“I ought to pray more”. “I ought to do more exercise”. “I ought to eat healthier”. Is your inner monologue anything like this? If it is, there’s a good chance that you might be… a normal human being! I think we are all plagued with feelings of guilt and inadequacy, especially when it comes to our spiritual lives and exercise routines. However, Christ came to set us free. Free from guilt and regrets; he wants us to be joyful and light like little children, who can laugh and rejoice and feel thankful.
How can we achieve this? I am no expert on the topic, but I wanted to share some reflections that have come to mind:
- Sing more!
Even if you’re really bad at it, singing is good for your soul. We let go of tensions, we forget ourselves and our deep worries and we let the music take us. When we praise God with all our heart, mind and lungs, we focus on Him and His greatness, rather than on our own feelings of guilt and failure.
- Improve your body language
Studies have shown that the position of our bodies has a massive impact on our mind and mood. There’s no need to feel uncomfortable or shy about standing up with your arms outstretched when praising God; it will lift your spirits to Him! If you don’t believe me, search for Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about this topic, it’s very impressive.
- Simplify your life
Of course, this is easier said than done, but there is no other way. Finding more time to pray or exercise is not a matter of seeing how you can “fit it in” to your already busy schedule, you will only end up feeling frustrated and exhausted. Technology and entertainment can take up a massive amount of our time, and are often a waste of it. You may have to take some extreme measures, like trading in your smart phone for a Neolithic one or cancelling your subscription to Netflix, but whatever you feel led to do, be sure that the result will be FREEDOM; more free time without distractions, to be able to reconnect with God in prayer and with His Word.
- Don’t let the devil trap you with a false sense of guilt
The devil wants to trap you in these feelings of inadequacy and guilt; he will sap you of all joy and lead you into self-doubt and recrimination. I was once told: “if you feel a general sense of un-ease and guilt, this is from the devil, whereas God will usually pin-point a specific sin you have committed, so that you can repent and be freed from it”. Of course it’s impossible to say if this is the case without lifting up all these feelings to God in prayer, but if you do find that after praying deeply and repenting you’re still weighed down with the same burden of shame and heaviness, it is not because God hasn’t forgiven you or that you don’t deserve His love. Many dedicated and faithful Christians suffer from anxiety and depression, this is not a sign of a lack of faith or sinfulness, it’s part of being a broken human being in a frail, mortal body. As Christians we shouldn’t shun modern medicine or psychology; admitting that we can’t control how we feel is a brave and important step and a sign of a humble attitude, and we know that: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)