I gained 9 pounds last year. That might not seem like much, but when you have a petite frame, every bit makes those skinny jeans become way-too-tight jeans. I also had a difficult time meeting consistently with Jesus throughout the year. So last fall, I decided to make some changes.
After seeing my newly svelte brothers-in-law and hearing about their success on Weight Watchers, my husband and I decided to drop the cookies and download the app. Around the same time, I started going through the Ignatian exercises—a sort of P90X for the soul created by St. Ignatius.
I read through the instructions on how to enter a meditation time in the morning, getting my Bible and leather journal ready. I went through the questions for praying the prayer of Examen at noon and in the evening to help detect God’s presence throughout the day.
I was feeling good. Making good choices. Eating apples. Taking 10 minutes around noon and in the evening to prayerfully reflect on God’s work in my life each day. I could already feel the positive changes in my life happening.
But then my children had screaming, crying tantrums. My husband wanted to go out for lunch at one of my favorite indulgent grilled-cheese restaurants. I started to feel like a big, fat loser, stressing out and berating myself that I didn’t seem to have any self-control in any area of life. I was not becoming the skinny, peaceful, reflective person I had intended to become.
We’ve all experienced something like this. Starting something new like a diet, spiritual regimen or a new job or relationship can feel so hopeful. Time and again, we make resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise, thinking we can will ourselves into change. This time I’m going to do it! Get it right! A new me is on the horizon! we think.
But when things start to get difficult—when we give in to temptation, find ourselves engaging in the very patterns we’re trying to break or regret the choices we’ve made—we can despair and believe there isn’t any point in trying to change.
During one of the times I did manage to remember to do my Ignatian exercises, I read this section in the book Journey with Jesus—an evangelical primer and guide for the exercises.
“Beware of your expectations. The expectations you bring to the exercises can blind you to what God is actually doing, cause you to get discouraged or make you feel like giving up. Your expectations can become an inner voice of judgment of you, your experiences God and the Exercises—a loud, demanding and cruel voice. It is not the voice of God and needs to be silenced or, at the very least, ignored.”
You and I need to take these words to heart when we beat ourselves up over our lack of discipline, our abandonment of our resolutions, our constant failures in different areas—this is not the voice of God and we need to silence it.
More importantly, we need to take the words of Scripture to heart when we’re feeling this way. Romans 8:1 says “therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Boom. No condemnation. St. Paul does a total Jesus juke for those of us wallowing in self-pity and shame.
What are the ways you condemn yourself? All of us feel like a loser when we hit bumps in seeking to improve our lives, whether it is asking Jesus to help us be patient with a frustrating co-worker or seeking to care for your body by getting out to take a walk. We can’t always change the obstacles we encounter, but we can change our response.
In thinking about how I felt like a big, fat loser when I missed one of my devotional times or ate a second cookie, I was struck with how much self-condemnation was swirling around my brain. Maybe, like me, you feel immobilized as you mentally list off all the times during the week you’ve screwed up. The thing is, in Jesus there is no condemnation. He isn’t keeping a checklist of all the ways we’re slaves to our desires and give in. Instead, He shows us grace.
This doesn’t mean we abandon our goals or stop trying, but it does mean we change our perspective about our failures as well as how we achieve our goals. Grace is given to us by and through God. It’s His Holy Spirit who reminds us “I have good things for you. And I can give you the self-control to pursue those good things.” Christ frees us from sin and death through the Holy Spirit when we follow His leading out of self-shaming and into His loving presence.
Jesus loves me. And He loves you as well and makes His power available to us every day. He loves you regardless of what size jeans you wear. He loves you when you make the choice to take a walk on a bright winter day or to take a nap. He loves you when you’re eating corndogs or carrots. He loves you when you are on Facebook and when you’re praying for friends. He loves you when you’re meditating on scripture or watching Parks and Recreation. He loves you. His Spirit sets us free from self-condemnation.
By the grace of God I can try to know Him, to love Him and to take care of the body and soul he has given me. Freedom comes from the Holy Spirit to give us self-control as we joyfully pursue all the good gifts God has given us.