Solemnity and Joy- Revelation 21:3-4

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
I mentioned before that times of mourning are not the only reason for being solemn, but they certainly are a reason. All of us live in a fallen world, and now and again the reality of that impresses deeply on our hearts. We gradually come to appreciate the hard facts of life. Concepts like death and decay become more than just concepts, we start to feel the reality of them, the totality of them, and the certainty of them. How can we not be solemn then?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
The miracle, it would seem, is that we can still be happy in the face of such heavy fates. It is wondrous that we are beings of hope and not despair. All our senses perceive a complete end in the image of a corpse, but the spirit inside denies any end. Never mind what illusion the body shows, the spirit knows that it is made of more eternal stuff.
In the fallen world we have doom and despair. It is real and it is sobering. But in this fallen world are also infinite souls which solemnity can have no permanent hold on. Our souls are in the hands of their Father, and He wipes away the transient tears to uncover the natural, eternal joy that remains beneath.

Personal Commitment: Month 7

November’s Review

For November I wanted to get curious about my relationship with food. I want to know that part of me, and understand the reasons behind my behaviors. With other habits, I have learned that I usually have a very understandable reason for my misguided behavior. And correcting the misguided behavior without first accounting for the wound or fear that it is protecting can be quite traumatic.

And so I did some introspection this month, and I made a few important discoveries.

First off, I have “deprivation thinking.” In other words, I’m worried about there not being enough to go around, and thus having to hurry to get as much as I can. It’s not hard to imagine how I might have come across this pattern of thinking. I grew up in a family of eleven, and if one wasn’t quick the jar of cookies might be empty before you even got one!

Secondly I’ve realized that I just want to be satisfied. Some days I just want to eat a dessert that’s a perfect 10. But if I don’t have that available, then I’ll try and eat two 5s to reproduce that same experience. Obviously it doesn’t work that way, and I would be better off to go and get the one 10 instead of compensating for it with volume.

Thirdly, food is a checklist. When we buy things from the grocery store I have a sense of having invested money into it and needing to get that money’s worth. I am mortified at the thought of any going to waste. When grocery shopping is compounded with receiving extra food during the holidays, it becomes overwhelming trying to eat it all.

And lastly, food is a stimulus. If I ever feel hurt or distressed, I grow numb. And then when I’m numb, I want to feel alive again. Waking up one’s heart naturally can be hard, though, and it is tempting for all of us to rely on easier stimuli instead. Thus we turn to overeating, heavy media use, lust, extreme spending, and other destructive behaviors.

I don’t believe this list is exhaustive, but I do believe these are all very real reasons for why I have built such an unhealthy relationship with food.

December’s Commitment)

So I want to start teaching myself to appreciate the bounty of the earth and the resources I’ve been personally blessed with. I want to build in myself a surety that I can take care of my needs and wants. I want to teach myself these things so that I stop being afraid of missing out and so that I don’t need to compensate for mediocrity with more mediocrity.

And it isn’t enough to just look myself in the mirror, say it once, and have my entirely frame of mind changed forever. I gained these patterns subconsciously over an extended period of time. It may take some reinforcing for this message to really sink in.

So for December I am going to recite a few mantras each day, and call out specific examples of the bounty all around me. I am going to try to reach a point of gratitude each day for all the things I already have, that I don’t need to do any further effort to secure.

I am also going to acknowledge that sometimes I am rooting for a pearl among the trash, and I will try to call out these moments as they occur. When they do, I will stop, and give myself permission to go find an actual pearl instead.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 6

October’s Review

My goal for this last month was to address my physical health and to rebuild my approach towards food. Specifically I committed to:

  1. Be open with others about my efforts to change
  2. Examine why I cope with stress through unhealthy eating
  3. Define what behaviors ought to be considered a “slip” in my recovery
  4. Strive to eat consciously and healthily, according to what my body genuinely needs

How I did with each of these is a mixed bag.

For #1 I spoke to my wife about my efforts…and that’s about it.

For #2 I didn’t really do anything. I guess I’ve at least I paid attention to myself, and am now fully convinced that I really do use eating as a coping mechanism! I was able to call out multiple moments where I was doing just that. I am therefore certain that this habit is primarily emotionally driven, but as for how and why I began this pattern remains a mystery.

#3 I actually did very well on. I accomplished this step early in the month, and the list that came out of it has been a real help for evaluating each day.

