Personal Commitment: Month 11

March’s Review

For March my intention was to have a resurgence in saying a prayer and then doing the first good thing that came to mind, all to invite God’s spirit into my life. I also set a reminder on my phone, just to be sure that I didn’t forget what goal I was actually supposed to be working on.

And I did remember my goal, and I did try to implement it throughout the month, but if I’m being completely honest I was pretty halfhearted in my efforts. I believe that when the initial excitement of a new ritual fades, if I haven’t established a regular routine to carry me through the doldrums, it then becomes a monotony to keep carrying forward. That’s exactly what happened here.

In other words, I struggle in the department of making small, lasting changes to my life. And while I know I must continue to rely on grace for my heart to be truly changed, I also believe that a person is capable of carrying out one small improvement after another until they have become something greater than what they once were.

To be sure, I have been able to make some real, lasting changes in the past. This whole blog is one of those changes, and through it I have had the most regular scripture study of my life. But where that particular change was a success, many others have fallen to the wayside, including this one of a pray-and-do-something-good ritual.

April’s Commitment)

So I stopped to consider where the weak link is in that pray-and-do-something-good ritual, and I realized it was in the very first step. The fact is I have had some heartfelt, meaningful prayers in my life, but never as a regular practice. I am too often distracted, or self-conscious, or anxious about getting on to other things in my day.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. One of the foundational pillars of spiritual practice has always been prayer, and that is one area that I have been consistently lacking. So I will make this month’s commitment very simple: to pursue deep, meaningful prayer on a consistent basis. I still like the idea of my pray-and-do-something-good ritual, but I need to exercise myself in its first half before the whole thing can be complete.

Now in order to have more meaningful prayers there are two specific aspects of prayer that I will be working on. The first is praying out loud. Whenever I pray out loud I am more able to connect to the moment. I am very self-conscious about it, though, and so that it means taking the time to find a private place where I am unlikely to be overheard. This will be easier in some places than in others. While I am at work will be particularly tricky, and I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out a solution there.

The other aspect I will be focusing on is to remove the temptation to finish my prayers quickly so that I can get on to the rest of my day. I am in such a rush to take care of all my errands and hobbies that I forget that they will be performed better if I have taken the time to set my foundation first. I want to get into the habit of putting the rest of the world on hold when it is time to be with God, not the other way around.

On May 1st I’ll let you know how this journey is going. I will let you know how I did at finding secret closets to pray aloud, I will let you know how I did at setting aside the to-do lists that distract me from the moment, and I will let you know how my prayers are shaping up as a result.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 10

February’s Review

Well…I’m feeling very embarrassed as I write this review for last month’s commitment. There were a few times this month that I realized I had slipped from my commitment and tried to refresh it. But I did so from my memory of what that commitment was, and just now as I sat down to write this review I realized that I had been remembering it incorrectly!

I was remembering January’s commitment: doubling down on two-hour check-ins to ground myself to the moment. Which is still a great practice, and one that I do want to continue with, but that’s just not the commitment I actually made for February!

For February I had wanted to establish a ritual of prayer and then doing the first good thing I could think of. The intention was to pair my faith with action, and thus invite God’s spirit into my life. I had wanted to do this every morning, every time I changed my setting, and whenever I had felt like I had slipped from my spiritual connection.

But given that I didn’t even remember this commitment, I really didn’t follow it.

March’s Commitment)

Well, I’ll just try it again. I knew this practice would take some time to become regular habit. Missteps on the path of improvement were to be expected. The proper way forward is to pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue as before.

So for March I will be renewing my commitment for February. I am going to pair it with a new reminder, though. I have set an alarm on my phone that will go off every Monday and instruct me to go and read my commitment, just to be sure that I am remembering the plan correctly and acting on it.

On April 1st I’ll let you know how I did at actually remembering the commitment, how I did at performing it, and what I saw as a result of doing so.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 9

January’s Review

For January I recommitted to regular, two-hour checkins to ground myself and to refresh my efforts to live as my best self. Throughout the month I found a great deal of vitality enter my spiritual life through this practice.

During this month I also shared an epiphany that I had through the process. I had been striving to invite God’s help, but not following it with an immediate effort to do some small, good thing. Over the past weeks I have tried to correct this by beginning a new ritual where I invoke God’s help, but then pair that request by doing whatever my conscience is currently prompting me to do. It is usually a small thing, and many times I don’t understand what good is even going to be accomplished by it, but it just feels right so I do it. There is a strong sense in this of putting an offering on the altar, giving a small sacrifice to deepen the sincerity of my intentions.

Just this last week I had a moment where I was already feeling tired and depleted, but I knew the right thing was to start playing with my children. I paused to ground myself, prayed for God to come into my heart and make me alive for the task, and then paired that request with my own effort to invent a new game to play with them. And as I was in the process of giving what little I could, I felt the vitality flowing back into my heart and I was able to really lean into the moment and have a wonderful time with my children.

I want to keep chasing experiences like that.

February’s Commitment)

And so this new ritual will be my guide during the month of February. I will start every day with this pattern of prayer and doing the first good thing I can think of. I will do it again each time I change my setting, such as when arriving at work or back at home. I will do it any time that I realize I am slipping into an autopilot mode of apathy and distractedness.

My goal is to make this practice become the new baseline for me. I want to repeat it so many times that it becomes routine, as standard a part of life as studying the scriptures became through doing this blog. This is the next step in my permanent development.

