"No more sugar! No more junk food!"
"I'm going to exercise for an hour every day and lose this weight!"
"I'm going to work on this project every day until it's done!"
The challenge with 'rule-setting' is that almost immediately, we begin to slide.
Our sweet tooth, a real physiological addiction, is stronger than our desire to stop eating it. Cravings overwhelm us. Eventually we cave and the cycle of unrealistic expectations, rule-setting, failure, shame, guilt, and self-recrimination starts anew.
Our zero to sixty all-in exercise routine most often results in sprains, strains, pain, and injury - and then we're on the couch, icing our bruised body, and our rule-setting cycle fails us again.
We hit the project with 200% energy, ready to tackle and subdue - only to exhaust ourselves and begin making excuses to avoid working on it in favor of rest. But our rule-setting leaves us feeling depleted and discouraged.
Grace-inspired goals are different. Grace flows into us, a gift from God that fuels our Holy-Spirit-inspired desires to improve and become more like Jesus. Discipline and a willingness to change develop in us, we commit to listening and following.
Here's the difference:
"I need to cut back on my sugar. I'm going to start limiting myself to two servings of treats a day for a month, and the next month I'm going to replace one treat with fruit."
"My junk food is out of control! I'm going to buy the snack sizes and limit myself to two a day for a month. The next month I'm going to do some research and taste-testing, and start experimenting with healthier options I can by or make here at home."
"My body is so out of shape! I'm going to start by walking for 15 minutes 4 days a week for a month, and then see how I feel. If my body is ready, I'll move it to 20 minutes, 5 days a week the next month."
"That project is just so BIG - I'm going to break it down into smaller goals and work on one goal a month. It may take me a few months, but eventually I'll get it done!"
Grace-inspired goals are encouraging, realistic, and energizing. We need God's help and strength as we develop the muscles of discipline, humility, and willingness, but grace-inspired goals are never coupled with condemnation or guilt. They may be a bit scary, but never overwhelming!
If a goal doesn't seem to be working, the Grace-inspired response looks like:
1. Pray and ask for God help and guidance,
2. Adjust our goal or our schedule, and/or
3. Change our pace to protect us from feeling overwhelmed.
During this month's goal-setting, I had decided to switch things up a bit from my initial three goals. While my intentions were good, one of the goals became a rule. Rather than give myself the broad goal: increase my fiber each day, I set a rule: eat two specific foods, specific amounts, every day. It was a great lesson for me that rule-setting leads to burn out and failure. How wonderful that I have enough experience through grace-inspired goal setting to understand why I was struggling. It was easy enough to adjust my goals so that they reflected grace, and the end-result will be the same, but the process will be life-giving, not discouraging.
As you head into the second half of our 30-day challenge, take a look at your list. Do you have a list of rules, or a list of goals? Did you provide yourself with enough time to build your muscles of discipline and willingness to change, or did you come out of the gate so fast that now you're struggling?
Today's the day to evaluate and readjust if necessary, or continue to pray for grace as we head into the home stretch!
TODAY'S BIBLE READINGS
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 MSG
[in their wickedness] ... they will devour but still be hungry... they will eat but not be satisfied....
Isaiah 9:20 MSG
(This verse is an important reminder that in ourselves, in our pride and focus on will-power, nothing we do will ever be enough to meet the ultimate goal of being satisfied and 'full' - only a relationship with Jesus and our willingness to accept our dependence on God will do that! )
...if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would have certainly gotten it by this time.
Galatians 3:22 MSG
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17 NIV
...we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready.
Romans 5:5b-6a MSG
"We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well."
(1 Corinthians 10:24b MSG)