As for #4…well…I began each day with good intentions, but I finished many with “never mind about today, I’ll try again tomorrow.”

One of the main issues I see here is that I am not devastated about my slip-ups until some time after they occur. When that extra slice of cake is calling to me I find it very easy to say “so what? This may not be healthy, but it doesn’t hurt anybody.” Only later, when I look myself in the mirror, do I confess that yes, it actually does.

November’s Commitment)

I have one other takeaway from October’s efforts. I felt very distinctly that the addict-self was tightening his hold. He felt his domain challenged, and there followed a rush of rebellion within me, an insistence that I must not surrender a behavior that has long been a security blanket.

From prior addiction recovery I understand that the way forward is not to get mean and go to war with that scared part. That part of me is undoubtedly misguided, but probably has very good reasons for believing what it believes. That part therefore requires guidance, not harshness.

And so November’s commitment is twofold.

First, I will dedicate my next topic of study to “how a Christian disciple is meant to reason with and persuade the wayward soul.” Whether that wanderer be a family member, a stranger, or a part of the inner heart, we all need to know the Christ-like way to help a lost sheep.

And secondly, I commit to carrying out the lesson from that study with my food-addict self. I will dedicate some time each week to getting to know him, understanding his story, validating his concerns, gaining his trust, and gently guiding him back to the light. Basically a more enhanced version of step #2 from last month’s commitments.

I really don’t know what I will learn from that part of me, nor do I know what I will say in response to his concerns. But I take comfort in the knowledge that I don’t have to know now. For now I just need to listen, and then let Him direct me accordingly.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 5

September’s Review

I frankly did not define last month’s commitment very well. I most certainly did not meet the S.M.A.R.T. model (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound). I simply said that I wanted to define where my battle lines in life are, and then advance on them.

That being said, I did conduct my review as promised, and identified a list of practices that I am currently doing and wish to maintain, others that I am not doing and want to advance on, and even a list of ones that I want to get to someday, but won’t be adding now for fear of overwhelming myself. And then, through the rest of the month, I sort of kept track of them and tried to improve…but it was not a very earnest effort.

Having taken stock of my life, though, I grew increasingly aware of which specific area I want to improve on the most. From this heightened awareness I realized that there is a single section of my life that I am only making meager efforts in, but now want to start taking a lot more seriously.

October’s Commitment)

Which of course brings us to this new month and my commitment for October. The area where I feel the greatest need for improvement is in my physical health. Yesterday I was considering where I stand in this sector of life, and came to the conclusion (not for the first time) that I show several addictive behaviors in my approach to food.

I eat when I know I am not hungry, and I am more likely to eat when I am upset or stressed. I feel in my gut the healthy foods I want, and I dismiss those for more instantly-pleasurable options. And then I try to correct my imbalance by swinging into other unhealthy practices, such as starving myself.

In the past few years I have made great strides in other sectors of my life, with a lot of healing and growth that I am proud of. But I’ve reached the point where even those areas I feel are being limited by this one persistent weakness in my physical health. It is time that I focus on this piece of puzzle, and so I am going to approach my physical health with the same seriousness as any other addiction recovery effort.

This means that for the month of October I will:

  1. Find friends and loved ones to be open and honest about my efforts with
  2. Examine my past, discover how I developed my reliance on this unhealthy lifestyle, and identify any wounds that I am trying to medicate
  3. Define my bottom lines, behaviors that I will now consider a “slip” in my recovery journey
  4. Sincerely strive each day to listen to my body, eat when I am hungry, stop when I am full, and give myself the nutrients that my body craves

I’m very excited to finally start working through this process directly. I’ve been teasing at it for a long while, but at last I feel ready to do the work that it takes to heal. I’ll let you know how the process is going at the start of November.

Thank you.

The Doing Muscle- 1 Corinthians 6:19, Matthew 21:13

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

COMMENTARY

Know ye not that your body is the temple, which ye have of God?
My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
When I have sought to improve my well-being the thought has often occurred to me that I ought to consider the temples in my life, and whether they are places of sanctity. Is my house a shrine to God, or a place where His spirit would be offended to dwell? Is my room a place of focus, or a place of distraction? Is my body well cared for and nourished, or is it deprived of its basic needs?
Sometimes having the strength for self-improvement requires looking inward and outward. Maybe we’re making things harder on ourselves by not cultivating an environment where the spirit can thrive. The Holy Ghost is meant to bring to us the mind and will of God, meaning that when it is present our thoughts and desires are more easily aligned to the virtues we are trying to emulate. In other words, having a sacred space invites the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and having the companionship of the Holy Ghost just makes doing the good things easier.

