Eliminate the Negative: Two New Books that Encourage Holy Habits

As we approach the month when we celebrate All Saints, it’s good to look to their example — and their advice on living holy lives. New books by Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, aim to help readers conquer our tendency toward negativity, as shown in anger, stress, and complaining.

Let Go of Anger & Stress! by Gary Zimak employs St. Paul’s wisdom about the Holy Spirit as an encouragement to transform our mindset. Subtitled “Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Spirit,” this book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives.

Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger.

It’s significant that the call to action in the book’s title is “let go” and not “conquer” or “get rid of” — that shows that we are holding anger and stress much too close, and are all too ready to grab them out of our emotional toolkit. Gary’s book explains the ways St. Paul challenges us, instead, to reach for positive virtues: the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Each chapter of Let Go of Anger & Stress! is divided into short sections, so if you don’t have a lot of time to read all at once, that won’t be an obstacle. The chapters end with a list of the most important points, several reflection questions (keep your journal handy!), and a closing prayer.

If you’ve listened to Gary speak at a parish mission, podcast, or radio appearance, Gary’s writing style will be immediately familiar to you. He writes like he talks: simply and honestly, with relatable examples from his own life. His books aren’t filled with buzzwords, jargon, or complicated theology; instead, you will find sincere words from someone who clearly loves God and wants to follow His will.  

Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, goes by @CrabbyMystic on social media, so it’s not a reach that she’d write Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic. Anyone who knows me knows of my tendency to complain (even if I turn it into a joke, I’m still often complaining), so it’s a comfort to me that saints (AKA people much holier than I am) complained too.

But just because St. Paul, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Thérèse of LIsieux, St. Damien of Molokai, and St. Faustina, among many others, had their moments of complaining, Sr. Mary Lea reminds readers that this is not an excuse for us to indulge that tendency. 

We aren’t getting off scot-free. If we learn from those who were holy before us, then we need to offer this same example to those whose paths we cross, as well as to those who will follow us. (127)

With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. Some of these include:

  • Pray the news in order to bring all the events of our history to God’s throne (138)
  • Read the life of a saint (80)
  • Pray for couples we know who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships (101)
  • Recall a disappointment that brought you closer to Christ (82)
  • Reflect on a time you blamed another for something that turned out badly (120)
  • Note Gospel incidents that might have sparked both human and holy reactions from those involved (37)

The last part of the book goes through the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the Characteristics of Charity, expanding upon St. Paul’s list with examples from the life and writing of saints and saints-to-be. It’s different from the rest of the book, but is an excellent summary of the ideas Sr. Mary Lea discusses in a lighter form in the earlier chapters.


These two books were released several months into a pandemic, and the challenges we have faced this year often seem like they’d lead even the most saintly person to complain and to give in to stress and anger. Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill’s understanding approaches and sound advice lead us to follow God more closely, even in difficult circumstances.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Four for Lent

It’s almost Lent: time to take a look at this year’s newest resources, including one newly re-released gem you can use the whole year long.

One for the Family

With Our Savior
Families with school-age children will enjoy Claire McGarry’s With Our Savior: Family Devotions for Lent. Each day begins with a line or two from Scripture, followed by a short reflection: sometimes a story with a message, sometimes a vignette about a famous person, sometimes an explanation of something from the Bible. A one-sentence prayer focuses on the meat of the story. Finally, there’s an action item, ranging from questions to spark conversation at the dinner table to prompts for works of mercy the family can do together. This inexpensive 48-page booklet is available directly from the publisher, Creative Communications for the Parish, and on Kindle.

One for Your Teen

lent one day at a time

Give your teenagers their own devotional. Katie Prejean McGrady and Tommy McGrady’s Lent: One Day at a Time for Catholic Teens (Ave Maria Press) starts out with a scenario we can all relate to: that absent-minded way we break out “Lenten resolution” only one week in. Leading off with this story allows the McGradys to remind the reader that Lent doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing, but is instead supposed to be a time when we can re-center our lives: on Jesus.
Each Sunday offers a challenge for the week and suggestions for making it happen, as well as a Gospel reflection, journal prompt (and space to write right there in the booklet), and short prayer. Journal prompts for the rest of the week will require a separate journal; each Saturday the week wraps up with an examination of conscience of sorts, based on the challenge from the Sunday before. It’s an easy-to-use book and inexpensive enough to purchase for a whole class or youth group.

One for the Worrier (like me!)

give up worry for Lent
Gary Zimak makes no secret about the fact that he’s a worrier, which makes him the perfect person to write encouraging books for other people who worry too. New from Ave Maria Press, Give Up Worry for Lent: 40 Days to Finding Peace in Christ is a devotional for people who make a habit of worrying. I appreciate that Gary never takes the tactic that if only you trusted God more, you magically wouldn’t experience anxiety anymore. He does talk about trust, but in a way that encourages the reader instead of dismissing their suffering.
Each day’s reflection begins with a short Scripture passage; following this, there’s a reflection (about a page long), an area called “Respond” with a spiritual action item, often including a way to turn around the tendency to worry or be anxious and instead, turn to God. A short prayer wraps up the day’s section.

