Here we are halfway into a first month of a new year and for too many of us, the goals or “resolutions” we set out at the very outset are already not quite on track. Whether it is to change an exercise or diet plan, alter attitudes, or settle into a consistent daily spiritual life, the edges of those are being nibbled at by a host of things. We are hopefully stalwart in what we desire to pursue and are even now recommitting to the goals, but as we have discovered so many other times before – it is not easy.
To accomplish what we determine as goals requires consistency and we know that, but the polar opposite inconsistency dogs our steps. The way it pursues us is insidious. That word is defined as “proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects” and it is a perfect description of what happens when we draw a line in the sand to set a new goal to lead us into healthier habits of any kind, to mature and develop into a “better.”
Inconsistency produces dissonance in our lives and though it starts within us, it soon becomes evident to those who are observing us. Even though consistency sounds boring and stuffy, we crave what it offers whether we admit it or not. What it offers is good and the enemy of inconsistency has a toolbox full of devices to sabotage that. Some of the tools are so subtle that we miss them at the outset, but they work.
We know we need to exercise to lose weight, gain strength and flexibility, age better, and look better. We have books, videos, gyms, and groups aplenty to guide that goal, but most of us don’t naturally enjoy it. We set the goal again and again, but we miss the alarm to get up to make it happen. We recommit and don’t take into account we need to get into bed earlier the night before in order to not miss the alarm or hit snooze, so we miss it again.
The same pesky tool works with healthier eating, working on more positive attitudes, and a long list of things including that consistent time each morning to spend time connecting with our Creator to set in motion the best possible outcome for whatever the day holds for us.
Discouragement jumps in next and depending on how many other puzzle pieces come into play, we may give up on recommitting. Consistency is hard and one of the things that has upended us during the past year and continuing into the first weeks of this new one has been the lack of the consistent rhythm that our lives seemed to have prior to the pandemic. Nearly every part of our lives (if not all) changed and it left us unsettled at best and undone completely at worst.
We have been living this way for enough time that we ought to be doing a “better” by now, but the uncertainty and inconsistency have left us weary and brought challenges in one way or another that haven’t gone away. It seems as if the world has gone mad and perhaps it has in so many ways. In reading Anne Lamott’s book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, she writes this: “But I will remind you now that inconsistency is how experimenters regularly drive lab rats over the edge.” Could it be true?
Most of us have read about experiments where lab rats are greatly impacted when something changes and what has been the norm for them is switched. Could it be that is what has happened to us as well over the past year? Though we may love spontaneity, when our usual rhythms of our days and weeks, our relationships and holidays, our worship experiences and government policies become unpredictable, what happens inside of us?
We likely have tried various ways to handle it, read more than a few tips, but with inconsistency still the norm we are not content to hear about “a new normal” and may have lost hope along the way because the sources we believed would have fixed this by now – researchers, medicines, political leaders, governments, etc. – have not.
“it may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”Wendell Berry
Perhaps we have forgotten (if we ever knew) that there is only one sure hope and the path to it is not an easy one.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”Romans 5:3-4 (NLT)
God never promised we would not face incredibly hard times where every aspect of our lives felt like it was swaying beneath our feet. Every generation before us (no matter where we live) have faced such times. How short-sighted of us to believe it would not happen to us! How foolish of us not to learn from history and learn how those who went before us walked through such times and how it shaped them.
“Life is ambiguous. There are loose ends. It takes maturity to live with ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and untidiness. If we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be the essential and dear – the hazards of faith, the mysteries of God.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses