Life with Jesus

On (Not) Being Self-Disciplined

Those who knew me in any capacity during my 2003-2009 years knew that I had a very weird, special snack that I ate every day.

Cheesy rice.

Or, more specifically, Minute rice made with one Wyler’s chicken boullion cube mixed with shredded cheddar cheese.

I was so committed to this daily snack that I mac’guyvered a way to make it in a tea kettle in my dorm room. The texture of the rice was really hard to get right (it was usually kind of wet and crunchy) but I didn’t care.

Growing up, most of the food that I ate was brown food- starches, carbs, dairy. I would eat canned green beans and, on occasion, a pea or two, but other than fruit, nothing fresh entered my body.  After eating cheesy rice every day for several years, I am surprised that I don’t have to roll myself around from point A to point B. Actually…that was the skinniest time in my life. MAYBE I WAS ON TO SOMETHING!

When I got tired of looking like a toddler at fancy meals (where they ate house salads and the occasional tomato), the very first vegetable that I tried was bell pepper. Someone told me that roasted bell pepper was good, so I roasted them until they were a wet, sloppy mess.

It was not successful.

Then someone told me to try spaghetti squash. It was “just like spaghetti”. After trying that particular food, I chased down the person who recommended it to me and punched them in the butt.

I found my jam when I tried spinach the first time. I still don’t really like iceberg lettuce (it’s a texture thing) but I could eat spinach. I would make chicken wraps and take that in my lunch. I could stand it chopped up and added to other foods.

One time, I braved an actual strawberry spinach salad. I was sitting at our bar, eating my salad and reading a magazine or something. Alex was just sitting at our kitchen table doing something adulty like the taxes or paying a water bill when all of a sudden, he heard this:

{choke}

{loudest gag ever}

{an adult woman sobbing over her strawberry spinach salad}

One of the stems of the spinach had touched my throat in an unpleasant way and, like the fine adult woman that I was, I gagged on it and then started weeping openly while sitting by myself at our kitchen bar. I’m not sure what the exact emotion was that I was feeling (shame? frustration?) but it was obviously not enjoyable.

Poor Alex was so confused.

I still have to make myself eat vegetables, especially trying new ones. I actually made myself brussel sprouts the other night and, while I didn’t particularly enjoy them, I did feel good about making myself try them.

While I haven’t always been good at it, I have been practicing self-discipline in my eating habits.

Which is good cause I don’t do self-discipline well in any other part of my life.

***

I’ve been reading and listening to some things that have given me pause recently. Although I grew up in the church, I realized in college that I had lots of spiritual baggage and so I deconstructed and reconstructed my beliefs about faith, church, etc. Spiritual disciplines didn’t get added back in. I was the most legalistic kid. I can’t point towards any one person or place that made me this way- probably it was about 60% older child, people-pleasing syndrome. I have prayer journals filled with earnest prayers sketched out over years and years. Those journals also have lots of, “Lord, please forgive me for skipping quiet time yesterday.” I spent much of my teen years mired in spiritual guilt and, after realizing that I didn’t have to feel that way, I threw off those shackles and never looked back.

The pendulum swung too far, however, and now it feels stuck there. I am very wary, maybe even petrified, of becoming stuck in the quicksand of religious legalism again. In all likelihood, I’m probably still there- only, instead of forcing myself to do things, I don’t do them at all and then feel like God is mad at me 99% of the time. My motto became, “If you don’t feel like it, don’t do it” because God doesn’t want our begrudging sacrifices (which is true). Like I said, this motto doesn’t always work for me.  It’s as if I swapped “Do things to not feel guilty” for “Don’t do things but feel guilty”. Regardless of what I do, guilt is still part of the equation and I know that’s not biblical.

However, it’s pretty obvious from even a brief reading of the Bible that discipline is important. Not in the “Be God’s robot” sort of way, but in the “This teaches you about yourself and about God” way.  Discipline helps us feel moored. It helps us develop our spiritual chops. Every once and a while, I’ll run into something that gives me pause and makes me consider my feelings-led approach to spirituality.

I just finished reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints, which is not a book I would have read even four years ago, with her salty language and unorthodox views.  The part that has stuck with me for the moment about Bolz-Weber’s book is her “radical” view of grace. When Adam Lanza went on a shooting spree at Sandy Hook, her church wanted to do something to remember the victims. Before the service, she was talking to a friend about all the names of those that had lost their lives and her friend reminded her that Lanza was one of the deceased. She fought it a little but ended up including him in the list of names that were read while a bell was rung solemnly after each name and age of the victim. She writes,

“I couldn’t read the final name right away because it took me a minute to reach deep enough into my theological convictions in order to find the mercy to do so. I had been so intensely focused on telling the truth about the kind of world God entered and how it was as violently and faithless as our own that I had forgotten in my sermon to actually mention why God entered it…

So I dug deep to speak the truth of God. “And in obedience to our command to love the enemy and pray for those who persecute us” — my voice cracked as if the courage were draining out of it–“Adam Lanza, twenty.”

