Non-scale victories for your spiritual life

Like half the country, I would like to shed a bit of weight. Before you send me a V.I.P. discount code for your amazing protein shake, let me assure you: I do know how to lose weight. I have done it many times before. There was the time I ate only coffee, ice, lettuce and horrible pre-mixed whiskey cocktails from the gas station. The pounds melted off, and I was an emotional wreck. Then there was the plan where I spent countless hours on the StairMaster while reading Wordsworth and crying. I know they say you cannot lose weight by exercise alone, but what if you are too dizzy to eat? You just have to know how to work it.

With this glory-free history of hitting my goal number on the scale, I am fairly content to be what I am now, which is fat but more or less happy. If I am neither wasting away nor in danger of knocking out close friends when my arteries violently explode, then I feel like I am doing all right (and so does my doctor).

Here is what I have discovered: I have a much better shot of keeping my weight in reasonable check without losing my mind if I think less about the scale and more about “non-scale victories.” Instead of focusing solely on numbers, I accept credit for achieving things that are harder to quantify but are worth so much more—things like reaching the top of the stairs without wheezing, shopping for clothes without sobbing, or finding out the garlic bread is all gone without flying into a rage.

A non-scale victory is when I painfully resist a second helping and realizing once I have cleared my plate that I really am already full. Or when I give into temptation and scarf down far, far more cheese than any sensible being should ingest—but the next day I simply start over with my target plan, rather than spiraling into a black vortex of self-loathing.

What makes these victories both poignant and powerful is they do not reduce me to a clinical number, but instead they acknowledge and rejoice in the specifics of everyday life. Yes, the number on the scale matters, but I am more than a number. And when I see myself as a whole, worthy person with some flaws, rather than as a giant, walking flaw, it is easier to build on what is good.

So let us imagine, for a moment, that my problem is not that I am overweight but that my spiritual life has gone rather flabby. Imagine I look into the mirror of my soul, and I really do not like what I see. What to do?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image via needpix

What does it mean to be present at Mass?

The great revelation: Whoever we are, whatever we’ve got, it’s still not enough. Whatever preparation we’ve done, it’s not enough. However attentive we are, it’s not enough. There is great peace in letting that knowledge sink into your heart: We’re not enough, and never can be — no, not even if we’re a shoeless Nigerian toiling through the Mangrove to get to Mass.

But Christ is all.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

Image: “Church Pew with Worshipers” by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I thought Good Catholics didn’t need therapy. Then I went.

Sometimes, I have to take my therapist’s words with a grain of salt or filter them through a Catholic lens. More often, I discover that my lifelong spiritual failings are actually emotional wounds. And as they heal, it becomes easier to follow Christ.

Read the rest of my essay for America magazine.

How to thaw a frozen heart

Ever have frozen pipes?  Us hardscrabble New Englanders are used to dealing with them, but 2017 is shaping up to be colder than average, and soon people all across the country may discover the joy of waking up, heading to the sink, turning on the tap, and getting a fine, rushing stream of nothing at all.  Bah.  I suppose you should have checked the weather report last night, and you should have left the cabinet doors open and left the faucet running just a trickle. Or gosh, you should have invested in some pipe insulation or heat tape when the home inspector said it would be a good idea.  But you didn’t, and now here you are.

Moreover, you need to do something about it quick, before the ice in your pipes expands and bursts and floods your basement and walls.  Then you’ll have more than no water to worry about — you’ll have water damage, corrosion, mold, and alligators.  Basement alligators.  Take it from me, a hardscrabble New Englander:  when my pipes freeze and I have to send my husband, who is from Los Angeles, down to the basement to deal with it, you do not want any part of those burst pipe basement alligators.  They do not fool around.

So, your pipes are frozen.  What do you do?  Oh, it’s simple.  You dedicate the next several hours of your life to one of the most mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly tediously activities known to man:  you sit there with a hairdryer, heating up the pipe.  You could use a blow torch, which is hotter and faster, but then you will hot and fast a hole in your pipe, and your pipe will no longer be frozen, but it will no longer be a pipe, per se, either.

You sit and you sit, and you heat up that pipe.  Is it working?  Who knows?  If you are in the basement (which is where the frozen part probably is), you will be haunted by the fear that you are not aiming the heat at the right spot.  Somewhere in there, up in the cobwebby shadowland of joists and timbers, there is the spot of evil, the point where everything is getting held up, the coldest little nubbin in the universe, which is making everything miserable, unworkable, intolerable, frozen.  You think you are probably heating it up, and making that little gob of ice smaller and smaller, but what if you’re not?  What if the real trouble spot is icing itself up more and more as you speak, and you’re sitting there like a moron, concentrating all your time and effort on a bit of pipe that is fine?

Do not switch tactics.  Do not move.  Take it from me, a hardscrabble New Englander who has done this at least once, several years ago, and then realized that, even if your husband doesn’t want to do it, he kind of has to, and so it’s his turn from now on:  stick with the spot you picked.  Sit there.  Blow with that stupid old hair dryer.

And eventually, it will happen:  WHOOSH.  The water will come on.  I promise you. Just when you are about to give up — or maybe when you have given up, three or four times already, and then glumly, grudgingly, hopelessly gone back to the dreary task, it will happen.  It will work.  The blockage will clear, the ice will melt, the water will flow again, and life can go on.  You will have running water again.

Oh!  You thought I was talking about the pipes, didn’t you?  Yes, well, that too.  But I’m talking about prayer.  I’m talking about suffering and pain, and despair, when everything is blocked up and impossible, and the water won’t run, and the day can’t happen.

I’m talking about the seemingly foolhardy effort we put into fixing our lives, sitting there in the dark, wishing and praying and hoping with all our hearts that our stupid little hot breath of air is actually going to make a difference. We’re not even sure if we’re aiming it in the right direction. What if I should be doing something else, instead? What if all this effort is wasted?  What if I’m not having any effect at all, when I go, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary?”  Should I try something else? Should I even bother?

Take it from this hardscrabble Catholic, who cannot, after a certain point, palm everything off on her husband.  Do not move. Do not switch tactics.  Keep on praying, keep on pointing your feeble little stream of air at that invisible clump of ice.  It will melt, I promise you.  It will give way.  And the water of life will come  rushing back, WHOOSH.  And life will go on.  And you won’t have to even think about the alligators again.  Not until next time.

***

This essay was originally published in the National Catholic Register in 2014.
Image by Lara Danielle via Flickr (Creative Commons)