My wife and I divide up many of the household chores and share responsibilities, normally, but since my first surgery on February sixth I have been very limited in what I can do. Over the last few months I have not had to put dishes in the dishwasher, do laundry, mow the yard…well, actually, I haven’t had to do anything but sit in a chair and take occasional walks! My normal routines and practices have been interrupted and the longer I go without doing them, the more difficult it is for me to start again.
Yesterday I finally unloaded, loaded and unloaded, again, the dishwasher. This was the first time I’ve done any sort of chore for quite some time. The really embarrassing thing is that it isn’t even a real chore. I mean, if I’d washed dishes in the sink that might be a real chore, but I just rinsed some dishes off and set them in a machine. Yet, this insignificant task seemed horrendous. I put it off all morning until I knew Carrie would be returning from work, and, finally, when I was at the eleventh hour, I went about a task that, in that moment, felt tedious and painfully slow.
How is it that a task could become so difficult when it is a routine I’ve done a million times and never felt particularly burdened (that I can remember). Well…now, to be fair I need to think back to when I first moved out on my own and had dishes to do (and no dishwasher). The dishes often mounted up and it often came down to eating on paper products before I would get around to washing dishes (I was a terrible bachelor).
Perhaps it is in the routine that tasks and ways-of-living become familiar and do-able. Perhaps, in forming a routine, we make a task more personal and intimate and, in doing so, make it tolerable, if not pleasurable.
The first time we make a bed or pick up clothes or change a diaper or run a vacuum… the list is infinite…. The first time or the first few times we do something we are bound to find it more difficult, but the more often we do it, the more it becomes part of our life-ritual, the more easy and familiar it becomes. One of the best examples is exercise, I think. It was easy to motivate myself to go to the gym the first time, but the next few times it was terribly difficult. I got home from work and I already felt exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was walk over to the gym and wear myself down further, yet, once I got through a week or so of going to the gym, it became a highlight. It wasn’t until it became a ritual that I could enjoy it and I began to look forward to it!
In our lives of faith we have the same issue. If you are a church, synagogue or mosque-goer, then you may recognize this. If you skip worship one week, it is easier to miss it the next, and getting back to your faith practice becomes harder and harder. Prayer is the same way. Perhaps that is why muslims pray so often and methodically. By praying seven times each day they have built prayer into their life-ritual. The prayer becomes both familiar and easy, in a way.
For many, dare I say most, Christians it is more difficult to pray. We don’t have the ritual. Maybe we’ve developed a practice of saying a prayer before a meal or at bedtime, but do we interrupt our day for prayer or does our day follow our prayer cycle? I’d wager for most Christians it is the former!
I think practice is important in all that we do, if we want balanced and healthy lives. During my most recent stay in the hospital, I was feeling very sore in bed. I mentioned it to my physical therapist. She got me out of bed and tried to move my legs, but they couldn’t move more than a few degrees without pain. My muscles were tight from lying in bed all day everyday for so long! My legs were used to walking and bending and running. They were used to a certain practice, but they were out of practice. If any of you have gone to the gym, biked, or run further than you are used to, then you know what I mean. You’ve had the opposite experience as I: you went beyond your usual practice or ritual.
In life we need balance. If we want to start a new faith practice it is important to do so in a measured and responsible way. We should begin praying, reading the bible, or worshipping in a way that is tenable (sustainable). If you’ve not had a regular prayer life, then starting 20 times a day is likely not sustainable as a new practice, but finding one or two times during your day (or even 7?) might be. Finding 10 minutes each morning or evening to read the Bible is more likely to be sustainable, for most people, than trying to read a chapter everyday.
On the other hand, if we drop our habit, even for a day, we risk atrophy. In any of your life-practices, this is good advice I would wager. If you are a person of faith, I especially commend to you that you heed this advice and develop healthy practices. It maybe difficult, at first, but it will grow you, strengthen you, and help you in all of your other facets of life.
Images found at: http://allwomenstalk.com/ & http://www.thegospelmatters.com/, respectively.
Some of you know that Carrie and I joined Weight Watchers last November. A lot of people seemed confused about it. They asked why I would need to diet…well, I was overweight! Yup, my poor eating habits and lack of exercising were slowly but surely catching up to me in a big way and I wanted to make a change. Okay, I should be honest: my wife wanted to make a change for herself and she insisted that I do the program with her. Either way, it was the best decision of my life. With diet and exercise I have hit the middle of my “healthy weight” range, my doctors are happy, and I feel great. This isn’t just an issue of vanity. My growing body and bad cholesterol numbers were a symptom of a mistreated body.
