Act

I have to admit: I am a collector. I especially love to collect books. I recently found yet another magazine about getting your writing published. Counting the one I just bought last week, I have five such magazines. I have a few things published, but I would like to do so much more. I have collected a lot more information about publishing than actually doing work to get published. This makes absolutely no sense.

Likewise, I have been collecting vegan cookbooks for far too long. I have recipes. Sometimes, I have ingredients. But I don’t make any of those recipes. Why am I not taking action?

I think it’s because gathering information makes me feel like I have accomplished something. I bought a book. See? I’m making progress.

The only problem is that getting more information is not progress. Getting books about writing will not get me published. Only writing will. Similarly, getting vegan cookbooks will not make me a vegan. Only making the necessary changes will.

Sometimes we can become so obsessed with getting more information, even when we haven’t bothered to act on the information we already have.

Apparently, this is not a new problem. And I am not alone in not doing what I know God has instructed me to do. The bible talks about people hearing but not implementing what they hear. James says that those that don’t follow hearing with action are deceiving themselves (James 1:22).

That is exactly what I have been doing: deceiving myself. In this case, I am deceiving myself into thinking that by gathering information I am doing what God wants me to do. The key is the doing. The key is to take action. I will never know everything. Ever. At some point I have to put into practice all that I have learned. Learning is great, but information is useless without action.

It is so easy to deceive ourselves into believing that information and action are the same.  God wants me to write and he wants me to change my diet in a big way. Collecting information about these things is not the same as taking action.

 

Start

Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Sometimes the initial step is the hardest. It is very easy to stand back and see all that you need or want to do and feel overwhelmed. I have a million things I’d like to write: books, articles, blog posts, journal entries, and the occasional poem. It’s easy to look at this list and feel paralyzed by indecision.

I have found, however, that the best approach is to just start somewhere. What is one small step that I can take today that will help me on my way? Identify one small step to take right now. Remember, you can always build on it tomorrow. But choose a small step and take it. You then have something to build on. It’s okay to start small. As long as you start.

 

No Pressure

I know one of the things that stops me from starting is the pressure to be perfect. I experience this with the thought of becoming vegan. I fear that I will slip up and have an egg and that will make me a bad vegan.

At breakfast this morning my friend just removed that pressure from me. She said that progress may look like two steps forward, one step back. It’s not a straight line. The road to success might be jagged but it is headed in the right direction.

Similarly, I feel like my first draft has to be perfect.  I can sit staring at the blinking cursor paralyzed with fear of not choosing the perfect word. As of late though, I have been learning to let myself do a crappy first draft. The first draft is just a start (there’s that word again). I will have the opportunity to revise and make my work better.

 

Address the Fear

Another thing that keeps me from starting is fear. Sometimes it’s the fear of failing. It could be the fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection. However, we have to take chances. Some things are learned along the way.  I decided that I was not going to be ruled by fear. Fear is a cruel master. It can make you do crazy things or prevent you from doing anything at all. Either of these can ruin your life. I refuse to come to the end of my life full of regret that I didn’t try because I was scared.  It would be one thing if I didn’t have the ability or resources to do something. But fear is not a reason for not taking action. I refuse to go out like a punk.

It can be hard to take action, especially if it’s something big and life-changing. You feel like the whole world (all your friends and family, at least) will be watching and waiting for you to fail. In truth, some might be. However, you can’t let that stop you because there are others that are cheering for you to succeed. There are still others that will follow in your footsteps. Don’t give in to the pressure and the fear. Just make a start. You can always improve. But you can’t improve if you never start.

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From Materialism to Minimalism

About 8 years ago, an ex-boyfriend diagnosed me with a severe case of materialsm. We were functionally engaged: the guy and I were planning to marry and he introduced me as his fiancèe, but we had no wedding date and I had no ring. It turns out that we were all wrong for each other and marrying him would have been a big mistake. I had several hesitations about him, and he had several about me. One of his hesitations was that he thought I was very materialistic.

When he said this to me, I scoffed at him and told him that the problem wasn’t that I was materialistic. The problem was that he was broke. I believed that he was intimidated by my stuff because he couldn’t afford that lifestyle.

