cheating-heartI have a confession to make.  I’ve been cheating.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in a grumpy mood.  Due to a combination of hormones and dropping barometric pressure, I had a nagging headache that would not go away.  In addition, I was experiencing something of an adrenaline hangover after an exciting new adventure that morning.  I was also feeling sad because one of my favorite people told us yesterday that she is moving.  I came home with plans to tackle my to do list, exercise and do some writing.  Instead, I snuggled into my easy chair next to the fireplace and wasted time in my two favorite ways; napping and surfing the Internet.  I simply checked out.

Facebook friends, did you feel me lurking around Facebook yesterday?

As you may know if you regularly follow this blog, I ostensibly gave up Facebook for Lent.  I made this decision in order to make space for some other things I want to be doing during Lent.  But yesterday, I didn’t care.  I was feeling like a rebellious toddler in need of a nap, arms folded and feet stomping in protest.  I didn’t care what was supposedly “good” for me, I just wanted to withdraw and avoid for a while.  And I wanted to see what people were saying about the snowstorm on Facebook.  Like a giant bowl of ice cream or a large order of fries in the middle of a diet, I decided to willfully and purposefully make a choice to step off the path I had chosen for myself in favor of my favorite forms of escape.

To be clear, one more time, I don’t believe there is anything intrinsically wrong with Facebook or ice cream or french fries or chocolate.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that chocolate and french fries, in particular, are straight from heaven and I’m convinced Jesus is a huge fan. That isn’t the point.

I guess the thing I’m finding curious today is the ways in which I sometimes choose to comfort myself when I’m having a hard day.  Some days, as I have gotten older, I choose good things that I know help me move to a better frame of mind; prayer, a short nap, calling a friend, reading a good book, helping someone else or getting some exercise.  Yesterday, however, was a different story. It wasn’t so much WHAT I chose to do as the attitude with which I did it.  To be honest, I was feeling petulant and sorry for myself.  My inner dialogue went something like this:

“Screw it.  I don’t feel well, I’m sad and mad and I don’t want to do this stuff on my list.  I deserve to take a break, Jesus doesn’t care if I look at FB, I need to check on the snowstorm, Brooke probably has pictures from her play and I would be a bad mother if I didn’t look at them, I’ve been doing really well with my writing lately so I deserve a reward, everybody else is on FB and I’m probably missing something important.  This is a stupid idea anyway and it’s not fair.”

When I am rationalizing my decisions to engage in avoiding, numbing, and checking out behaviors, these are almost always included in the conversation in my head:

  • “screw it”
  • “it’s not fair”
  • “I deserve…”
  • “everybody else is…”

These are my favorites – the old standby, greatest hits that always do the trick to take me right back to the familiar places.  Whether it is treating myself to that 12th piece of candy or an extra hour of West Wing, I am a master at convincing myself that right now this choice makes the most sense.

Here is the good news.  Because of the ways that God is working in my life, I no longer get stuck in that place, overwhelmed by shame and self recrimination. Now, I am more likely to do the following:

  • Notice and name what I am doing: avoiding, escaping, numbing, seeking comfort
  • Consider how I might have gotten there: didn’t start my day with prayer, hiding from hard feelings, spending too much time alone
  • Make a choice to do something different: stop the numbing behavior, check one thing off the to-do list, call a friend, spend time in prayer, journal
  • Ask forgiveness and help from God/ extend grace to myself: define success as progress not perfection, remember that God’s love has NOTHING to do with my performance, remember that God wants to be part of my solutions
  • Try again tomorrow

I know cheating on my chosen Lenten disciplines by hiding out sneaking peeks at Facebook and napping in my chair is not exactly a life of wild depravity.  In fact, next time I’m feeling willful and rebellious, I should definitely come up with something more exciting!  I was much more creative in my younger years. 🙂

I suppose I am sharing this here today because I am finding lately that I am more and more curious about the ways in which so many of us get stuck, cycling in and out of attempts to live out this life of faith in tangible ways and then repeatedly falling back into old patterns of defeat.  Believing that God has more for us, but struggling to understand why that life seems to remain just out of our reach.  This tension is the focus of a larger writing project that I am exploring.  If you would be willing to help, I would so appreciate you answering some or all of these questions in the comments.  If you would rather your thoughts remain just between us, email me at KellyJohnson1@verizon.net

In what ways do you escape, avoid and numb?

When you do, how do you get back on track?

How do you feel about yourself after you find yourself returning to old, self-defeating behaviors?  How do you feel when you choose a better path?

How does your understanding of God impact this cycle?