When a Rule-Following Girl Gives Up

rules

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.

Comments

  1. Talena Winters October 20, 2017 #

    Thank you for hashing it out in the open. I needed to hear this, too. God has been helping me lot go of a lot of rules since the death of my son, but I sometimes still try to pack them on to prevent more loss and hurt. On the other hand, I’ve let go of some things that I maybe shouldn’t have. It’s so hard to find a balance. God does give us guidelines that will give us much healthier, happier lives. The trick is not to put our faith in the guidelines, but in the one who gave them to us, following his guidelines because he’s the one who knows what works best.

    I’m glad you have a friend who knows you well enough to be able to help you question your own motivations. What a treasure. (I’m lucky to have a couple of those, too.) Hugs.

    • Mary DeMuth October 22, 2017 #

      There’s something very connected about grief and control.

      • Talena Winters October 22, 2017 #

        True.

  2. Judy Douglass October 19, 2017 #

    Indeed, Mary. Even those of us who don’t follow the rules, get caught in it sometimes.
    Bless you for these words.

    • Mary DeMuth October 19, 2017 #

      I hear you, and thank you.

  3. Wendy Spencer October 18, 2017 #

    Hi Mary, what an encouraging reminder to us. Thank you so much for posting your thoughts.
    The Lord has me in a place right now where I’m recognizing that the only wisdom is truly in Him. For too long, the cacophony of voices have caused unnecessary confusion.
    If I had just listened to the Lord, I would remember the promise of Psalm 16:11: “You have made known to me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand, there are pleasures evermore.”

    Mary, your words touch deeply within and cause us to stop and think. That is a gift.
    I love how you said you have “deified” worldly advice. I immediately thought: “all while defying God’s.” : ) Boy, how I’ve done this!
    Again, I appreciate you. May He keep leading you in His grace. Sincerely, Wendy.

    p.s. I would love to share with you a short devotion that I wrote in August of 2016 that is very similar to this, but I have yet to find a way to get in touch with you. : )

    • Mary DeMuth October 18, 2017 #

      Good play on words: deify and defy. I like that. Wendy, you can email me at mary@marydemuth.com.

  4. Lucie Winborne October 16, 2017 #

    “Buy my program” and you too will be a successful writer with a six-figure income and be able to ditch that boring day job. “Buy my program” and you too will have a beach-ready body, no matter what kinds of abuse you’ve put it through for decades. “Buy my program” so you will have the Best Year Ever. Buy my planner. My books. My CDs, so you too will . . .

    Oh, fill in the blank, LOL – just Buy My Program!

    And I have. On a number of occasions. Guilty as sin.

    I was particularly struck by the comment from the writer who said that perhaps God didn’t want him or her to rack up big sales, that perhaps He had a different definition of success. There are so many voices in this world that tell us we should be setting the pond on fire.

    But what do you do for an encore?

    What about the thousands if not more who follow all the rules of the program but still don’t end up with the seller’s results?

    What, indeed, is God’s idea of success?

    Bravo, Mary. Bravo.

    • Mary DeMuth October 17, 2017 #

      Good words, Lucie. There are so many broken promises in marketing.

  5. Susan G. October 13, 2017 #

    Thanks for putting these thoughts into words on a page…for all of us.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about this too lately, about one year this food is good, the next not so good! And so on, and so on…each year after year.
    I have begun to read them, pay attention to what is said and then ask God about the truth of it all… If it’s studies that say they’ve found certain vital enzymes or vitamins or etc in these fruits or veges and it’s a study that can be trusted, I do try to eat more of these healthy foods. But, I don’t go overboard on anything these days, and just ask God to help me eat healthy and for Him, my great Physician, to keep me healthy!
    And for marathons…who in their right mind wants to put their bodies through that kind of grueling and painful event?! I can’t even imagine how that can be good for a body. I used to jog for health and when my ankles got tired, I quit. I walk our long (incline) driveway on days I feel like it and ask God to show me just what I should do each day to keep healthy. Everything in moderation! Food and exercise for our Temple of the Holy Spirit. And God gave us a great brain to think with and use wisdom. 😉
    Bless you Mary as you hear from Him.

    • Mary DeMuth October 17, 2017 #

      Asking God is a good place to start. 🙂

  6. Amaris October 13, 2017 #

    “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.” Mary, this is wisdom. I can see this cycle in my own life, and I have been praying recently that I want to live in the true freedom Jesus wants me to have. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned the hard way – I needed this today!

    • Mary DeMuth October 17, 2017 #

      I’m grateful to hear that, Amaris.

  7. Megan Vance October 13, 2017 #

    Dear Mary,
    Thank you for putting into words exactly what I have been feeling.Every time I strive to use man’s wisdom for my writing, I come up empty and short. But to apply God’s truth and leave the results with Him gives me rest that the world simply can neither give nor understand. Loved the wisdom you shared here today. Megan

    • Mary DeMuth October 17, 2017 #

      It’s more peaceful that way, too.

  8. KFDP October 13, 2017 #

    So many nuggets in this, so much truth. Thank you for sharing. Definitely something I needed to hear today! Just remember you aren’t alone in any of these feelings and issues!

    • Mary DeMuth October 17, 2017 #

      I’m so glad I’m not alone!