You Don't Have to Fix Yourself

Work in progress.

I’ve been sharing with you this week about my personal health struggles (see here and here), and it’s been a bit of a surprising turn in the conversation for me. I didn’t really expect to lay out in the open with such gritty detail how much I’m personally growing as a wee babe in this area. (I usually leave extended revelations and stories about my own journey for my personal blog, rather than here.)

So I’ve been a bit perplexed before Jesus this morning about that, wondering if I shared too much or why he may have wanted me to share that much personal detail with you. 

And what I heard him saying to me this morning about all this is that he wants you to receive this truth: 

You don’t have to fix yourself. 

I’ve mentioned the principle of indirection here in these last few days. It’s something I’ve written about in the past a few times, as well. In a nutshell, I want to communicate that this the idea that says we can’t change ourselves by sheer will power or conditioning.

Only God can change the very fibers of our being.

This gets at the root of character. For instance, I cannot actually make myself into a patient person. I cannot make myself into a humble person. I cannot make myself into a generous person. I cannot make myself into a loving person. And right now, I cannot make myself into a person who cares about the way I treat my body. 

I cannot change my character. I may be able to direct my behavior, but behavior is different than character, than our nature, than our fundamental being.

And here is the beautiful news:

Jesus wants to make us into new people. 

He doesn’t want us to be people who just behave a certain way. He wants to make us into people who actually are patient, forgiving, grace-filled, generous, loving, respectful, and so on.

And that is work only Jesus can do. In fact, that is the work Jesus is all about doing.

And so this morning, as I sat with a bit of a vulnerability hangover at having shared such detailed pictures with you about my own growing edges in the area of physical healthiness right now, I had this image of coming to Jesus on the shoreline of that beach with a broken toy in my hands. 

In my own hands, the toy was a plastic, broken thing, sharp and useless and cracked into several broken pieces.

But when I handed the toy to Jesus, it became a soft, stuffed doll ripped down the back side, stuffing hanging out, an arm torn nearly right off.

I saw Jesus take that busted-up doll into his own two hands with such loving care and slowly start making it new. Stitch by stitch, with methodical, slow intentionality and mastery, he pushed the stuffing back into place and began closing up the backside with even, perfect rows of stitches. I saw the stitches begin to close up the ragged uselessness of the doll. 

He was making it new.

Jesus closes up our brokenness. He puts everything back in its place. He stitches us back together.

Our part is to let him do it — to bring him our brokenness, to put it into his hands, to stay beside him, watching him do the repair work, letting him put everything where he wants it to go.

We watch and wait with him, and we let him perform the operation. Our part is being with him, handing ourselves over, and complying with his movement. This is the heart of indirection.

How might he want to repair areas of brokenness in your own life right now?

Indirection as a Daily Choice

Calendar girl.

So, yesterday was a success. I consumed healthy food at regular intervals and showed up and worked hard at the YMCA kickboxing class. (The class made me so incredibly aware of the unconditioned state of my body!)

But this morning I face a new day. 

That reality has the potential to sideline me.

And that’s because yesterday was hard. It took focus and continued commitment to accept the choices I had made for the day. I was tempted to stop by 7-11 for a Slurpee on my way home yesterday, for instance. Several times, I looked at my bag of carrots and was ungrateful for them. I was sorely tempted to skip out on the kickboxing class because Kirk and I were enjoying a very real and meaningful conversation on the couch before I needed to get ready and head out for the class. 

When I see how much mindfulness and energy and commitment it took for me to be faithful to those decisions yesterday, I can get sidelined when I look ahead to the future and see day after day after day, stretching out to seeming infinity, of more days just like that. More days of decisions and commitments. More days of giving up my own preferred appetite for junk food, easy fixes, comfort, and a sedentary life. 

But here’s the thing about indirection. 

It isn’t about will power. It isn’t about gritting our teeth and bearing it. It isn’t about muscling through. And it isn’t about mastery, either.

It’s about small choices made each day in the mindfulness of God’s greater work within us.

And so this means, first of all, that I’m not in this process alone. God is here, and he’s working new realities in me that are so much greater than the small choices I make along the way to participate with his work. (I’m so thankful he’s the one doing the bigger, harder part of the job!)

It also means that this is not about how much I can do — how hard I can work at this to make myself better. That is not the point. The point is my acknowledgment of what God wants to do. He is about the work of forming in me a greater respect and care for my embodied existence — a respect and care that I don’t currently possess.

My part is mere participation, accomplished through small choices that acknowledge my acceptance of what he is doing.

And so today, I will not seek to overwhelm myself in this process. I will not look at the string of days ahead of me. I will not look at the one lone day behind me. I will not take on the task of being perfect or strong or full of power I do not possess.

I will identify small choices I can make today that cooperate with God’s active, greater work in me. 

In what way might the principle of indirection come alongside you in your own life right now?

Caring for the Body Through Indirection

Yummy snack.

Over on my personal blog this year, I’ve been sharing pieces of my journey toward learning how to care for my body. This is an area of life in which I feel quite inept. I don’t have many resources to pull from or habits built up in my lifestyle to know how to care for my body in an intentional, good-ward direction. 

But as I shared this morning in that space, last night Jesus told me in no uncertain terms that he cares about my body. This led to an exchange in which I could see that the nutrients I put into my body and the ways I strengthen my muscles and bones matter to him. 

However, I’m a complete novice at this.

There was a short-lived time in my life, about nine years ago (nine!), when I was exercising regularly and in the best shape I’d ever known in my life. But then I moved and couldn’t quite find a rhythm of exercise in my new surroundings, and the habit languished and died. 

