At the end of the day yesterday, my lead pastor poked his head in my office as he was on his way out the door to go to the gym. Since he was standing there in his sneakers and sweatpants, we chitchatted for a few minutes about diets, workout routines, and aversions to workout routines. We landed on the topic of cardio, and he remembered, "You really don't like running, do you?" I said, "I really wish I liked running." Then I caught myself and added, "But I keep getting prompted to train for a 5k, and I'm really trying to want to do that." He looked at me for a moment, then said, "You always like to have a goal, don't you?" I nodded. "Yeah. I have a hard time doing anything 'just because.'"
Sometimes, I hear folks in recovery saying, "I can’t do this for anyone else--I need to do this for me." I wince a little inside. I mean, I get the sentiment; I remember saying the same thing at some points. Sure, it's important to get our priorities straight. Yes, personal accountability is essential. We are, in fact, the only ones who can truly impact our own personal wellbeing. We're the only ones who can choose to do what is right for us. Sometimes (oftentimes) that means choosing to do what is right for us in direct opposition to what other people think we should be doing. So yes, there's a “me” factor… but I gotta tell ya, these days, if I’m just “doing it for me,” that feels pretty empty to me.
On the flip side, we can be just as short-sighted in terms of the “other people” factor. When we're setting goals for ourselves on behalf of other people, it's easy to make our goals conditional on those other people. "My family needs me to be sober; I can stay sober as long as my family supports me." Okay, well, what if your family lets you down? What if your family gets tired of supporting you and wants you to stand on your own two feet? What if your family doesn't really like the way you live your life when you're sober? Then who will you stay sober for? Or we make our goals dependent on other people without setting clear expectations. "I'm going to save money this winter to give my family a nice vacation next summer, and they're going to appreciate it." What if you work a bunch of overtime and make a ton of sacrifices, and your family only complains about all the time you're away from home? What if your family just keeps spending the extra money, and still expects you to provide the vacation? Then who's to blame?
So we talked it over ahead of time, weighed the pros and cons, considered the costs, and made the commitment together. We're each going into this thing with different goals for ourselves, and we've discussed how the same system at the same time can work for us both. Our individual goals can be a unified goal. Our personal wellbeing influences our relational wellbeing. We’re doing it for ourselves, and we’re doing it for each other. Ultimately, what we’re each doing individually is for both of us working together.
Those are noble enough aspirations for anyone, right? But are even the best of the “me-you-us” goals really enough to sustain long-term, lasting individual change? I know I’ve certainly set out in the past with plenty of good intentions that lost their lustre when the commitment became inconvenient... or when the other person stopped showing interest.
Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? "I'm doing it for you" or "I'm doing it for me"? Are we digging deep enough to get to the root of true ambition? What if it's not about you, and it's not about me; what if it’s "We’re each doing this to honor the Lord"?
In this first week, my husband and I have shared with a few friends about how we've committed to this diet plan. Some of our friends have tried this particular diet plan or a similar one. We know a few folks who've had amazing results. We also know most people who try diet plans don't stick with them. As anyone inclined toward coaching/mentoring vocations will observe, the reason most people fall short of accomplishing goals is that most people fail to set specific goals in the first place.
Accountability isn't automatic. It's a way of thinking that doesn't come naturally for most of us. What’s the goal in any one thing we’re doing on a given basis? What are we working toward? What are we trying to accomplish? Where have we succeeded? What can we celebrate?
And other people will always interpret our goals through their own perceptions. So far, when mentioning this new commitment to a healthier lifestyle, most of the responses I've heard have gone something like "You're already skinny--you don't need to diet!"
The challenge, as with any heart issue, is that it has nothing to do with the way I look on the outside. Between God and me, I know that even if I do happen to have one of those metabolisms that can pack away a triple cheeseburger with bacon, a side of fries, and a milkshake without gaining any visible weight, gluttony is still gluttony, and self-indulgence is still a guilt I bear in my soul. As my lead pastor said yesterday, “There’s nothing wrong with a donut, but there's nothing purifying about a donut.” And the Spirit has brought this lack of discipline and personal accountability to my attention enough times now over the last year that I have to look at my sulking and pouting and make the decision to do what is right because it's right, not because I have to.
That's where it becomes a matter of spiritual discipline for me--because I don't have to do it. Left to my own devices, I don't really care if I do it or not. And no one would see any reason to hold me accountable if I didn't.
The cop-outs are dangerous for me. I’ve already done some waxing and waning on this blog about the mind-body-spirit connections of living with discipline and living with depression. And no, it’s not a coincidence that I’ve chosen to commit to this diet plan with my husband around the time of year when I'm typically heading into the start of my seasonal blues.
When we base our decisions on "what I want" or "what you want," we can get into an endless loop of vague motives and moving targets. What I want tomorrow might be very different from what I want today. What you want from me at any given time is, at best, an educated guess on my part, formed on imperfect communications and faulty interpretations. What God wants, though... that remains constant. Then it’s not about what I want or how I feel or what you think I should do. Then it's about being called to honor the Lord with my body (I Corinthians 6:19-20), to be faithful with the resources He’s given me (Luke 16:10-11), to encourage one another in good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25), and to build each other up in His truth (Ephesians 4:29) for the glory of His kingdom (Matthew 6:10).
God’s will has a way of simplifying a lot of decisions. "Is what I'm doing at the moment honoring to God?"
Yes? Well, do that, then. No? Then change that.
We tend to over-complicate our wants and desires to the point where we can see no discernible path forward. We stand back staring at an impenetrable wall of forest, instead of pushing through the first shrub in front of us. People who are successful in accomplishing goals are people who pick a direction and start somewhere. Big goals are achieved by setting and achieving small goals. And no goal comes without side effects; a change in any one area of life results in a ripple effect of changes in other areas of life. Strategic goals are goals oriented to build on small accomplishments that bring about a greater accomplishment. Effective vision is about having the eyes to see the parts and the whole at the same time.
We have seen what we are not, and what God wants us to be, but are we willing to be battered into the shape of the vision to be used by God? The beatings will always come in the most common, everyday ways and through common, everyday people." ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
- What’s the big thing we're working toward?
- What’s the next thing we can do to move forward?