Shauna Niequist: Even if it’s just five minutes a day in a journal, I always tell people, “If you’re just getting started, start with pain, desire, and gratitude. What hurts? What do I want? And what’s good about what’s right in front of me?” I think those are three really good places to start.
When Life Gets Stressful, Look for the Blessings: Mark Wahlberg, Roma Downey, & Shauna Niequist – Episode #299
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. In the busyness of life, job, family, and activities, we can easily become caught up in the day-to-day routine of putting one foot in front of another. And sometimes, that very routine, instead of being comforting, can be something we feel dragging us down, making us also feel like we’re just living life in an endless loop, with no real deliberation or purpose. Our guests this week have learned an important truth about taking deliberate steps to carve out moments for reflection and connection with God—even when their day-to-day existence is overwhelming.
Actor Mark Wahlberg takes time each day to pray because he knows it will equip him to take on what’s next in a positive way.
Actress and writer Roma Downey takes a moment at the beginning and end of each day to speak to what she is grateful for and to identify that day’s unique blessings.
Writer and speaker Shauna Niequist enjoys a “breath” prayer practice where she thinks consciously about breathing in God’s peace and breathing out her own anxiety. No matter which way you choose to deliberately connect with God’s presence in your life, you will likely find peace, strength, and courage to take on stressful days that only He can give.
Let’s start things off with Mark Wahlberg, star of the new movie, Father Stu.
Mark Wahlberg’s Story
Mark Wahlberg: Hi, this is Mark Wahlberg. I am a normal, regular guy from Boston, Massachusetts, who’s been extraordinarily lucky. And I have been on an amazing journey and I give all credit due to my faith and my connection, my relationship to the Lord, both personally and professionally.
God’s Influence Through Every Stage of Life
As an actor and a producer, I’m just trying to make really interesting content and trying to entertain people and trying make people laugh, cry, think, talk, discuss, and do better. And as a person of faith, I’m just trying to grow and be better every day, be an example to my wife and to my children, and to the people that look to me as an example.
“As a person of faith, I’m just trying to grow and be better every day, be an example to my wife and to my children, and to the people that look to me as an example.” – Mark Wahlberg
[When] I was a teenager, I had gotten into some trouble, and the only place to turn was to the Lord. There was really nobody else there. And then once I did that, all of these wonderful people started popping up who were also influenced by the Lord, and messengers and people who were serving in various ways. They all came and touched me. And so when I started focusing on my faith, good things started to happen. I liked that a lot, so I continued to do that.
“When I started focusing on my faith, good things started to happen.” – Mark Wahlberg
Obviously, [we’ve all] had some bumps in the road, especially now with COVID. It’s been a couple of years since I was able to attend church, and that had never happened. I had never missed a mass and not received the Eucharist, not sharing with my fellow servants of God. So it’s been a trying time, but things are coming back, and I think we’ll come back stronger than ever and unified together.
The more people I encounter, the more people I want to pray for and stories I hear of people I feel like I need to pray for. Sometimes I have to try to condense my prayer time and then, of course, read my daily scripture. And then I feel like, Okay. And then I go and I do my workout, and then I feel like I can conquer the day. Whatever is put in front of me, I think I can handle it. I feel like I am armed and ready for battle.
Learning from Father Stu
The name of the movie is Father Stu. Everything about it—all of the struggles, all the trials, all the tribulation, all of the way he dealt with adversity, the way he transformed himself when he found his calling, how committed he was and unwavering in his service to God under the most difficult of circumstances—he was a very, very special individual and he touched a lot of people. He went back and really tried to communicate the importance of having a relationship with God with people like him who were hurt and angry and upset. I think that a lot of people [would be] hard-pressed to find somebody who’s not one of those things in this day and age with all of the different adversity that we’re all facing.
So, yes, it’s very relatable to everybody. I challenge anybody to say they don’t relate to or identify with him, or that the story doesn’t touch them in some sort of personal way. And I will continue to spread his message across the world, and people will get to know all the wonderful things that Stu did and why he did them and was in service to the Lord as a humble servant.
