I started writing this week’s post last week, and it was mostly about what a hypocrite I am. While there is value in that self-reflection, my heart was changed Sunday night, meeting with our Physical Wellness Lenten small group.* As our group worked through questions around the wellness practices we’re taking up in this season, one thing quickly became clear (and was helpfully pointed out to the rest of us by a specific participant): the majority of our group is INCREDIBLY hard on themselves, including me. This person reminded us that we serve a God who says, “Come as you are.”
I began to really think about that on my drive home. The conclusion I came to is this: while it may be good that I’m taking up a practice of being more physically active, and as a byproduct, drinking more water, getting more sleep, etc., the real issue that I need God to help me wrestle with is my lack of self-compassion. What taking up a physical wellness practice is actually doing, is simply allowing me to disrupt my routine, my thought patterns, my habits, and replace them with something more life-giving. The practice is just the vehicle that’s delivering the space I need for a deeper, more important change of spirit. Knowing that, makes it clear that what there is to learn in this season isn’t that I’m bad or that I’m a hypocrite, or that I need to be in better shape (and honestly even writing those thoughts out, makes them sound preposterous). Rather, by doing this in a community of faith, I’m getting the support I need through prayer, fellowship, and reflection to begin producing the fruits of self-love, self-kindness, self-patience, and self-gentleness. And, as one particularly wise Senior Pastor pointed out to us in one of her recent sermons, you can’t love your neighbor as yourself, if you don’t love yourself.
I do also think that it’s important to note that healthy discipline can and should be a part of self-love. (Which is why we’re focusing on dimensions of wellness practices in our small groups). For me, taking up this practice and providing more structure for my physical wellness is good, it’s only when structure turns into rigidity and legalism, that it has a propensity to harm myself and others. Each one of us must strike a balance between self-compassion and structure to grow. So this week, I’m wondering if maybe we all might begin to contemplate where we’re being too harsh with ourselves (or with others), and/or where there might be some room for healthy discipline and structure. So, I’d like to offer this portion of a passage from our Ash Wednesday liturgy as a meditative tool for that contemplation, and a prayer for our spirits in this time of transformation:
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,Psalm 51:10-12, NRSV
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
*If you want to know more about that, I’ve posted the questions, practice ideas, and resource lists as files on this site for those who can’t make it to our gatherings.