…But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Lots of things that are good for us are simple. We know we should eat right, limit saturated fats, white sugar and processed foods. We know we would feel better if we exercised daily or at least followed the recommended three to five times per week. We accept our bodies will be grateful not only today but years down the road if we avoid damaging habits like smoking and excessive drinking. The rules are simple, but how many of us are able to follow them?
Take our financial habits. We understand our futures would be brighter if we adopted a life-style that allows us to live within our means while at the same time set aside money for emergencies, our children’s educations, and our own retirements. The math is simple. An eight year old could do it. Money in minus money out equals what’s left over. But that’s the problem, right? Too often there’s nothing left over.
The same lessons and too often, the same destructive habits carry over to our spiritual lives. We spend so much of our time and energy just getting by, just treading water to keep ourselves and our families afloat, there’s nothing left over to devote to our spiritual growth. As with everything else, we tell ourselves someday we’ll have more time and that we’ll begin tomorrow. Only tomorrow never comes, because when a new dawn rises it is almost always accompanied by its own set of problems, responsibilities and crisis all demanding our time, attention and money. On the rare occasion when a new day greets us unaccompanied by an overwhelming to-do list in its outstretched hands, we are so astonished to have five minutes to call our own, we invariably allow the hours to simply fade away in mindless pursuits until we lay down at night and think of all the things we should have done and bemoan another wasted opportunity.
Somehow though, we notice that other people make time to exercise. Our friends who earn a similar income to ours manage to save. Others make better choices in regards to their diets and resist the temptation to fall victim to addictive habits. They carve out time to devote to their faith and to develop an actual relationship with God.
“So why not me?” We ask ourselves. “Why am I the only one struggling to do these things? Why is it so much easier for everyone else? What’s wrong with me?”
Therein lies the essence of the trap we allow ourselves to fall gleefully into…the one that excuses us from taking action and making healthier choices. We assume the ones who manage to do so are different. We assume they’re luckier, that they were blessed with healthier genes, had better parents, a better education, go to work everyday at better-paying jobs. Surely they must have less challenges in their lives than we do otherwise all of our justifications, rationalizations, and excuses to avoid changing our lives for the better are invalid.
When the truth of the matter is…It’s a struggle for everyone. Those ‘theys’, those other people, all have trials in their lives just like we do. They just make different choices. The acceptance of this single, definitive truth is at once both depressing and liberating. Depressing because we must then face our own failings and let go of the rationalizations that have been keeping us mired in the present and lamenting the past. Liberating because it means it doesn’t have to be that way. We can do better. We can become more than the cycle of our disappointments tells us we are. It doesn’t mean what has gone before never happened or is magically erased from our experience. Years of neglect of our physical and spiritual selves cannot be undone with a burst of enthusiasm that soon withers away beneath the weight of our day-to-day responsibilities and the accompanying temptation to resort to our old comfortable habits.
Change is hard, but pursuing it is the only direction that makes any sense. Sitting around blaming our past for our present doesn’t do anything to distance us from the shortcomings of either in the future. Unless we want to continue in a constant recycling of old mistakes, we need to take a mindful step away from the attitudes and behaviors that lock us into our current circumstances.
It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. Get over the assumption that life is supposed to be easy, or that an easy life is a goal worth striving for. We grow by overcoming the challenges in our paths, not by coasting along and avoiding as many trials as possible. The thing is, eventually we’re going to have to face down whatever it is we’re avoiding, whatever the circumstance that is holding us back. Either in this life, or the next. Death isn’t a free pass. You don’t wake up in the afterlife with a clean slate. You wake up in the next life as you leave this one, only without the limitations of a physical body. But let’s face it. Most of our limitations are not a result of our physical inabilities to accomplish an objective. What happens when we lose that last excuse? Then we are faced with the reflection of our successes and our failures staring back at us from the eternal mirror and the decision as to how we move forward from there. How do we overcome our failings and make meaningful progress towards our next best vision of ourselves?
Why wait to begin? Why should we waste the time given us in this life? Why not now? Why not gather our scattered wills, choose our direction, and set off along our chosen course? It might not be easy, but it will be worth it. Take a deep breath, inch forward a single, tiny step and begin. Simply begin.