Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unsolicited Advice: Preemptive Pastoral Care for the Week after New Years

For those without the patience to read this entire blog, this video meditation says it all.

My pastor persona is "Mr. Life of the Party," but my true self is "Quietly Observing the Subtle Mannerisms of Everyone in the Room and Diverting Disaster at any Moment" person.

Yes, my pastor self wears a cape, but most of the time I am Clark Kent.

For the sake of my ministry, I must have a loud enough voice to raise the concerns of the vulnerable (you know my homeless friends, I speak of them often) I work for day-to-day. In this economy when their support is the first on the chopping block, I have to have an extra big twinkle in public and be a bit larger than life (think Dolly Parton). You may have noticed.

But, what most people don't know is that I'm an introvert who spends most of my time in hibernation, archives or tuning out crowded coffee spaces with big head phones.

So now is the time when I come out of my hole, with a big Ground Hogs Day moment, and share some of my quiet musings with those I've been observing all year.

Consider this is my written pastoral care to all the fine folk in congregations who listen to my 20 minutes of pondering on a given Sunday knowing I won't be around to support them day-to-day. This is also for the socially networked misfits who don't feel connected to local faith communities or who simply find my ministry inspiring (the "I want to be you when I grow up" crowd).

[Shakespearean aside to those who don't know me well: I know that these compliments are about a desire to do fun and meaningful work in the world that makes a real difference and isn't actually about me. I hear it less as an ego stroke and more like an Atlas styled weight of responsibility.]

So here are my observations for this season (feel free to choose your own adventure below):

Everyone: Before making your New Year's Resolution ask yourself: What really motivates me to choose this goal. Then, ask yourself: Is this the best way to achieve this goal?

I think most experience a week (or two) after New Year's meltdown, because they either created a goal that enables them fail quickly (usually numerically) or because accomplishing the goal doesn't feel good (because it's not addressing the root of the change you want in the world).

Consider goals that create tangible moments that you can celebrate and then actually celebrate them - even if things aren't as great as you dreamed.

A: If you want to lose weight, please do not make a numerical resolution. Weight fluctuates naturally throughout the month (especially if you are a woman) and nature will make sure that you fail.

Why do you really want to lose weight?
  1. To be healthier: Make sure this is actually how you feel. We think this is the only right answer so we often say this is true, but we don't really believe it. No one is looking, so read the possibilities below just in case this is a socially acceptable fib you tell yourself. However, if you really really do want to be healthier, I suggest that you make smaller goals that will actually make you healthier. You can be healthy at any weight. Focus on a part of your health you want to improve. For example, if you want to avoid diabetes make a goal based on monitoring your blood sugars or reducing all your risk factors. Or maybe, eating more mindfully should be your goal.
  2. To feel connected to a partner or to get a date: If this is your real reason for losing weight, you must know that it will not feel good to accomplish this goal. First, if you do get a date or feel more connected to your partner after success, you may feel resentful that the person couldn't love you just as you were. Second, you have to seriously ask yourself if putting on a few extra pounds was your emotional way to communicate that you needed some space from intimacy (for whatever reason). If this is the case you have some emotional work to do before you will be able to lose the weight and keep it off. This may be a lifetime's worth of work. If the weight was your self protection, then you need to find new ways to feel internally protected. Before deciding your weight is the issue, make sure you have asked your partner what they think would help make your connection stronger. I doubt they'll say your weight is the issue. But if they do, then it is only fair to ask your partner to also work on something that will help you feel more connected to them. An obvious thing would be for them to work on being more vocal about the things they like about you and your body. If you're afraid of this conversation, a pastor, therapist or counselor is trained to help you with it. For those interested in getting a date, remember that finding someone who loves you just as you are is the goal, not finding someone who loves you only if you're skinny - otherwise this will have to be your resolution your whole life. Oh, and online dating can be a way to find people at any size and to have mean people who judge you on your looks just pass you by without any awkwardness.
  3. Because you have guilt or shame about your body. First know that there are multimillion dollar industries invested in your insecurity. They can't sell you new stuff, if they don't convince you what you got is embarrassing. Remember when it was dorky to wear glasses? Now, all those glasses that were dorky in high school are high fashion. That's life in capitalism. A better resolution would be to learn to have a more balanced self image. Imagine how your life would change if your resolution was to give yourself three compliments about your body every time you saw yourself in a mirror. I don't care if they are the same three compliments, or if you have to stand in front of the mirror for hours just to come up with two. If that evil voice in your brain keeps telling you that you look like crap, drown it out with an even more repetitive voice that you are fantastic. Everyone has had moments of looking in the mirror and thinking they look great. But we've been taught that it's too vain to let those thoughts go to our head. Well honey, you've had a lifetime of putting yourself down and you deserve a little vanity. And don't make enjoying your body a new thing to feel shameful about... love loving yourself. Trust me it will feel better than the success of losing 5 pounds.
B: If you have some other resolution. Who are we kidding, most people's resolutions are about weight and body image. At least that's what all the magazines and news programs would have us believe right? The same principles apply to all other resolutions.

You just need to be brave enough to admit to yourself the real reason(s) you want to accomplish your goal.

Everyone: Don't make resolutions to do things, when what you really want is to feel things. Typically we are trying to achieve an emotion, not a goal. This is why even when we achieve our goal, we have failed to get what we want. Perhaps you want to feel loved, feel happy, feel self confident, feel important, feel healthy, feel like your making a difference or feel like an adult.

Ask yourself: When do I feel that way? Then do more of that or enjoy it more when it happens. Don't assume that you'll feel that way just because you complete tasks.Tasks are fleeting. Real change, real health, real self worth comes from being a balanced person who is able to love and be loved, to help and be helped, to give and receive.

Which is why I don't make resolutions. Instead, each day, each moment I try to live the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

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