A year or two ago, I started swimming at our local YMCA several times a week. Finally picking up the legacy of my grandmother and mother, I was becoming a consistent swimmer. I had “my locker,” started to recognize the other regular faces in the lane next to me, knew all the lifeguards and my body learned to love this new rhythm. I felt stronger and my muscles loved the hot tub for a few minutes after laps. It fit in my schedule and I hoped I could do this forever. Then one day I stopped. I forget why. My motivation flew out the window. I got distracted. I forgot how good it was for me.
Earlier this spring, I started running every other day. Couch to 5K, here I come! I got new shoes, put on my headphones, grabbed my music and hit the roads around our neighborhood. I’ll never forget how long that 2 minute fun felt the first day! I ran through the house cheering and high-fiving my family because I had just run for TWO minutes! Then it was four. Six. Ten. I ran a mile! I loved the slow build of minutes. My fibromyalgia body could finally handle it. One day, I ran for twenty minutes and I thought I’d burst with pride in myself. Then one day I stopped. I forget why. My motivation flew out the window. I got distracted. I forgot how good it was for me. A couple years ago, I faced anxiety and panic attacks and finally committed to a daily meditation practice. There was a roaring lion of determination in me to overcome this crippling way of life. “Meditation every day for the rest of my life!” felt like good medicine. I downloaded the Insight Timer app and practiced my way to a good rhythm. In fact, the app says my longest streak was 209 days. I’ve meditated 557 days since February 2017. On the days I meditate, I feel calm, grounded and focused. I’m quicker to notice thoughts that could spiral into anxiety. It would not be an understatement to say that a daily meditation practice saved my mental health. Then one day I stopped. I forget why. My motivation flew out the window. I got distracted. I forgot how good it was for me. It’s normal to get out of the habit. Some of you get this. You don’t beat yourself up. If so, this post isn’t for you. This is for those of us whose inner critic is loud, proud and a little out of control. We’ve got this voice ripping us a new one when we make what we perceive as a mistake. The voice hisses when we let up on the gas for even a moment. The voice taunts us when we quit, stop or change our mind. That voice feels like it’s in charge. Imagine we’re at a cozy coffee shop on a chilly rainy afternoon. There’s a crackling fireplace in the corner and we’re holding ceramic mugs with warm drinks. As you take a sip, I lean over and whisper, “that voice is not in charge.” I continue as you look doubtful. “That voice holds you hostage, doesn’t it? It judges your every decision. It second guesses you. It wakes you up with dread. It never celebrates what everyone sees about you. That voice is loud. It drowns the other ones out.” You tentatively nod. I see a kindred spirit in your eyes. You know this voice too.
“That voice is not in charge. That voice is afraid and is trying to protect you. You can befriend it and help it soften. That inner critic can ease. It’s not in charge of you.” When we get out of a habit, it can be so hard to start again. Our inner critic gets loud. We tell ourselves stories about how we’re not up to it. We’ll just quit again. Sure, that may be true for a season. We get sick, schedules change, crisis happens. And. We are capable of beginning again. And it’s okay if we get out of the habit, again. Sometimes I don’t want to restart something that I figure I’ll stop again. Doesn’t seem worth it. But then I remember how much I enjoyed the thing. How good it made me feel. How it helped me feel alive. Then the time comes and I begin again. I meet a lot of people who are curious about spirituality and being a part of a local church. Many of my friends get out of the habit of gathering with their church family in different seasons. Maybe it’s summer, there’s a weekend trip planned, a kid gets sick. All the sudden, they realize they’ve missed four or five Sunday gatherings in a row and they’re out of the habit. It’s normal to get out of the habit. Some of my friends feel guilty for missing church gatherings. Their inner critic tells them all kinds of stories and dishes us shame and obligation and guilt. I wouldn’t want to do anything with that voice at full blast either! It feels easier to just stop going all together. So for anyone that needs to hear this (from a pastor) today, it’s okay to get out of the habit. And you are capable of beginning again. Even if it’s only been three weeks. Three years. Or a few decades. If being part of a faith community helps you feel stronger, more grounded, at peace or more joyful, begin again. If being around friends who support, encourage, listen and let you be you, begin again. If being a part of something bigger than you, serving in your community and watching lives change is something you particularly find meaningful, begin again. If you simply need to be around more love, begin again. Know that this pastor is filled with unending compassion for friends who love their church family and then get out of the habit of gathering together. It’s okay. Much grace, friend. Know that your church family welcomes you back with hugs, smiles and an understanding nod as you enter the door, as if to say, “Welcome back. I get out of the habit too. So glad you’re here.” And your heart breathes itself home.