One for the Whole Year

Around-the-Year
Lenten devotionals are wonderful, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Maria von Trapp’s re-released Around the Year with the von Trapp Family in my list of Lenten must-reads. With this one, your best bet is to start reading it early, because it’s a guide on living the liturgical year, and in many parts of the world, that includes Carnival! Learn about the Old World customs that you can import into your family life. As you move into the Lenten season, read about Maria’s spiritual-reading program, a discussion of fasting and society’s motives for fasting (which reads like something written in 2019, not 1955!), and other Lenten practices.
Around the Year is a book you’ll want to keep handy the whole year long: it’s packed with recipes, descriptions of and historical information about customs, family stories, and even hymns and folk songs – with music! Sophia Institute Press has packaged this book as a beautiful hardcover with lovely touches and simple illustrations. (And if you’re a Sound of Music fan, this is definitely not to be missed.)

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#WorthRevisit: A Podcast About Worry that I Need to Hear Again

I chose this fairly-recent post for Worth Revisit Wednesday because right now I’m feeling pretty anxious and overwhelmed, and I need to revisit Jeff and Gary’s podcast!

I figured I’d catch up on an episode of The Catholic Foodie Show. Yesterday’s program featured Gary Zimak, a Catholic author and speaker who lives in a neighboring town and who specializes in the subject of fear, worry and faith.

As Gary and Jeff shared about worry and how it tends to short-circuit prayer (except for the “God, help me!” kind), they encouraged listeners to remember to always praise God.

That reminded me of a line from St. Francis of Assisi’s Letter to the Faithful. Copy this down and put it where you’ll see it every day:

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility.

This is going to be my focus, going forward. Let’s see where it takes me.

from fear to faithRight now I’m reading Gary’s book From Fear to Faith: A Worrier’s Guide to Discovering Peace. It’s an excellent book to bring to Adoration. Chapters are short and there’s a lot of room for thought, prayer and reflection.

You can listen to this podcast here. When you’re done listening, bookmark the Breadbox Media website or download their app (free for iOS and Android) so you can find your favorite Catholic radio shows online or listen to archived episodes!

The fine print: the link to Gary Zimak’s book is an Amazon affiliate link, which puts a little extra in my pocket at no cost to you when you purchase this book through my link. Thanks!

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Find a Real Friend in Jesus

If you’ve ever heard Gary Zimak speak or listened to his radio program, you’re familiar with his down-to-earth, honest approach to faith. Last year, Gary gave a presentation at a local parish, which felt more like a conversation with a good friend than a speech. He has the ability to make a large church with a hundred or more people in it feel like a small room filled with friends.

find a real friend in Jesus

When you read Gary’s latest book, Find a Real Friend in Jesus, you’ll get that same feeling: that you’re sitting with Gary, getting friendly, personal advice from someone who is so invested in his faith that he can’t help but share it with others. Gary writes from his own experience and does not shy away from discussing his own doubts, struggles and fears; he also never fails to acknowledge how the grace of God has helped him overcome those.

Gary describes “Ten Amazingly Easy Steps” to encounter Jesus in your own life. While the steps may be “easy,” they do require effort on your part–but that effort will bear great spiritual fruit!

As part of working through Step One, “Break Down the Walls,” Gary invites the reader to consider the order in which you list your prayer requests.

Do you pray for yourself before you pray for others? Do you ever ask the Lord what you can do for him, or do you spend most of your prayer time telling him what you need? If you see a problem here, it’s one that’s very easy to fix. By changing the order of your petitions and telling the Lord you’re at his service, you will put the needs of others before your own.

Also, try meditating on the Lord’s passion. It is a very effective way to overcome this obstacle. Before long, you’ll find yourself thinking less about your needs and more about how much Jesus loves you. (51)

In other parts of the book, Gary recommends Eucharistic Adoration, studying the Catechism, receiving the Sacraments, reading Scripture and turning to Mary among the ways you can learn to draw closer to Jesus.

Find a Real Friend in Jesus is easy to read and an excellent book to take to prayer as you seek to draw closer to the Lord.

The Fine Print: I was provided a review copy of this book from the publisher. I received no other compensation for this review. The opinions expressed here are mine alone. This article contains Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links supports Franciscanmom.com at no cost to you. Thanks!

A Must-Listen: The Catholic Foodie and Gary Zimak talk about worry

This morning I was up early worrying. I have a meeting later this morning, and I know the meeting itself will be fine. It’s just the pre-meeting preparation that gets to me. Every time.

I’m actually glad that I signed up to bring soup for the lunch we’ll have after the meeting, because cooking is one way I relax. Chopping, stirring, measuring and pouring–I find that very calming.

No one else in the house was awake yet, so I decided to cue up a podcast to keep me company while I prepared that soup. Since I was going to be cooking, I figured I’d catch up on an episode of The Catholic Foodie Show. Yesterday’s program featured Gary Zimak, a Catholic author and speaker who lives in a neighboring town and who specializes in the subject of fear, worry and faith.

As Gary and Jeff shared about worry and how it tends to short-circuit prayer (except for the “God, help me!” kind), they encouraged listeners to remember to always praise God.

That reminded me of a line from St. Francis of Assisi’s Letter to the Faithful. Copy this down and put it where you’ll see it every day:

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility.

This is going to be my focus, going forward. Let’s see where it takes me.

from fear to faithRight now I’m reading Gary’s book From Fear to Faith: A Worrier’s Guide to Discovering Peace. It’s an excellent book to bring to Adoration. Chapters are short and there’s a lot of room for thought, prayer and reflection.

You can listen to this podcast here. When you’re done listening, bookmark the Breadbox Media website or download their app (free for iOS and Android) so you can find your favorite Catholic radio shows online or listen to archived episodes!

The fine print: the link to Gary Zimak’s book is an Amazon affiliate link, which puts a little extra in my pocket at no cost to you when you purchase this book through my link. Thanks!