Part of the problem is that I was listening to some theology that promoted the accumulation of stuff.  They advocated hoarding, calling it “abundance,” and taught that more stuff and more money indicated God’s blessing.

A few years later, I learned proper exegesis, and I realized that the theology I had embraced was questionable at best. I learned that money was not an indication of God’s blessing. I learned that God loves the poor and that he expects us to do the same (rather than condemn them for their lack of “faith”). I had a paradigm shift.

In 2011, I stumbled upon a website about minimalism. The idea was foreign to me, but somehow it struck a chord with me. I realized that my focus shouldn’t be on getting more and more stuff. My focus should be on living life to the fullest and helping others to do the same.

Since that time, I have embraced minimalism and have been working to root out materialism. Materialism is sneaky though. It has many faces. Sometimes it shows itself in our tendencies to stock up when there is a sale. We buy six bottles of shower gel because three just won’t do. It can show up as a desire to compete. Your friend has a stunning new purse and that makes you want one too. Materialism can show up as fashion obsession. We have to have the latest fashion items in the latest color, and we have to have them right now.

For me, contentment is the key to curbing materialism. When I see and appreciate what I already have it makes me less likely to get obsessed with what I don’t have. Yes, it would be awesome to have that new Too Faced eye palette, but I have a really nice palette already. I love the colors that I have. Why do I need more? Contentment says, “What I have is enough.” This attitude is like kryptonite to materialism.

Practicality also combats materialism. Yes, another purse would be nice.  But how much use will I get out of that purse? Where will it be stored? Would the money used to purchase it be better used elsewhere? Sometimes thinking things through is enough to redirect that desire to have more.

Embracing minimalism has brought me face to face with my own materialism. While I feel that I have made great progress, I still struggle with materialism sometimes. I still want things. The difference is that I have learned to be more content and to think more practically. These have been most helpful in rooting out materialism in my life (this is an ongoing process). What has helped you?

2014 – The Year of Discipline

Happy New Year and welcome to 2014! I’m not one for yearly themes. I don’t do catchy slogans for each year. I don’t get caught up in making predictions about the coming year. I typically just see it as the passage of time. Another page to flip on the calendar. Nothing more.

Yet, for some reason, I feel like God is wanting me to take advantage of this season, this fresh start, to make some changes. To be perfectly honest, this is not about the calendar year, 2014. Some things, (regular exercise, cleaning up my diet, more commitment and consistency in writing) were implemented in 2013. This is more about me setting a mental milestone for the changes that God is making in my life.

Similarly, this is not about making New Year’s resolutions. Those things never work. This is about me living as God intends for me to live — in 2014 and beyond. I feel like there are some things that God wants me to work on at this time in my life.

Self Control. This is a big one. It is all-encompassing. I think that God wants me to exercise more self control. That is one fruit of the Spirit that I really need to work on. I feel that God wants me to exercise more self control in the way that I eat and take care of my body. He wants me to eat the right foods. He wants me to exercise regularly. But I also think that God wants me to be more careful about how I spend my money. I think he wants me to be more mindful of how I spend my time. I feel that God wants me to focus on what needs to be done rather than doing whatever I want to do or whatever feels good.

Spiritual Disciplines. I feel that God wants me to be more intentional about pursuing him this year. I think of the Spiritual Disciplines as sort of a spiritual workout or a way to become intentional about getting closer to God. I will be doing more writing about this in the coming year.

Study. I feel that God wants me to set aside more time for study. This generally fits with the instructions that God has given me (to study). It is time to devote myself to that. I also serve as a small group intern at my church, which means that I lead the discussions just about every week. This requires preparation on my part and more time in study will make me much more effective in preparation for discussions.

Because I sense an overall theme of discipline, I am calling 2014 The Year of Discipline.  I sense that God is taking me to a new place this year and I can’t drag my old habits along with me. I have to let go of some things and adopt some new practices. It’s time. This will be a good thing and I am excited to see all that happens in my life.

This is also the start of my church’s annual 30 day fast, which begins today. It’s just a time to step away from the things that occupy our time and energy (my pastor calls them the snacks of life) and focus on God. Feel free to join us. I plan to check in later and let you know how things are going.

I’m also praying that 2014 will be a great year for you. Is there anything you feel will be a major theme in the coming year or for the next season of your life? Feel free to share in the comments.