As with any lifestyle change, I assume this will take a lot of work and a lot of recommitment to really stick. So I’m approaching it with the mindset that this a long term effort, not just an exercise for February. In future months my checkin will likely be to modify this commitment as necessary and refresh my resolve to it. Come back at the start of March to hear how it’s going.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 8

December’s Review

For December I wanted to embrace a mentality of bounty and gratitude. My commitment was to pause each day and recognize the goodness that I have all around me.

And so I tried to pause each day, and pick out a different thing I had that brought good things into my life. I considered the car that I drive to work each day, the family I come home to each night, the creative ideas I enjoy, my good health, and the ability to get the things I need and want.

I even had an entire series on this blog that was based around recognizing the good things that are given universally to us all, such as the variety of the earth, the healing potential of our hearts, and our innate desire to improve our world.

I’m sorry to say that I forgot about this goal for about half of the month, though, and I need to figure out a better process for reminding myself of it between these check-ins.

But I did find a deep sense of peace on the days that I did remember it. There was just a strong sense of “I’m really in a good place, and things are going to be okay.” I can conclude that stopping to count my blessings from time-to-time is a healthy, grounding practice, and I want to continue with it.

January’s Commitment)

Of course January is often seen as a time of new beginnings, a time to recommit to self-improvement. I thought that fitting, because honestly I’ve been feeling a bit anxious about heaping too many to-do list items on myself with these monthly commitments.

So instead, I am going to double down on a commitment that I put in place during a previous month, but which I have lately become lax on. I am referring to my practice of two-hour check-ins to ground myself and set intentions for the next part of the day.

My days are better when I break them down into smaller portions and when I focus on doing right things in the moment, rather than procrastinating them to a later hour. Taking a break to connect to myself used to sound like a luxury that I couldn’t afford, but it makes me more present and more effective at everything else I need to do. And one of the things I will be adding to my pool of grounding exercises will be reflecting on the wonderful bounty I have all around me.

I’ll let you know how this recommitment goes for January at the start of next month. Here’s one New Year’s resolution that I don’t intend to give up on!

Thank you.

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.

Influence and Persuasion- Jeremiah 29:11-13, Jeremiah 4:1

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove.

COMMENTARY

Then shall ye call upon me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
Yesterday I considered how God plays the long game, patiently waiting for us to return to Him by our own volition. And frankly, this is a very hard thing that he expects us to do. Arguably the work of returning to God is the most difficult we do in this life.
The way back is through repentance, sometimes-painful self-examination, the mourning of wounds both inflicted and received, the overcoming of our powerful vices, and the healing of doubts and fears.
And again, He expects us to enroll ourselves in this process. He still adamantly refuses to make that choice for us.
And…we do it. Nowhere is the nobility of God’s children more clear in how we commit ourselves to this most grand endeavor. As this verse suggests, we search for Him with all our heart. We call, we seek, we put in what it takes to come back home.

If thou wilt return, return unto me: then shalt thou not remove.
And the genius of this plan is that it means when we come back to God, we come back firmly! Satan’s methods might procure more immediate results, but God’s procure lasting ones. We all leave God once, but once we return with our whole heart, it is very few that ever leave Him again.

Dealing With Failure- Mosiah 4:27, Isaiah 28:10

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

COMMENTARY

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order
It is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength
Line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
I greatly appreciate the pragmatism in these verses. There is sincerely committing to improving ourselves one step at a time, and there is overextending ourselves with unrealistic promises.
When we start to feel the reality of God manifesting in us it is a very exciting experience, and we can easily get carried away with all the good things we intend to do. In a moment of rapture we might very well promise God everything. We will be His perfect, faithful child now, never to stray again. And in that moment we fully believe we can deliver on such a promise. To be fair, if we were to maintain that same state of rapture forever, we probably really could keep that promise, too!
But we don’t…and we don’t.
No, after each spiritual awakening there follows an awakening back to the old us. And it is that old us that needs to be changed. And that change is not accomplished by demanding perfection at once, but by line upon line. Yes, demand change of yourself, but also be practical about it!

Dealing With Failure- Personal Example #3

I am sure Satan is pleased when I do not commit to improve myself and instead accept complacency. But I also believe that he is pleased when I do make promises, but they are ones I cannot keep.

So many times I have tried to commit myself to perfection–“I will never do this thing again”–and so many times I have failed. Then I have said to myself “okay, so apparently last time wasn’t the last time…but this one has to be! So this time I’ll just have to screw up more moral resolve than before. I just have to grit my teeth and draw up more spiritual energy than last time to make this the most excellent commitment I can, one that would carry through forever!”

But then…I have slipped again. And what did I think then? Well, clearly I had to somehow find another great well of spiritual resolve within me, one even greater than the “even greater” last one…or else I obviously wouldn’t have a chance of succeeding this time either.

Over and over this pattern continued until I was all dried up. I simply could not find any more “even greater” wells of spiritual resolve. I couldn’t keep outperforming myself endlessly. So I became disheartened. I didn’t believe myself and the promises I made. It seemed that the best pledge I could come up with was meaningless, and I began to believe that I simply couldn’t improve. Other people could, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.

And I remained stuck until I realized there was a better way. God interrupted my spiral to show me there was an “even greatest” well that I could be making use of. One that wouldn’t ever fail me.

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.