After meditating on these passages, I began to gain a whole new perspective about my past failures. First, I understood that my natural inclinations were likely never going to go away, that my behaviors (or sin nature) would always be in conflict with my intentions (my Spirit-led nature). No matter how many New Years Resolutions I made, no matter how hard I tried, these tendencies were more than likely not going to disappear—barring some superempirical occurance, of course, which could happen but wasn’t likely to.
Next, I understood that if I focused on the Holy Spirit and allowed Him to lead me regardless, I was going to be filled with peace. Letting the Spirit lead would bring me out from under a dark cloud and able to embrace a life “spacious and free”—no matter what my immediate surroundings looked like or whether or not I had managed to conquer all of my faults and challenges.
Then, I had to quit thinking I could handle these things by myself, to stop obsessing on them year after failed year. Instead, I was to turn my eyes heavenward, toward God and wherever He wanted me to go. As I did that, the Spirit would provide me with encouragement and strength, Christ’s love would flow into me (and through me to others), and He would even bring good from my flaws and sufferings.
Finally, I understood what had been tripping me up all along. By thinking that with the help of a few good resolutions I could change my very nature, I had actually been denying God’s truth, ignoring the Spirit within me, and allowing myself and my family to flounder in that dead-ended place of what Paul called self-focused obsession.
Deeply humbled, I made a renewed commitment to God, inviting His Spirit to fill me, lead me, intercede for me, comfort me, change me, and more. Barring some superempirical transformation, I knew that my various shortcomings would continue to be a challenge for me. But because I could finally see those shortcomings for exactly what they were—evidence of the sin nature that Christ Himself conquered on the cross—I was able to adjust my priorities and my focus, allowing the Spirit to move to the forefront of my life. If He really did have things for me to do and places for me to go, I wanted to be ready, whether my closets were a mess or not!
Given the choice, of course, I would’ve loved to have been delivered immediately from my whole list of shortcomings. This didn’t happen, but at least I was no longer so arrogant as to think such a deliverance could be achieved outside the realm of God’s power, that it was something that I could accomplish purely through my own efforts and determination. True, I still might someday be granted complete deliverance. But until then, I knew that the sooner I admitted to myself that this was who I was and likely always would be at my very core, the sooner I would get on with God’s work rather than my own.
That didn’t mean, however, that from there on out I could simply ignore these persistent issues of a messy home, mismanaged time, or poor health, etc. Those issues were having such an impact on my day-to-day existence that they still needed to be faced somehow. But now that I knew I wasn’t going to “fix” them simply by trying harder, I realized that an entirely new problem-solving mindset was required. Thus, I asked myself these two key questions:
• Are there any work-arounds to these issues that would allow me to change the situations even if I can’t change myself?
• Is there a way—through fervent prayer, the expertise of others, counseling, etc.—to bring about at least some change within myself in these areas after all?
To my very core, I felt like the answer to both questions was yes. Thus, finally, I started down an entirely new path, one of seeking out “work-arounds” for my various issues while also enlisting some real expertise to see what of my own nature could be changed. Through it all, I kept at the forefront of my mind the big picture truths I had learned about all of this: God loved me regardless! Jesus died for me regardless! The Spirit was ready to use me now—regardless! Everything else was beside the point. As a Christian, I had no right to postpone His work until I had my life in perfect order, which was something that was never going to happen anyway.
And so, with the Spirit fully front and center of my life for the first time in a long time, I embarked on a dual journey of practical problem-solving and personal transformation. For the problem-solving part of my journey, I first stripped out all emotion—frustration, embarrassment, dejection, etc.—from the issues and tried to look at them dispassionately instead. I did a lot of thinking, sketching, planning, almost like a builder faced with a very difficult plot of land who figures out how to build there anyway. Soon, I realized that I was also kind of like a detective, studying clues and examining evidence in my search for the truth.
The personal transformation side of things was much more difficult but also incredibly eye-opening. I began by seeking out wise counsel, including that of my pastor, my doctor, my friends, my family, and especially my husband, who is one of the wisest and most compassionate men I have ever known. I attended a life-changing conference (Lose it for Life, which you can learn about here), worked with a therapist to overcome a lifetime of misconceptions and bad thought patterns, joined Celebrate Recovery for help in dealing with my food addiction, joined a gym, read and implemented some excellent books such as Changes That Heal and Seven Keys to Spiritual Renewal, secured a medical diagnosis and subsequent treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder, and so on.
On this journey, I learned a whole lot about individual natures, good and bad habits, self discipline, spiritual maturity, weight loss, metabolism, housekeeping, personal impairments, transformation, sanctification, and much more. I did change in some substantial ways, yes, both inside and out, including taking off a good bit of weight and incorporating some very healthy habits that I have maintained to this day. I also figured out some great work-arounds for some of my biggest problems, especially my messy house. By accepting that my behaviors were never going to change in that area, I realized that I would need to change my house instead—thus the House That Cleans Itself system was born.
Time and again throughout this process, I realized that I was a living, breathing example of the Serenity Prayer: accepting the things that I couldn’t change about myself, changing the things I could, and learning to recognize the difference.
In the end, I came to understand that had I not gone through this process and found various ways to fix the issues that dominated my life, I would have spent the rest of my years drowning in my own good intentions, my lack of self discipline, and my mountains of clutter, lost opportunities, and neglected health. Worst of all, the Spirit would have remained pushed off to one side, called on for occasional help but otherwise relegated to yet another undone to-do list of good intentions.
BE SURE TO COME BACK TOMORROW FOR THE NEXT PORTION OF THIS ESSAY.