I would say that no person is beyond redemption, as long as they are willing to repent and want to make real change. We cannot turn our backs on anybody. This is not about excluding people. This is about including people and opening our arms and our hearts and our homes and everything else to love people and care for them. And when they know that they’re loved and cared for and not forgotten, especially people who are in hard times, that means a lot to them. And that will encourage people to better themselves and pass that on to other people.
“No person is beyond redemption . . . We cannot turn our backs on anybody. This is not about excluding people. This is about including people and opening our arms and our hearts and our homes and everything else to love people and care for them.” – Mark Wahlberg
Narrator: You can watch Mark Wahlberg’s newest movie, Father Stu, at a theater near you.
Roma Downey’s Story
Narrator: Next up, we’ll hear from actress and producer Roma Downey, who opens up about the loss of her mother and father, and however since then, she’s seen unexpected blessings from God all around her—just when she needs them the most.
Roma Downey: Hello, I’m Roma Downey, and I’m an author, a producer, and an actress. I’m originally from Ireland, and I’ve lived in America for a very long time. I run a company called Lightworkers, which is the faith and family division of MGM. My heart is set on creating content that uplifts and inspires. And that’s really where my passion is as a storyteller, to bring to life on screen those amazing stories, everything from The Bible series to the movie Son of God, A.D. The Bible Continues, and more recently on Netflix, Messiah.
A Light to Combat the Darkness
As a woman of faith, it’s been incredible that I’ve been able to combine what I believe with what I do, and I’ve been able to do that for so long in an industry that isn’t known for embracing faith, really, not necessarily.
Many years ago, I starred in a television show called Touched by an Angel. Touched by an Angel was a hit TV show that aired on the CBS Network from 1994 to 2004. And after the series came off the air, I took a step back wondering what my next move should be and would be. And I spent a lot of time in reflection and prayer and really wanting to—if I continued in show business—be able to continue to do work that felt purposeful, that felt meaningful. And the kinds of projects that were being offered to me as an actor didn’t necessarily fulfill that criteria. I think in life you reach a point where you think, If I only have forty summers left, what do I want to be doing with my life? And I thought, I really want to live a life of purpose.
“I think in life you reach a point where you think, If I only have forty summers left, what do I want to be doing with my life? And I thought, I really want to live a life of purpose.” – Roma Downey
And it was that intention, that thought in my heart, that planted the seed that grew into the idea to create a production company which became Lightworkers Media, which was solely intended to bring forward projects that inspired people, uplifted people, that motivated people, that reminded people that there is a God and that God loves them.
There is a saying that “it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” And we really believe that at Lightworkers, you know, there are bad things happening in the world. Of course, there are. There is a lot of fear and anxiety around COVID, around climate change, around rising crime, world hunger. I mean, it goes on and on. There’s so much hurt and pain in our world. But there is also so much goodness in our world, and there are good people everywhere doing good things every day. And I think sometimes the bad stuff is just so noisy it takes all the oxygen out of the room. It’s all everybody’s talking about. And so we’re committed to reminding people that there is goodness in the world, that there are good people, and that there is light. That is the light. And that, of course, God is the light. We’re just the workers.
“There’s so much hurt and pain in our world. But there is also so much goodness in our world, and there are good people everywhere doing good things every day.” – Roma Downey
A Practice of Gratefulness
Speaking for myself, it’s very easy to get trapped in the busyness of our lives, and we can forget to take a moment for ourselves, a moment for each other or a moment for God. And we forget to notice the sometimes surprising blessings He sends.
One of my very favorite scriptures is Psalm 46:10, which is, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Be still and know.
Here we are in the busyness of our busy lives, and it’s just important for a moment to take the time to be still, to take the time to be quiet. You know, it can be any time of the day, of course, whatever works for you. But for me, I find that the early mornings are the best time. I love the quiet of the morning before the house wakes up. I’m obsessed with sunrise and sunset. I just find them the most beautiful and mysterious times of the day. It’s sort of in that half-light—it’s not quite morning, it’s not quite night—that I really feel a particular and special closeness to God.