This didn’t happen suddenly. I gained the weight slowly, over time, and when something (like weight change) happens slowly we don’t realize how bad it is getting. The other thing with being overweight is that we live in America and it is mirrored by many people around us. In fact, we were less-overweight than many of the people around us. When we are surrounded by a problem, like obesity, it is easy to feel a false sense of security. It is easy to feel as though this is “the norm” and so it is okay.
I say all of this, not as a guilt trip. Lord knows I, of all people, can’t fault anyone for craving pie and over-eating. I have done plenty of that! No, I bring this up because my recent experience with weight loss helped me to realize that I had ignored a problem (my weight) because it was all around me (in Wisconsin, at seminary, and now in Pontiac) and it happened slowly over time (I used to be a skinny high school kid, you know). Eating the way I ate and saying that I was ‘too busy’ to exercise was normative and, yet, I should have been appalled. I bring this story to you, because it seems to be me that our weight and health are not the only problems that are like this for us.
I think about first about poverty. It isn’t an easy issue to tackle and lack-of-money, like being overweight, is a symptom of so many underlying causes. It is ever-present and seems to be an overwhelming issue to tackle.
I think about racism in early America. People looked at slaves, and, later, freed black people, and because the oppression had grown steadily and because it was so prevalent, it seemed like it was and should be the normal order of things.
I think about civil rights that began to find footing during the middle part of this past century. Of course, it broke forth suddenly in the sixties, but since then we have struggled as a nation with our racism. What we fail to see, far too often, is that the racism exists still today, in fact, especially today: Because racism is passed from generation to generation, it is often less overt, and because it is deeply cultural, it is easy to pretend it doesn’t exist anymore when we really should be horrified by it.
I think about genocides that have occurred in places like Rwanda. It seemed so distant and Americans tended, at the time, to ignore the horrendous crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated because it was so far away, it was happening to “other” people, and, when it was finally shown in the media, it was made “tv-friendly.” We should have been appalled, but somehow we have an idea that for people in other countries “these things happen.” It seems normative when we should be disgusted…and appalled!!!
How is it that we allow problems like this to be “normal?” How is it that we allow ourselves to become used to obesity, racism, poverty, or murder? How is it that we so often set aside what we know is the right thing to do, and instead, do the comfortable thing. Why do we allow ourselves to become comfortable with destructive behaviors when we should. instead, be appalled? Why is it that we would ignore a problem when we should begin re-educating ourselves and our community?
My weight crept up on me. I ignored the signs of unhealthiness and, even after a stern talk from my doctor, I ignored the problem. It wasn’t until I had a supportive wife who pushed me and who insisted that I learn and grow (shrink, actually :-) that I began to be appalled by the things I had been eating. If I eat too much grease, now, I feel sick to my stomach- and when I see people standing in lines at walmart with carts filled to the brim with junk food I recoil, even though that was recently me. Why? Because I looked at the problem through a new lens, I allowed myself to “get outside” of where I had recently stood and I began to look at myself with a more objective eye. I began to realize that whether I was “used to it” or not, it was wrong and bad and hurtful: Hurtful to myself and hurtful to others.
We have become desensitized to any number of troubles in this world. We have chosen to think of them as normal or usual when we should be appalled. This is where church is ultimately important. We are a community and, just as my wife pressed me until I joined Weight-Watchers, good church people must press one another to look at injustice and oppression in this world, learn to “feel” the problem, educate one another and the community, and find a way to act out and improve the situation.
Most importantly, we must not act in judgement or hate, but in love and grace because that is the kind of God we follow. We have a God who is ready to accept us and work with us no matter how fat we get, how complacent we become, or even how uncaring. Our God doesn’t, from what I read of the Bible, dwell upon our short-comings, but our God encourages us to grow in love, joy, forgiveness, mercy, and peace. My wife exemplified that as she encouraged me towards loving and respecting my body. She regularly helps me grow in acting for justice and showing mercy when she introduces me to any number of concerns in this world (even though I am sometimes reluctant to listen when it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my old ways of thinking), and she shows me love and forgiveness any number of times a day when I act like an idiot with her.
We don’t have to be spouses to play this role for one another. I pray that all of us will take a moment to look at ourselves and the people around us with new eyes. I pray that we will surround one another in community and find do-able steps so that we can act out in faith to re-order this world and grow the people and communities around us so that we will leave this world healthier, happier and more faithful!
blessings and peace,