I have never recovered that ground since.

It’s been interesting, in the aftermath of that conversation with Jesus last night, how pronounced his statement continues to be today. As I’ve sat in the quiet with him this morning, seeking to hear what he wants to say in this space today, all I keep hearing him say, over and over again, is that same line: “I care about your body, Christianne.” 

No matter how I’ve tried to focus in prayer to discern his words for you today, I just keep seeing and hearing him say that exact same line: “I care about your body, Christianne. I care about your body, Christianne.”

When I first heard him speaking it again this morning, I stopped what I was doing and wrote the post over on my personal blog about it. Then I came back to prayer. But again, he was still speaking the same line. So I started asking myself, “What could it look like to care for my body today?”

I decided that I could bring carrots and almonds and a bottle of water to the place I’m going to work this afternoon. I also realized that I could bring some leftover pad thai that I have in the refrigerator and heat it up in the microwave there, so that I’m sure to eat a real meal today. (The last several times I’ve gone to work there, I didn’t eat beforehand and didn’t bring anything with me to eat, leading to no food in my body all day long.)

When I still heard Jesus speaking that same line to me after all that, I checked out the YMCA classes being offered this evening and discovered a kickboxing class. (Kickboxing just happens to be the form of exercise I discovered that I love those nine years ago.)

So, yes. I can do those things today. Make a couple snacks, bring some leftovers, and attend a new class tonight.

It reminded me of the principle of indirection. And when Jesus — even still, after all those thoughts and decisions and steps had been taken by me this morning — kept speaking that line as I leaned in to hear his words for you this morning, I realized that perhaps it is this principle of indirection related to the body that he wants to speak to you, too.

Basically, this is the idea that we cannot transform ourselves. I cannot make myself into someone who cares for my body. I cannot make myself into a healthy person. That isn’t currently in my makeup. Only God can transform my character and overall makeup into one of healthiness.

But I can do small acts within my power to cooperate with him. These small acts — bringing a couple snacks, attending a new class, for instance — are my way of cooperating with God’s intention to form me today.

We do what is within our power to do, so that God can do in us what is not within our power to do. 

How might the principle of indirection be helpful to you today in the places God is seeking to form you?

Our Burden Really Is Light

Light and pink.

Normally I have no idea what I’m going to write here in this space until I sit down and spend time in the quiet with Jesus each morning. But I’ve known since yesterday that I was going to write this post today, when I was in the process of writing that our role is simply to say yes

What I want to share with you is something that totally changed everything for me when it comes to understanding what we do and what God does in our process of formation. 

Yesterday, I wrote that our role is simply to notice God’s activity in our lives and then to say yes to it. Our role is to say yes and to embrace his work. I wrote that God does the hard work — all we do is choose to participate. 

But what does our participation look like? What does it mean to say yes? 

Enter the principle of indirection. This is something I first discovered about three years ago, and it completely blew my mind. 

The principle basically says this: 

We do what we can do (something within our power to do) in order to provide an opportunity for God to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves (something outside the scope of our power). 

Usually this means choosing something tangible to practice intentionally and regularly for a season — something it is not difficult for us to exert our will to do — and doing it with the trust and intention for God to do the hard work of changing our character in the places he wants it changed. 

That’s what I mean about him doing what we cannot do. We cannot change ourselves; only he can. But we can participate by acknowledging that we’re aware he wants to work in us and by choosing something small to practice as an acceptance of that work.

This is the idea that backs up Jesus’ words that he came to heal the sick, for the sick cannot heal themselves.

It’s the idea that backs up what Paul promises about how God, who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete it. It’s the idea that backs up what is told to us about Jesus washing us and then presenting us clean and perfect and pristine before the throne of God in the end.

It’s the idea that backs up all those passages I quoted from Romans 3-5 yesterday about God’s role and our role in the life we share with him.

Our burden really is light because our participation — our saying yes — simply means choosing to do something that is safely within our power to do, trusting that God will supernaturally use it to change our very nature. 

This is not onerous work. It is not meant to be. But it is meant to be intentional. And it is meant to be done with the trust that God is the one who changes us.

Hat tip: I actually wrote about the principle of indirection here about three years ago, when I first learned about it and was starting to have my mind blown by the concept. If you’d like to hear some specific examples of what the principle of indirection can look like in an ordinary life (my own), check out the original article that shares the way I began to practice it from the beginning. 

What simple, faithful choice might you adopt to enter into the acceptance of the work God is about in you right now?

The Principle of Indirection

About a week and a half ago, I began an eight-week Pepsi fast as part of a spiritual disciplines course I’ve been taking at Spring Arbor. I’ll write more about the reasons for the fast and the impact it has on my life once the eight-week practice has finished, but I at least wanted to write a short note today about what I’m discovering about the principle of indirection — namely, that it works!

Richard Foster writes about the principle of indirection in an essay included at the beginning of the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible (which is a great resource, by the way, that I highly recommend). He says:

“We cannot by direct effort make ourselves into the kind of people who can live fully alive to God. Only God can accomplish this in us … We do not, for example, become humble merely by trying to become humble. Action on our own would make us all the more proud of our humility. No, we instead train with Spiritual Disciplines appropriate to our need … By an act of the will we choose to take up disciplines of the spiritual life that we can do. These disciplines are all actions of body, mind, and spirit that are within our power to do … Then the grace of God steps in, takes this simple offering of ourselves, and creates out of it the kind of person who embodies the goodness of God.”

We do what we can do so that God can cultivate in us what we cannot do ourselves. Yes, that is what I’m learning already through the seemingly simple practice of this Pepsi fast.

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