Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bricks of Burden

*Disclaimer: This blog is not about dieting. I just need to set the stage!*

The way that I see it, there are two schools of thought regarding gaining weight. One school says that you shouldn’t really pay attention to how much you weigh, just go by how your clothes fit. The other school will say that you need to weigh yourself on a regular basis so that if you start to gain weight, albeit maybe only 1 or 2 pounds, you can jump on it and reverse your habits before you do too much damage. I guess there is a third school of thought that basically doesn’t care :-) For me, I think I’m somewhere in between. Yes, the way that my clothes fit is a good indication of whether or not I’m gaining or losing weight, but sometimes clothes are quite forgiving up to a point. And do I really want to reach that point before I realize that I have a problem?

The impact that a few pounds has on a body is significant. It’s said that for every pound you add to your body, you are adding three pounds of stress or impact to your knees. So those 5 pounds that were gained over the past couple of months because you got lazy? Your knees are now carrying 15 extra pounds around. And over time, all of that extra weight adds up and begins to really take a toll on your body. Your body slowly adjusts to the extra weight, but so many parts of the body are negatively affected in the process. Our bodies are incredible machines. They are working constantly to keep us alive. Why would we ever want to place extra pressure on them and make them work that much harder? Think about that for a moment.

Now let’s talk about our souls. The way I see it, the weight that we carry around in our souls is burden. The definition of burden is “the bearing of a load.” Our souls are not meant to bear a load. But in my life, I find it happening over and over. And I acknowledge that it’s completely my fault. I see the similarities between the physical weight that we carry on our bodies, and the burden that we carry in our souls. A small amount of burden, one brick of burden, may be added to us one day. And then we start carrying it around, and perhaps we barely notice it. And then the next day, we may be burdened with something else; another brick gets added. And our souls starts to adjust to this extra weight, and it starts impacting more areas of our life. And then if we are not careful, the cycle continues. And before we know it, our souls are weighed down with these bricks of burden. And our souls begin to crush under the pressure.

Why am I saying all of this? Because our souls are not meant to carry the burdens that we place on them. God is. He will take every burden from us and carry it Himself. I have been learning that lesson first hand lately, and it’s a hard one. I want to control things. I want to fix things. I want to make things okay. But I don’t have the ability to do that. And if I stack those bricks of controlling, fixing, and making everything okay on my soul, the weight will be too heavy and I will crush it. It will collapse under the pressure. Our souls are sacred and sensitive. They house so much of who we are and hold the hope of who we want to become. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives there.

I can’t help but believe that this is a serious issue. Mainly because there are so many Bible verses that relate to this exact topic. And the tricky part is that we may not even realize that we are burdening our souls! We may have a houseful of bricks stacked up and not really recognize it. But if we weigh ourselves, rather, weigh our souls, on a regular basis, then we might just be able to protect them from the bricks of burden.

I don’t know any magical ways of doing this, but I do know this: when my soul is burdened, I feel restless and uneasy. My focus is not on God, but on those burdens. And when I think about all of the things that I want to control and fix more than I do my God, then I’m pretty sure that my soul is beginning to crush under the weight. So I try and do a self-scan on a daily basis of the things in my life that are bothering me; the things that I am focusing on that are distracting me from God. And then I try and release those things to God. He always accepts those bricks of burden for me. And He’ll carry them for as long as I’ll let Him. It’s a glorious thing! And when I do that, it doesn’t mean that I’m happy and everything in my life is great. But it means that despite everything that may be going on, I have hope and a soul that is being nourished by my Father rather than carrying the weight of my burdens.  And I want to love Him with the best of me.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment." - Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Balance Beam

I was a gymnast once. And I use the term “gymnast” in the loosest sense of the word. I went to the gymnastics center, tried to learn how to do a back handspring, use the vaulting horse, and develop enough upper body strength to use the bars. I really wasn’t successful at any of those. I was too tall and lanky, not to mention clumsy. But what I was good at (at least to my recollection), was the balance beam. And I don’t mean Olympic routines, I mean standing on the balance beam and not falling off. Perhaps getting in a hop or two or switching the position of my feet. I think my favorite part of gymnastics was getting to wear fun leotards. What girl doesn’t like to parade around in a fun leotard?

The thing that I remember most about the balance beam is that I had to focus on staying on or I would almost always fall off. And every time I fell off, I had to hop back up there again. This was the literal example of “you fall back down and get back up again”. How cliché, but true. Every once in a while I would find myself day dreaming and still standing on the balance beam, but those moments were few and far between. Fast forward, oh I don’t know, thirty years or so, and I am again a gymnast. But this time, the balance beam is my spiritual life, my walk with the Lord. And while it’s a few decades later, I still feel clumsy. And I still fall off a lot.

The Bible references the narrow road that leads to life. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it – Matthew 7:14. I liken that narrow road to a balance beam. I cannot stay on a balance beam without focus. I also cannot stay on the narrow road that leads me to life without focusing on God. It doesn’t just happen, folks. It takes concentration, intentional choices, and sacrifice. I can’t live my life the way that the world lives, because this world is fallen, broken, ugly, and ruled by sin. But lately, I feel as if I have been falling off of that balance beam quite a lot. And maybe I’m even a bit bruised. And sometimes it hurts pretty badly. And I have to make the conscious choice to climb back up on that balance beam and try to focus all over again.

What I’m learning is that this will be my life forever. I might get better at balancing my life, but there will always be something that distracts me from staying on that balance beam. And I will have to find the strength to climb back up there each time I fall off. I’ve also found that I have “spiritual muscles.” I’m really working on developing these and toning them up right now. And I do that my getting in the Word, praying, journaling, having conversations with God, listening to Him, and spending time with people who also love the Lord. I do this by living my life with open palms instead of clenched fists, by surrendering my day to God each morning, and continually acknowledging and thanking Him for the many blessings in my life. I do this by making good choices, taking every thought captive to Him, turning over my doubts and fears to Him, asking Him for guidance, and trusting Him. And sometimes, I work really hard and build those muscles up and have the strength to stay on that balance beam, on that narrow road. Other times, I get sucked in by life and everything that I add to my plate, and I don’t exercise those spiritual muscles, and they start to shrink again. And I lose the strength to stay balanced, and I fall off. Over and over again. I detour off of that narrow road and join the highway going 70mph.

Over time, a gymnast’s body gets comfortable on the balance beam and it becomes a little easier to stay on and perform a routine. Practice makes perfect, or at least better. It’s the same with walking on the narrow road. When we develop a routine and build up our spiritual muscles, we can stay on that balance beam or that narrow road a little longer before we fall off. But as soon as we start to daydream and get lazy, guess what happens? We get distracted, we lose our strength, and we fall right off.

I know that we are not all gymnasts. Honestly, I probably never was. I was probably just that little girl running around in a fun leotard pretending to be good at something. But as I’ve gotten older, I don’t want to pretend anymore. I don’t want to pretend that I love Jesus, yet not show it in how I live my life or how I treat others. I don’t want to pretend that everything in my life is perfect when I’m walking around bruised from falling off of the balance beam over and over again. I want to work at being a better gymnast. I want to build up my spiritual muscles so that I can stay on that balance beam for as long as possible. And even when I fall off, I always want to have the determination and strength to climb back up. Because that balance beam will always be there and it will always be narrow, just like the road to life. And I will always fall off, but I don’t have to stay there.