I guess I gave up the sort of ‘must lose weight, must exercise, must save the world’ kind of resolutions a while ago. It’s not that I shouldn’t engage in some of those things, it’s just that they always seem to be framed negatively and that kind of psychology rarely works.
Take the ‘January diet’ thing: I am convinced that January must the the worst month ever to think about cutting down the food that we probably need at this time of the year to get us through the winter months! It won’t do me any harm to cut out the rich Christmas food at all, but not convinced eating frugally in January is the best tactic…why not try the height of summer to have all the salads, when you can’t bear to eat a single hot, cooked thing? Just a trivial example, I grant you, but I’ve just noticed that it is counter-productive to lay anything ill-fitting upon yourself.
For years, I fretted about my ‘devotional life’ in good strict evangelical fashion, realising that I should be devouring this devotional book, studying this and that, learning my New Testament Greek and learning Leviticus off by heart…and all that jazz. Every January I’d come into it with many good intentions to ‘achieve’. Achievement isn’t bad, but maybe just sometimes we confuse the ends with the means and the means with the ends.
During last year, particularly coming into Autumn, I started to make a list of all the things that I wanted to do during the Autumn and Winter Season. I do this, partly, because of the regular onslaught of seasonal depression, which I have to work hard to combat. Planning good, positive, comforting, enjoyable and creative things to do gives plenty of opportunities to raise the happy hormones and make things more liveable. This year, I have to say, in spite of the many challenges that have come along and the odd ‘cloudy brain day’, it has been fantastic so far. And more than that, there have been loads of the things that the family have been able to join in: hot choc and waffles at Covent Garden, nature mandalas at the forest, marshmallows at the fire pit, crafts, walks, movie nights, games nights, etc. etc. Not only have they created happy chemicals, but also some lovely memories together.
Spiritually speaking, I don’t give myself a hard time when prayer is hard, or when I can’t fit in my reading, or if I miss a day of journalling, or if my halo has slipped a bit. I have come to understand that God understands and loves all my human bits, and also that a warm relaxing bath can be a means of grace too; that a half-hour watching the pigeon in the garden can be as missionally educational as the latest missional tome; and that sitting before God with no idea what to say can be as powerful as 1000 words.
I am resolute in one thing: that life is, actually, wonderful. In spite of my own personal challenges (we all have them), and in spite of the hard work that I sometimes have to put in to maintain my health, and in spite of the nagging voices that urge me ‘thou must do more’, I am learning more and more what grace means. It means that ‘everything is already given’ and that what I lack, so often, is simply ‘awareness.’ For most of my life I’d have had trouble telling you anything good about myself, the worm that I am, but learning to turn God’s compassionate gaze into the way that I look upon myself helps me conclude that God’s doing a pretty good job, and that the work he has started will be gloriously finished one day…until then…happy with being a work in progress!