Mind you, I get this lovely little "holy" feeling when I focus on my spiritual growth, on being healthy in my relationship with God and focusing on all things spiritual. Almost to a fault.
Despite that I know it doesn't work this way, I feel like I've earned my brownie points with the Lord and "among the brethren" when I have steady devotions, I fast, I spend hours in my prayer closet, I go to church twenty times per week, I give my clothes to orphans, or I witness to my neighborhood and hand out a trillion tracts.
I feel like I've earned favor with God and man. I don't feel a bit of guilt sharing those "activities" with you. After all, many of you are our prayer partners, even our financial partners, and you want to know we're worth the trouble, right?
But I am just like a home, which is made of the family living inside it as well as the actual house they dwell in, plus all those little things like kitchen appliances, photo albums, and furniture. I could focus on having a mansion and live in it alone, without furnishings, and it wouldn't feel like much of a home. I could have lots of memories captured on film and USB cards and look through them with my lovely, happy family on our fine leather sofa, while the roof caves in on our shack. That's out of whack somehow. All three parts are important, but within the context of balance. Of course, the family is the most important, but taking care of the family means you keep the other things in order, too.
I understand that of all the three parts that make up Christie (body, soul, and spirit), the spirit is the most important part, the eternal part that should take priority over all others. But if the roof collapses on the body that houses this spirit, I'm not much good. If I am depressed and soul-sick, I won't be very effective spiritually.
Sometimes in my mind, I hear scriptures like Matthew 6:33 ("Seek ye first the kingdom of God...") and Romans 8:5-6 ("they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace"), and let's not forget I Corinthians 9:27 ("I discipline my body and bring it into subjection....").
I take those verses totally out of context and decide that putting any importance on my physical body makes me somehow less spiritual. I decide not to tell you that Ken joined a gym and is doing well recuperating from his heart surgery, because, well, we could be spending that $12 per month on buying a few meals for the homeless guy that wanders around our neighborhood and sleeps on the corner.
And when I do tell you, I feel the need to mention how Ken's building a relationship with several guys at the gym, and how they seek him out with questions, curious about what he's got that makes him different, just from that hour they see him in the gym a few times a week. That way, I have justified the investment of time and money.
Or I don't want to tell you how much I have really enjoyed the inflatable kayak my mom bought for my birthday. See how I had to slip in that I didn't pay for it, that I merely accepted a gift from my mom? And now that I've said it, I'm tempted to tell you how I've met people and started conversations because I'm out rowing or they want to see it up close when I beach, to be sure you recognize its value as an evangelistic tool.
And while that is the truth, the truth is also that I didn't think about that at all when I dropped the hints to my kids a month before my birthday that I had my eye on that kayak, just in case anyone should ask them. Nope, the fact is that I miss exercise. It's something that's always made me feel good, and without the ability to run or bike or even walk much, I feel it in my soul. I need to get out and be active. But even typing that out makes me feel less spiritual, like winning souls or preaching the Gospel or reading the New Testament should be the only thing that makes me happy, right?
I wouldn't dare judge you in that way. I wouldn't tell you that to enjoy your time on the water, taking in the beauty of creation and just breathing makes you less spiritual, but oh, how I struggle with it as it pertains to ME. I'm a missionary, after all. Full-time ministry. 24/7 and all that.
How I feel like I'm cheating when I steal away for an hour to exercise! Like I have failed God because I spent that hour with a clear mind when I could have been rowing and praying! I could have sung to Him! What was I thinking, just rowing along like that?!
But instead, I am learning to let Him sing to me. To let Him speak, not always in that prayer setting, but sometimes in the sunset, in the waves, in the breeze. After all,
“His invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship.” (Romans 1:20)
My heart knows this is okay, but it's that switch in my brain that says I must be productive every second of the day, as YOU judge productive. And YOU, and YOU. And the truth is that you may not even think that way, but somewhere inside I'm worried that you will, that I'll let you down and you'll be disappointed in me. And that's how I let guilt take residence.
Some of it comes from real experience, from real people who've been part of my life and really do think that way. But I don't believe I'm the only person God's warming with the sunshine of His presence in a way that inspires me to take care of me completely, even though many times I don't give myself permission to do it.
Anyone else struggle with this?