I have experienced this verse to be true in my life perhaps more than any other passage of Scripture. It surprises me that a person as willful as I can be, can also be unable to do the things she allegedly wants to do. After all, if I really wanted to I would, right? And yet… there seem to be obstacles that prevent me from doing what I want to do. So what are they, and how can I overcome them?
The first thing that comes to mind is my resistance to routine. I seem to be unable to create a routine for myself and then keep it. I do fine with routines that are somehow externally imposed: getting up at a certain time, making lunches for myself and my husband, going to work, etc., always done in a timely manner. But when creating a routine for myself on a day off, or when working from home, I resist. I say things like “I don’t want to feel trapped” or “I don’t want to be restricted”. However, when I really look at the difference between my “free-flow” days and my routine days, things that are part of the routine days get done, while of all the things I want to do on my “free” days very little actually gets done.
After witnessing my patterns with routine days and free days over and over, I’ve decided that if there is something that I want to do, something that I want to become a regular part of my life, I piggy-back it onto an existing part of a routine in order to get into a new habit with it.
For example, I had become in the habit of practicing centering prayer every morning for almost a year (I’m still working on Sundays – a break in the routine). But when we moved to a new city my old routine was dismantled, and for weeks I found myself unable to “find time” to pray – ridiculous as I had all the time in the world with no other commitments. It wasn’t until a new routine emerged that I was able to “find time” to pray regularly again. In my old routine I would get up, take a shower, pray, make lunch and go to work. Now, I get up, get some coffee, make my husband’s lunch and take him to school, then come home and pray. As I’m driving home, part of the routine is reminding myself that as soon as I get home I’m going to pray. In other words, the driving home part of the routine triggers the next part of the routine, time for prayer.
There are other things that I don’t do because for whatever reason there is an element of fear, uncertainty, or anxiety associated with them. Maybe it’s just a two-minute phone call to volunteer at the soup kitchen, or running an errand at a new place. Whatever the emotion that is preventing me, I have at times found it helpful to take a few minutes to myself to really look at the emotion. I’m not analyzing it or judging it, just looking at it and really feeling it. After a few minutes I realize that the fear I’m feeling is just an emotion, it’s nothing of substance, and then it passes. I find I’m then able to do whatever it was I had been reluctant to do.
At the same time, if there is a legitimate concern, that shouldn’t be ignored. This applies more to thoughts like “what if they don’t like me?” or “what if I make a mistake?” – excuses I give that keep me at arms length from others.
I also find it helpful to pray for the desire to do a thing. It may sound odd – but I pray for the desire to pray. I pray that God would take what little desire is there, and increase it mustard-seed style (Matthew 13.31-32), so that it is something that I not only should do, but something I really want to do and look forward to. In my experience, God does not delay in answering those kinds of prayers.
I’m sure there are as many obstacles to action and reasons for them as there are people. These are just a few that I’ve observed myself doing battle with again and again. If you have any tips for overcoming obstacles I invite you to share them with us all. I for one need all the help I can get.