Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

Body shaming 101

I was 12 and so was he.

I was a scrawny, scrappy, happy, athletic kid.

My body was strong and it felt powerful when I ran or swam or played. I was not at all self-conscious about it.

Puberty was on the horizon, but not yet a reality.

I was at my friend's lake cabin for the week and we - along with a bunch of other kids our age - were piled into sleeping bags in the main living area to sleep each night. 

It was summer and the evenings were warm.

One night I woke up sweaty so I slipped off my long-sleeved shirt to change into a tank top.  Everyone else was asleep. I didn't think anyone saw me make this quick change.

I was wrong.

The next morning we were all gathered around the kitchen table eating pancakes. We were laughing and enjoying the morning and the fact that another summer day stretched out long in front of us.

Suddenly, my world shifted forever.

One of the boys with us - the one I had a crush on - said:

"Pancakes are the perfect breakfast for you, Alice."

I bet you really like PANCAKES.

I think from now on, that will be your nickname - I will just call you 'pancake.'"

All the other boys snickered at this, laughing at me, sharing an inside joke.

The room grew silent.

My face grew hot. My stomach dropped. The pancake I was previously enjoying turned to gravel in my mouth. I felt tears well up. 

I now know that what I was feeling was a deep, deep level of shame I had never experienced before.

I learned some of the cruelest lessons of girlhood that day:

My body was an object for boys to criticize publicly.

My body was available for public comment.

My body, formerly a source of childlike joy, could be a source of shame and embarrassment.

This prepubescent boy thought it was ok, funny even, to announce that he had seen my equally prepubescent body when I changed my shirt the night before. 

And he pronounced my body lacking.

Not up to his standards.

Worthy of a good laugh in front of my peers.

Pancake was my nickname the rest of my time at the lake.

I was 12.

I will never forget the shame of that day.

Next, I will write about how this experience influenced how I parented my two daughters. 

 

Missing the point ...

I always know I am missing the point of the Christian faith when I start to think that religious actions are the point.

Did I go to church?

Did I pray?

Did I engage in a Bible study?

Did I avoid sin?

Did I serve at the soup kitchen?

I stumbled across this thought in my journal the other day and I am uncertain if it is mine or someone else's. No matter the source, it is powerful:

"Thinking the Christian faith is about religious acts, rather than seeing those religious acts as a means to an end, is a grave error.

The only end worth its weight - in a Christian sense - is love.

If our religious acts do not lead us to becoming more radically loving people they are worth nothing."

Christ followers have always missed the point when we think the means are the end; when we act as if our religious actions are the purpose for which we exist.

I do not know how many more ways Jesus could have tried to explain this danger to his constantly confused disciples while they - like us - kept trying to make the means the end.

When we forget that love is the only point we tend toward arguments about doctrine, discussions about rules and boundaries, about who should be excluded and how we should best exclude them.

Too much of my faith is an exercise in missing the point.

I wonder if that is because missing the point is far and away easier than loving people.

And that seems to have been Jesus' main point.

 

 

How to find focus ...

I recently subscribed to The Harvard Business Review.

Because, well ... Harvard.

An article I read a few weeks ago has been helpful to me as I struggle to find focus in these long days of winter, these seemingly endless days of the pandemic.  Has it really been a year?

The author of the article confessed his own attention struggles and shared three journal prompts that have helped him bring order out of the chaos of these strange days.

First:

I will focus on ...

Here, he lists no more than 3-4 of the primary things he wants to accomplish and give his best attention to in the day ahead.

This forces prioritization.

It is a reminder that we can't accomplish everything. We must choose. We GET to choose. We need to choose, or things will choose us.

So for example, yesterday I had two work-related Zoom meetings and three smallish work-related projects. That was my Focus list.

Today, I have two important phone calls I want to give good attention to and I want to get a long workout in with enough time to stretch this tight-as-a-drum quarantine body. This is my Focus list.

This does not mean I won't get a myriad of other things done. It does mean, however, that I have decided - in advance - what I will give my best energies to.

Super helpful.

