Posted in Christianity, Life, Thoughts

Do Not Follow This Advice

I read quite a few books on religious topics. One thing I’ve been particularly noticing recently is that people like to tell you what works for them.

Three examples from books I’ve read in the past year:

  • In The Book of Not So Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, a New Way to Live, Linda McCullough Moore shares how she started praying for three (or maybe four, I don’t remember) 15-minute segments spaced throughout her day. It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.
  • In One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp talks about how a friend challenged her to list 1,000 things she loved. Keeping this list and the constant focus on gratitude it encouraged became something that lasted well beyond the thousandth item. It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.
  • In Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds (what’s with all the super long subtitles?), Jen Wilkin laments the lack of Biblical literacy among Christians and lays out the method she has developed for studying the Bible in a way that leads to real learning. You guessed it: It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.

I appreciate these women and their wisdom and insight and that they have shared those things with the world. Do not take this post as a criticism of them or their books. It’s not. But sometimes we read these sorts of things and go, “Wow, I want my relationship with God to grow like that.”

So we do what the authors did.

And it doesn’t work.

I don’t mean we tried for three days and gave up. We did those three (or four) 15-minute prayer segments every day for months and still consistently found them a burden, not a joy. We listed 1,000 things we were grateful for and nothing ever clicked. After several books, marking up a double-spaced copy of a specific book of the Bible with annotations in colored pencil remained completely uninspiring and we don’t seem to know any more than when we started.

And then we think, “But I did exactly what they said and I’ve seen no significant changes, what’s wrong with me?”

What’s “wrong” with you is: You are not Linda McCollough Moore. You are not Ann Voskamp. You are not Jen Wilkin. You are you. Your personality is different. Your tragic backstory is different. The way you relate to God and people and life is different. It’s just logical that things that work for other people might not work for you.

We get the principle confused with the process. There are Biblical principles to be found in these books. The Bible teaches us to make prayer a constant part of our life (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to always give thanks because that’s God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and that studying the scriptures is a noble task (Acts 17:11). The Bible does not say, “Pray for three (or four) 15-minute segments spaced throughout your day,” or, “Keep a constant physical list of the things you are thankful for,” or, “Before you start to study a book of the Bible, print out a double-spaced copy with wide margins and collect some nice colored pencils for annotating it.”

At the beginning of a new year, many people like to reevaluate where they are in life and attempt some changes. If you need a new process for deepening your relationship with God, go for it. Maybe you want to try something from one of these books. Or a different book. Or something that has worked for a friend. In this post I list several suggestions. Maybe you have some ideas of your own. But as you try things, keep in mind:

Never measure your faith by someone else’s process. Measure it by Biblical principles.

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Posted in Life, Thoughts

Book Club Woes

You know what I want? A book club for adults who have zero interest in the latest New York Times Best Seller.

Who would rather reread Percy Jackson, or pick up a graphic novel from the kid’s section of the library just out of curiosity, or grab a nonfiction book about matchmakers in London in World War II, or read A Tale of Two Cites because Dickens is hilarious (and can also make me cry).

It’s not that I can’t read long books and have deep discussions. I just find most of the generic adult fiction genre inappropriate and/or boring, and I’d rather seek fodder for deep discussions elsewhere.

Surely I can’t be the only one.

And yet I’ve never discovered anything like this.

Most of the book clubs I see focus on that generic adult fiction, and if it’s not that it’s mysteries or classics, neither of which are what I want either.

I suppose I could attempt to start my own. But that seems stressful. I don’t want to be in charge of such a book club, I just think one should exist.

Okay. Rant over.

Posted in Christianity, Life, Thoughts

Slow Down

“I’ve got to go to work.”
“On no account. You need rest.”
“It’s the planning meeting, it’s important.”
“You’re important.”
– From the 
Doctor Who episode “The Lodger”

I do not like commercials for cold and flu medicine. They all seem to say basically the same thing: “Don’t let anything slow you down! Take this medicine so you can keep doing everything you always do even though you’re sick!”

First of all, I don’t care what they’re selling, when I’m sick, no medicine ever makes me feel as good as the commercials suggest. But even more than that, the “Don’t let anything slow you down!” message bothers me.

When you’re sick, your body is already working hard to fight off the germs. Which takes up energy you normally use for other things. So, you know, if you try to do all those other things, too… It doesn’t work out well.

I’m not sure what it is that makes humans want to go, go, go, even when their bodies want to rest, rest, rest. Maybe it’s a subconscious desire to believe that the world needs us. Maybe it’s fear of boredom. Maybe it’s a culture that equates value with productivity. Maybe some combination of lots of different factors, depending on the person.

But when you are sick, it really is okay to slow down. Not just okay; important. Resting when you genuinely need to is not laziness. The world will continue spinning if you call in sick to work, or if the laundry has to wait an extra day, or if you take a nap instead of reading. And it’s okay that the world continues spinning while you rest.

And I think that God sometimes uses illness to remind us to slow down. I’m certainly not going to tell someone with the flu, “Oh, God made you get sick so you would slow down.” I don’t have that kind of knowledge. Notice that my first statement didn’t even say, “I think sometimes God makes us get sick to remind us to slow down.” But it might be something to consider.