The final bell rang.”

That kind of grace shocked me. AS IT SHOULD. I mean, Jesus had love for all sorts of outcasts and I can totally get that. Loving oppressed people feels like a core tenet for my faith.  Loving oppressed people sometimes feels like the only way I’m tethered at all to Jesus.

But He also loved the oppressor. Jen Hatmaker did a great sermon once on the people that Jesus ministered to directly in Matthew 8 after the Sermon on the Mount.  She called it, “The Outcast, The Oppressor, and the Insider” because he ministered to a leper, a Roman centurion (who would have been considered part of the occupying force), and Peter’s mother-in-law, which would pretty much spans a large spectrum of people.

I’m bad at loving oppressors. And this is where the spiritual discipline part comes in, cause I DON’T WANT TO. I will confess that it has been very, very difficult for me to understand and yes, even to love, Trump supporters. I think partially it is because I just do not understand how people, especially Jesus followers, can look at the things he values and see how they are akin to Christ at all. I understand that Trump-supporters likely feel the same way about some of the things that I believe in.

I think another part of my resistance to love those that like Trump and what he represents is that I don’t want to be lumped in with them. I understand that loving someone doesn’t mean that you agree with them (Jesus didn’t fist bump the Roman Centurion for his part in oppressing the Jewish people). How do you practically love someone who holds beliefs, quite frankly, that you abhor? How does that cognitive dissonance play out? I still don’t know. I’m so unsettled by the reputation of the American church (in many many areas) that I want to stand far, far away from them. But that is more about myself than it is about Jesus.

So, after reading Bolz-Weber’s book, which got my brain all jazzed up, I then listened to this Liturgists podcast where Christena Cleveland talks about her response to Trump’s election, which involved lament, actively remembering who God is, and praying for Trump and his family all the things that she wants for herself and her family. It was totally convicting.  If a Black woman, who is and will be directly affected by the sorts of things that Trump espouses, can respond to Trump’s election with such grace and mercy, what in the heck is wrong with me? Why can’t I?

Cleveland teaches about racial reconciliation at the college level and talks about having to teach students who are openly hostile to her when she tries to discuss race. She talks about having to teach students that she hates and, whenever she interacts with them, she quietly says to herself, “The God in me, greets the God in you” and she tries to recognize that they, even as the oppressor, are made in God’s image and He has as much love for them as He loves her.

That kind of radical grace is attractive to me. I’m not good at it, but I want to be. And so I’m delving into spiritual discipline again. There will likely be some weeping, maybe even some gagging, just like that fateful strawberry spinach salad so long ago, but I want to know more about myself and about God and I know that this particular discipline is worth it.

 

Here goes.

4 thoughts on “On (Not) Being Self-Disciplined

  1. Beth,
    This blog hit a nerve for me since it is something I have struggled with for years. Yes, me, your mother. I am one of those people pleasers too and that extends to wanting to please God as well. What I have found is that God just wants me to love Him. He knows I am going to disappoint Him because I’m human and not perfect.

    People are inherently flawed. They will always disappoint in some respect because I set a standard for them in my head and they don’t measure up to it. It took me a long time to learn this reality and accept that I can’t change people, institutions or the church as a whole. What I can do is love whomever I encounter, even if I don’t like them, and take the time to listen to their story. There is usually something in their life that underlies the ugliness I don’t like.

    Most people don’t want to take the time to see the ugliness in the church as an institution. Church is “supposed” to be a place where happy, well adjusted folks go to visit with other people just like themselves. Because the church is made of people, it is going to make mistakes and disappoint. To counteract the disappointment I feel, I have tried to focus on the intentions of the people within the church as individuals. Are they trying to follow Christ? Where are they in their faith walk? They might just be beginning to travel with Christ and not really understand what God is asking of them. They may not really understand where I am in my faith journey. Is that wrong of them not to feel the same way I do? No, it’s wrong of me to expect it of them. My responsibility is to offer them ways to work alongside of me to move forward in knowing Christ as I do and hope they eventually will. God does the rest. Not me.

    It has helped me recently to respond in closing with people by saying Grace and Peace. If I offer them Grace, maybe they will do the same for me when I don’t meet their expectations. I know I need this from God all the time and that is what He offers.

    I love that you are working on this spiritual discipline. It’s a really good one. I love the phrase “the God in me, greats the God in you”. The world needs radical Grace now more than ever.

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