The same verse — Deuteronomy 30:19 — crossed my path twice in two days last week, and when that happens, I pay attention. I first read the verse in Sarah Bessey’s new book Miracles and Other Reasonable Things (which I loved and highly recommend). Then I read the very same verse again the next morning in Christine Valters Paintner’s book The Soul of a Pilgrim (which I also loved and highly recommend):
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
In other words, we have a choice, right? And, as Paintner puts it, “Each choice allows us to move toward the things which bring us life. If we don’t choose the path of growth, we can move toward that which drains us of life. The call of the pilgrim is to stay awake to our own patterns of life and death.”
Staying awake to our patterns of life and death sounds like a valuable and fruitful practice, but I know from experience that it’s easier said than done. It takes deep intentionality not only to stay awake, but also to awaken to these patterns — many of which are deeply ingrained in us — in the first place. So much can get in the way of both our awakening and our staying awake: busyness, distraction, expectations (our own and others’), depletion (physical, mental or spiritual), fear, self-protection and our insecurities.
I’m nearly 50. But only in the last year have I begun to figure out exactly what gives me life. I simply had never taken the time to stop mindlessly going through the motions in order to ask which ways of being made me come alive and which depleted me. Always three steps ahead of myself, always striving to accomplish the next goal or meet the next milestone, I tumbled from one project to the next without pausing for a breath. I didn’t ever stop to consider whether I was actually getting life from this tremendous expenditure of energy.
When I finally did stop to reflect, I realized most of my ways of being and doing – platform-building, speaking, social media, saying yes to things I didn’t want to do, striving, comparing – were draining the life from me and driving me farther and farther away from my true self.
Ironically, I think one of the reasons I stayed caught in the “death pattern” for so long was because I was too depleted to begin to make the hard choices and changes I knew I needed. I was simply too tired to care and in too far to know where or how to begin. It stands to reason that the more depleted we are, the less we are able to make the very choices that will begin to replenish and sustain us.
I remember during the first few days of January last year I read a verse from First Corinthians that resonated deeply with me. I had just released True You and that, combined with the holiday season, had drained me to my core. I was running on fumes when I read this:
“Let’s live our part of the Feast, not as raised bread swollen with the yeast of evil, but as flat bread — simple, genuine, unpretentious.” (5:6-8, The Message).
I could see that flat bread in my mind’s eye — light, good, warm from the oven, unadorned and plain, yet satisfying — and something in me knew that’s what I desired in the deepest part of myself. I yearned for simple. I desired genuine but ordinary.
These days my life looks very much like flat bread. I go to the gym with my husband and we spin side-by-side. I walk the dog in the Nebraska winter wind. I drop Rowan off at his viola lessons and return 45 minutes later to pick him up. I write fundraising copy for The Salvation Army. I take my vitamins and go to bed early.
I still occasionally gaze longingly through the bakery window at all the fancy loaves lined up on the cooling rack. The siren song of “more, bigger, better” still captivates me from time to time, tempting me to revert to my old patterns and ways. Mostly, though, I am working on staying awake to that which gives me life, and in the process, I am discovering that flat bread is much more satisfying and filling than I ever could have imagined.