When I go to the grocery store, or a restaurant, I feel like I have the mini-angel and mini-devil sitting on my shoulders. Do you know what I’m talking about – those two versions of ourselves, advocating for “the right thing” vs “the thing we want”? This can happen with food, exercise, shopping, TV habits, and even our spiritual lives. The good news is – we’re not alone in struggling with “I should do this” vs “I really want this.” (At the very bottom is a prayer that I often recite to help me figure out what to do – feel free to scroll down there to check it out, if you don’t have time for the full article.)
Recently I read an article entitled, “Why Audiences Hate Hard News—And Love Pretending Otherwise”. It demonstrates the discrepancy between what we say we want and what we do – something many of us know firsthand.
The story from The Atlantic delves into the idea that many people suggest they want vegetables, but end up eating junk food (I particularly love the image to the right, which looks like a gastro-gang war). A scene from The West Wing shares this sentiment, suggesting that people who watch television often report they watch more PBS shows than the data claims because they want to appear smarter. This is much the same with our reading habits – we claim to want to know about political and economic issues, yet end up reading People magazine and looking at cute cat pictures (nothing wrong with that!). Some of us have reasons we need to stay away from one thing or the other, but the lesson here is about seeking a balance that fits for our lives (rather than the balance other people think we should have).
Often, life feels like an either-or situation, where I think I should have the kale, but I want candy (both literally and figuratively). Many of you have heard me say that the answer to the questions we have isn’t necessarily “Yes or No, but How?” Perhaps this is the model for balancing the desire for fun with seriousness, changing the discussion from whether or not to do something enjoyable to how to balance it with the ideals we seek to advance.
We have these aspirations with our health and eating, with our news and social media, and I would say even with church and community. There are many times that I suggest to my friends and colleagues that it’s so meaningful to be a part of a small group, for study or reflection, yet struggle to find the time to be present.
Perhaps the lesson for us here is not in always striving for what we think we should do, but in finding a balance. I think a lot about diets – for some people, it works to follow a new diet for a few months, eating according to the plan until they’re happy with where they are and decide to stop the diet. I’ve always preferred making slight changes that added up over time.
One way to approach this desire to live into our highest hopes and goals is to find small, regular ways of changing our habits. Instead of only reading intellectual stories for a month, and then binge-watching silly animal tricks – try taking in a little bit of both each day. Instead of eating all vegetables for a month, and then all of last year’s Halloween candy in a sitting – try balancing the two over a day or week.
And so it goes with our spiritual lives. Many of us want what’s “good” for us – connection with others, a deepening of our thoughts and awareness, spiritual practices that ground us. And if you’re like me, perhaps you find yourself really diving into those when you need them; but, as the need appears less present, so does the desire to follow through on the actions. A model we can try is to integrate enough of the things we want with the things we need, living a full but balanced life.
Our world offers so many choices and options that it’s hard not to be overwhelmed. And our lives can be so taxing that we often want to do little more than relax and enjoy what little downtime we have. We’re meant to enjoy life, to savor it and embrace it. To really do that means to eat our vegetables and our dessert, to learn along with being entertained, to have a spiritual life while also being human, and to create meaningful relationships as well casual acquaintances.
Most of us know the adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Some have even added a second line that says, “All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.” Poor Jack – like many of us, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place (with lots of judgments from us about his personality – dull and a mere toy? Yeesh – let’s give Jack a break!). I’d suggest that life isn’t about getting it right, whatever it is. Instead, may this prayer by Sister Pat Bergen guide you:
May Wisdom be present in your discernment, shedding light upon dormant dreams and unfolding paths.
May trust invite you to explore the unknown with a hopeful heart.
May supportive companions keep vigil in your waiting.
May you be blessed with patience and courage in the expression of your true self.
May the yearning of the Spirit call forth generosity and great love.
And, may your heart be opened always to welcome holy newness.