Lately, I’ve been aware of how it dogs me: ambivalence. Double-mindedness.
- I intend to eat three meals, one helping, no snacks, no desserts. But then 4:00 hits. I graze.
- I intend to pray, read and exercise at 5:00. But between the bed and the coffee, the computer ensnares me, and I waste half the hour “just checking my email quick”… then the weather… then the headlines…
- I intend to check off every item we list on the whiteboard in the morning by 1:00 PM. Instead, I’m smitten with the spirit of spontaneity and we whirl into this or than cool educational project, then find ourselves slogging through math worksheets after lunch.
I have not really looked hard at this phenomenon till the last few days. How is it that I’ve become so wishy-washy? Five years ago, I was extremely disciplined. My house was cleaner. I folded laundry right away when it was done. I played the piano and wrote poetry. Had I been homeschooling then, I don’t doubt that I’d have been following the plan every day. And I weighed about 15 pounds less than I do now.
What’s happened to me?
I notice two things. One is healthy. Much of my productivity in the past has come from being rigid. I maintained my weight, for example, not by always eating wisely, but by exercising excessively. I’d run 5 miles before daylight, then come home and do Pilates for 45 minutes more. I could eat whatever I wanted. I was lean. But I was destroying my body. Two years ago I had to have foot surgery to correct some of the damage that may have shown up anyway — part of the problem is hereditary — but it would not have been for another ten or fifteen years.
Yesterday I looked through my old pictures, and I like my thinner self much better than this self. I felt more “me” 15 pounds ago. But I am achy, and I am a former bulimic. I’ve been free of that for… 16 years now. There is a very strong wariness about getting too focused on losing weight, and in many ways my fleshier present-self is healthier than my skinny 5-years-ago-self.
There is something healthier about flexibility in meeting our educational goals too. I can’t fail to notice that rigidity about the schedule kills my own joy, and consequently the girls’ joy, in school. There is more joy, more heart, when there is at least a little bit of chaos around the edges.
I would even venture to say that there is more depth in my relationship with God when I am relaxed about my time with Him. It doesn’t mean I throw away the plan to meet with Him at the start of the day, or fail to guard the time. But it does mean every day doesn’t have to look exactly the same. What relationship is like that? There is more grace in some give and take, as long as there is an underlying discipline about prayer and study each day.
Okay, what was I talking about? Oh yes — the first thing I notice about my ambivalence is at least partly positive: it has to do with letting go of some of the rigidity, some of the external crutches, that have locked me into certain courses of action in the past. Even positive fruits, like thinness or regular devotions or checking off items on the to-do list in school, are tainted by joylessness when they’re maintained by enslavement to structure.
The second thing I notice is that my ambivalence has been fed by the computer. I’m not anti-computer, and this is not a post about technology. But I find that my computer time is a default activity, and what I’m talking about when I speak of ambivalence is being entrapped by the default mode. I go to the computer when I don’t feel like doing other things. I am entertained without effort or thought. Time passes. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but I can’t fail to notice the link between this and these other things I’m noticing — the gentle slide away from discipline and into default as a systemic issue. Think of it as exercising my default muscles. I do it a lot — more than I exercise my disciplinary muscles.
Here’s Galatians 5:
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
There’s the flesh, motivated by selfishness. There’s the Spirit, bearing God’s fruit.
Then there’s “you.” Or in this case, “me.” The third party that mediates between the others. The party that “chooses this day whom I will serve.” Paul says that “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” In other words, there is no default. That third party can’t die into one or the other side of the battle. It has to stay separate from both and interact with God.
I have to admit, that sounds exhausting. There’s an illusion of rest in semi-conscious, default living. But in the end, I’m reminded, it’s really exhausting and noisy. I dislike the sound of quarreling, but the truth is that there is an inner quarrel going on all the time within me, and I am have become the unengaged mediator. I get to the end of the day and feel like I haven’t accomplished much or experienced much inner quiet.
Lord, help me today to change that. I see that it’s a lie. Your Spirit is life and joy and peace and rest. My caving into default mode is the real treadmill.