When a Rule-Following Girl Gives Up


Stop Listening to THEM

I am not really sure how to articulate this, but I’ll try.

I’m reading a book about pseudo science and the food/health/nutrition rules we’ve all heard of. I’ve long been perplexed about how one food can be deemed irredeemable one year, then hailed as a hero the next year (I’m looking at you, coconut oil). This book has opened my eyes not merely about sensational headlines, but about everything the media tells me (or should I say, bombards me with?).

I have to confess, I’m a follower. I am prone to groupthink. I believe the printed word, whether it comes through an artsy insta post or is actually printed on paper. Somehow I convey authority to whatever is written. (As a writer, I hold the written word with a sort of reverence, perhaps). And often, these words compel me to try harder, be better, work more, reach farther. These mandates (not just health, but everything–lifestyle choices, exercise, beliefs about the world, etc.) color the way I see the world. They often are the catalysts that thrust me toward discontentment.

I am guilty of relegating Romans 12:2 to “spiritual” things, but forget that copying the world is much more broad-stroked, invading everything down to our daily habits and decisions. Paul warns, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

But I forget this beautiful admonition. Or I compartmentalize my life and think this verse means to memorize more Scripture, instead of applying it to every area of my life. Why is it that I follow the instructions of an expert without even considering asking God about it? Why have I deified worldly advice, forsaking the wisdom that comes from the God who fashioned me?

The constant messaging of the world shouts this: YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH. TRY HARDER, loser!

And so I obey.

I’ve done it all my life, wanting to be the good girl, the “right” girl, the girl who obeyed the gurus.

Guess where all that left me?

Discouraged and dissatisfied. Confused. Worn out.

This has manifested itself particularly in my health and my career. I ate the “right” food, only to become hangry. I did the “right” exercise routine, only to be injured. I followed the “right” way of marketing, only to feel like I’d sold my soul (and, along with that, very little result).

A writer friend of mine recently wrote something to the tune of, “I finally had to get to the place where I realized that perhaps God didn’t want me to have big sales numbers. I had to make peace with my concept of success versus His.” Her words were a strange balm to my soul–and they convicted me.

When I teach new writers, I always offer this advice: DON’T CHASE GURUS. Typically gurus make money off their system MORE THAN they make money on their implementation of that system. It reminds me of the Pharisees that Jesus rails against in Matthew 23:3-4: “So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”

But is this warning only about Christians being legalistic?

No. Because the world is even more legalistic.

I spent time with someone who does not follow Jesus, and I observed her life from the outside. I was astonished to see this person who loved pushing against the establishment become enslaved to her self-made, guru-influenced rules. It seems folks everywhere long for this one thing: control. And so they create their own religions of rules, which helps them feel pious for reaching them, shame-filled when they don’t, and proud when they compare themselves to others who don’t meet similar demands

I could scoff at this person, or I could turn the spotlight on myself and realize I do the very same thing–but as a Christ follower! I want control. I want to feel like the world makes sense. So I curate my life, fashioning theologies from gurus and authorities and websites and books, creating a life I can control. But I, too, battle pride when I meet my expectations, and shame when I fail.

Colossians 2:20-23 says some pointed things to us, particularly about food rules: “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

Rules do not save us. They cannot empower us to be righteous. They are a man-made system devoid of the Holy Spirit’s winsome and beautiful guidance. The calling I’ve sensed from the Lord these days has been this: Listen to Me.

When I spend time quieting myself from the cacophony of the world’s voices, I begin to settle into peace. I remind myself of the truth of Scripture. I rest in knowing I am loved right now, even if I had carbs for breakfast (I did. Oatmeal to be exact). Like my writer friend, I stop stressing about numbers and spreadsheets and platform, and I simply rest in knowing I am a child of the Most High, fully loved, fully alive in the moment. I remember the kingdom of God seldom looks like you expect it to, being upside down and confounding. The kingdom often grows exponentially through our mundane obedience, not our flashy success (thankfully). It is an unseen kingdom, seldom concerned with bigness and spectacular displays of itself.

It is a quiet kingdom, friends.

Here’s where I’m trying to land: to let go of guru advice’s grip on me, and spend more time hearkening my life to the Spirit. Galatians chapter five has much to teach me about this type of life that centers on freedom of the Spirit, not rules:

  • Verse 1: So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
  • Verse 13: For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
  • Verse 16: So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.
  • Verse 18: But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
  • Verse 25: Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

That’s my goal, the last verse: to follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of my life. To listen to Him before the voices of this world shame me into trying harder.

Recently a friend of mine messaged me after seeing I was training for my first marathon. She gently asked if I really needed to do it. Initially, I was irked, but then I realized her admonition was right on. Why do I feel I have to do this? Is this something God has asked me to do? Is this necessary, particularly knowing how I keep injuring myself? I don’t have my answer yet, but I’m leaning toward saying no. Which is INCREDIBLY hard for this girl bent on achieving goals.

But maybe achieving self-appointed goals isn’t the point. I’m not saying I shouldn’t be disciplined or throw away healthy habits. Instead, I’m asking myself to connect with God first before I make those kinds of life-altering decisions. To follow the Spirit’s leading in EVERY part of my life.

I hope all that makes sense. I’m so grateful for you because I can’t figure out what I think unless I hash it out on the page. Thanks for being the first ones to read my wrestling. I pray it helps you too.