January 4th, 2021 by Sara Buffington
“Wait a minute...that’s what I weigh? Is that right?”
“That’s what the scale says, sweetie. Don’t feel bad, that’s everybody this year.”
I knew 2020 had been a year of stress eating. My daily dose of stress relief during quarantine was anything covered in cheese dust (popcorn, Cheetos, Pringles, chips, goldfish, etc.).
And yet I was still slack-jawed in the doctor’s office, staring at that number. I just wasn’t prepared to see exactly how much I had gained.
That was a week ago, right before Christmas. And now...to plan.
It’s convenient that the new year is here. I have always enjoyed making plans and fresh starts in a new year. Have you tried any of the ones I have?
All of these efforts were to improve my health, my appearance, my surroundings, my mind, or my level of organization.
Some of these patterns lasted years, some only days. I shall spare myself the shame of putting my time record next to each one.
It’s not impressive.
But the reason I embark on goal-setting is because I am a doer. I am a box checker, a list maker.
I am a problem solver.
So here I am at the dawn of the new year, and I know where I am physically. I have an action plan; I hope I can stick with it.
But where am I spiritually. Am I healthy?
Am I where I want to be?
Am I where I need to be?
So, I am asking myself the hard questions. Have you ever asked yourself these?
My answers to these questions are almost always a cold slap of water to the face. They are just as shocking as that digital number on the doctor’s scale.
My first inclination is like my New Year’s planning. I want to do something.
But, for me, that’s tricky.
I think of the story of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10:38-42. Here was the famous Jesus, eating in their home--what an honor! But there was much to be done.
Jesus wasn’t there alone. His disciples were with him. All of them hungry--and the family need to put forth their very best for their honored guests.
Where was Martha? She was exactly where I would expect. She was behind the scenes, fussing in the kitchen, stacking dishes, tending to the guests.
She was stressed. And I can relate.
I would love to say I am a relaxed, hospitable person, but the truth is having a large group of people over to my house for a meal stresses me out. I am not used to cooking in large quantities, and I make mistakes.
Cleaning up my house (aka hiding my mess) is a down-to-the-wire, stressful event.
The point is this--Martha, I get you. We’re both doers.
Back to the story. While Martha is seriously fretting, Mary, Martha’s sister, is relaxing with the company, listening to Jesus. Understandably, Martha is irritated. She wants her sister’s help.
When she complains, Jesus gently corrects her:
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I don’t think Jesus is saying Martha is wrong to serve, to do. In fact, I know he is not because he himself is the epitome of a servant leader.
Remember when he washed his disciples’ nasty, dirty feet?
So why does Jesus say Mary chose better?
I think the answer lies in something our pastor mentioned in a sermon last week.
Birth comes before growth.
It makes sense as a metaphor; you have to be born before you can grow. A seed has to sprout before it stretches its tender roots into the ground and its first leaves unfold.
As a doer, I often focus on the growth.
I think to myself, “I want to be more patient with my kids.” There’s nothing wrong with that.
But my second thought is often, “What can I do to make that happen?”
Basically, “What can I do?”
“What’s my plan?”
Here’s the problem with my thinking. I leave out an important step.
I leave out the 9-1-1 call. “God, help me.”
I leave out Mary’s choice: sitting with Jesus.
Our pastor Christopher Caudle says people often don’t want to ask God to help them, change them, be with them (anew or for the first time) because they are afraid of his wrath or his disappointment.
But that thinking exposes an error in our understanding of exactly who he is. Listen to some of God’s 783,187 words to us:
And he [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
So when I am teetering on the brink of sin, or even when I am stuck in the muck in the middle of sin, my first action should not be a plan, a strategy, a job.
I need to restrain my “doer” nature.
My first action should be a call for help. Or a cry for forgiveness.
Here’s the thing about God: He always answers us. It may not be in the way we expect, and it may not be on our timetable, but he does not abandon us.
He is with us.
The thing about sin is that we can’t resist it without him.
We can’t earn our way to his forgiveness either.
We can’t make ourselves new.
We need him.
I want to emphasize that having a plan or “doing something” is not wrong. In the Anglican tradition, there are many spiritual practices that help us draw near to God. Mother Ruan had many great suggestions in her sermon from January 3.
My point is that none of these practices should come in front of God himself. Only with him are they meaningful and effective.
New year’s is a perfect time to determine if you need a spiritual birth, or at least a spiritual renewal. Why wait for a crisis point to turn your thoughts to your spiritual health?
My recommendation: Don’t do it alone.
Do you remember how kind that nurse was to me? She didn’t make me feel guilty. She didn’t shame me. And she was a stranger.
Imagine how God will be.
He made you. He carefully crafted you and put you together.
There is no one who knows you better, and no one who loves you more.
If you want a spiritual check-up, do it prayerfully. Do it with God. Ask God to help show you the areas where you need more of him. Ask him to give you the courage to let him into places in your heart, or even your memories, from which you have barred him.
God always tells the truth, but he is also the source of goodness, gentleness, kindness, and faithfulness.
He is the only one who can bring you into the fullness of life, the life you were born to live.
Would you like some prayer support for your spiritual check-up or something else? We’d love to do that. You can even be anonymous.
Listen to Christopher’s sermon on Birth Before Growth here.
Download a free gift subscription to Dwell, a Bible listening app, here. Dig into the 783,187 words he wrote to you.