What is a life? Have you ever wondered why one person’s existence ends up a certain way, while another’s ends up completely differently? Of course we start out in different circumstances, but how many of us have ever really considered the process of how we are weaving the tapestry of our own life?
“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16 NLT)
Each of us does things for one of two reasons: for the result, or for the experience. When I decide to lose weight, it isn’t typically because I enjoy feeling hungry, but because I want to weigh less. On the other hand (unless I am a diabetic and my sugars have dipped dangerously low), I eat a chocolate bar simply for the mere pleasure of it. I am not doing it because my body needs more sugar or I need to gain weight; I eat it because it tastes good as it melts in my mouth. And whether we consciously realize it or not, all of our life’s actions are done for one (or in some less common instances both) of these two reasons. But why do I need to know this?
Much of what we do in life isn’t pleasant. It is not pleasant for me to stop eating when I don’t quite feel full, but I do it anyway because it is good for my body. It isn’t pleasant to do my daily exercise routine when I don’t feel like it, but I do it anyway because it, too, is good for me. It isn’t pleasant to study hard to get a degree, but I do it anyway because I want a better life. It isn’t pleasant to deprive myself now in order to be able to stash money away, but I do it so I’m not homeless someday when the unexpected happens. It isn’t pleasant to get up in the morning to go to a job I may not necessarily love, but I do it anyway because I want a paycheck. Life is full of things which aren’t necessarily pleasant, but need doing anyway. Yet the good news is that there is a strategy to help you cope, and ultimately keep at, the unpleasant but necessary activities of life.
This strategy is learning to enjoy–even to revel in—-the process of working toward your goal. According to Business Insider, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February (https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.businessinsider.com/new-years-resolutions-courses-2016-12). We can avoid being a part of this statistic by learning to appreciate and enjoy the process.
Say, for example, I have determined that I am going to exercise because it is good for my body and I would like to be more toned. If I focus too much on my goal–would I be willing to forgo the entire process itself if I could already be there?–I will miss a big part of the experience and may even give up. I may become discouraged when I realize how long it will be and how much effort it will take before I actually look better, and that, perhaps, no amount of effort will turn me into a centerfold.
If, on the other hand, I focus on the process of getting there rather than daydreaming about the result–if I recognize and constantly remind myself that all my efforts, the stretching of my muscles and my minor discomfort, is my body actively repairing, building and benefiting my cells, and that when I think about it, it actually does feel good to exercise–I will be much more likely to continue this activity until it becomes part of who I am, thereby increasing my chances of eventually reaching my goal.
In the same way, say I determine I will adopt a more healthy eating pattern, abandoning processed grains, sugar, and unhealthy fats, and increasing my consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. If I learn to enjoy the process–if I appreciate the wholesome taste of some foods I may not have previously consumed, if I recognize that with each bite I am feeding my cells rather than starving or even poisoning them, understanding that it is the process that is benefitting me bite by bite–I will be much more willing to watch what I place in my mouth and more likely to stick with it until it becomes a habit, and ultimately a defining lifestyle.
This same approach can be applied to anything of value that we set our minds to that may not, at first blush, appear pleasant. I desire a doctorate degree, but before I undertake to do so I have to commit myself to enjoying five to six years (plus the two more to first earn the requisite master’s degree) of a doctoral candidate’s lifestyle. I have to commit to studying, doing research, teaching, writing; I have to be prepared to throw myself into this lifestyle because, for the duration, it would be my life.
More importantly–especially when we set longer term goals–we also need to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we may or may not eventually get there–not because we will quit, but because life is brief and there may not be sufficient time to finish what we began–and we have to make sure we are okay with that.
All of this is just as true concerning the spiritual aspects of my life and my walk with God. If I do not feel like praying but recognize it is essential I have a passionate and deep prayer life, I need to focus on the actual process of praying. I need ask God for a desire to pray and for His presence; that I would pant for Him as a deer pants for water, that I would love Him with my heart, soul, mind and strength–and, because He “give[s] what is good to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11)–He will give me this. In the same way, when I recognize I should “remain in…[Jesus] and…[His] words [are to] remain in…[me],” I must open His Word and focus on enjoying it–and again, if I ask for this, He will give it, because it is good to enjoy His Word!
So what is the life application of all this? The most important take-away from all of this is that we are the sum total of that which we do. We really are what we do: our life is the result of the process of our living it. Because of this, we need to choose our behavior wisely.
How many times have you made an exception and done something you felt was not representative of who you are? You may have lied, although you don’t see yourself as a liar. You may have cheated, although you don’t consider yourself dishonest. You might have had an affair, although you don’t really see yourself as unfaithful.
We need to stop lying to ourselves and recognize that while one action does not need to end up defining us–we can turn away from it and never do it again–a repeated pattern does, and far too often what began as a one-off ends up becoming our lifestyle.
So each and every thing I do matters. Whether I recognize it or not, by doing it I am building it into my life. It matters that I make well thought-out decisions and act with wisdom, integrity and goodness each day because what I do today may really truly end up defining my life. If you do not want to become a liar, don’t ever lie. If you want to be a good student, begin today and turn in the best paper you’ve ever written. If you want to be healthy, never put into yourself anything that is bad for you. If you want to finish your education, sign up for the first class and give it your all. Most importantly, if you want to live in a way that pleases God–reading the Bible, praying, or going to church–begin doing it today!
1. We do things for either the end result, or for the process.
2. We can stick through things better when we come to appreciate the process, even if it doesn’t initially seem pleasant.
3. Our lives are made up of our processes–what we regularly do.
4. We should therefore choose our processes wisely!
Help me be wise in how I live my life–most of all, help me choose to obey You, which leads to righteousness. Amen.