I have a practice in the mornings to help remind me of this gratitude attitude that I want to live my life by. And it’s just as simple as this: when you get out of bed in the morning, your first action probably is—like me—to walk into the bathroom. I put my first foot down on the floor and I say, “Thank” and I put my second foot down on the floor and I say, “You” and I say “Thank you” with each step I take into the bathroom. And I start my day in gratitude and gratitude for everything, for the birds that sing, for the sun that rises. You know, the Bible tells us to pray continually, and “Thank You” can be a prayer.
I find that most of my gratitude is in full force when I’m in nature. I love to be outside. I love to see trees, to see greenery, see the mountains, to see the oceans. And if I’m feeling a bit down, I just try to get myself outside just to see the blue sky or the gray sky. But just to see there’s so much when you start paying attention to the details in life.
I spend time in Jesus Calling every morning, and it strengthens me and prepares me for the day ahead. There are many small ways we learn in our lives how to cope. And I think if you have a gratitude attitude, you can really change your life.
“If you have a gratitude attitude, you can really change your life.” – Roma Downey
The Bible tells us that we all will suffer. No one is spared that. But with the kindness of family and friends, with the love of community, with the support of the people around you, I think that we have to remember to be humble enough to reach out and ask for help if we need it. You know, if we’re not coping well, you’re not doing well, or you’re lonely or you’re isolated—let somebody know. There’s no need to go through these painful periods in your life by yourself. I know as a person of faith, I get so much comfort in knowing that I’m never alone, that God is with me and that I don’t have to handle any of these losses by myself.
And if you can focus on all that you have—and everybody has something, even if you’re lacking, even if you’re lonely, there’s something you have to be grateful for—and you set your heart and your intention and your focus on that and use that as your foundational building block to say, “I’m grateful for the love of my daughter”—and sometimes I focus on my daughter’s face, and I see her face when I’m having a down day and I see her smile. She has a beautiful, radiant smile. And when I see her smile in my mind’s eye—you know, it can change my whole day. It can just raise me up.
I’ve almost trained myself to look for the blessings. And the great thing is, when you train yourself to look for the blessings, you find them, and then you start finding that they’re everywhere. It’s like the more you’re grateful for, the more you have to be grateful for.
“I’ve almost trained myself to look for the blessings. And the great thing is, when you train yourself to look for the blessings, you find them, and then you start finding that they’re everywhere. It’s like the more you’re grateful for, the more you have to be grateful for.” – Roma Downey
Stay tuned to Shauna Niequist’s story after a brief message.
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Shauna Niequist’s Story
Narrator: Shauna Niequist is the New York Times bestselling author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, Bread & Wine, Savor, and Present Over Perfect. Shauna shares how she reached a point in her life where the tried and true strategies she had used over the years to pull herself up out of difficult times weren’t working, and she had to resort to some new ways of approaching tough seasons—through courage, curiosity and compassion. She also shares about the decision to pull up roots from her childhood home in the Midwest to make a new home in Manhattan, and embrace the unknowns that came from starting over.
Shauna Niequist: My name is Shauna Neiquist. I’m a writer. I grew up mostly in the suburbs of Chicago, but my extended family was all in West Michigan, so I spent all our holidays and summers up there on the lake, which is my favorite place in the world. My mom was a writer and a bookworm and a poet, and she read to me when I was really little—she said the reason she had kids was so that she could read to them at night.
All I ever wanted to be was a writer. I love books and I love stories, and it felt to me like those are the things that changed my life and shaped my world so deeply. And I felt like it would be such an honor to be a part of that community to help other people feel the things that I felt when I was little and when I discovered stories.
We spent a lot of time together as a family, just the four of us. I had a little brother, and the four of us were really close. I traveled a lot with my dad, who was a pastor. I got to go to all kinds of places all over the world with him, and I really loved that. I loved traveling. I loved having a sense at a very young age that the world was big and beautiful, and people all over the world were kind and interesting.
