A bit of background
Yesterday I began my thoughts on "determination"... something I'd never had much of.
"I am an expert excuse maker. I was a bright kid and many things came easily to me. I was lauded and I loved it. Impressing and pleasing people in the hopes they would like me was critically important to me. And I could not tolerate the embarrassment of failure, of putting in hard work and coming up short. I was very good at just not trying at all if I thought I would fail. I considered myself a perfectionist, prided myself on it! I have since learned that perfectionism is anything but perfect, is actually fear-based inaction. Funny how I convinced myself that failing to act at all was somehow nobler than try, try, trying again."
At the same time, all my life I had been somebody who, if she got really excited about something, especially if I had some intitial success, would embrace it wholeheartedly... until doing so got hard or I had a set back or I got bored or someone mocked me about my enthusiasm (which hurts the worst). Then I'd wind up crumpled and feeling so defeated and often humiliated (whether that was real or just perceived) and I wouldn't know what to do next.
After my faith-awakening it was really hard for me to not be bothered by the fact that people close to me treated me like this was just another one of my fads that would soon pass. I would be lying if I said it didn't hurt me that they wouldn't take me seriously; at first it really did; but moreso I felt like a failure to God... like I was the worst possible evangelist because no one was ever going to take me seriously, believe that I had really changed, that a life transformed by grace was not in the least akin to a life motivated by any transient interest.
But God is good and He has humbled me a lot through this experience and this has only strengthened my assurance in His steadfast, persevering goodness. Many times, if it weren't for His grace, I would have caved and given into my desire to be admired and approved of instead of clinging to my faith. That kind of resolve simply does not come from someone like me. I feel like this has only thrown me deeper into His arms. So grateful. I was also grateful that he gave me beautiful Christian sisters and brothers in my small group (or home church as we called it) who stood in the gap for a person who felt so overwhelmingly alone and sad inside.I don't know if they realize how much they kept me going through at that time. CQ: I know you read this blog, and I will thank God forever for how much you loved me!! Long story, but I then moved to another church that was also lovely but so much smaller. They welcomed me and my family immediately.
The seemingly random events that began to nudge me into considering, and eventually bowled me over into returning Catholicism is hard to chronicle. But, when I finally became convinced that this was what God was calling me to it meant I had to walk away from my beloved church family in which everyone was known and loved and people were so enthusiastic about Jesus and how they could serve Him better.
I was so happy there, but I knew God had an even greater happiness in store in the Catholic Church because of the Eucharist. Because I believed in its authority I concurred that it had the fullness of truth. So I left. And I thought it would kill me. I felt awful about it in a way that still churns my stomach.
But again, I hung in there, and again, I know that has only been possible because of God's grace. Just a few months after my return to the Catholic Church we moved across the country. This had not been on the radar at the time; I would have been saying goodbye to my old church community anyway but minus all the uncomfortable feelings. I see now that God used that discomfort to strengthen my faith, my trust, and to weaken my desperate attachment to approval from others.
But is it determination or grace?
Let's recap: I was never much for following through on what I started until I surrendered myself to God. After that, any success in perseverance was something I completely attributed to grace, considering myself completely lacking in determination and (I see now) believing (the lie) that I couldn't grow in determination, nor did I need to. Furthermore, just like before, when the passion I had for any project eventually fizzled out, I assumed it was "meant to be" or it was proof that I was too attached to this project, placing too much importance on it, and that God was helping me to become detached -- saving me from myself -- by extinguishing the flame of excitement. I don't know. Maybe in some cases He was, but probably not always, probably not even usually. Now, I wasn't this way about everything in life. If I was sick in bed, I was still determined that my children somehow get fed. If we had a foot of snow overnight I was still determined to get the driveway cleaned out so that we would get to Church or school in the morning, but again, I saw that God gave me the grace to muster what had to be done.
No, specifically, this repulsion towards determination was always about the things I was passionate about. I had a lot of hurt feelings and fears about being rejected for doing the things that captivate me and fill me with joy. I was embarrassed that I was a passionate person. I had a lot of doubts about my own ability to discern whether something was good or not. Join all those factors with a lack of practice in the fine art of perseverance, and I was too quick to abandon these things.
I was very passive in the face of a challenge and felt very safe in that rut I was creating. I realize now that I was always fearful that I was fighting God's grace if I were to keep trying, rather than accepting my initial setbacks as an indicator of His will.
I realize that I was pitting determination (my efforts) against God's grace.
