Learning the unforced rhythms of grace


Limitless is not all it seems!

Sometimes a thought, like a seed, gets planted in my heart. I think this is a creative gift from God. He doesn't tell me the whole story at once but slowly lets the thought grow, bit by bit, until it has taken root and becomes established. I'm learning to love this process, pay attention to it, take notes and follow the progression of 'clues' that God seems to leave as I listen for His voice.

For instance, these past few months the seed that was planted was this:  taking care of my own life needs to take priority in order for me to be fully obedient to God. 

However, I find that helping others or taking care of others' needs is often more fulfilling than taking care of my own. Sometimes that makes it tempting to abandon what is good and important in my own life to fill a need to feel loved and appreciated, important, needed or valuable. If that is the case for you as well, then this idea of taking care of yourself first is going to sound wrong, selfish and perhaps even counter-productive. It forces us to look away from the feel-good result of people-pleasing . . . even if our motives are intended to be good. 

if you've grown up in a churchy-environment or home environment where your needs were not validated and in fact you were taught that they didn't matter, boundaries weren't important and that love meant saying "yes" to everything . . . and perhaps you were praised for all the time and energy you gave to other people . . . then this idea is going to feel wrong to you as well. You may have in fact, been scolded for taking time to rest or care for yourself and so this concept brings back feelings of shame and accusation. 

When I worked as a spiritual director with Urban Sanctuary, I had the privilege of listening to the stories of many Christians who were exhausted, some were becoming resentful, experiencing the loss of relationships with spouse or kids over the emphasis their lives had taken on by trying to help others. Some had become depressed and apathetic. Their intentions were good but self-care was not included in their obedience to God and often their own church or home environment didn't encourage rest or limits which added to their confusion and frustration. So if that is what the end result of not taking care of oneself looks like, then I'm curious about the opposite!

There is a movie called "Limitless" and a new TV series by the same name. The concept is that by taking a pill, your brain is activated into high functioning. You are suddenly brilliant, able to learn at rapid speeds, discerning, perceptive, clever, insightful, intuitive and limitless! It's an interesting concept. But as you can already predict, this power can be used for good or for evil. Greed for more power, more control, more money, more status always competes with a desire to do good. Greed is powerful. Evil is powerful and being limitless is a great temptation.

So what it the antidote? Limits!

Want a healthy body? Limit what you eat and how much couch time you have, go to the doctor, take vitamins and get good sleep. Want a healthy financial situation? Limit spending, make priorities, invest, get counsel, regularly save money and pay back debts. This all implies self-discipline, order, priorities, making boundaries, schedules, organizing the time in our days and years.

Self-discipline in study results in degrees and education and perhaps well-paying careers. 

But what are we tempted with? Greed! We want more food, more fun, more pleasure, more entertainment, more ease and we don't want to put the work in. 

A book that profoundly impacted my thinking as a teenager was "Ordering Your Private World" by Gordon Macdonald (1984). At the beginning of each chapter he has a summary statement about what ordering your private world means. This is one of my favourite quotes: "If my private world is in order, it will be because, having faced up to what drives me, I listen quietly for the call of Christ." p. 41.

So . . . back to limits. If it is difficult for you and I to put priority on our own needs because of a 'drive' to please people, be available and helpful, protect our reputation, create a name for ourselves, avoid conflict or whatever else is tempting to us, then limits will be essential!

Here's one suggestion that I have found helpful. A simple checklist. Not a to-do list, but a daily checklist of things that help me take care of my own needs so that I am rested, healthy in mind, body and spirit and able to respond with love and attentiveness to those around me. You can use paper or an app on your phone (there are a million to choose from), or a chart that you create. I have an app on my phone that has a few simple checklists that I made. Daily, Weekly, Monthly and a To-Do list that catches all the 'get groceries' tasks etc. Here's an example of my Daily list: keep in mind that these are the things that are good for me, my particular health needs and energy level. Your list will be very different! 

This gives me the opportunity to check off important things that "need" to happen but are often overlooked in light of other more urgent tasks. 

Imagine, if you will, what our lives would look like if we had them ordered in the right way. Imagine how rested we might be, organized, balanced, prepared and quieted in our souls.

Imagine if we became the kind of people who didn't crack under pressure or conflict or stress because the base of our lives was so steady, so built up, so strong because of the cumulative action of daily limits and making time to read Scripture, meditate on God's Word, read books, watch movies, listen to music filling our minds with goodness and truth!  Imagine the strength and love, joy, hope and wisdom we could offer others out of the deep riches of what God fills our lives with each day as we meet with Him.  

If your desire is to do good things, be obedient to God, love others and make a significant impact in this world . . . start by getting back to the basics. 

"One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?” Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”  Mark 12:30-31 The Message (MSG)