Phases vs Lifestyles: What a Determined Plant Has Taught Me

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My in-laws live on a 200-acre farm in southern Kentucky. My favorite time of year to visit them is in the fall because the southern heat and humidity have eased and the rolling hills are yellowed with drying hay and bean crops.

When I can get myself out of bed at a decent time, I like to take morning walks along the paved driveway between the farmhouse and the main road.

It’s a pretty and serene walk as the road rises and falls with the land. As I was walking one morning last fall, I looked down at the side of the driveway and was so intrigued by what I saw that I stopped, took off my head phones, and knelt down for a closer look. Growing up through the asphalt was a plant. Through the asphalt! It was yellowed like the plants in the field next to it, but it was still growing. I took some pictures with my phone and continued my walk, marveling at the determination of the plant.

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I can be a pro when it comes to determination, too. I’ve gone through phases where I’m very determined to accomplish something. For example, I pursued my Masters for three years and even switched degrees part-way through when I realized that I didn’t really want an MBA; I wanted a Masters in writing. And when my husband and I bought our townhome in 2008, I spent hours poring over paint chips, curtain fabrics, and flooring samples. We redid the half bath and installed new light fixtures. We worked every night for weeks until we finished all the tasks on my list.

On the other hand, there have been times I’ve set out to accomplish something and have started out strong and disciplined only to falter, then give up altogether. Case in point: I’ve struggled with my weight since college. I’ve lost and gained as much as 60 pounds twice just in the past seven years. I start strong and have at times kept up with a pattern of healthy eating and exercising for a year or more. But, inevitably, I allow life to derail me and now I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and feel miserable.

I also struggle to be consistent in my time with the Lord. A lot. I start strong, spending time in the Word, praying, and being conscious of my thoughts and temper. Then I trick myself into thinking that other tasks like a load of laundry are more important than praying. One misstep leads to another, I feel defeated, and then I give up altogether.

It’s taken me a long time (an embarrassingly long time) to figure out why I’m successful in some things but not others. It’s because some are actual phases and some are meant to be life-long disciplines. Phases aren’t permanent routines – they’re temporary. Life-long disciplines last for…well, a lifetime. Most people can stick with something when they know there’s an end point – even something as fun as decorating my new house was sure to feel cumbersome if it lasted for more than a year.

Many of us like to have a starting point and an ending point. We want to know how long we need to push and work because it gives us hope and encouragement. We know there’s an end so we can hammer through with determination and persistence until that end comes.

But some things in life don’t have a stopping point that we can look forward to – we won’t have that specific moment when we know we’ve finished the task and can relax. My physical well-being won’t be perfected until I take my last breath. My spiritual well-being won’t be perfected until I take my last breath. I need to continually work in both areas of my life; I’ll never get to a point where I can or should stop working on them.

Both my physical and spiritual well-being are vital. And yet, these are the two parts of my life where I’m the most lazy. That’s the plain and simple truth: I’m lazy.

I’m empathizing more and more with Paul as I age. In Romans 7, he expressed sorrow and frustration over being divided within himself. His will was torn. Flesh versus spirit. Romans 7:19 says, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (NASB). While I may not be purposefully practicing evil, I’m still practicing it because I’m not doing what I know I should and can do. When I think about it that way, it’s very convicting.

For me, it’s come down to this: I can’t think of my desire for a healthier body as a phase. And I can’t think of my desire for a healthier spiritual life as a phase. They’re disciplines. They’re lifestyles.

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So, now what? Now that I’m confessing this openly, I need to have a game plan. The first thing I need to do is to find what works – what type of eating and exercising regimen will I realistically stick to? And what kind of personal time with the Lord is most realistic based on how my days flow and where I’m at in terms of kids at home, work, etc.?

A second thing I need to do is print the picture of that plant I found in Kentucky. The plant has taught me and continues to remind me that while it’s not easy, it’s possible to pursue physical and spiritual health for my lifetime. I won’t be perfect as I move forward, but I can and must choose to persist in doing what I know I should do and not doing what I know I should not do.

Posted on August 22, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.