“I loved having a sense at a very young age that the world was big and beautiful, and people all over the world were kind and interesting.” – Shauna Niequist
One of the stories my family always tells is the first time I went to Spain, I was in my late grade school, maybe junior high. And of course, I was super jetlagged, but also a lot of times in Spanish culture, they eat dinner really late at night. But I was very excited to act like a grownup. And so there was this big group of people having dinner, and I was determined to stay awake for it. We’re on the Mediterranean coast, and they serve us this beautiful bowl of a seafood stew. And first of all, that was the first time I ever saw shells inside a soup because we don’t really do that in Illinois. But also, I was determined to stay awake until I finally just moved my bowl to the side and set my head down on a table and fell asleep. And so they always tell that story about how that was my introduction into the late night nature of Spanish dining culture. And I did not handle it well that time.
We travel a lot now with our kids, and it’s important to us that they see different ways of living and different ways of eating and hear different languages, and all of that feels interesting and life-giving to them instead of scary and weird. That’s really, really important to us as a family.
A Beginner in a New Place
Every year my husband would ask, “Is this the year for an adventure?” I thought he meant a trip. But I was like, “Sure, we can go on a trip. Yeah, definitely.” And what he meant was like, “I don’t want to live in our hometown forever. I want our life to feel like an adventure. I don’t want to spend every holiday and trip with our entire extended family. I don’t want to work at the church we’ve been at all our lives. I want to live a different way.”
And unfortunately I didn’t listen very well. I kind of dug in harder, and I was like, “But maybe we could.”
I think what it came down to is I couldn’t imagine that we wanted such different things. I thought everybody wanted what I wanted. But the older I get it, and through the last couple of years, I’ve realized we really do want different things for our lives—and that’s not wrong. What Aaron was asking for wasn’t wrong at all. What was wrong was that I wasn’t listening very well.
And so several things shifted. Our jobs shifted. Our relationship to [our] church shifted. Several relationships shifted, and we realized this hometown is not the hometown it used to be for us, and it’s time for us to make a move. It felt very like Goldilocks, like, “This is too big. This is too little. This isn’t us.” We took a lot of trips and we knocked on a lot of doors, and we never expected the place that would ultimately become our home would be New York City. We felt like there was a lot of energy and direction, like God’s graciousness was very apparent, and it felt like the path was emerging before every step. And then we moved to Manhattan.
We made this big move and it was a major, major lifestyle change. We had never lived in a big city, we had never lived in an apartment. We had never not had a car. We had never not had grandparents around, and our kids had never walked to school. They always took a bus. On all sorts of levels, our day to day was just incredibly different.
Six weeks or so into the move, I realized that the kids, every day, came home with new questions and they were feeling sort of that resilience fatigue, or maybe like figure-it-out fatigue or courage fatigue, like tired of not knowing how to do stuff. And so it was starting to wear on them, and they were asking questions like, “Why is this so hard? Why can’t I figure this out? Why don’t I know this?”
And I realized that under the surface of those questions, they were sort of saying, “Am I dumb? Am I falling behind? Is there something wrong with me that this is still so hard?”
I felt that so deeply like, “Oh no, no, no. Okay, we need to create some new language and new understanding around this. You’re not dumb. You’re not falling behind. There’s nothing wrong with you. This isn’t about failing. This is about being new. This is about being a learner. This is about being a beginner in a new place. And it’s a wonderful thing, not a failing.”
“This isn’t about failing. This is about being new. This is about being a learner. This is about being a beginner in a new place. And it’s a wonderful thing, not a failing.” – Shauna Niequist, on encouraging her kids after their cross-country move
And so I wrote it down. I wrote that phrase down. “I guess I haven’t learned that yet.” Instead of like, “I made a mistake, I got it wrong. I can’t figure it out.” No. “I guess I haven’t learned that yet.”
I put it on our wall and I said, “All four of us are going to report at the end of each day one time when we had to say that to ourselves.”
