers and sisters for what we hear them saying or doing without sitting down, talking it through, and truly listening with a heart of love.

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Where do I go from here?

Because I so greatly respect Pope Francis and his position in the Church and the testimony of what he has done and is doing to bring the Kingdom of God, I need to listen and prayerfully consider what he is saying. I am going to print off transcripts of his speeches—all of them from this US trip—and read them with a heart of listening and understanding, asking the Holy Spirit for help. Even though it will make me uncomfortable, I have to do this. I want to extend the same charity to the Holy Father that I know he would extend to me if we were to sit down and have a conversation.

And then I will ask the Lord to help me sort out where to go from here. I still believe that abortion is a great evil and needs to be addressed politically and socially. But maybe my approach needs to change? If I am not willing to ask this question, then I have to admit that my agenda is more important to me than listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the Church worldwide. Which is something I don’t want to be true.

In the Psalms, David proclaims of the Lord, “You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6 NASB). Because God desires truth in my deepest part, I can trust that when I ask Him to show it to me, He will do it.

And that is what I am asking. How about you?

Read the Pope’s speeches for yourself

Remembering in the Valley

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O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
Psalm 42:6 NKJV

It’s just really hard to be in a low place.

Do you know what I mean? It’s lonely. Vision is limited. Feelings are either overwhelmingly present or conspicuously absent.

Psalm 42 has been one of my go-to passages when I have been depressed. Verse 6 speaks so much to me, because the psalmist is being honest with God–the place that we all must start if we are to get out of the darkness.

O my God… It’s either a prayer or a groaning. Let your heart groan.

My soul is downcast within me… Sometimes it is so hard to just be honest with God about how crappy we feel. But there is no shame in being honest with Him. He can handle it. We have to be honest so that we can start a conversation that will change things within us.

Therefore I will remember You… Memory is a powerful tool against staying stuck in despair or depression. When we look back at the times in our lives that God has been faithful, the times when He has filled us with joy, the times we have seen Him provide, it grows our faith. The act of remembering sows seeds of hope. It’s what I call ‘prophetic memory.’

…from the land of the Jordan… The psalmist is talking about a valley, a low, low place. We have to remember Him in the deep, dark places. We have to start that honest conversation with God.

…And from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar… And I have to remember Him when things are good, when I’m on that mountain top and can see the beautiful goodness of God so clearly and profoundly. I have to write down or somehow record the good things I am seeing in the land of the living, so that when I next find myself in the valley, with no vision for my future because of the darkness pressing in, I can revisit them, remember them, take hope from the consistent kindness of the Lord.

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
 The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.

Psalm 42:7,8 NKJV

Know this: He has not forgotten you.

Peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Amanda

Grace for Tuesdays

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The thought of Tuesdays makes my heart beat faster.

Not in a good way. Not in the I’m-going-to-see-the-guy-I-like way. Not in the good-work-out-today way.

In a bad way.

In the I-can’t-do-Tuesdays-please-rescue-me way.

Tuesdays are no joke. For the past three Tuesdays, I have hit about 11:30 and texted my husband something like this:
Why are Tuesdays so hard?
I cannot do Tuesdays.
I am so sorry this is happening [referring to the meltdown I had that required him to watch the kids on his lunch break so I could escape our house and our kids].

I can ‘make it’ through the morning–the part of the day that is normally easiest with my kids–but when afternoon comes, I am DONE.

I ask again, Why are Tuesdays so hard?

My husband’s theory is that I get caught up on my rest and my sanity over the weekend when he is home being super-helpful. (No sarcasm here; he an amazingly helpful dad and husband.) And so Monday hits when I am rested and prepared. He thinks I spend so much energy and focus making Monday great that
Tuesday
   hits me when I’m down
      and
         sucks
            the life from me.

It’s an interesting theory, one that actually gives me hope, but cause it means that somehow, in my repertoire of mom skillz, I have the power to change the face of Tuesday.

Now, I warn you, this is just in the experimental stage, but I am going to try to avert Tuesday’s habitual failing and misery (because it’s miserable) by adjusting my expectations for Monday.

Expectations. They kill my soul when I operate with them as my unrecognized or unacknowledged guides.

I call the kind of thinking has ruled my weeks since I transitioned into full-time stay-at-home mom “ATTACK MONDAY MODE.”

It goes like this:
MAKE MONDAY AMAZING and the rest of the week will be amazing, too.

But what that has turned out to look like is this:
DO A BUNCH OF COOL AND ENERGY-REQUIRING THINGS ON MONDAY, THEN CRASH AND BURN ON TUESDAY. SPEND WEDNESDAY, THURSDAY, AND FRIDAY PICKING UP THE PIECES AND REMEMBERING THAT I AM LOVED BY GOD IN MY FAILURES.

