Faithfulness, the cure for inconsistency

There are lots of ways I'm consistent in my life: I brush my teeth every morning and evening, drink coffee daily, pack a lunch for my husband Monday through Friday, sit in church every Sunday; I've tried to be consistent with my kids, with exercise, with my relationship to Jesus; and for the most part I consistently make bacon on game days for my kids. It's what we do. I recently lost my way, however. For weeks it's been Costco muffins and ice cream and cinnamon gummy bears in bulk, and I've known the day of reckoning was coming, the day when I check back in to reality and own up to the body I've been abusing.

When I grow up, I'm going to make a plan and stick to it: a plan for eating, a plan for working out, a plan for spending one-on-one time with my kids, a plan for keeping the checkbooks balanced and the bills paid and the floors mopped.

For now I'm ever-wavering and say things like "for the most part I'm consistent..."

I get discouraged over this and beat myself up with lists of short-comings. I'll bet you do this, too. I'll bet most people are good-intentioned on the inside and sweet-toothed and undisciplined on the outside, wanting to behave and respond and live one way but pulled by overwhelming desires in the other direction.

It's not the way we want to live. Jumping on and off the wagon is hard on a body and destructive to a soul that wants to do good, be good, feel good, especially when we mix up our views of consistency and faithfulness.

Paul gives us his famous first century lament to our 21st century problem: "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice." It's classic. We are all hypocrites under this proclamation, weighed down with heavy flesh and wishing for a superhuman resistance to flashy anger and slothful rest and a ravenous appetite; in a strange way it makes me feel better—I'm not alone in my inconsistency.

But a big-picture view of my life, charted with a line connecting the high points, the upward climb, would show a faithfulness that defies inconsistencies. There is comfort in a God Who sees not as man sees, and when I look at the life of David I remember that God gave an overall progress report of his life—"a man after God's own heart"—and not a one-time indictment.

I think we can hold both inconsistency and faithfulness and still be after God's heart.

The beautiful thing in all this inconsistency is that my perfection was never going to win me any merits, anyways. It's all fine that I'm an up-and-down traveler to glory and not a quick progress-er, a hopeful dreamer rather than a steady do-er. God specializes in this kind of grace and even sent His Son to finish for all the good intentioned people who don't, the ones who make progress by faithfully starting over and over, right where they are.

In the meantime, being faithful means getting back on track:

  1. I'm eating the vegetables and foregoing the sugar. My youngest daughter volunteered herself to do another Whole30 with me, which is really helpful because misery loves company and she drinks her coffee black, anyways. I've begged for half and half and she is unsympathetic. I need that.  We're almost over the hump though, and I think we'll soon be able to gloat to the rest of the family about how great we feel.
  2. I'm turning off notifications and taking notice of the tangibles. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to have headlines from CNN and Fox News pop up on my phone throughout the day, along with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter notifications. I've turned those off. I have to keep relearning that being always connected to the world is not good for my soul. I need to be responsibly informed, not perpetually updated. The tangibles: I'm taking note of one verse or writing a one sentence summary of what I read in the morning and adding it to my bullet journal list for the day. I look at that list often...consistently.
  3. Getting my thoughts back on track is imperative to being faithful, and music always helps. My favorite songs right now are this and this.

Fall is always a time for fresh notebooks and new routines and schedules for us. It's the perfect time to get back in the game in all the areas I've let go over the summer. I also like the first day of the month, every Monday, those first couple hours of each day; I'm hoping to discipline myself to see the first minute of each hour as a resetting, too.

What if the reason for time is simply so we can mark all the grace we've been given? What if noticing that grace is more important than our consistency to follow rules we've made? And what if our lenses were adjusted occasionally to see all the areas we've been faithful, because of grace?

We might change our habits and that might change our attitudes and all together our faithfulness, which is the cure for inconsistency, might increase.

As it is now

I am at that weepy, nostalgic point of motherhood where I get sucked into the vortex of backwards-looking. I won't even name all the cliches, but it's sufficient to say that life today is not what it was 10 or 15 years ago, for better or worse, and I have lots of feelings about that. I hate being a cliche. I despise bandwagons and group-think and stereotypes, but here I am—weepy and nostalgic.

The only real security is not owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gifts from the Sea

"As it is now" is great, truly. This may be my favorite stage of parenting so far, but it is exhausting in a whole new way and what I really miss the most about the younger years may be the control I had.

Honestly. Dictatorship was so much easier.

As it is now

I was thinking the other day about some of the stories my kids retell from their early years, stories that ring absolutely no bells for me. Do I just truly not remember, or is it their memory that's skewed? We all take on memories as they are told to us and we assimilate them into our memory keeping system. It's true because we've heard it enough times. Their version of those days is the truest form of the events in their minds, which makes me realize how formative those early years really are and how powerful an opportunity we all have to shape the memory of a child.