I also wanted our kids to know it wasn’t just them. Aaron and I were as confused and exhausted as they were. I got the subway wrong, like, fifty percent of the time, and that would be generous. We had to figure out how to do laundry in an apartment basement. We hadn’t done that for a long time. There were so many new things to learn, and so we tried to build into our family language this idea that being new is good and starting again is good, and it’s okay to be a rookie and it’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to need help.
“It’s okay to be a rookie. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to need help.” – Shauna Niequist
I realized along the way that phrase had a lot of wisdom to offer, to not just the subway and schools and that kind of stuff, but like our marriage. What did I get wrong in the last season that I want to get right in this season and in my attitude toward my faith, and in my friendships and in my writing life? What does it mean to take off the expert hat and say, “I want to be a listener, I want to be a learner. I want to consider new possibilities or new perspectives.” That way of thinking all of a sudden brought a lot of health and healing to things that had been stuck for a long time.
“What does it mean to take off the expert hat and say, ‘I want to be a listener, I want to be a learner. I want to consider new possibilities or new perspectives’? That way of thinking all of a sudden brought a lot of health and healing to things that had been stuck for a long time.” – Shauna Niequist
I use that phrase in my regular day-to-day life about myself very often because I am so quick to say, “You should have this all together. You should have figured this out by now. You should have figured this out twenty years ago. You should be past this.”
And it’s not true. I’m not past some of these things. I haven’t learned them yet, or I’m still struggling with them. It is a statement of grace to say, “This might not be a failure. This might just be something you’re still learning.” That feels like a really healthy and healing thing for us to say to ourselves.
A Life-Giving Prayer Practice
I love a prayer. I love anything that connects the physical and the spiritual because so much of our culture and our faith experience disconnects the two.
There’s a lot of different ways to do [breath prayer]. But one of the ways to do it would be to choose something that you want to inhale, something that you want to bring into your life, and then to exhale something that you want to expel out of your life. So you could say, “I want to breathe in peace and breathe out anxiety.”
Or a different way to do it is to just pick two phrases often from scripture, from a song, or from a hymn that feel meaningful to you, and to do one on the inhale and one on the exhale. So you could say “Christ, my comforter,” for example, on the inhale and then, “Walk with me.”
There are certainly more eloquent ways to do it, but the idea is to pray along with what’s happening already in your body, and to integrate your body and your spirit together, and to acknowledge that they are intertwined and that they work together, and that our breath in and out is a way of sustaining life in a same way that prayer is a way of sustaining life. So that’s one of my favorite practices, especially when I feel a strong sense of anxiety or disconnection from my body. Those breath prayers kind of bring me back to a grounded place.
Jesus Listens, February 2nd:
My living Lord,
By day You direct Your Love; at night Your song is with me—for You are the God of my life. Knowing that You are in charge of everything is such a great comfort! During the day, You command Your Love to bless me in countless ways. So I’ll be on the lookout for the many good things You place along my path—searching for Your blessings and thanking You for each one I find. Help me not to be discouraged by the hard things I encounter but to accept them as part of living in a deeply fallen world.
I rejoice that Your song is with me throughout the night as You lovingly watch over me. If I am wakeful, I can use this time to seek Your Face and enjoy Your peaceful Presence. A tender intimacy with You develops when I remember You on my bed— meditating on You in the night watches. Whether I am waking or sleeping, You are always present with me. For You are indeed the God of my life!
In Your blessed Name, Jesus,
I love the sections about God’s song being with us in the night. Over the last couple of years, I’ve always been a very good sleeper, like, a champion sleeper. And then I have gone through the most crazy-making insomnia over the past year and a half or so. And I’ve never experienced it in my life. And so I have a lot of time in the night to think about things, and I have tried everything, and some of them work for a little bit and some of them don’t.
I went through a season several years ago where, essentially, I had to navigate my worth and identity separate from my work, and grounded in my creativity. I had to re-navigate “Am I loved and safe because of what I do? Or am I loved and safe before I do anything in the world?”