For Our Own Good- 1 Corinthians 12:8-12

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

COMMENTARY

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge; To another faith; to another the gifts of healing; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.
We have thus far considered how we all have certain areas of weakness in the gospel. But let us consider the more positive side of that coin, which is that we all have certain areas of strength within the gospel as well. And even more encouragingly, those strengths tend to be designed to bolster and inspire our brothers’ and sisters’ weaknesses.
If we are going to fret about “why am I not strong in this aspect of the gospel,” we might as well also encourage ourselves with the question “why am I so capable in this other?”

But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
And I believe those two questions find their answer in each other. I am weak in this commandment, so that my sister may embolden me with her strength. And I am strong in this other, so that I may be a support to my brother that is weak.
Just a couple days ago, entirely outside the context of this study, I was thinking to myself how my wife and I are so much more capable as a couple than as separate individuals. I believe we are able to accomplish far more by not being equally capable in every sector. By both of us being fragmented, but then fitted together, we become something better than either of us.

Who Am I?- 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18-20

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
For the body is not one member, but many.
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?
But now are they many members, yet but one body.

COMMENTARY

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ
For the body is not one member, but many.
Yesterday we examined how we are all creations of God. Our identity begins with what He made it to be. I believe part of the reason why our society resists this notion of being another’s creation, though, is because they fear that it takes away their individuality. There seems to be a sense that we are defined by our flaws, and smoothing them out would just leave us as generic good person #2167. Or in other words, if God is my creator me, and He made me to be like Christ, then following Him will just turn me into a carbon copy of Jesus, no longer myself.
But this is a misconception, a lie of the adversary, one that breaks down as soon as you take an honest look at genuinely good people and recognize how distinct they still are. Even if you are a creation of God, you can still be a unique creation. As Paul attests, the word “body” is singular, but it is composed of “members” which are plural and distinct.

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
Saying that we seek unity in Christ does not mean that we all become Jesus. It means uniting with one another under a common banner, but still retaining and exercising our individuality. Yes God made you and set you, but He made you and set you to be and do something that only you could be and do. The reason that He even made you was because among all His other children He still didn’t have a you, and He very much needed a you. There is a you-sized hole in the body of the Christ that not I, not your neighbor, and not even your identical twin is shaped rightly to fill. God was the one that first baked your individuality into your bones and He isn’t about to take that way. The loss of your sins and misconceptions, will not be the loss of yourself.
In short, what the gospel intends for us is a unified diversity. If that sounds like an oxymoron, so be it. God loves to work in the impossible!

The Nature of Sacrifice- Matthew 10:28, Matthew 26:41, Luke 23:46

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

COMMENTARY

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak
I am opposed to the notion of despising one’s body, seeing it as a vessel purely for temptation and imperfection. Our lives are a gift given directly by God, and by extension, so are our mortal forms. So I am grateful for my body, and I believe it is a wonderful instrument unlike any other upon this earth…. But, I do acknowledge that it truly is “upon this earth.” My body is temporal and, therefore subject to the laws of our fallen world. Laws such as physics and entropy: it must obey them. If it is cut it will bleed, that is undeniable. If it is overly fatigued, its moral resolve will decline, that is undeniable, too. It must be sick at times, it must be tempted at times, it must even die at a time.
Thus, in the eternal scheme of things, does it really matter that the body might be made momentarily uncomfortable in the service of God and others? Yes, it’s inconvenient, but it is the loss of things that were only temporary anyway.
Perhaps becoming healthy and balanced does not feed our immediate pleasures. Perhaps setting aside gratification to help another seems like drudgery. Perhaps governing our bodies by the will of God sounds less fun. What do these mortal costs really amount to, though, when compared to the eternal liberation of the soul that is gained in return?

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost
Jesus came to fill the full measure of a man, and that included dying a painful death, even one administered at the hands of others. Though he had the power to rebuke their attacks, he did not. He willingly surrendered his body to their breaking.
Never, though, did he give them his spirit. That was reserved for one being, and one being alone. The Father. No matter what the world might do to his body, they never once had access to his divinity.
By the redeeming power of his sacrifice, Jesus is able to safeguard our own divinity as well. But in return he does ask that we follow his example of enduring whatever cross we are called to bear along the way.