The roots of happiness

What do middle school girls, young women just starting their independent lives, mothers and established professional women all have in common? A yearning for happiness: happiness that is uniquely found in the truth and beauty of Sacred Scripture. Walking with Purpose founder Lisa Brenninkmeyer draws on her Protestant roots, psychology degree, conversion experience and life as a mother of seven to develop a slew of Bible studies that seek to meet women where they are in various stages of life and lead hearts to Christ where he is found in Scripture. In an interview with Radiant, Lisa shared more about the vision, resources and goals of Walking with Purpose, as well as some of the spiritual and relational challenges facing women today.

Radiant: What are some practical tips you can offer to not just parents, but also siblings and friends, to help the young people we love avoid leaving the faith in the first place?

Lisa Brenninkmeyer: Be happy. I’m sure that seems like an odd response to your question, but I wholeheartedly agree with Blaise Pascal when he said, “Make good men wish it were true.” The “it” that he was talking about is the good news of the Gospel. We ought to be living in such a way that the watching world wants in. When there is nothing different in the way that we deal with stress, manage our emotions and adjust to circumstances that we hate, then why would anyone think that Jesus really makes that big a difference?

When I say, “be happy,” I am not talking about the way that the world defines happiness. Most people think that being happy means having a steady stream of positive emotion and all our circumstances being the way we want them to be. True happiness goes deeper, and it is connected to believing that your life has purpose: that your identity is rooted in Christ — not what you do, what you look like or what other people say about you — and that suffering always has meaning.

When we get it straight in our own minds and hearts on these three points, we can stay emotionally steady even when life deals us some blows that we don’t want. When other people observe us dealing with things differently than they would in their own strength (without God’s help), it’s pretty powerful. This isn’t to say that we need to be perfect — obviously we’ll fail if that’s our goal. But if there is nothing different about us besides the truth we believe — if it doesn’t translate into a life better lived — then we shouldn’t be surprised when people walk away. I believe that most people today aren’t searching for absolute truth — they don’t think that exists. They are searching for the key to happiness — for whatever will make their lives work better. Let’s show them the difference that Christ makes.

Radiant: In our increasingly digital and impersonal society, how can young women connect with other young women who are also looking to grow in their faith and foster fulfilling faith-filled relationships with their peers?

Brenninkmeyer: Put the phone down and start with just one connection. We know that the amount of time we spend on our screens is problematic, but until our behavior changes, our relationships are going to suffer. I think we are losing our ability to be human — to look people in the eye, to make small talk in an elevator, to ask questions that have more than a yes or no answer. When I think about how I met my husband — being his waitress and chatting with him as he waited for his food — I can’t help but think that I never would have met him today. We would have both been on our phones to avoid those awkward moments when we had nothing to do. I think countless opportunities for connection are passing us by while we scroll through social media feeds. We all know this. But are we actually doing anything about it, or are we just complaining that we don’t have meaningful friendships?

It’s definitely vulnerable and awkward to be intentional about connection, but someone’s got to start. I would encourage you to find one person that you want to get to know better and ask if you can meet for coffee. Let her know when you sit down that you are longing for something more than superficial chit chat. If this clearly makes her terribly nervous, things are probably not going to get deeper. But if she agrees and says she’s looking for something deeper too, then I would take another risk and ask her some meaty questions. Ask her what’s she’s dreaming about. Ask her what she thinks is the best way to find true love. Ask her when she feels fully alive. Ask her what it means to her to be happy and live a good life.

If you get along well, I’d consider setting up a time each week when you get together. Friendship is all about the investment of time and being vulnerable. If you do both of those things, you can find meaningful friendship in unlikely places.

Radiant: Among the many Bible studies Walking With Purpose offers, you have several specifically for young women. What do you focus on in those studies that makes them especially relevant for younger women?

Brenninkmeyer: I added some lessons, based on the things that I see young women facing. One of those is a lesson on identity and worth. So many young women are trying to answer the questions, “Who am I?” and “Do I matter?” I wanted to address both those questions head on, so I wrote some new material for that.

But most of the content in the Walking with Purpose Bible studies applies to all women — regardless of age. I have no desire to dumb things down for young women who are smart and savvy and very able to dig in to applying Scripture to their lives. When I write, everything has to pass the “so what?” test. What I mean by that is if it isn’t relevant to our day-to-day lives, it doesn’t make it into the study. I also focus on bringing the heart into the discussion instead of just building up intellectual understanding. I think young women need and want that as much as older women. So a lot of the content remains the same.

Radiant: How did your work at Walking With Purpose help prepare you for raising your own daughters as they entered their young adult years?

Brenninkmeyer: The principles I was learning and writing about were almost all things that made their way into my parenting. What I was getting under my belt in terms of truth, I was passing on to them. In addition, I have learned a lot about how to balance mission and motherhood. It isn’t easy to be in full-time ministry (or working any full-time job) and also mothering. The principles I’ve learned — especially about priorities — have been invaluable as I have sought to model a happy, peace-filled life that is very busy and demanding.

I try out my material on them before sending it out into the public, and they’ve been super helpful in refining the way I present things. My sons have helped me with this, too.

Radiant: If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

Brenninkmeyer: Hold on to your God-given identity and pay attention to the ways in which the enemy will try to offer you a counterfeit one. There is a war on your identity, and more than anything, the enemy of your soul wants you to root your identity in anything other than God. He’ll tempt you to define your worth by what you accomplish, or by what people think of you, or what you look like. If you don’t wake up to his tactics, you will spend decades performing when you could be resting, self-protecting when you could be loving, people-pleasing when you could be maturing, and numbing when you could be feeling joy. It all comes down to how you are going to answer the question, “Who am I?” Are you going to look to God for the answer, or to your feelings, or what others tell you, or to your accolades?

What’s your true identity? You are a beloved daughter of God. You are chosen. You are beloved. You have purpose. You are forgiven. You are set free. The enemy will try to enslave you by offering you a counterfeit identity. Resist him, each and every time. Live for an audience of one — not your audience on Instagram but the one who made you and cherishes you.

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