“ATTACK MONDAY MODE” has not really been a good plan.

So, I’m taking a breath
   and taking inventory of my expectations.

I’m asking myself these questions:
What is the antidote for my addiction to expectations?
How can I lay hold of grace for Tuesday, my hardest day of the week?

Stay tuned for answers trial-and-error, prayerful considerations to these questions.

Peace out. And PLEASE, if you have ideas or comments, fire away below.

Amanda

The Thing About Fear

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I was sitting in a counseling session my senior year of college. It was way overdue—for years I had suffered quietly through anxiety and depression because I thought they were normal.

I had a lot of relationships that were dysfunctional with people of both sexes. The counselor was helping me sort them out and understand why I was still attached to these people.

I was afraid.

I knew that friendships and romantic relationships could be hard, and I had always been taught that Christians stick things out…tough friendships, tough marriages, tough situations.

But I didn’t realize that the reason I was sticking with these tough relationships wasn’t because I was trying to love these people like Jesus did, although I thought that’s what I was doing. The more I dug into my motivations, the more I discovered just how much fear governed my decisions.

I was afraid to walk away from a relationship because I might not ever date again.

I was afraid to leave a friend behind because I feared the loneliness that might come and the accusation that I didn’t try hard enough.

I was afraid to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter someone I might have to share the gospel with.

 

In the valley of the shadow

The fear and the resulting anxiety overtook me and reduced me to a college student who once loved to be with people but who now just hid in her room and stayed with relationships that she considered safe, even though they were draining more life from her.

Sometime that first semester of senior year, my mom sent me a note, with this verse written in her beautiful handwriting:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 NASB

I would lie in my lofted bed in my crummy college apartment, when the anxiety and the fear overwhelmed me, staring at that verse and repeating in the smallest whisper, “You are the God of hope. You are the God of hope.”

Though counseling from professionals and friends more mature than I helped a great deal, what I really needed was time—time to see that not every little decision I made had a huge life-altering effect. Fear slowly faded, replaced by a sense of knowing that I was loved no matter what I did or didn’t do. There was a tremendous freedom.

By the middle of my second semester, I could honestly say that I knew that God was good and that He loved me—a far cry from where I had been only months before.

I will fear no evil

Fast-forward to my first year in grad school. I was engaged in a thriving church, the same one that had given me so many resources and so much wisdom–through staff and through friends who went there–in my journey through depression and anxiety. I had led a small group. I was growing. My heart was alive. I knew deeply that God was good and that He loved me.

But I sat in the service on Sunday morning, unable to connect with God. It wasn’t the first time.

The music, although beautiful and well produced, didn’t touch me. The message didn’t teach me new things.

“What is wrong with me?” I asked myself as I sat in the large auditorium.

Then I heard the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit say, “Nothing is wrong with you, Amanda. It’s time to move on.”

I shook my head a little to shake away that crazy thought. Why would I want to move on from this place where I had received so much healing? I loved this church. I loved this people.

But again I heard the Lord say to me, “It’s time to move on.”

I argued with myself for a while. And then I realized that I was unwilling to follow the voice of the Lord because I was afraid.

 

I was afraid that if I left this place where I had found so much healing, that I would regress.

I was afraid that if I left this specific church, I would be missing out on the big plans that God had for me in world missions.

I was afraid that if I left this anchoring place, I would walk away from God.

 

Once I identified the fear that undergirded all my objections—that I would walk away from God if I left this particular church—I heard the Lord speak to me again, through Psalm 23.

I will fear no evil, for You are with me.

The idea of switching churches may seem like a silly one to strike fear into the heart of an adult Christian, but the fear was all too real to me. I had learned a lot on my journey through depression and anxiety, especially about my absolute need for the presence and companionship of God. And here He was, telling me through His word that I didn’t need to fear any evil, even the evil of falling away from faith in God, because He was with me.

I will fear NO evil, because He is with me.

I cling to this verse these days. Being a stay-at-home mom is a daunting thing for me. I’m an extroverted external processor who thrives in the presence of other people (older than 3). My husband and I are keenly aware that I have to be completely honest with how I am feeling and what my needs are, because I sometimes revert to the practice of stuffing my fears and anxieties into the “be more like Jesus” box. It is a daily challenge to be open and honest.

The thing about fear is that it silences me. I fear failing. I fear vulnerability. I fear screwing up or even being perceived as a failure.

I will fear no evil.

I will not fear the risk of failing.

I will not fear the unpleasant consequences of vulnerability.

I will not fear screwing up.

I will not fear going crazy because I stay at home with my kids.

Because He is with me.

~Amanda

If peace is something you’re seeking in the midst of fear and anxiety, you can also read a previous post of mine, Speaking Peace. I’d also love to hear your story if you’re willing to share. You can email me at paintedwithoutmakeup AT gmail DOT com.