Next, the author suggests this prompt:

I am grateful for ... 

I know, I know. If I hear one more person tell me that I need to start a gratitude journal I am going to punch them in the nose!

But hear me out. This HARVARD guy says this really matters! So do it!

He suggests that we get really specific. We don't just get to write things like, "Coffee!" or "A warm house!" He pushes us to be super specific. There is some good research behind this, trust me. Harvard, remember?

So, I wrote things like:

"I am grateful we have health insurance so I can see a chiropractor today to get relief from my sore neck. I am grateful we can afford care for things like this. I bet it will help."

"I am grateful for my work colleagues I get to meet with today. I like them and they make me laugh and think."

"I am grateful for the book I am reading on self-compassion. I love good scientific research on topics that matter. I am grateful the author cares about this concept. I love what I am learning."

This simple act boosted my mood significantly. It forced me to get over the negativity bias we humans are prone to and pushed me to look for the good in a very average day.

Last prompt is:

I will let go of ...

There is some real power here, friend.

In order to focus on what matters we must let go of what doesn't.

This is just a fact.

So, rather than hoping I will be able to overlook distractions, I set out with intent to body check them before they even showed up on the scene.

I wrote things like,

"I will let go of checking news and social media this morning."

"I will let go of multi-tasking and will work on one project at a time."

"I will let go of texting while I work and will put my phone in the other room."

"I will let go of needing a clean home office today and will get right to work."

"I will let go of worrying about things I can't control. Instead, I will write them on a list as they pop into my head and will pray about them tomorrow morning. God will handle them better than me anyway."

This all took about 10 minutes.

I will focus on ...

I am grateful for ...

I will let go of ...

Three thoughtful prompts to help us find focus in these frenetic days.

Thanks, Harvard Business Review!

Are you a backslider?

I think I was saying something irreverant when my husband quipped, "Watch out, or you will become a 'backslider.'"

We both giggled a bit about this.

The term has fallen out of vogue lately. I haven't heard it in awhile. But it got me thinking: who came up with this phrase in the first place?

Why does it get wielded in threatening ways in some Christian circles? Or at least it used to. According to my formerly Baptist dad, this was one of the worst things you could ever call a fellow church member.

I looked up a definition of backsliding and this is what I found:

The term "backsliding" is usually used to describe believers making unrighteous choices such as excessive drinking, sexual immorality, foul language, low church attendance, or similar outward behaviors.

"Huh," I thought.

So we are doing ok when we are making "righteous choices" which, according to this definition, look like no alcohol, sexual purity (whatever that is), no swearing, and going to church.

Ok.

But which of any of those behaviors have anything to do with following Jesus and loving my neighbor?

I am not advocating becoming a foul-mouthed, bar-hopping, sex addict.

But I do wonder if the whole idea of "backsliding" is way off target.

After my husband jokingly labeled me as such, I started to wonder,

What if the sliding we were worried about in backsliding was sliding away from love?

Moving away from compassion?

Slipping down the slope away from empathy and toward hard-heartedness?

Falling away from humility and landing in a pile of self-righteous arrogance?

What if backsliding was less about harmful personal behaviors and more about the ways we harm our neighbors?  (Sometimes even in the name of religion.)

Or harm God's good creation?

Or harm the poor, the sick, the hungry, the lonely, the broken, the tired, the bruised, the orphan, the fatherless, the widow?

What if I was not a backslider because I said a coarse word when I dropped a plate,

but because I refused to feel sorrow and move toward right action when I saw children being ripped from their parents at the border?

What if you are not a backslider because you don't go to church as much,

but because you don't go to your neighbor's house with a pot of soup?

What if we are not backsliders because we enjoy a cold beer on a hot day,

but because we refuse to enjoy the creation God has entrusted to our gentle care and instead treat the earth as some kind of cheap, dispensable commodity?

I wonder if it might be a good idea to bring the word backslider back into vogue.

Only to be used - of course - in our own self-examination process,

and to help us see that the really dangerous slippery slope

is always the one that moves us away from love.

Always.