My priest often says "grace builds on nature" in encouraging me to use routines and to make healthy choices to make it easier for me to make a life that keeps me from the near-occasions of sin (think, freaking out and sreaming at everyone because I'm frustrated that I can't find anything in the mess that I neglected to clean up). Meanwhile I have a dear, wise, friend who often says "May God help you to discover the person He made you to be." My response to him is usually, "Okay" but in my head I'm flummoxed. This is who I am, I think. There's nothing more than this. What does this even mean?
A case study
Then, a couple things happened that really called into question my understanding of how my determination actually works together with God's grace. I still don't know the answer, and I'm not entirely comfortable picking this apart here, but here goes.
In the last year or so I gained quite a bit of weight for me, really ever since turning forty I began to put weight on-- at the beginning of the summer I was weighing as much as I did when I was 9 months pregnant 13 years ago. I've never really been one to struggle with weight even though I ate junk all the time, but I have always had a hard time with that junk: I was so sensitive to sugar, my heart would race, I would crash, I was constantly hungry and eating all day, feeling like that wasn't enough...since i was a kid! I would get headaches so often from different foods, My skin was always inflamed and prone to infections that would always be worse as my sugar consumption went up. Many family members have been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes and I was always worried I would be next. My eyes had big black rings under them, almost every meal made me want to take a nap. I kept getting cysts and was having to have surgery. I could barely muster the motivation to walk a block. Sweets would wreck me, and In the last year it seemed like every meal was becoming a sugar crash even if it wasn't sugary per se. My mood was awful. I thought I was having a mid-life crisis, that I was burnt out for some reason. Meanwhile I had been developing cysts that required surgery and I just wasn't feeling great. Also my joints were very sore, my hip and knee on one leg were causing me a lot of pain and I was noticing that my motion was getting somewhat limited.
Everything I read linked all these symptoms to either inflammation or insulin resistance, both caused by too much sugar and refined starches. I had tried every wacky eating out there over the years in the hopes of finding food that didn't make me feel awful. I tried a low-carb, high-fat diet a couple years ago; twice in fact. I didn't embrace it enthusiastically, and before long, though it made me feel better at the time, I just gave up. Finally this summer, I decided to look into this again and gave it a week.
This time, I was ruthless about cutting out anything and everything sweet or made mostly of carbohydrates. It was amazing beyond amazing. My cravings for junk food disappeared in days. For the first time in ages I could eat a meal without feeling like I needed to nap, I didn't feel panicky from hunger between meals anymore and to my surprise I had so much energy I was crawling the walls looking for a way to burn it off. So that is why I started running. I don't have to force myself to run, I am longing to run now. This is completely foreign to me!
As I wrote earlier this week, running has become such a source of joy for me, and I've been able to progress from mostly walking to running straight through.
What I didn't write about was how many setbacks I had in running and how surprised I am that I managed to stick to it. In fact, I was so grateful for the setbacks because being able to get back on track felt so satisfying -- and again, so foreign to me!
But here is the part that really threw me for a loop: I expected it would take superhuman determination or a miracle for me to get into great health -- but it was actually surprisingly easy, and I don't think this passes the miracle sniff test by a long shot.
So why was I able to succeed at this? Where did my determination suddenly come from?
Back to grace perfecting nature.
I have been constantly astounded by how strongly this way of eating and understanding the role of insulin sensitivity has altered my previous understanding -- which matches the dominant cultural understanding-- of why we gain weight, why so many of us feel listless, moody, helpless, and like moral failures when we can't take back control of our health despite grand, and exhausting efforts. When I got off carbs and onto this diet I suddenly realized: this is not about willpower! This is not about weakness! This is about relief from the chronic stress I've been putting on my body all my life. One of my first reactions was to be angry at the purveyors of the mainstream dietary advice which has duped us and, in my opinion, has damaged many people emotionally, especially those who have been treated as less than equal, or morally deficient because of their obesity.
Suddenly, I have just a lot more energy to get through the day, which makes a huge difference, and in that case, it feels so much less monumental to stay determined. Also, I've read a lot about the effect of blood sugar on moods and depression. Maybe my determination is easier to muster in a brain that's swimming in happy juices?
From day one, I've always used my running time to pray, and one day I was astounded to find myself crying out in prayer, awakening that dormant cryptic message from my friend, "God who am I?' Sudden awareness that He has more planned for me than just getting by. That it's not impossible for me to follow my passions, that setbacks are just that, not dead-ends. That my determination isn't competing with God but necessary for His will to be fulfilled, but that He still supplies so much grace to see me through.
More proof that He has given us the dignity to be c0-labourers with Him.
I'm still working this one out, folks. I really still feel like such an immature person, and I would really, truly appreciate any insight you could give. Feel free to comment below, or email me using the link at the right.