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It seemed innocent enough. They said, “Let’s leave these leftover cookies here in the Memorial Room. They’ll still be good for next week.” Only one problem with that plan. I actually work in the air-conditioned Memorial Room during the summer. Right next to the cookies. And I know myself too well.
“Just one cookie” becomes “Well, why not two?” becomes “I think I’ll have one more” until I realize that I’ve eaten WAY more cookies than any respectable person should eat in one day. It’s sad, but true.
So pretending the cookies were hazardous materials, I carefully carried them to the downstairs refrigerator. Out of sight. Out of the way. Out of my mouth. It might seem silly to some people, but I needed the external world to support my internal intentions.
I use this “external” to help the “internal” technique in other areas too. Every spring, I re-join a running club so I can make long, weekend runs in the company of other people who run at my (slow but steady) pace. If the people I know are meeting to run a certain distance, then, by golly, I’m going to be there too. They help me keep going — even when I don’t feel like it. The outside helps with the inside.
This outside helping with the inside — it works for people in recovery from addition as they attend their meetings, people in grief support groups who find courage just by sharing their story, and people who hire a personal trainer or a tutor — it’s changing the outside circumstances so the inside can catch up … or catch on.
Turns out, it also works with my spiritual life too. Writer Lauren Winner says,
It is great when, in prayer, we can express to God just what we feel; but better still when, in the act of praying, our feelings change. Liturgy is not, in the end, open to our emotional whims. It re-points the person praying, taking him somewhere else.
In other words, the outside world helps to change the inside reality.
I think this idea is different from “Fake it ‘till you make it” — which suggests doing something against my will. This outside/inside idea feels more like “making space for running the race.” I know I can put external support systems in place that will encourage my best self to flourish. It’s making an external space for an internal change — something I know can happen inside my heart — a “becoming” of the person I truly want to be.
Too often my default question is: "Do I feel like doing X?" (Whether exercise or prayer or anything else worth while). Instead, the better question for me is, “Who do I really want to be?" Or "How can I support my deepest longings?" Longings like: being connected to the Source of Love, being connected to my best self, being connected to all the good things that are possible when God’s Spirit fills my imagination.
Whether it’s moving around some cookies … moving around some priorities … moving around my appointment schedule — I’m pretty sure I can always take at least one small step so that my outside life helps my inside life.