My kids are telling me stories I don't fully buy into though and I wonder if this is the trend now, if I'm the one who'll be told memories from here on out. I mean, I'm not that old, but possibly my memory is full of the mistold and misunderstood. The way I remember things may be filtered through nagging guilt or sleep-deprived synapses that fail to connect.

I should have told my kids a lot more stories when they were younger. I should have told them more beautiful and true events of their everyday lives, or at least kept up the baby books better. I need to collect the snippets I've written over the years on scraps of paper and in old journals, and press them into some type of cohesive, hopeful story, of first words and mispronunciations, hilarious antics, deep questions, scraped knees, and those growth charts marked on the walls of three homes.

Those were the years I could have painted the rosiest pictures and they would have believed the tales, forever.

My own childhood memories take on a new ring when I realize this fallibility of memory, or this trick of perspective.  It's important to note. The eyes of a child see through two wide-open portals and the eyes of an adult feel like a thousand tiny pin-pricks—there is so much more to consider.

The good thing is that my kids are keeping memories. The girls have a book where they write down funny things that are said or done amongst the siblings, and I am proud to see the genius in their method: they write it all down in one journal. All in one place. They are smarter than me.

Reflection is how we learn and the way we process, and memory, however flawed it turns out to be, is a great sustainer. We can live too much on memories though, and of the many times I've looked back and wished for something different, prayed for forgetfulness for my shortcomings, or longed for bygones, no memories have ever served me as well as the reminder that God is making the present brand new. This is a story I need to retell myself daily.

Every moment, new and new and new.

Taking present relationships as they are requires a good amount of healthy forgetfulness. It requires a trust that somewhere in the mess of our lives we laid a good foundation, and the security of our collective memory is bound up in the keeper of all our thoughts and experiences.

Today, I'm praying we can all do the work of story telling: here's what's good, here's the truth, here's the pain and also the gospel about your present turmoil or indecision or brokenness.

Rename the days

Every now and then I have a mini-existential crisis. I ask those proverbial why am I here questions and wonder how much of my day-to-day life will even really matter in a hundred years. Longevity is the gold standard, and if something doesn't last, what's the point? This happens when there are strings of days that are all the same, where nothing exciting or momentous or seemingly important happens, when everything runs relatively smooth.

In crisis we don't have time to ask these silly questions.

It feels like these are the smallest days, where we do the same things again and again. Work. Eat. Sleep. Work. Eat. Sleep. But we're launching adults into the world and helping our youngest navigate that pre-teen awkwardness. It's important that we do our job well, and our job seems to be the making of humans better than ourselves. We want our children to climb higher than us, fail less than us, love more than us, and certainly to live longer than us.

We want some of the wrong things.

As for longevity, what lasts longer than a life?

*****

My husband and I talk about time and wonder, as we age, are we accumulating years or losing them? Time is a created thing and things have edges, borders; at death we cross the border into timelessness, where God is. In life, we see Him crashing through the borders and arranging our time and, I believe, actually literally holding our days in His hands.

So as we age—everyone of us, everyday—we are losing time but gaining timelessness.

We don't generally get philosophical with one another unless it's late and we have tired bodies but fully-awake brains. This is a kind of pillow-talk, I guess. We're basically old folks. And these questions don't matter, except when we stop and review our lives and wonder if we ought to change course.

I guess I think these questions do matter, because I think we should course-correct often.

If we consider these to be small days and our lives to be small blips on a timeless radar, we really are prone to despair. Of all the billions who've lived and died and worshiped the wrong things or loved the right things, we are a few people inhabiting a small space.

But God sees every hair that falls and numbers every sparrow (or something like that).

The days matter because we've seen an opening for the glory of God to break right in. We have filled our space with our sin, made room for reconciliation, covered over offenses with love, and in so doing we've reincarnated the gospel again and again and again.

We are story in process, telling of all His purposes. We matter because Jesus gave everything for us and His story is repeated through every tiny life—mine and yours and all those estranged from the life of God.

The way of peacemaking given us may be something so small that it seems hardly worth doing, but it is these small offerings which build our reflexes for the larger ones. ~ Madeleine L'Engle

It matters that we are gracious during the extra long wait: at the post office, the tire store, the bank, this life.

It matters that we smile at the teller who was just berated for something beyond her control.

It matters that we clean up garbage that's not ours, that we do a favor that costs us precious time, or return the extra change we could have pocketed.

Do the laundry again. Make another meal. Teach long division again. It matters, not just because we are raising kids to be good stewards of what was once formless and void, this earth made spectacular by a Word; it also matters because we are timeless.

We are building reflexes for larger purposes by being faithful in the small ones.

We call these small things and small days, but a time is really only named accurately after the fact, like Good Friday (which is not at all an appropriate comparison to our current days of raising kids and navigating mid-life).

But we'll rename these days in the future.

They'll be better than we currently feel they are. They'll mean more than we think they do right now.