One of the best things that happened to me in college is that I had a cold during my first finals week. I had to just do some studying with the limited energy I had, show up for my tests and do what I could, and let that be enough. And lo and behold, things turned out fine. Which gave me proof that I did not have to stress about finals week to do well. It was great.

(You know, I think this blog post was much better constructed in my head. It seemed like it would flow so nicely, but it’s not working so well now that I’m trying to type it out. Oh, well. We’ll jump to the conclusion then.)

So. If you’re sick, slow down. Please. The planning meeting is important. But so are you.

Posted in Christianity, Life, Thoughts

Generating Community

I follow a few pages on Facebook that post clean, funny pictures. I’d say my favorite is probably Debi Downer (and yes, the funny part applies despite the name).

Recently, the admin of the page posted this:

I did not see the picture in question. But all the comments on this post were along the lines of, “I appreciate your clean content!” “We all make mistakes; don’t worry about it.” “You’re the best!” And I have seen this sort of thing happen on this page before. Infrequently. But always handled with the same grace and tact. I scrolled away from this post appreciating this small, pleasant, safe corner of the internet and wanting to remain part of it.

I’ve also seen the same situation happen on another, similar page, which I don’t think I shall name because that doesn’t seem necessary. But that admin’s response was always something like, “Excuse me for accidentally posting something inappropriate! Haven’t you ever made a mistake? I’m busy and can’t catch everything. Go ahead and unfollow me if you want to. No skin off my nose!” This is not a direct quote. It’s been way too long to attempt to find one. But you get the gist. And I’m sure you can imagine that this did not produce the same sort of pleasant conversations.

I never actually unfollowed that page. But I did slowly stop interacting with it, and I don’t see much from it now. When I scroll past a picture that makes me laugh and I notice that it’s from that page, I go, “Eh, I don’t think I’ll hit the like button.” I don’t really want to be a part of that community.

It fascinates me how in the exact same situation, one person’s decision to be consistently humble and pleasant or consistently bitter and annoyed completely shapes the sort of community that develops around them. Because while individual people may be pleasant or bitter no matter what situation you put them in, as a group, people tend to follow the lead of the person who initiates the tone of the group’s emotions.

What sort of community would you rather encourage in your life?

Posted in Life, Thoughts

On Buying Clothes and Feeling Beautiful

I’m no fashion expert. But I’ve watched a lot of What Not to Wear and I’ve worn a lot of clothes, so there you have my qualifications.

I like shirts shaped like this. In theory. I pull them off the rack at the store and go, “Ooh, it’s pretty!” But I’ve stopped doing anything more with them because I know from experience that when I try them on and look in the dressing room mirror, the thought changes to, “Ugh, that looks AWFUL!” This shape and my shape just do not mix well.

That’s not a problem in and of itself. But, “That looks awful,” easily translates to, “I look awful,”  and that thought repeated over and over consistently becomes the belief, “I am inherently awful-looking.” And that’s just depressing; no one wants to live like that.

So I could buy the shirt I think is pretty in theory and go around feeling frumpy and thinking I’m the problem. Or I could put it back on the rack, move on, and maybe find something like…

… this.

This is a shirt I actually own, and it’s one of my two current favorites. When I’m wearing it and catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror at work, I almost always go, “Hey, I look GOOD!” and it makes me smile and brightens the day a bit.

What changed? Not my shape. Not attempts to tell myself something I don’t really believe. Just my choice of shirt. That’s all.

Clothes that look beautiful on other people or on the rack might look genuinely awful on you. That’s not a problem, it’s just a fact. It only becomes a problem when you sigh and resign yourself to wearing them anyway because you think they should look beautiful.

Stop. Put it back. Find something else. There’s another shirt out there that will be better. And maybe you can’t see this for yourself, maybe you need to do some research or recruit a friend who can tell you, “Yes, this is good, see how this one shows that you have a waist instead of making it look like you’re wearing a tent, and this color complements your skin tone.” But there are options that can make you think, “I look good!”

And guess what? “I look good,” repeated over and over consistently, can at least encourage the belief, “I am inherently good-looking.” And that’s a much happier way to live.

Posted in Life, Thoughts

Donna

I have started rewatching some Doctor Who episodes I like. Last night I watched one with Donna, one of my favorite characters.

It was her first episode. She’s about to get married, and the would-be groom turns out to be a jerk and a traitor, though poor Donna genuinely loved him.

At one point, the man says this about her: “I was stuck with a woman who thinks the height of excitement is a new flavor Pringle. Oh, I had to sit there and listen to all that yap yap yap. Oh, Brad and Angelina. Is Posh pregnant? X Factor, Atkins Diet, Feng Shui, split ends, text me, text me, text me. The never ending fountain of fat, stupid trivia. I deserve a medal. ”

The way he says it makes the comment especially unkind, but it’s probably fairly accurate. Donna is the sort of person who, if we knew her in real life, most people would find obnoxious, shallow, and boring. She’s loud. She’s brash. She’s oblivious. She doesn’t have any obvious impressive talents.

And this show takes her and gradually shows how much depth even a person like that has. Her loyalty and bravery and ability to stand up to people who need someone to tell them to stop and how much she can care about someone and how interesting she is.

I love that.