One of the practices that became very important to me is—when we had little kids, you know, they wake you up, you don’t wake them up. And so I would lay in bed. I would hear the first one of them starting to talk in their crib or in their little bed. And I would know, Okay, I’ve got about thirty seconds before it’s time to go in there. But I would lay in bed perfectly still, and I would remind myself, There’s nothing you can do today to earn or prove or gain more love from God. And there’s nothing you can do today to ruin or break or destroy that love.
Just saying those things to myself in sort of a prayerful or meditative way kind of set my foundation for the day. My worth is not on the line. There’s nothing I have to prove. My worth is given to me by the Creator. And then also, it’s not something I can destroy. It’s not in my power to do that. The love and worth that God bestows upon every person He creates is not ours to destroy or manage in any way.
“There’s nothing I have to prove. My worth is given to me by the Creator. And then also, it’s not something I can destroy. It’s not in my power to do that. The love and worth that God bestows upon every person He creates is not ours to destroy or manage in any way.” – Shauna Niequist
It’s important to me to see all of life as a gift and to notice specific things in it. And so a core part of my spiritual practice is praying prayers of gratitude. Things are not perfect, but goodness still exists. And every good and perfect gift is from God, is from our Father. And so to acknowledge the goodness of life even in challenging seasons—especially in challenging seasons—is very important to me.
Living Lightly in Times of Change
I always encourage people that moving is an opportunity to live lightly in a lot of different ways with your stuff, but also with your assumptions and your rules. To take it one step further, living lightly is letting go of a lot of things from the past that you’ve been hanging on to that don’t serve you well anymore: hanging on to anger, hanging on to unforgiveness, hanging on to guilt about something that you can’t fix. There’s a way of living lightly that I think applies again to our stuff, to our assumptions, but also to a lot of our relationships. And that’s been a very life-giving idea for me.
When you have lived in the same house for a long time—all of us do this—you will fill every shelf you have. You’ll fill every guest room. If you have space for it, you’ll fill it up, right? And then the process of moving, we were like, Oh gosh, we’ve been in this house for ten years, and now we’re moving to an 825-square-foot apartment. There’s no basement, there’s no garage. We have to downsize on a very serious level.
And then through that, we’re getting rid of a lot of stuff obviously: tons of dishes, tons of books, tons of clothes, tons of kids toys. We’re also getting rid of a lot of assumptions about, “This is the only right way to live,” or, “This is the only way to raise kids,” or, “This is the only this”—we let go of a lot of those kinds of rules. For example, “You can only live in the city when you’re twenty-five and then you move to the suburbs,” or, “You should never move your kids mid-year,” or whatever, all those kinds of rules we bring in.
I think that’s where supporting each other and developing healthy, grounding practices are the only way we’re all going to get through this because it is hard. It is exhausting. It is frustrating to feel like the guidelines are changing all the time, even if those are the right changes that are being made.
I think one thing we’re seeing in a lot of us is you get better at it over time, you develop these resilience skills, and then you use them and develop more and you use them more. And so we started off at Plan B and now we’re at Plan W, but we can get all the way through the alphabet because we’ve had to learn how. And I hate the process that took us through this, but I love what it yields in us. Those are good skills to have.
Then certainly for us in a big move, it’s easy to get a little bit too isolated and to hear only your own voice for way too long. And the support that we can offer one another, the grounding, the kind of perspective and kindness that we can offer to one another, those are real life-savers.
Narrator: You can find Shauna Niequist’s book, I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet, wherever books are sold.
If you’d like to hear more stories about finding God’s peace in stressful moments, check out our interview with Ruth Chou Simons.
Next Week: Tim Tebow
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll celebrate our 300th episode by hearing from Tim Tebow, two-time college football national champion, Heisman trophy winner, first-round NFL draft pick, and former professional football player. After much success in the sports world, Tim draws from the same determination that made him a champion toward a new mission in life.
Tim Tebow: I feel like my biggest mission and calling is so much different and more important than a game would ever be. And I think it’s to love Jesus and love people. But I think even more specific than that, it’s to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves.