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Too hard or too easy?

It's January 1st of a new year. Some people think a new year is no big deal. Some people don't make resolutions because they've failed at resolutions before and they think they're setting themselves up for failure. Some people are ready to have a chance, artificially marked or otherwise, to start fresh.

I think I am caught (we are caught) always between being too hard on ourselves and too easy on ourselves. So often I wake up in the morning to have my mind instantly start racing through the things I need to do that day. It's not a particularly relaxing way to wake up! I get a frantic start to my day, and then I get overwhelmed and end up hardly accomplishing anything I set out to do. it's a frustrating cycle, and I see it impacting different areas of my life where I hope to make changes - my personal life, in my social justice activism, in my ministry, etc.

Sometimes, I think we're way too hard on ourselves. We set up unreasonable demands of ourselves, and then we're crushed when we fail again and again. We make standards that are impossible, and then feel inadequate when we can't reach our own standards. And so many of the things we set out to do just aren't necessary. We spend so much time, money, and energy on things that just really don't matter. We're too hard on ourselves.

But sometimes, still, I think we're way too easy on ourselves. Even where we see in ourselves the need for significant change, we're unwilling to do what it takes to make those changes. We can't seem to see beyond the immediate situation to the long term change we hope to create. We're not willing to take risks, especially risks that would make us vulnerable, open, putting ourselves out there for failure. We never even really try at what we know we should be doing. We make excuses and put things off and procrastinate and talk ourselves out of exploring things. We're so easy on ourselves.

How can we be both too hard and too easy on ourselves? I guess that's the conundrum of the human condition. We put a great deal of worry and anxiety, time and money, into things that aren't of ultimate importance. And we don't have time, money, energy, or inclination left to look at the things in life that are truly essential.

I've mentioned in the past that I have basically two sermons that I preach (I think), when I boil them down to their simplest forms:

1) God loves you unconditionally! There's nothing you can do to separate you from God's love. God is forgiving, endlessly. So don't be so hard on yourself. You can't ever earn God's love - it's a gift. So just accept the gift, and stop trying to be 'good enough' to deserve it. And

2) God wants everything from you! Giving God a little isn't enough. God wants it all. Discipleship isn't easy, doesn't fit easily into your life. Discipleship demands a complete change in direction. God calls us to action, and we're doing nothing. We need to get to work!

Those are of course simplified, but I could go farther and say: 1) We're too hard on ourselves. And 2) We're too easy on ourselves. I hope my sermons sound like they have more variety! But at the core, that's what I'm saying. Put another way: 1) God loves us, actively, without condition. 2) God wants us to love others, actively, in the same way.

All this is to say that at the start of this New Year, I'm not quite ready to give up on resolutions. Sometimes the potential I feel for myself and my ministry that I can't seem to figure out how to use overwhelms me. So I have to keep working to make room for change in my life, in my ministry, in my world. But this year, I want to make sure that my 'to do' list has on it things that are actually important. I know I can't get away from all of the minute details. The bulletins still have to get done. The forms still have to be filled out. But I want to make sure that at the heart of my life and my ministry, what's getting my time, my attention, and my heart is what really matters most.

Happy New Year!


Anonymous said…
Dear Beth,

I can truly relate to the too hard & too easy conundrum. I feel I’ve been trying too hard all the wrong ways last year & not hard enough in the right ways. Sorry to send this message by posting but I don’t do IM & couldn’t find any regular email for you. My company is engaged in some unusual business in Bethlehem, West Bank, with the active support of both the Palestinian and the Israeli foreign ministries. You can read a thumbnail description here...

...and also access the press we’ve received so far, if it interests you. We’re doing an outreach campaign to the Christian blogshere...

I typed in Methodist blogs and there you were! The fact that you’re a C.S.Lewis fan is a good sign for me, too. If you can spare us some time (at your earliest convenience) for your thoughts and, if you approve of our mission, your assistance, I would be very grateful. I want to engage the Methodist community and I don’t even know what the method is! If you can spare us some time for your thoughts and, if you approve of our mission, your assistance, I would be very grateful. We have a mountain to move and not tons of time to do so.



Adam Neiman
Cell # 617-686-5434
Christopher said…

Nicely put. I think your two sermons put it nicely. I wonder if the crux of discipleship is living where sermon 1&2 meet.

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